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Settling at Sepoy Lines

​In 1882, the sixth General Hospital opened at Sepoy Lines, where barracks for the Indian soldiers called sepoys used to be located. The site at today's Outram Road was considered ideal – on a hill and open to the prevailing breezes, with good drainage and water supply, and near to town.

In the succeeding years, two new general hospitals would be built on the same site. From the name of this location, the Chinese inhabitants started to call it "See Pai Poh" (in the Hokkien dialect) or "Sei Pai Por" (in the Cantonese dialect), a name that is still commonly used to refer to The Singapore General Hospital today.  

There have been many accounts of the origins and meanings of this colloquial name, which seems to be based on the Chinese articulation of the word "sepoy". However, the meaning that perhaps came to best illustrate the perception of General Hospital in the eyes of the local people can be found in the literal hanyu pinyin Chinese version of "Shi Pai Pu" (施排埔) - "Shi" meaning charity or free; "Pai" to queue; and "Pu" on a hill top. To the people, the Hospital was the place on a hill where they could go to seek medical care which was available to everyone.

At Sepoy Lines, nuns from the local French convent began to care for the sick in the General Hospital, from 1 August 1885. From this point on, nursing made its presence felt in Singapore. For this reason, Singapore celebrates Nurses Day on 1 August each year.

Plan of Sepoy Lines showing proposed site for a new hospital 1879. From public record Office: Maps and plans extracted to rolled storage from various series of records. Straits Settlements: Singapore.

Plan of Sepoy Lines showing proposed site for a new hospital 1879.
From public record Office: Maps and plans extracted to rolled storage from various series of records. Straits Settlements: Singapore.

Source: NAS/The National Archives United Kingdom

Front elevation of proposed European Hospital, c.1879

Front elevation of proposed European Hospital, c.1879

Source: NAS/The National Archives, United Kingdom

The People's Hospital

When the 20th century dawned on Singapore, it was one of the glittering jewels in the crown of the British Empire - a bustling trading centre and bastion of its influence and prominence in the East. England's King George V and Queen Mary visited the colony in 1901 and by 1904, it had become the world's seventh busiest port. However, there were telling signs that social progress was somewhat lagging behind economic success: population growth was rapid, but the number of deaths exceeded births as the prevailing diseases then continued to plague the people.

The General Hospital built in 1882 at Sepoy Lines was eventually replaced by another. On 29 March 1926, an extensively rebuilt Singapore General Hospital (SGH) was opened by Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Laurence Nunns Guillemard. It was to be a landmark in the medical history of Singapore. Boasting 800 beds in three blocks, it housed male, female and children’s wards as well as operating theatres, a laboratory, an outpatient block and living quarters for nurses.

It also broke away completely from caring for only seamen and the police, to providing modern medical care to the local people, regardless of race or social background. For the first time, the local people had access to government-run health facilities.

In the same year, in 1926, the College of Medicine Building was opened at the same location to house the medical school in Singapore which was set up in 1905. By training locals, Singapore did not have to depend entirely on posting of doctors from Britain and India. Today, the building is home to the Ministry of Health.



Source: NAS/The National Archives United Kingdom

Operating Theatre, 1926

Operating Theatre, 1926

Source: NAS/The National Archives United Kingdom


The Early Years

The birth of modern Singapore is inextricably linked to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles on 28 January, 1819. Two years after his arrival, the foundation stone for the first general hospital was laid.

Settling at Sepoy Lines

​The Singapore General Hospital till today is still remembered as "See Pai Poh" because of its late 19th century relocation to Sepoy Lines, which came to designate the locality around the General Hospital.

War And Awakening

The Japanese occupation forces took over the General Hospital for use by their troops in Southeast Asia.

However, the disruption from the war brought about a paradigm shift in the local medical community. With the expatriate doctors interned by the Japanese during the war, local doctors and staff assumed full responsibility in running the hospitals that continued to serve the locals. They proved themselves capable and became aware of the imperative need to unify the medical service with equal treatment of local and colonial doctors posted from Britain and India.

Envisioning Our Destiny

​Just five years after gaining independence, Singapore was actively exploring avenues of economic development to ensure its sustainability. Initiatives were underway to make Singapore a liveable city, and healthcare systems and services had to keep pace with modern advances across the globe.

Walking With The Nation

​As the country was gripped by events like Konfrontasi, the Maria Hertogh riots, the Pulau Senang prison riot and the Hock Lee Bus protests, SGH continued to treat their respective victims.

200 Years And Beyond

​SGH has undergone numerous transformations since its establishment nearly 200 years ago to keep up with the needs of Singaporeans. The iconic Bowyer Block, a National Monument in recognition of its national significance and rich history, is a standing reminder of how far we have come in advancing patient care.