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Loke Wan Tho : biography

14 June 1915 - 20 June 1964

Loke Wan Tho ( 1915–1964) born in Kuala Lumpur (now in Malaysia), was a Malaysian-born Singaporean business magnate, ornithologist, and photographer. He was the founder of Cathay Organisation in Singapore and Malaysia, and Motion Picture and General Investments Limited (MP&GI) in Hong Kong.


  • A Company of Birds. Michael Joseph, London 1959
  • Angkor, by Malcolm MacDonald and Loke Wan Tho, Jonathan Cape, London, 1958,59,60.

Text by Malcolm MacDonald, with chapters including “The History of Khmers”。“The Ruins of Khmers”。 111 Black and White Plates of Angkor Wat, taken by Loke Wan Tho and M.MacDonald。

Loke Wan Tho Memorials

Loke Wan Tho memorial, Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong

  • Loke Wan Tho Photography Exhibit is housed on 3rd floor of Singapore Photography Society
  • Loke Wan Tho Library in Singapore Jurong Bird Park
  • Wan Tho Avenue in Sennet Estate, Singapore
  • Loke Wan Tho Star, #38 Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong
  • Museum open to the public housed on 2nd floor of The Cathay


Earl Years

Born in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June 1915, Dato Loke Wan Tho was the 9th child of Loke Yew. Loke Yew had come to Malaya in 1858 as a poor youth of 11 years of age and by his death had amassed a fortune to make him one of the richest men in Malaya. Wan Tho was 2 years old when his father died. His early education was at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, a school set up by the British for Chinese boys which counted Loke Yew as one of its founders.

By reason of his delicate health, he was taken by his mother Mrs Loke Cheng Kim together with his two younger sisters to school at Chillon College in Montreux, Switzerland in 1929. He was the Swiss County (Vaud) long jump champion in 1932. He then went up to King's College, Cambridge where he obtained an Honour's degree in English Literature and History in 1936. English literature and poetry henceforward became his steadfast companions throughout his life and it was known that in his minimal personal kit on all his ornithological expeditions was always to be found some of his favourite anthologies. For a brief period after that, he was at the London School of Economics. However the winds of war were blowing in Europe and he returned to Malaya just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Escaping the Japanese in February 1942 on a ship called Nora Moller, Dato Loke Wan Tho did not escape unscathed as a bomb from a Japanese aircraft sank his ship in the Strait of Banka. He was rescued from the sea, temporarily blinded and severely burned. He was hospitalised in Batavia (Jakarta) and then evacuated to India. However, he was fortunate in that shortly after he arrived in Bombay, he was introduced to the famous Indian ornithologist Dr Salim Ali, who was to become a lifetime friend and a frequent companion on many major expeditions. It was to Dr Salim Ali's credit that Dato Loke's passion for ornithology developed. As Dato Loke himself wrote in his book "A Company of Birds" of his friend" : "Under the guidance of an expert (Salim Ali) my interest in birds which hitherto had been but of a dilettante kind blossomed into a deeper passion."

Business career

Although Dato Loke had inherited a vast fortune of tin mines, plantations and properties from his father Loke Yew, he went on to grow the company which his mother had formed together with him in 1935 called Associated Theatres Ltd. The Pavilion Cinema in Kuala Lumpur and the Cathay Cinema in Singapore were built. Partnerships were forged with Mr Ho Ah Loke and others to form the Cathay cinema circuit that counted 80 cinemas at its peak. Associated Theatres Ltd later changed its name to Cathay Organisation in 1959.

By 1953 Dato Loke and Ho Ah Loke had started production of Malay films at the Cathay Keris Studios which were purpose built. Many a classic film has come from these studios located out in East Coast Road Singapore - Pontianak, Orang Minyak, Bawang Puteh Bawang Merah, Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat and many more.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine