Singapore General Hospital (SGH)


Singapore General Hospital (SGH), established in 1821, is Singapore’s first general hospital and oldest medical institution. Located at Outram Road, it had humble beginnings as a wooden shed built in the cantonment for troops situated close to the Singapore River, but it is today one of the nation's premier institutions with many firsts to its credit.

Early history
In 1819, a shed was set up in the cantonment near Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road to provide medical attention to European soldiers, sepoys and natives. This cantonment was at the foot of the hill on the Stamford Road side and had a parade ground between what is currently Prinsep Street, Albert Street, Queen Street and Bras Basah Road. The shed served as a general hospital staffed by army surgeons. In 1821, the first proper buildings were built to replace the shed. As was common at that time, European soldiers and the natives were segregated and treated in separate wards. Since medical facilities were scarcely available then, the hospital became very popular.

In 1822, the hospital moved to a site near the barracks. But a new hospital had to be constructed in 1828 as the existing building was in a state of disrepair. This new hospital was named the Singapore Infirmary. By 1830, just two years after its construction, the building again was in decay due to shoddy workmanship. Manpower in the hospital was scarce, with convicts used to assist staff. The hospital was administered by just one assistant surgeon, one assistant apothecary and a few medical subordinates.

In 1831, Dr Thomas Oxley took over as the new assistant surgeon and proposed a new hospital building. Opposition from various quarters notwithstanding, the Chamber of Commerce released $2,700 for the new hospital. However, approval to begin construction came only in 1843. The new hospital building was erected on Pearl’s Hill in 1845. Called the Seamen's Hospital, it treated patients with common illnesses, including fevers, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal complaints, rheumatism and venereal diseases.

In 1855, Pearl’s Hill had to be fortified and the hospital was to be moved again. A site was chosen at the Kandang Kerbau district and this became the hospital's new site in 1860. The hospital was divided into two different sections, the Seamen's Hospital and the Police Hospital. In 1865, the hospital started treating women for gynaecological problems and childbirth for the first time.

Though the hospital was well constructed, the location was not well chosen. The hospital occupied a low-lying plot that made it susceptible to the outbreak of cholera in 1873. The outbreak precipitated the shift to a larger hospital on a breezy high ground at the Sepoy Lines along Outram Road. Construction of the new hospital building was completed in 1882.

Overcrowding at the turn of the century led to the construction of a new bigger hospital at the same site. Named the Singapore General Hospital, it was opened by Sir Lawrence Nunns Guillemard, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, on 29 March 1926. Spread over 52ha, the new hospital was equipped with 800 beds, male, female and children wards, operating theatres, an outpatient block, a pathology laboratory and living quarters for nurses. Patients were admitted to the hospital irrespective of economic status.

During and after World War II
During the Japanese Occupation, the hospital was used as the main surgical hospital for Japanese forces in Southeast Asia. After the war, the three main blocks, previously known as Upper, Middle and Lower Blocks, were renamed Bowyer, Stanley and Norris Blocks to commemorate three doctors who had lost their lives during the war. With the advancement of medical science, new facilities were added to the hospital.

In 1969, the hospital began charging S$1 for a single-day accommodation for patients in Class C wards. All other services, however, remained free. In the 1960s, the hospital introduced post-graduate teaching programmes. Today, SGH is the nation's main post-graduate teaching hospital.

In the 1970s, the hospital planned for a new state-of-art building, to be situated within the same grounds. Officially opened by then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on 12 September 1981, it was built at a cost of S$180 million. Another S$90 million was spent on equipping the hospital with the latest medical devices. In 1993, the hospital was upgraded at the cost of S$10 million.

Bowyer Block is the only structure that remains of the 1926 hospital, with Norris and Stanley Blocks having been demolished in the 1970s to make way for the new hospital. The two-storey block, built in the neo-classical style, features a distinctive clock tower and was gazetted as a national monument on 11 November 2009.

1819 : The first general hospital was established in a shed in the cantonment near Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road.
1821 : The hospital’s first buildings were built to replace the shed.
1822 : The hospital was moved nearer to the barracks.
1828 : A new building was constructed and the hospital was called the Singapore Infirmary.
1845 : A new hospital was constructed on Pearl’s Hill and was called the Seaman’s Hospital.
1860 : The hospital moved to Kandang Kerbau.
1882 : The hospital moved to Sepoy Lines along Outram Road.
29 Mar 1926 : A new building replaced the existing building. The hospital, called the Singapore General Hospital, was officially opened by then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Lawrence Nunns Guillemard.
1969 : The first renal transplant of Singapore was performed at SGH.
12 Sep 1981 : A new hospital building, an eight-block complex, was constructed.
1983 : SGH became the first public hospital of Singapore to acquire a CT (Computerised Tomography) scanner.
1988 : SGH became the first hospital in Southeast Asia to provide surgery for cardiac arrhythmia.
1 Apr 1989 : The hospital was restructured and became an autonomous institution.
1990 : The first heart transplant surgery of Singapore was performed at SGH. It became the first hospital in Asia to successfully achieve a pregnancy through surgical sperm transfer. Asia’s first surgery to remove the gall bladder through endoscopy, called percutaneous endoscopic cholecystectomy, was performed at SGH.
1993 : SGH became Asia’s first hospital to remove brain tumours and arteriovenous malformations using virtual reality surgery.
28 Apr 1995 : SGH Postgraduate Medical Institute was officially opened.
Dec 1995 : SGH became the first hospital in the world to perform a peripheral blood stem cell transplant in a Thalassaemia patient from an unrelated matched donor.
25 Jul 2003 : SGH acquired the first cyclotron in Singapore to support advanced diagnostic imaging.

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

Bowyer Block. (2010). Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website:

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets & places (pp. 340-341). Singapore, Kuala Lumpur: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)

Hee, J. (2000, November 12). Getting to roots of first public dental clinic. The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Lim, A. (1995, April 30). SGH opens its wards to technological revolution. The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Perry, M. (2001, March 22). SGH recreates the past for its 180th birthday. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from Factiva database.

SGH aims to become top teaching hospital. (1995, April 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Singapore General Hospital. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from

Singapore General Hospital. (1976). Singapore General Hospital: 50th anniversary publication 1926-1976 (pp. 9, 12-19, 22-23, 48-72, 115-118). Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 SIN)

Singapore General Hospital. (1996). The first general hospital: 175th anniversary, 1821-1996 (pp. 7-18, 23-39, 68-70, 84-90). Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 FIR)

Sit, Y. F. (1995, December 22). SGH first in blood cell transplant. The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Tan, K. H., & Tay, E. H. (Eds.). (2003). The history of obstetrics and gynaecology in Singapore (pp. 37-38). Singapore: Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore; National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 618.095957 HIS)

Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp.166-167). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

Further readings
Fernandez, W. (1993, October 7). $10m upgrading at SGH for quicker treatment and shorter hospital stays. The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Luscombe, F. M. (1930). Singapore 1819-1930 (p. 38). Singapore: C. A. Ribeiro.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.51 LUS)

SGH aims to become top teaching hospital. (1995, April 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved
January 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Singapore General Hospital. (2001). SGH 21: Vision and voices of the new millennium. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 SIN)

Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 164-167). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

Public health
Public buildings
Public hospitals--Singapore
Politics and Government>>Health
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Public Buildings
Health and medicine>>Health services

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2005.