Benjamin Sheares



Benjamin Henry Sheares (Dr) (b. 12 August 1907, Singapore–d. 12 May 1981, Singapore) was the second president of the Republic of Singapore. He held this office from 2 January 1971 at the age of 63 until his death on 12 May 1981. Besides his presidency, Sheares was also known as Singapore’s “father of modern obstetrics and gynaecology”. He lends his name to several landmarks and buildings including the Benjamin Sheares Bridge, Singapore’s longest bridge, and the Sheares Hall, a hostel of the National University of Singapore.1

Early life
Sheares received his early education at established institutions such as the Methodist Girls’ School, St Andrew’s School and Raffles Institution. In 1923, he was accepted into the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore and was conferred the Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery degree in March 1929.2


Medical career
Sheares distinguished himself in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G), obtaining several firsts for Singapore in this field. He was the first Singaporean to specialise in O&G; the first local to be appointed professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Malaya in Singapore, a post usually reserved for colonials; and the first medical practitioner in Singapore to use the lower segment method of performing Caesarean sections.3 Sheares also pioneered a gynaecological procedure that involves creating an artificial vagina for those born without one. Named after him, the procedure gained him worldwide recognition.4 Despite criticism from his peers, he was a strong advocator of voluntary sterilisation and family planning.5

After working as an assistant medical officer for two years at the Sepoy Lines General Hospital (later renamed Singapore General Hospital), Sheares began his career in O&G in April 1931 when he was transferred to the O&G department.6 Six years later, Sheares was posted to the Kandang Kerbau Hospital to oversee the obstetrics patient ward, though he returned to the General Hospital intermittently to practise gynaecology.7

He was awarded the Queen’s Fellowship in 1940, a two-year postgraduate scholarship in Britain, but had to postpone this as a result of World War II.During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), he continued to distinguish himself as a gynaecologist, becoming head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (now known as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital). After the war ended, the King Edward VII College of Medicine appointed him as acting professor of obstetrics and gynaecology.9 Between 1960 and 1963, Sheares also served as president of the Family Planning Association.10

Presidency
Sheares was made president of Singapore two months after the death of his predecessor, Yusof Ishak. He maintained a humble life despite his new position, returning to his home daily at Holt Road for lunch and dinner. He refused a higher salary for his role and took six months to agree to his third presidential term in 1978.11 During the 10th year of his presidency, Sheares collapsed and fell into a coma for five days before passing away. Around 85,000 people turned up at the Istana to pay their last respects.12

Timeline13

1929–1931: Assistant medical officer, Sepoy Lines General Hospital.
1931: Transferred to O&G department.
1937: Posted to Kandang Kerbau Hospital to oversee obstetrics ward.
1942–1945: Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and medical superintendent of the local patient’s section, Kandang Kerbau Hospital.
1945: Acting professor, King Edward College VII College of Medicine.
May 1947: Left for London for postgraduate degree.
Jan 1948: First Singapore obstetrician to qualify as a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of England.
Mar 1948: Recalled back to Singapore to act as professor of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Jun 1948: Appointed honorary consultant, British Military Hospital.
Jan 1948: Acting professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Malaya.
Jan 1950–Jun 1960: Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, University of Malaya in Singapore.
Dec 1951: Observed in-teaching O&G in San Francisco, Chicago, St Louis, New York and Boston.
1957: Founding member, Academy of Medicine.
1960: Retires and starts private practice; appointed honorary consultant, Kandang Kerbau Hospital.
1970: Appointed to the Committee on Medical Specialisation.

Awards14
1964: Darjah Jiwa Mahkota Kelantan
1968: Darjah Paduka Mahkota Kedah15
1970: Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Singapore
1972: Knight Grand Cross, United Kingdom
1974: Star of the Republic of Indonesia Adipurna
1975: Honorary fellow, Royal Society of Medicine
1976: Ancient Order of Sikatuna (Raja), the Philippines
1976: Honorary fellow, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists

Family
Wife: Yeo Seh Geok (b. 6 March 1917–d. 8 July 2012), a trained midwife, whom he married in 1939.16
Daughter: Constance (b. 1941).
Sons: Joseph (b. 1943) and Edwin (b. 1949).17

Publications

Sheares published about 20 articles on O&G in professional journals. These include:


Sheares, B. H. (1977). Congenital and acquired atresia of the vagina. Singapore: University of Singapore Library Microfilm Services.
(Call no.: RCLOS 618.15043 SHE)


