Sophia Blackmore

Sophia Blackmore (b. 18 October 1857, Goulburn, NSW, Australia  3 July 1945, Australia) was the first woman missionary sent by the Methodist Women's Foreign Missionary Society to Singapore. During her stay from 1887-1927, she helped to found two Methodist Girls schools, which are known today as the Methodist Girls' School and the Fairfield Methodist Secondary School respectively. She also set up a boarding home for girls, supported the early Methodist Straits Chinese Christian work and published a Christian periodical in Baba Malay.

Early life
Born 100 miles off Sydney, Australia, Blackmore came from a devout Christian family from London who had migrated south in the 1850s. Her mother's family had had associations with missionary greats such as Robert Morrison, Robert Moffat and David Livingstone while her father was an established solicitor in New South Wales. She was one of eight children.

Journey to Singapore
Influenced by Isabella Leonard, a visiting American missionary, Blackmore left for India on 10 December 1886 with her mind set on serving China. She was sent under the auspices of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) of the American Methodist Episcopal Church since single women serving as missionaries were unusual and Blackmore's Australian church did not support such a venture. However, Blackmore found no permanent position when she arrived in India. Then in Madras, she met Reverend William Oldham who had gone to India for a conference. This chance meeting opened the doors for Blackmore to contribute to the growing missionary field in Malaya. To prepare for her move, Blackmore took Malay lessons from a family in Moradabad. The couple had previously resided in Singapore. It was also in Moradabad that Blackmore was officiated into the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Work in Singapore
On her arrival in Singapore on 16 July 1887, Blackmore was encouraged by the Oldhams' work which included the local Methodist Episcopal Church and the Anglo-Chinese School at Coleman Road. Within a month, Blackmore helped open a school for Tamil girls on 15 August 1887, with the support of the Reverend Oldham, several members of the Indian community and a teacher named Alexander Hagedorn (Mrs Alexander Fox). Known originally as the Tamil Girls' School, the school was later renamed as the Methodist Girls' School. To memory of her, the road at the school site was named Blackmore Drive.

Visiting homes by horse-carriage in the estates bounded by Telok Ayer and Neil Road led to the establishment of a second school for girls.  Tan Keong Saik, along with other influential Chinese families, had persuaded her to teach their daughters - an uncommon request as girls were not a priority for education amongst the Chinese then. A widow, Nonya Boon, later offered Blackmore her home along Cross Street to start a school for girls. Beginning with just eight girls, the Anglo-Chinese Girls' School began in August 1888. Under the leadership of Emma Ferris, who was principal from 1892-1894, the school grew and eventually became the Fairfield Methodist Girls' School. In 1983, the school went co-educational and the school was renamed as the Fairfield Methodist Secondary School.

Entrusted with the care of a young girl when she recently arrived in Singapore, Blackmore saw the need for a home for girls. Thus on 1 May 1890, a boarding home was set up for girls. First located at Sophia Road, the home moved several times along locations up the hill until its move to a bungalow at No. 4 Sophia Road. The house stood at the pinnacle of the hillock with a bird's eye view of the city. It was known initially as the Deaconess Home because it also housed many single lady missionaries and teachers. It is now more familiarly known as Nind Home (1912) after Mary C. Nind. The home served as a residence to many of the school-going girls and several runaways, mui tsais, abandoned girls and orphans. The Blackmore's girls, as they became known, were nurtured in the Christian faith and became suitable mates for Christian boys from similar homes in Malacca and Singapore.

To help her in her work, a certain Inche Ismail taught the young Blackmore High Malay. However, a form of market Malay was used as the lingua franca by the various races that poured into Singapore at the turn of the 20th century. Blackmore had therefore to adapt her knowledge of Malay in her work with the Indians, Malays and the Straits Chinese. She became proficient enough in local street Malay to translate hymns, and published the Baba Malay periodical, Sahabat using William Shellabear's printing press.  The paper was originally meant for women, but it became so popular, distribution went beyond Penang.

In 1894, Blackmore's home became the base for a Straits Chinese church headed by Goh Hood Keng, beginning with just six members and 16 probationers. Prior to this, Blackmore had already been preaching regularly in Malay on Sundays to girls from the Nind Home, Epworth boys and workers from the Missionary Press. Blackmore would accompany Reverend Goh and Dr Benjamin F. West to preach in the open-air at Telok Ayer. By 1901, the blossoming Straits Chinese church had grown large enough to move to the Christian Institute at Middle Road. The Kampong Kapor Methodist Church thus traces beginnings to Blackmore's early preaching work in the 1890s.

The Bible Women's Training School was organised to train local women to carry on the duties of Christian social work that had already been established. Blackmore was the first to head it between 1901 and 1903. The School trained Eurasian ladies and gradually Chinese women from various parts of Malaya, in home visitation. The Bible Women's Training School was considered ahead of its time in developing local, self-supporting work.
Blackmore retired to Australia in 1927 though she did make several visits to Singapore prior to the outbreak of World War II. She passed away on 3 July 1945.

Bonny Tan

Doraisamy, T. R. (Ed.). (1987). Sophia Blackmore in Singapore: Educational and missionary pioneer 1887-1927. Singapore: Singapore:General Conference Women's Society of Christian Service, Methodist Church of Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING 266.70924 SOP)

Fairfield Methodist Secondary School. (2006). History. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from

Ho, Seng Ong. (1965). Methodist schools in Malaysia: Their record and history (p. 66). Petaling Jaya: Board of Education, Malaya Annual Conference.
(Call no.: RCLOS 370.9595 HO)

Koh, al. (Eds.) (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia (p. 65). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet with the National Heritage Board.
(Call No.: RSING 959.57003 SIN)

Sng, B. E.K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819-2002 (pp. 112-114, 118, 120, 160). Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore : Graduates' Christian Fellowship.
(Call no. RSING 280.4095957 SNG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Politics and Government>>Education
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity
Women educators--Singapore--Biography
Methodist women--Singapore--Biography
Blackmore, Sophia, 1857-1945
Women missionaries--Singapore--Biography

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