Manasseh Meyer

Singapore Infopedia


Manasseh Meyer (Sir) (b. 1846, Baghdad, Iraq–d. 1 July 1930, Singapore) was a pioneer Jewish businessman, community leader and philanthropist who was responsible for the building of Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street and Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise.1 A key figure in the early Jewish community in Singapore, Meyer was knighted by the British in 1929 for his contributions to society.2

Early life
Educated in Calcutta, India, Meyer came to Singapore in 1861 at the age of 15.3 His uncle, Joshua Raphael Joshua, had established himself in Singapore under the company Joshua Brothers, and was instrumental in bringing Meyer and his brothers, Rubin and Elias, to Singapore.4 Meyer continued his education at St Joseph’s Institution, before returning to Calcutta in 1864 and continuing his Hebrew studies.He then became a book-keeping apprentice, assisting his maternal uncle’s business.6

In 1867, the 21-year-old Meyer ventured out on his own in Rangoon (Yangon, Myanmar) and set up a business, remaining there for six years.7 He returned to Singapore in 1873 to start an import-export business known as Meyer Brothers, and grew the company into the largest local importer and exporter in Indian trade.The business was later carried on by his sons.9 Raphael Sassoon, another pioneer in the local Jewish community, was Meyer’s partner in the company and later joined him as a trustee of the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.10

Meyer became even wealthier as he began to acquire properties, with the largest number of purchases made between 1890 and 1892.11 By the 1900s, he had become a major property owner in Singapore. His properties included Adelphi HotelSea View Hotel (located on Meyer Road, which he named); Meyer Chambers at Raffles Place; Meyer Mansions on Coleman StreetKilliney House (which became Meyer’s family home after he bought it from Thomas Oxley and renamed it Belle Vue in 1890); a property named “Joshua” at Tanjong Katong (constructed in the 1890s as Meyer’s second family home); and Teutonia Club (later renamed Goodwood Hall, and now known as Goodwood Park Hotel)12

Between 1893 and 1900, Meyer served as the municipal commissioner – a position for which his knowledge of real estate and local matters proved invaluable. He was later appointed a member of the Straits Committee on Currency.13

Meyer’s generosity benefited those within and outside his community.14 His most notable contributions to the local Jewish community were securing land for the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and building the Chesed-El Synagogue.15 He set up the Manasseh Meyer Trust, later renamed the Sir Manasseh Meyer Trust, which helped educational and charitable institutions.16 During World War I (1914–18), Meyer donated $20,000 to the British military effort. He also gave $150,000 to the former Raffles College (now National University of Singapore), where a building was named after him.17  The Manasseh Meyer Building, which was gazetted as a national monument, is now part of the National University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah campus.18

For his “public service and benevolence”, Meyer received the knighthood in 1929.19 He died a year later, at the age of 84.

Wives: Meyer had married his first wife, Khatoon, by the time he returned to Singapore in 1873.20 He married Rebecca (d. 1915) after Khatoon’s death.21
Sons: Twin brothers Isaac and Jacob, and Reuben.22
Daughters: Hannah, Rama, Rachel and Mozelle.23


Bonny Tan and Valerie Chew

1. “Death of Sir Manasseh Meyer,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 July 1930, 11; “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84,” Straits Times, 1 July 1930, 13; “Synagogue That Was Bountiful,” Straits Times, 27 July 2002, 7. (From NewspaperSG); Eze Nathan, The History of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945 (Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, 1986), 8. (Call no. RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Edmund W. K. Lim and Kho Ee Moi, The Chesed-El Synagogue: Its History & People. (Singapore: Trustees of Chesed-El Synagogue, 2005), 20, 34. (Call no. RSING 296.095957 LIM)
2. “The Perfect Ways of Honour,” Straits Times, 1 March 1929, 10; “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight,” Straits Times, 1 March 1929, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight”; “Chesed-El Synagogue,” National Heritage Board, accessed 18 January 2017; Nathan, History of Jews, 8; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.  
4. Shaun Koh, “Building a Place of Worship: The Jewish Contribution,” Singapore Monitor, 27 July 1983, 18. (From NewspaperSG); Nathan, History of Jews, 8.
5. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight”; Nathan, History of Jews, 8; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.  
6. “Malaya’s New Knight”; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20; E Solomon, “Chesed El Synagogue,” Shalom Singapore, no. 4 (March 1996), 4–5. (Call no. RSING 305.629605957 SS)
7. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight”; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.  
8. “S’pore Millionaire’s Land to Be Sold,” Straits Times, 21 December 1947, 3. (From NewspaperSG); Nathan, The History of Jews, 9; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.  
9. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; Koh, “Building a Place of Worship”; “Malaya’s New Knight”;
10. Nathan, The History of Jews, 9.
11. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight”; “S’pore Millionaire’s Land”; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.  
12. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Belle & Vue,” Singapore Monitor, 1 April 1984, 1; The Previous Tenants Left Their Mark on History…,” Singapore Monitor, 1 April 1984, 2. (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Chesed-El Synagogue; Nathan, History of Jews, 30; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20, 25; Solomon, “Chesed El Synagogue,” 4–5.
13. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Malaya’s New Knight”; Ong Choo Suat, “Our Heritage: The Jewish Contribution,” New Nation, 26 November 1971, 17. (From NewspaperSG); Nathan, History of Jews, 30; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 31.  
14. “S’pore Millionaire’s Land.”
15. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “Synagogue That Was Bountiful”; Koh, “Building a Place of Worship”; National Heritage Board, “Chesed-El Synagogue; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 25, 27.  
16. Nathan, History of Jews, 30.  
17. “Sir M. Meyer Dies at Age of 84”; “S’pore Millionaire’s Land”; Nathan, History of Jews, 30; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 30.  
18. “Former Raffles College (now NUS Campus at Bukit Timah),” National Heritage Board, accessed 6 January 2017; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 30.  
19. “Friday, March 1, 1929. New Year Honors,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 6 March 1929, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Nathan, History of Jews, 9; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 20.
21. Nathan, History of Jews, 28, 31.  
22. “A ‘Quiet and Simple’ S’pore Millionaire Dies on the Riviera,” Straits Times, 30 December 1954, 4; “Sir Manasseh Meyer: Will of Singapore Millionaire,” Straits Times, 23 September 1930, 13. (From NewspaperSG); Nathan, History of Jews, 31; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 24.  
23. “Sir Manasseh Meyer: Will of Singapore Millionaire”; Nathan, History of Jews, 31; Lim and Kho, Chesed-El Synagogue, 24.  

Further resources
Jews in Singapore, audiobook (Singapore: Oral History Department, 1986)
(Call no. RAV 305.892405957 JEW)

The information in this article is valid as at 6 March 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.




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