Sheares, B. H. (1978). Towards the eighties: Address by B. H. Sheares, President of Singapore at the opening of second session of the fourth parliament, 26 Dec. 1978. Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RCLOS 354.5957 SIN)

Sheares, B. H. (1981). The vital tasks ahead: Address by B. H. Sheares, President of the Republic of Singapore at the opening of the first session of the fifth parliament on Feb. 3 1981, and addenda to the President's address. Singapore: Information Division, Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 VIT)

Sheares, B. H. (1987). A statistical study of congenital anomalies of the female genitalia in Singapore, with special reference to incidence, the types of anomalies, etiology based on economic status, and the incidence of these anomalies in infertility, abortion and dystocia. Singapore: National University of Singapore Library Reprographic Services.
(Call no.: RCLOS 618.10430095957 SHE)




Author

Sitragandi Arunasalam



References
1. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Singapore Eurasian Association, pp. 86–87. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN); President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Benjamin Sheares. Retrieved 2016, April 5 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-benjamin-sheares; Morais, J. V. (Ed.) Who’s who in Malaysia 1973–1974 & guide to Singapore.Kuala Lumpur: J. V. Morais, p. i. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.0595 WWM)
2. Tan, K. H., & Tay, E. H. (Eds.). (2003). The history of obstetrics and gynaecology in Singapore. Singapore: Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore & National Heritage Board, pp. 412–461. (Call no.: RSING q618.095957 HIS)
3. Singapore chronicles: A special commemorative history of Singapore. (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, pp. 50–51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
4. Sheares to operate on third-class patient. (1971, April 20). Singapore Herald, p. 1; Sheares: They call him the the father of obstetrics and gynaecology in S'pore. (1976, April 28). New Nation, pp. 10–11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Mulliner, K. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, pp. 133–134. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL)
6. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Benjamin Sheares. Retrieved 2016, April 5 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-benjamin-sheares
7. Sheares, J. H. H. (2005, July). Benjamin Henry Sheares, MD, MS, FRCOG: President, Republic of Singapore 1971–1981; Obstetrician and Gynaecologist 1931–1981. A biography, 12th August 1907–12th May 1981. Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), p. 26C. Retrieved 2016, February 7 from Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore website: http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/34VolNo6200506/V34N6p25C.pdf
8. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Benjamin Sheares. Retrieved 2016, April 5 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-benjamin-sheares
9. Sheares, J. H. H. (2005, July). Benjamin Henry Sheares, MD, MS, FRCOG: President, Republic of Singapore 1971–1981; Obstetrician and Gynaecologist 1931–1981. A biography, 12th August 1907–12th May 1981. Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), p. 26C. Retrieved 2016, February 7 from Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore website: http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/34VolNo6200506/V34N6p25C.pdf
10. 200 babies a day in Singapore. (1960, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 4; All ‘ayes’ for Sheares. (1970, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrived from NewspapeSG.
11. A man of humility who put the nation before self. (1981, May 13). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee, P., et al. (1981, May 15). The people’s tribute. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Benjamin Sheares. Retrieved 2016, April 5 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-benjamin-sheares; Sheares, J. H. H. (2005, July). Benjamin Henry Sheares, MD, MS, FRCOG: President, Republic of Singapore 1971–1981; Obstetrician and Gynaecologist 1931–1981. A biography, 12th August 1907–12th May 1981. Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), pp. 26C–27C. Retrieved 2016, February 7 from Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore website: http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/34VolNo6200506/V34N6p25C.pdf; 200 babies a day in Singapore. (1960, March 11).The Straits Times, p. 4; All ‘ayes’ for Sheares. (1970, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrived from NewspaperSG.
14. President’s Office. (2013, January 25). Dr Benjamin Sheares. Retrieved 2016, April 5 from The Istana website: http://www.istana.gov.sg/the-president/former-presidents/dr-benjamin-sheares
15. Kedah sultan honours Prof. Sheares. (1968, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Obituaries. Yeo Seh Geok. (2012, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, V. (2012, July 11). Late president Sheares’ wife dies at 95. My Paper. Retrieved Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17. Sheares, J. H. H. (2005, July). Benjamin Henry Sheares, MD, MS, FRCOG: President, Republic of Singapore 1971–1981; Obstetrician and Gynaecologist 1931–1981. A biography, 12th August 1907–12th May 1981. Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 34(6), p. 27C. Retrieved 2016, February 7 from Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore website: http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/34VolNo6200506/V34N6p25C.pdf



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can 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
Politicians
Presidents--Singapore--Biography
Health and medicine>>Medical science>>Medical profession
Sheares, Benjamin Henry, 1907-1981
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
Gynecologists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders