Richard C.K. Chan (陳卓堅): timber baron, shipping tycoon and stamp collector

York Lo: Richard C.K. Chan (陳卓堅): timber baron, shipping tycoon and stamp collector

Richard C.K. Chan Timber Baron Image 1 York Lo

Left: Richard C.K. Chan (standing) delivering a speech to the press as head of the Timber Guild in 1962. To his left were Wong Shui-leung of Kwong Chan Timber, Kan Chi-nam of Wing Tai Cheung and Leung Kam-tong of Hip Shing Timber (WKYP, 1962-12-18); right: cover of the Cavendish philatelic auction catalog for the Richard C.K. Chan collection of stamps from HK and treaty ports. 

Earlier on the website we covered several major firms in the timber business. Richard Chan Cheuk-kin was another key figure in the post-War timber trade in Hong Kong with a large plywood factory in Tsing Yi who augmented his family fortune through the shipping of timber between Borneo and Hong Kong and was also known for his stamp collection, which according to experts was one of the most complete collections of HK stamps in the world dating back to the 1840s.   

His Father: Chiuchow Business Leader Chan Tse-chiu 

Born in 1922, Richard was the third son of Chan Tse-chiu (陳子昭, 1881-1950), a leader of the Chiuchow business community in HK in the early 20th century. A native of Ching Hai () in Chiuchow, Chan Tse-chiu left Chiuchow at the age of 19 to collect the body of his father who died in Vietnam. Without enough funds to travel to Vietnam, Tse-chiu worked for his maternal uncle Liao Wan-tseung (廖雲章) in Bangkok for a while before saving enough to complete his filial duty and bringing his father’s body back home. At the age of 24, he returned to Bangkok to work for the Liao family who later sent him in the 1910s to open the rice trading firm of Yong Hong Long (榮豐隆) in Hong Kong, which operated out of 18 Bonham Strand West. 

Outside of Yong Hong Long, Tse-chiu established the import export firm of Nam Mui (南美出入口) which Richard later inherited. With his profits from trading, he started other businesses in HK in the 1920s in partnership with other leading Chiuchow business figures in HK –  the shipping firm of Chui Yick Steamship (聚益輪, which had routes between HK/Swatow and Thailand/Singapore, Lam Choon-cheong of Jebshun covered earlier was also involved) and the coal trading firm of Sze Wai & Co with Lam Chi-fung (林子) and the China Motor Bus Co (founded in 1923 and won the bus monopoly on HK island in 1933) with Ngan Shing-kwan (see article). 

When the Chiu Chow Chamber of Commerce was established in 1921, Tse-chiu was one of its 47 founders and served on its board until his death in 1950. He served as the group’s chairman from 1929-1933, during which the vice chairman was his business partner Lam Chi-fung. During the Japanese occupation of HK, Tse-chiu supplied food to the European and American internees in the internment camps and after the War was commended by the commander of the British armed forces in the Far East for his relief effort. In April 1950, Tse-chiu died in HK of stomach illness and was survived by 4 sons (Richard, Ping-kin, Chi-kin and Hon-kin, 1 son predeceased him) and 6 daughters. (WKYP, 1950-4-12) Despite only having received few years of education, Tse-chiu was a cultured person who collected Chinese antiquities and befriended cultural figures in HK. Richard later compiled the correspondences of his father and published them in a volume in 1978 with the pre-eminent Chiuchow scholar Jao Tsung-I writing the introduction.  

Nam Mui Timber and Hongkong Borneo Shipping

Richard C.K. Chan Timber Baron Image 2 York Lo

Two views of Nam Mui plywood factory building in Tsing Yi in the 1960s. Left: floating logs at the Nam Mui plant in 1964 (Poon Pak-wai); Right: one of Nam Mui’s three factory buildings in front of the playground of the Tsing Yi Public School in 1966 (Frances Ng Miu-yee)

Richard C.K. Chan inherited his father’s trading firm of Nam Mui and shifted its focus to the lucrative trade of timber through the establishment of Nam Mui Timber (南美木業, incorporated in 1960) and Nam Mui (Kin Kee) Co Ltd (南美堅記, incorporated in 1970). By the early 1960s, Richard was a leader of the industry and as head of the three timber guilds led the industry’s protest against new measures imposed by the government which was hurting the industry. 

In 1961, Nam Mui Timber began building a large plywood factory with registered capital of HK$5 million at Lot 394 on Tsing Yi island. (FEER) The factory had three main factory buildings, an open storage and a vast floating log storage. For whatever reason, Nam Mui Timber was dissolved as a firm in 1968. 

