Dato Loke Wan Tho (1915–1964) was the son of Loke Yew, one of Malaya’s first millionaires and philanthropists. He was born in Kuala Lumpur and educated at the Victorian Institution, Chillon College at Montreaux, Switzerland, King’s College, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. In 1946 he became Chairman of the Cathay Company, which at the time owned two cinemas in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Within 15 years the company had built up a chain of 60 cinemas, as well as two studios and four hotels. He was chairman of about 30 other companies concerned with banking, trading, insurance, rubber, tin, shipping, and film production and distribution, as well as chairing such bodies as the Straits Times, Malayan Airways, the Singapore Telephone Board and the National Library of Singapore Board.
Loke Wan Tho was a man of wide interests and extraordinary energy. In 1942 he met Salim Ali, the curator of the Natural History Museum in Bombay, and developed a passion for ornithology. Often in the company of Ali and the British proconsul Malcolm MacDonald, he travelled to India, Kashmir, Sarawak, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Finland and other countries and states photographing birds and archaeological monuments. Many of his photographs were reproduced in MacDonald’s book Angkor (1958). In 1961 Wan Tho visited Australia, staying with Professor Jock Marshall and camping in the Murray Mallee region with Eric Worrell, Russell Drysdale and others. His book A Company of Birds was published in 1957. He was the leading art collector in Malaysia, with a collection extending from pre-Han pottery to modern paintings.
Loke Wan Tho and his wife were killed in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1964.
The collection was donated to the Library by the executors of Loke Wan Tho in 1978.
The Loke Wan Tho Collection contains 232 books and reprints, mostly dating from 1945–64. The principal subjects are ornithology and photography, and there are also works on cinematography, art, architecture, journalism, Malayan fauna and flora, Malayan history, constitutional change in Malaya, the formation of Malaysia and economics. There are a number of travel guides and also several articles by Loke Wan Tho on ornithological subjects.
Manuscripts and Personal Papers
The papers of Lok Wan Tho are extensive. Dating from 1942 to 1964, they include documents about his father, private correspondence, correspondence with ornithologists and photographers, office diaries and memoranda, speeches, travel journals and photographs, tape recordings of speeches and interviews, papers relating to badminton, papers concerning universities and other organisations, newspaper cuttings, scrapbooks and letters of condolence on his death.
The collection includes 55 maps that were acquired by Loke Wan Tho in his travels in Europe, Asia, the United States and Australia. They are mostly road maps published in the period 1945–64.
There are a very large number of contact prints and negatives taken by Loke Wan Tho on his ornithological expeditions to Papua New Guinea (1952), North Borneo (1953), Europe (1954), Sikkim (1955), India (1957), Sarawak (1957), Brunei (1958), Cambodia (1958), Finland (1958), Norway (1958), Sweden (1958), Kutch (1960), Australia (1961) and Fiji (1961). There are also photographs of his visits to Kashmir (1951) and Angkor Wat in Cambodia (1954, 1956). The collection also contains many exhibition prints, mainly of birds. Most of them were taken by Loke Wan Tho, but they include prints by Salim Ali, A. Aubrey Bodine, Arthur Christiansen, Kurt Ellstrom, Hedda Morrison and K.W. Wong.
The books in the Loke Wan Tho Collection have been catalogued individually and are housed in the New Series pool in the general collection. The call numbers have the prefix NS. The manuscripts and personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 6057. The finding aid is incomplete: it covers series 1, 2, 4, 5, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 24, 26 and 27.
The maps are housed in the Maps Collection. They have been described in a finding aid, and have been digitised and are available online. The photographs are held in both the Manuscripts and Pictures collections. The former are filed with the travel journals and related papers. The latter are located at PIC/8034.
Collections of photographs and artworks assembled by Loke Wan Tho are held in the National Museum of Malaysia, the Singapore Art Gallery and the National Library of Singapore. Most of the Angkor Wat photographs were donated to the University of Singapore Art Museum, the Institute of South East Asian Studies and the Smithsonian Institution. The National Library of Singapore holds microfilm copies of part of the collection in the National Library of Australia.
Kam Hing Lee and Chow Mun Seong, Biographical Dictionary of the Chinese in Malaysia, Pelanduk Publications, Petaling Jaya, 1997, pp. 122–5.
Loke Wan Tho Papers, MS 6057/4/1–2.
Obituary of Loke Wan Tho, The Times (London), 30 June 1964, p. 12.
Straits Times, 24 June 1964, pp. 1, 18.