Mount Sophia



Mount Sophia was one of Singapore’s earliest middle-class residential neighborhoods in the 1800s.1 Early residents included William Flint, who was appointed by Stamford Raffles as Singapore's first master attendant,2 as well as August Behn, V. Lorenz Meyer and F. A. Schreiber of Behn, Meyer & Co. who were listed as residents of Mount Sophia in 1842.3 It was also home to prominent businessman, Eu Tong Sen.4 

History
Mount Sophia was originally known as Bukit Selegie or Bukit Selegi. The word Selegie refers to a wooden spear sharpened and hardened by fire, and is speculated to be linked to the Malay name for a “wooden-dart” (seligi). An alternative source references the nibong palm, called seligi, which is used in the making of such spears. A third explanation attributes the name to a famous Bugis pirate chief. The Bugis people living there were named after him as Orang Selegie.5


The earliest known map documenting Bukit Selegie dates back to 1822, shown with the adjacent Bukit Rawa, later known as Mount Emily.6  Captain William Flint had occupied the hill with his family in the latter part of 1823. Mount Sophia was supposedly named by him, in honour of Raffles's second wife, Sophia Hull, and Flint's daughter, Mary Sophia Anne.7 Flint was related to Raffles through his marriage to Raffles's favourite sister, Maryanne Raffles.Hence in early colonial times, Mount Sophia was also commonly referred to as Flint's Hill.

The earliest known documentation of Mount Sophia can be seen in Philip Jackson’s sketch dated 5 June 1823, which is also the earliest known drawing of Singapore, in a note stating “Mount Sophia Singapore. Propriet. Captn Flint” (sic).10 On the first topographical survey of Singapore by George D. Coleman published in 1836, the hill previously marked as Bukit Selegie had been replaced by Mount Sophia, while Bukit Selegie replaced Bukit Rawa, later known as Mount Emily.11 Mount Sophia was later sold to Charles Robert Prinsep who, by 1840, had established a huge nutmeg and coffee plantation on the hill and in the surrounding areas.12 

In 1859, Prinsep subdivided his estate into lots to be sold.13 There are suggestions that the hill’s name was attributed to other women who were named Sophia, specifically Sophia Prinsep, daughter of Charles Robert Prinsep; Sophia Cooke, a missionary who arrived in Singapore in 1853; and Sophia Blackmore, a missionary who came to Singapore in 1887.14 These attributions are rather unlikely as Philip Jackson’s 1823 sketch and maps from the 1830s had already shown the existence of this hill and it being named Mount Sophia.15 Sophia Cooke and Sophia Blackmore were missionaries who ran or established schools for girls on Mount Sophia, namely, St Margaret's School and Methodist Girls' School. Cooke became the principal of St Margaret’s in 1853, while Blackmore founded Methodist Girls’ School, originally known as the Tamil Girls’ School, in 1887.16

Educational and religious institutions

Sophia means "wisdom" in Greek and is an appropriate reference to the proliferation of educational institutions on the hill.17 These include Trinity Theological College, which was established on Mount Sophia in 1948,18 and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) which moved there in 1985.19 The college has since moved to Upper Bukit Timah Road, while NAFA found new premises on Bencoolen Street.20 When Methodist Girls' School moved out from Mount Sophia in 1993,21 its grounds were subsequently occupied by the Singapore Hotel Association Training & Educational Centre (SHATEC) and St Francis Methodist School. SHATEC has since moved to Bukit Batok, while St Francis Methodist School relocated to Upper Bukit Timah Road.22 St Margaret’s Primary School, however, still operates on the hill today at Wilkie Road.23 In 2010, the School of the Arts moved to their campus along the foot of Mount Sophia.24

Redevelopment and conservation
In 1996, the area around Mount Sophia was acquired by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for the development of the nearby North-East Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. Although the area was subsequently slated for residential development under the URA 2008 Master Plan, more than 80 buildings around Mount Sophia were given conservation status in 2003 and 2011 due to their significant heritage value.25

The former Cathay Building, Singapore's first skyscraper and its first air-conditioned cinema, also stood at the foot of Mount Sophia. The cinema was opened in 1939, but the building was eventually closed in 2000 for redevelopment. On 10 February 2003, Cathay Building (now The Cathay), with its Art Deco façade, was gazetted as a national monument.26 

Variant names
27 

Chinese names:
In Cantonese, yi-wong shan-keuk yau chuk-tsai keuk hui, which literally means "foot of Second Governor's hill going up from Tek Kha”, where “Tek Kha” refers to the Selegie Road neighbourhood and the “Second Governor’s hill” refers to the former Government Hill (the current Fort Canning Hill).
In Hokkien, ji-ong sua kha ti tek-kha khi, which also literally means "foot of Second Governor's hill going up from Tek Kha”.