In March 1963, Nam Mui teamed up with Taiwan’s Kai Nan Lumber Manufacturing Corporation (開南木), founded by plastic tycoons Y.C. Wang (王永慶) and T.T. Chao (趙廷箴), to establish Camel Plywood Corporation in Jurong, Singapore with S$5 million in capital and commenced production of core veneer and plywood in 1964. (Taiwan Trade Monthly, 1964) The firm became a listed company in Singapore in 1969 (by which time Richard Chan or Nam Mui no longer appear to be involved while TT Chao was chairman and the Shanghainese industrialist Tao Chieh-fu was a director) before being acquired by Japan’s largest plywood company Eidai in 1971 and as a result the firm was renamed Singapore Eidai with plans to increase production from 10 million to 40 million square yard and export 90% of its output to the UK, US and Japan. (New Nation, 1971-2-18) 

Richard C.K. Chan Timber Baron Image 3 York Lo Left: HK Borneo Shipping co-founder Lai Fook-kim (left) and Mrs. Carson being praised for their contributions to the anti-tuberculosis cause in Sabah in 1966 (Nanyang Siang Pau, 1966-1-28); Right: HK Borneo Shipping’s “Mui Kim” (WKYP, 1960-11-21)  

In 1960, Richard Chan teamed up with Borneo timber merchant Datuk Lai Fook-kim (賴福金) to establish Hongkong Borneo Shipping (港婆船務) in HK to transport timber between Borneo and Hong Kong. The son of Hakka banana and coconut oil merchant Lai Piang (賴), Lai built the Lai Fook Kim group in Sandakan (a street in the city, Jalan Lai Fook Kim, is named after him) where he served as chairman of the Sandakan Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1977 and came to HK with his sister Lai Wan-ying (賴雲英, 1937-2016) from Sandakan in 1958. 

HK-Borneo’s first vessel -“Mui Kim” was built by Hayashikane Zosen in Nagasaki at the cost of HK$3.5 million. (WKYP, 1960-11-21) It was launched in November 1960 for service every 11 days between HK and Sandakan and the launch celebration in HK was attended by J.C. McDouall, Secretary of Chinese Affairs, Sir Sik-nin Chau, Kwok Chan and many other leaders of the HK community. (KSEN, 1960-11-26) Over time, the firm’s fleet expanded to 10 vessels including “New Mui Kim”, “Mah Kim”, “Knight Kim” and others, most of them ordered from Japan. 

As a firm, HK-Borneo Shipping Co Ltd which operated out of the International Building in Central was dissolved in 1987. (Although a firm with the same name was registered in 1990 and dissolved in 2009) Aside from HK-Borneo, the Lai family also started Lai Fook Kim Shipping Co (incorporated in 1966, dissolved in 1987) in Hong Kong which operated the vessel “Foh Kim” while Richard Chan also controlled Fui Nam Co Ltd (惠南有限公司, incorporated in 1965) and Wellam Shipping Co (惠南船, incorporated in 1991, renamed Trans America Shipping in 1994, dissolved in 2004).  

Aside from timber and shipping, Richard Chan also established Richard Chan Investment Co Ltd (堅記置業) in 1971 to invest in properties which together with Nam Mui Kin Kee operated out of the 18-story Fui Nam Building (惠南大) at 48-51 Connaught Road West. The building was sold by the family for HK$550 million in 2014 to Greenwood Enterprises controlled by a branch of the Law Ting-pong family. 

Outside of business, Richard Chan was active in community affairs. In 1960, he was elected director of Po Leung Kuk and the next year he was elected to the board of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. (WKYP, 1960) He is however best known for his collection of Hong Kong stamps, dating back to the beginning of the British colony. In 1980, he acquired the collection of US Vice-Admiral George Dyer which included rare HK stamps posted from the HKU at its inception in 1912. In 2003, he sold off some of his prized collection through leading stamp auctioneers in the UK.  

Sources (other than those cited above): 

https://www.douban.com/group/topic/7031025/

http://www.mybookcity.com/N_598.html

https://www4.hku.hk/pubunit/Bulletin/ebook_2003Oct(5.1)/files/assets/basic-html/page13.html

香港潮州商會九十年發展史

https://www2.hkej.com/property/article/id/908976/%E7%BE%85%E6%B0%8F%E9%9B%86%E5%9C%98%E8%A1%8C%E6%94%BF%E7%B8%BD%E8%A3%815.5%E5%84%84%E8%B3%BC%E6%83%A0%E5%8D%97%E5%A4%A7%E5%BB%88%E5%85%A8%E5%B9%A2

WKYP, 1961-4-6

This article was first posted on 14th September 2020.

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