The King of Biscuits


Ho ya Ho
For Biscuits choose Ho Ho
Ho Ho Biscuits is so tasty
Ho Ho medals are so many
50 years of good reputation
Keeping up to the latest fashion
Based in Singapore, Selling to Nanyang
Ho Ya Ho
For Biscuits choose Ho Ho
For Biscuits choose Ho Ho

Vitamin, Vitamin, Ho Ho Biscuits have rich Vitamins
Cheap, Cheap, Ho Ho Biscuits is cheaper than rice
Hundred catty rice, hundred of dollars
Hundred catty Marie Biscuits 60 dollars, hundred catty Soda Biscuits 50 dollars
Just drink water and biscuits, can fill you 3 meals
Save on coal and rice, save on oil  and salt,  save on vegetable, save on time
Little family so convenient, enough for a family of two!
Go abroad, its convenient, go long distance, no need restaurant!
50 years famous brand,  rubber tin workers eat for breakfast
Farmers and City People also popular
Famous old brand, fresh from the oven,  
Great Contribution to Society!
Great Contribution to Society!

(Ho Ho Biscuit Song as published in Chinese in Nanyang Siang Pao in Apr 1948)

What is this Ho Ho Biscuit Factory the song is singing about selling in Singapore and Nanyang?

It is the first biscuit factory to be established in Singapore and fulfil a void for an affordable and tasty biscuit for the masses ...

Let us go back in time to the 1890s ..

It was reported in the Singapore Free Press on 8 March 1950 that Chew Boon Lay took up two small shophouses in Park Road, near Chin Swee Road, and began manufacturing hundreds of biscuits for the people of Singapore.  His biscuits attracted the attention of a Chinese from Semarang named Go Boen Koan

Go Boon Kwan (pic courtesy of Hian Pouw)

The earliest report of Go Boen Koan in Singapore was an advertisement  published in the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser on 14th November 1895 that any undertaking or orders given by his firm Chop Ho Siang at No 23 Japan Street should have his signature Go Boen Koan on it.  Chop Ho Siang at that time is carrying on business a a general dealer.

Go Boen Kwan was a guarantee for Oei Tiong Ham's opium farm term in Solo 1893-1895, but for the Semarang farm term 1896-1899 became Oei Tiong Ham's opponent together with Ho Sie Tik. But they were unable to get a certificate of solvency and good character and lost the bid. Boen Kwan and Boon Tjan thereupon moved to Singapore in 1898 after they obtained a travel pass from the Dutch colonial authorities *1 

*1 - (Founding an Ethnic Chinese Business Empire in Colonial Asia: The Strategic Alliances of Major Oei Tiong Ham, 1895–1905 by Peter Post

As a general dealer, other than trading goods, he dealt mainly with real estate, as  an advertisement on 11 Sep 1896 saw him buying Prinsep Estate in Orchard Road with a total area of 6381 sq ft for $1,650.  He also bought 23 freehold allotments near Tanjong Katong with a total area of 40,000 sq ft for $250  

Perhaps it was during this time that Go Boen Koan came to know of the biscuits made by Chew Boon Lay, a sinkeh from China who settled down in Singapore and married a nonya Ong Cheng Neo from Malacca.  

Go Boen Koan must be so impressed with Chew Boon Lay's biscuits  that he decided to invest in this new biscuit business and set up a factory nearby in Chin Swee Road. He put in $106,500 into this business,  bought in new machinery to automate the business to produce more biscuits.

In the Registry of Company documents pertaining to the establishment of Ho Ho Biscuit Factory on 16th November 1898, we can see the following as reported in the Gazette (The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser weekly 9 February 1899, Pg 8

There was issued a total of 202 shares, with a share capital of $150,010.  It is a fairly big amount, as you can seen from the Gazette Notification dated 9 Feb 1899, Fraser and Neave has a paid up capital of $225,000, Tan Kim Tian Steamship Co, $1,000,000.

Of the 202 shares worth $150,010, Go Boen Koan owned 70% of the total share capital ($106,500), Ong Cheng Neo (Mrs Chew Boon Lay) through her agent Chew Boon Lay owned $15,000 (10%).  Chew Boon Lay and his friend both owned 1 smaller share of $5 each.  The rest are owned by the other Go brothers and their agent Lee Pek Gum who became the factory manager.

Ong Cheng Neo must be a nonya of some means,  as $15,000 was not a small amount then. 

Chew Boon Lay and Ong Cheng Neo
(pic from Chew Boon Lay - A Family Traces Its History, compiled by Ong Chwee Im) 

The Straits Times published an article on Oct 2, 1900, almost 2 years after Ho Ho Biscuit Factory was registered:

"Comparatively few European residents are aware that Singapore has a real steam biscuit factory of its own which does a big business - export as well as retail - at its premises in Chin Swee Road. The establishment  which is known as the Ho Ho Biscuit Factory, was stared in June 1899 by Messrs Goh Boon Kwan and Goh Boon Chan, but has since been transformed into a limited liability company.  On Monday last, a representative of the Straits Times was shown over the establishment and given an opportunity to inspecting the methods whereby machine made biscuits are produced in Singapore.  The premises he found spacious, clean and well ventilated."

Song Ong Siang in his classic 'One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore also has praise for the factory :

Through the enterprising spirit of the brothers Go Boon Kwan and Go Boon Chan, the Ho Ho Biscuit Factory was established in November 1898 in Chin Swee Road, and converted into a limited liability 
company in 1900. In this factory, machine-made biscuits are manufactured, and the daily output is about 4, 000 pounds. The premises are spacious, clean and well ventilated. Everything is done by machinery, except
the'icing'of fancy biscuits and the packing in boxes. By machinery the sugar is ground and sifted, and the flour is mixed and kneaded into dough. Then the prepared dough is passed under a roller and thence on to the stamping and cutting press. The cakes fall into trays and pass on to men who carry them to the oven. During the passage through the oven, the biscuits are baked. At the exit of the oven, the trays are met by an attendant who removes them to a receptacle ready to receive them, thence they are taken to the packing rooms, papered, labelled and made ready for export, principally to Java and the FMS. In 1902 at the Hanoi Exhibition the Company obtained a diploma and bronze medal for their biscuits. 

Go Boen Koan married the eldest daughter Oei Siok Neo of the business magnate Oei Tjie Sien.  Oei Tjie Sien was initially a supply officer from a rebel society in China when he escaped to Semarang from the war torn country,  and set up a trading concern in 1863.  It would be known as Kian Gwan and under the able leadership of him and his son Oei Tiong Ham would grow Kian Gwan into the largest trading concern in this part of the world during the early 20th century.   During the late 19th century, the Oei family also turn their hands onto the lucrative opium business and won huge success in defeating the so called Cabang Atas families who used to control this opium business.

                   Oei Siok Neo, eldest sister of Oei Tiong Ham (pic courtesy of Hian Pouw)

In 1898, after he established Ho Ho Biscuit Factory with Chew Boon Lay family,  he would have invited his brother Go Boen Tjhan to assist him.  His brother Go Boen Tjhan was not in the shareholder list of Ho Ho Biscuit Factory when it was first started but afterwards go into partnership with him trading as Chop Ho Soon Go Boon Quan Brothers.

           Go Boen Tjhan (pic courtesy of Hian Pouw)

Go Boen Tjhan bought some land in Bukit Timah in Nov 1900 (Eng Neo Avenue where his land  was situated  at 5 3/4 ms  Bukit Timah is named after his wife).  His wife Tan Eng Neo would likely be the daughters of the Cabang Atas Tan family in Semarang (most likely Mayor Tan Hong Yan family)

Plaque at Tay Kak Sie Chinese temple in Semarang Kota Cina.  The Cabang Atas Families hold titles such as Majors and Kapitans 

𡻕進士特授甲必丹(Kapitan) 大欽加媽腰(Major Titular) 馬振華 Be Ing Tjioe
𡻕進士持授媽腰兼理甲必丹大陳敬麟Major cum Kapitan Tan Hong Yan

With both of them now in Singapore,  both brothers started to donate to Singapore worthy causes,   for example in a notice on 25th January  1900 in support of the Straits and Malayan South African War Relief Fund, both Go Boen Tjhan and Go Boen Koan donated $1,000 each. This is not a small amount then, as the likes of business tycoons like Khoo Siok Wan and Seah Eu Chin family donated similar amount.  Perhaps this was to show support for the new British Colonial Masters.  

In fact on 28 Aug 1901,  Go Boen Koan offically changed his name to a more British like Go Boon Quan and obtain his certificate of Naturalization to become a British subject instead of a Dutch Subject.

After becoming a British subject, Go Boon Quan set off to England in Sep 1901 together with his son Go Khek Ghee,  and his brother Go Boen Tjhan’ sons Go Khek Khiam and Go Khek Law to make sure they get a good English education in United Kingdom.  Their trip to Europe was well reported in the press.
Go Khek Khiam later went to to study for 3 years at the Redruth School of Mines Cornwall and also got a First Prize of the City and Guilds of London Institute for a paper.

Go Boen Tjhan other than helping his brother in managing Ho Ho Biscuit Factory, also dealt with property.   In 1908 for example he bought a large 772 acre "Teban Louisa" estate worth $33,500 which he hoped to open up for rubber and coconuts.

It is believed that both brothers dealt with properties from their company "CHOP HO SOON GO BOON QUAN BROTHERS" as advertisement during the early 1900s show both brothers sometimes advertise the same properties under their respective names.

However in Apr 1911,  Go Boon Tjhan announced on newspapers that the said Go Boon Quan Brothers partnership has been dissolved on the 24th of Apr 1911 and the same business will be taken on by him only as Chop E Ho Soon Gaw Boon Chan.  He also changed the spelling of his name at that time from Go Boen Tjhan to Gaw Boon Chan

I believe during this period and especially after the unfortunate incident below,  Go Boon Quan withdraw his business interest not only from the partnership but also from Ho Ho Biscuit Factory.

Go Boon Quan then disappeared from the radar from then on.  His son Go Khek Ghee, studied in Raffles School and later studied in Aberdeen Grammer School in UK from 1904 - 1906, then to Glasgow University and the Royal Technical College in Civil Engineering . After working for many years in UK, he joined the Ministry of Railways of Nanking, and was the Chief of the Public Works Department of the former British Concession of Hankow in 1927. By that time, both his parents Go Boon Quan and  Oei Siok Neo has passed away. 
(Malaya Tribune 26th March 1930, Pg 8)

Picture of Go Khek Ghee (also known as K Y Woo), second from the door with friends.  Taken in 1930s likely in Hankow where he was working for the Railways. (Pic courtesy of Hian Pouw)


It was 9 pm on Aug 30, 1911.

Gaw Khek Khiam, eldest son of Gaw Boon Chan,  last saw his father at Raffles Place on the afternoon of Aug 30, 1911.

In the evening,  Gaw Boon Chan went to his rented villa at Villa St Joseph, (he rented from Wan Eng Keat some 2 months ago) Pasir Panjang at 9 pm on Aug 30, 1911.

 He was lounging with several friends on the verandah of the bungalow.  The friends mentioned include Wee Theam Seng, sharebroker of the Arcade (two of Gaw Boon Chan sons have married two of Wee Theam Seng daughters, Tan Cheow Pin, merchant of Boat Quay (son of Tan Kim Ching), and E Kong Siang, retired merchant of Malacca, and residing nearby.

It was a little after 9 pm that one of the friends heard the barking from a dog, followed immediately by footsteps on the verandah stairs

Two Chinamen  then came up the front steps, one slightly in advance of the other and entered the verandah by the wicked gate, which was open at that time.

The leading man held a revolver in his hand, and with it he pointed speculatively round the group of towkays as if in search of his victim.  The man who brandished a revolver asked his companion which of the towkays was Gaw Boon Chan. The second man pointed to the deceased and the man with the revolver shot him multiple times before making his escape

Gaw Boon Chan's friends later ran for the police but some delay occurred owing to the telephone wires having been cut, and the murderers were able to make their escape. 

Gaw Boon Chan was then 52 years of age.  

This profile picture of Gaw Boon Chan, as published in Song Ong Siang book, should be taken just a few years before his death

It was found later his murder was masterminded by an ex employee of Ho Ho Biscuit Factory whom Gaw has introduced to work in the factory for many years. For some unknown reason, they quarreled and the ex-employee hired contract killers to kill Gaw.  He was sentenced to death but commuted to life sentence later.  He was released in Apr 1927 after serving for 14 years.

Page 14 Advertisements Column 5
The Straits Times, 22 October 1912, Page 14

From the auction notice above, you can see the vast amount of properties Gaw Boon Chan owned before he died,  and include many properties along Chin Swee Road where Ho Ho Factory site was.
Other land and properties include sea side residence at Changi, Tanah Merah Besar, Balmoral, Cairnhill Road and vacant land at 5 3/4 ms Bukit Timah

After Gaw Boon Chan death,  his son Gaw Khek Khiam took over the reins and became Managing Director and later  Chairman of Ho Ho Biscuits.  

Both the Gaw Family and the Chew family took management positions in Ho Ho Biscuit Factory.

His eldest son Go Khek Sin somehow was not involved in the business of Ho Ho Biscuit Factory. He married the sister of Kwa Siew Tee, Kwa Kiong Neo. Kwa Siew Tee was the father of Kwa Geok Choo and also came from Semarang. 

As mentioned above , both Gaw Boon Chan sons Gaw Khek Swee and Gaw Khek Chiew, both previous Chairman of Ho Ho Biscuit Factory, married Wee Theam Seng daughters Wee Inn Neo and Wee Ek Neo. Wee Theam Seng eldest daughter Wee Yew Neo was married to Kwa Siew Tee and their daughter Geok Neo was  married to Lee Kuan Yew. Another of Wee Theam Seng daughter Helene Wee was married to Mrs Tan Chin Tuan

In 1930, Ho Ho Biscuit Factory include 4 Gaw Boon Chan sons and Chew Boon Lay and his three sons. The other directors were Wee Theam Seng and Goh Chong Jin
(ST Directory of Singapore and Malaysia, 1930 edition) 

Gaw Khek Khiam unfortunately passed away, and the Chairman/MD position was taken over by his brothers  Gaw Khek Swee and Gaw Khek Chiew, other Chew Boon Lay children became the directors and also factory manager.

During the Japanese occupation, Ho Ho Biscuit Factory operations came to a halt and some machinery was damaged.   Gaw Khek Chiew announced winding up of the company on 11th Apr 1947 and to sell the factory and land and good will of Ho Ho Biscuits.

Fortunately a white knight came to the rescue.  A Chinese business man Ang Eng Ang managed to get together a consortium including Lim Seow Eng of Ho Hong Oil Mills  (son of Lim Peng Siang) and two other companies with a combined capital of $520,000 to bought over the business.  He also managed to ask Chew Chin Hong, a grandson of Chew Boon Lay to be the work manager.  (I believe Lim Seow Eng wife Mabel Tay Kheng Gian came from Semarang and research is still ongoing to find her relationshop with the Tay family in Semarang)

It was at this time that Ho Ho Biscuit Factory also restarted the well known Ho Ho Cup, a triangular football competition between Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong Chinese Football team.   The Ho Ho cup was donated under the leadership of  Gaw Khek Khiam in 1928.    Restarted in 1970, it would carry on until 1980 and many a soccer fans would love the watch the rivalry between Malaysia, Hongkong and Singapore football team then

Ho Ho Biscuit Factory also has a famous basketball team and even won the Commerical League Championship in 1949 and take on the US Navy Basketball team in the Great World Arena on 29th Apr 1950.

However,  business conditions deteriorated for Ho Ho Biscuits in the 1960s and the machinery was auctioned off in 1966.  On 17th Apr 1975, the company announced winding and a final meeting was held on 24th January 1980.

A chapter on the most illustrious local biscuit factory was brought to a close.

Here is a look at the Ho Ho advertisements through time ....


This rare 1930 calendar was sold for 3680 Yuan in a China bid