Born in Malacca, Song studied at the London Missionary Society Anglo-Chinese College. When the college was moved to Hong Kong in 1843, he went with the principal, James Legge, to continue his studies. Two years later, on home leave, Legge brought Song and two other Chinese boys to Scotland, where they studied in a parish school. All three boys were converted and baptized in the Congregational church from which William Milne had come. They were also presented to Queen Victoria. Song returned to Singapore in 1849. He taught briefly, but in 1853 he joined the P& O Steamship Company, where he served as cashier until he retired in 1895. When Song returned from Scotland, his parents arranged a marriage for him with a non-Christian girl. His refusal to marry her earned him the displeasure of his parents. Instead, he chose Yeo Choon Neo, a former student of Chinese Girls’ School (of Sophia Cooke fame). After her death, Song married Phan Fung Lean of Penang. Their eldest son, Song Ong Siang, later became a prominent lawyer and was a leading figure on the local scene.
Song worked alongside Benjamin Keasberry and was for many decades a key figure in the Malay Chapel; the oldest Straits Chinese church, it is today known as Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. His fine melodious voice made him a natural choice in leading congregational singing. He preached from the pulpit both in English and Malay. His own parents and a number of young men were led to Christ by him. Two of them, Tan Kong Wee and Tan Boon Chin, later became his sons-in-law, and they were in much demand as lay preachers both in the church as well as in prison work. Another convert, Foo Tong Quee, took up business and became a leader in the Hylam community.
When he died, Song was survived by nine daughters and five sons. The Straits Chinese Magazine paid him a tribute, noting that “he was neither rich nor great, but he was a specimen of the best type of the Chinese character. Sober, persevering and conservative, he was a mighty rock to his large family … He toiled on quietly, and in hope and faith, raised up sons and daughters to worship God, and to work for the kingdom of heaven” (Dec 1900).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
Cook, J. A. Bethune, Sunny Singapore (1907). Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore (1923).