Author

Vernon Cornelius



References
1. Ho, K. (2005, March 26). Moving up on the Mount. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

2. Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 135. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
3. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 351, 377. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
4. National Archives of Singapore. (1940s). Aerial view of Eu Tong Sen’s house, Eu Villa at Adis Road, Mount Sophia [Photograph] [Online]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
5. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 262, 337. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. National Archives of Singapore. (1822–1823). Singapore 1822–3 [Survey map]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website:http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 260, 262, 337. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
7. Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 144. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 262. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, J. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board and Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 95. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS) 
8. Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 135. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
9. Correspondence. (1831, May 26). Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, p. 3; Local. (1837, June 3). Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Archer, M. (1978). The Raffles drawings in the India Office Library. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, pp. 20–21 (Call no.: RSING 741.959 ARC); Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 144. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
11. National Archives of Singapore. (1822–23). Singapore 1822–3 [Survey map]. Retrieved 2016, November 15 from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Survey Department, Singapore. (1836). Map of the town and environs of Singapore [Survey map]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 260, 262, 337. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
12. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 406. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Belcher, J. H. (1840). Around the world: A narrative of a voyage in the East India Squadron, under Commodore George C. Read (Vol. 2), New York: Charles S. Francis; Boston: Joseph H. Francis, pp. 143–144. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Internet Archive website: https://archive.org/details/aroundworldnarra02belc
13. Page 3 advertisments column 1. (1859, April 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 262. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Unknown. (1974, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d). Sophia Blackmore. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/profiles/135-sophia-blackmore
15. Survey Department, Singapore. (1836). Map of the town and environs of Singapore [Survey Map]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Archer, M. (1978). The Raffles drawings in the India Office Library. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 741.959 ARC); Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 144. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
16. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d). Sophia Blackmore. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/profiles/sophia-blackmore; Lee, Y. M. (2002). Great is thy faithfulness: The story of St Margaret's School in Singapore. Singapore: St. Margaret's School, pp. 24, 27. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 SAI)
17. Untitled. (1974, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Trinity Theological College. (n. d). Milestones. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Trinity Theological College website: https://www.ttc.edu.sg/milestones/
19. Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. (n. d). Our history. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website: http://www.nafa.edu.sg/about-nafa/corporate-information/history#yearSeven
20. Trinity Theological College. (n. d). Milestones. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Trinity Theological College website: http://www.ttc.edu.sg/milestones/; Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. (n. d). Our history. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website: http://www.nafa.edu.sg/about-nafa/corporate-information/history#yearNine
21. Methodist Girls’ School. (n. d). Our heritage. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Methodist Girls School website: http://mgs.moe.edu.sg/others/our-heritage
22. The International Hotel & Tourism School (Singapore). (2016). Milestones. Retrieved 2016, November 18, from The International Hotel & Tourism School (Singapore) website: http://www.shatec.sg/about-us/milestones/; St Francis Methodist School. (2015). Our heritage and milestones. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from St Francis Methodist School website: http://www.sfms.edu.sg/index.php/our-heritage-milestones/; Singapore. Ministry of Culture. (1991). Singapore guide and street directory 1991 [Map 26]. Singapore: Ministry of Culture. (Call no: RSING 959.57 SSD); Singapore. Ministry of Culture. (1998). Singapore guide and street directory 1998/99 edition [Map 359]. Singapore: Ministry of Culture. (Call no: RSING 959.57 SSD)
23. St. Margaret’s Primary School. (2012). Our history. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from St. Margaret’s Primary School website: http://stmargaretspri.moe.edu.sg/about-us/our-history
24. Koh, J. (2010, January 5). School of the Arts moves into $145m campus. Today, p. 6; Whang, R. (2014, October 18). Location ‘elevates Mount Sophia’s cachet’. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

25. Low, M. (1996, March 6). Nafa will have to give way to MRT project. The Business Times, p. 3; Teo, E. & Tan, J. (2011, October 23). Old girls fight to save Old School. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Library Board. (2008). Cathay Building, 1941: General view [Photograph]. Retrieved from PictureSG; National Heritage Board. (2015, December 8). Former Cathay Building (now The Cathay). Retrieved 2017, February 27 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Roots/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-cathay-building-now-the-cathay; Next change – Cathay to become retail complex. (2003, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Firmstone, H. W. (1905, February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay PeninsulaJournal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society42, 53–208, pp. 115, 128–130. (Call no.: RQUIK 959.59 JMBRAS)



The information in this article is valid as at November 2018 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.

 

Subject
Streets and Places
Conservation areas
Arts>>Architecture>>Educational buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Residential buildings
Singapore--History
Street names--Singapore
Schools (Buildings)