”… Mr Sub-assistant Surgeon Prendergast of the
Pinang Establishment, who came here in Medical charge of the European and
Native troops embarked at Pinang in January last and who continued in charge of
the General Hospital here…”
An extract of a
letter dated 10 June 1819 from Major William Farquhar to Sir Stamford Raffles,
recommending a promotion for Dr Thomas Prendergast to be Assistant Surgeon.
After Sir Stamford Raffles had negotiated for
the East India Company to establish a trading port in Singapore on 6 February
1819, there was an increased need for medical services to support the military
and sepoys. Raffles arrived on 28 January 1819 with detachments of European and
Indian troops (sepoys) on seven ships, including Dr Thomas Prendergast. The
various military barracks were equipped with small “hospitals“, as seen in
The term “hospital” was loosely applied to
mean a modest set up (possibly a shed) where medicine was dispensed and where
the needs of the sick might be attended to. The various medical facilities in
the military cantonments around the parade grounds in the historic centre of
Singapore grew more organised over the years, becoming the forerunners of the
Singapore General Hospital.
References were made to an early hospital in
1821. Re-sited at least six times, the hospital was permanently established at
the site of Sepoy Lines. The site was seen to be suitable for its open spaces,
elevated and well-drained ground and steady water supply.
It is believed that older generations of
locals referred to the hospital as See Pai Poh (Hokkien dialect for “Sepoy’s
Hill”), as a euphemism for “hospital“, possibly due to superstitions
surrounding the need to seek attention for ill health.
On 29 March 1926, the Upper, Middle and Lower
Blocks – parts of which remain today – were opened by the Straits Settlements
Governor, Sir Laurence Nunns Guillemard. The hospital’s earlier iterations were
more modest operations serving European soldiers, merchants, seamen and sepoys,
and a smaller proportion of locals.
The new hospital had 800 beds in male, female
and children’s wards, operating theatres, an outpatient block, a pathology
laboratory as well as living quarters for nurses.
The Sepoy Lines site was a milestone in the
history of medicine in Singapore. In 1968, it was renamed the Outram Road
General Hospital (ORGH), all the while expanding its operations to address
public healthcare needs.