Straits Medical Association

The Straits Medical Association was established in 1890 by a group of medical officers who saw a need to form a professional body for medical practitioners in Singapore to discuss and research local diseases and other medical subjects. The pioneering batch of office-bearers included Dr D. J. Galloway (president), Dr W. Gilmore Ellis (vice president), Dr J. T. Leask (committee member), Dr C. L. H. Tripp (committee member) and Dr E. W. Von Tunzelmann (honorary secretary and treasurer). The association was also responsible for the publication of the first medical journal in the region, Journal of the Straits Medical Association, in 1892.1

The association held its preliminary meeting on 11 March 1890 and the attendees included Galloway, Leask, Von Tunzelmann and Dr T. C. Mugliston. During the meeting, it was proposed that the society be called the Straits Medical Society, and a committee was appointed to draft rules for the society. On 22 April 1890, at its third meeting, the society formally adopted Straits Medical Association as its name. The first office-bearers were elected and 16 association rules were accepted.2

The first presidential address was made by Galloway on 3 May 1890 at the association’s general meeting. In his inaugural speech, Galloway noted that cooperative research and learning was important for the medical community and that the tropical climate of Singapore presented unique perspectives to the study of medicine. On 3 October 1891, a recommendation was made to change the association’s name to Straits Medical and Scientific Association, but this proposal was rejected.3

During the association’s formative years, its membership was small because some medical practitioners were keen to join it only if it became a branch of the British Medical Association (BMA). Despite this, the association did well. Regular monthly meetings were held and meeting notes were faithfully recorded. The association also published its journal, Journal of the Straits Medical Association, in 1892 under the editorship of Dr Max F. Simon, the principal civil medical officer of the Straits Settlements. Eighteen months after its establishment, membership in the association had increased to 18 ordinary, seven corresponding and four honorary members.4

Malaya branch of the British Medical Association
On 17 December 1892, the association decided to initiate talks with the BMA regarding its intention to register as a branch of the latter. The talks were a success and on 1 January 1894, the Straits Medical Association was admitted as a branch of the BMA, and became known as the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association (MBBMA). Its assets and liabilities, including the library and museum, were transferred to the newly formed Malayan branch. Galloway was appointed as its first president. Membership of the association then stood at 38 ordinary members and two honorary members. By 1910, close to 50 percent of the 215 registered practitioners in British Malaya, including Singapore, had become members of the MBBMA.5

In light of this new development, publication of the Journal of the Straits Medical Association was discontinued. It was later revived in 1904 as the Journal of the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association. Due to either insufficient contributions or editorial issues, the journal could not sustain its publication and suffered from a series of false starts. Some of the various names under which the journal was published included Malaya Medical Journal (1911–1912), Transactions of the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association (1922–1923), and Malayan Medical Journal (1926–1937). From 1937–1941, the journal was known as the Journal of the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association, and from 1946 as the Medical Journal of Malaya. It was finally re-named Medical Journal of Malaysia from 1972 onwards.6

Besides the presentation and publication of papers, the association was also instrumental in the drafting of three ordinances, namely the Medical Registration Act (1905), the Pharmacy Act (1909) and the Poisons Act (1905).7

Singapore Medical Association
Reflecting rapid political developments during the post-war era, the MBBMA went through sweeping changes during the 1950s. In November 1958, the medical doctors in Singapore and the Federation of Malaya decided to set up a pan-Malayan association, known as the Malayan Medical Association (MMA), to represent doctors of both countries. However, when the MMA submitted its draft constitution to the Registrar of Societies in March 1959, it was rejected. The Federation government objected to a single professional body representing doctors from both countries as Singapore and Malaya were separate political entities, and hence refused to allow the registration of the MMA.8

As a result, two medical associations were set up to replace the British Medical Association (BMA). The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) was formed on 15 September 1959 while the Malayan Medical Association (MMA), now known as the Malaysian Medical Association, was formed on 24 October 1959. With the formation of the SMA and the MMA, the MBBMA was dissolved and the Alumni Association of the King Edward VII College of Medicine was relegated to a body with social and recreational functions. The duties and responsibilities of the MBBMA and the professional functions of the alumni association were shared between the SMA and the MMA, which were affiliated to each other and to the British Medical Association based in London.9

With the dissolution of the MBBMA, its existing funds were apportioned equally between the SMA and the MMA. In 1960, each association received $16,525.95. Dr B. R. Sreenivasan and Dr S. G. Rajaram became the first presidents of the SMA and MMA respectively.10


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Yahya Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation: Singapore Medical Association Lecture – Saturday, 20th March 1971,” Singapore Medical Journal 12, no. 3 (June 1971): 121–22. (Call no. RCLOS 610.5 SMJ); N. K. Menon, “The Genesis of the B.M.A. in Malaya,” The Medical Journal of Malaya 9, no. 4 (1955): 243–45 (Call no. RSING 610.5 MJM, microfilm NL10062); W. S. Tiew, “Some Scholarly English Periodicals in Pre-Independent Malaysia: An Historical Overview,” Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science 4, no. 1 (1999): 33; “Straits Medical Association,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 September 1891, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 121; Menon, “Genesis of the B.M.A.,” 243–44.
3. Menon, “Genesis of the B.M.A.,” 243–45.
4. Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 121–22; Menon, “Genesis of the B.M.A.,” 245.
5. Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 122; Menon, “Genesis of the B.M.A.,” 246–48.
6. Tiew, “Some Scholarly English Periodicals”; “New Malayan Medical Journal,” Straits Times, 26 June 1937, 12; “Malayan Medical Journal,” Straits Times, 17 December 1926, 9 (From NewspaperSG); Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 126; Menon, “Genesis of the B.M.A.,” 250; F. Y. Khoo, X-Rays in Singapore, 1896–1975 (Singapore: Singapore University Press for the Radiological Society of Singapore, 1981), 24 (From PublicationSG); British Medical Association. Malaya Branch, Journal of the Malaya Branch of the British Medical Association 3, no. 2 (September 1939). (Call no. RRARE 610.5 JMBBMA; microfilm NL26015)
7. Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 122; “Legislative Council,” Straits Times, 10 June 1905, 5; “Medical Registration Bill,” Straits Times, 1 April 1905, 5; “The Straits Times. Thursday, July 8. The Pharmacy Bill,” Straits Times, 8 July 1909, 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. “Doctors Unite on ‘Service before Self’ Banner,” Straits Times, 5 November 1958, 8; “New Association for Doctors Rejected,” Straits Times, 7 March 1959, 8; “A ‘No’ to Malayan Medical Body,” Straits Times, 2 July 1959, 7 (From NewspaperSG); “History of MMA: The Early Years,” Malaysian Medical Association, accessed 30 August 2016.
9. “Two Local bodies to Replace the British Medical Assn,” Straits Times, 4 August 1959, 16; “Federation Doctors Form One Body,” Straits Times, 22 October 1959, 5; “Medical Assn. to Be Formed,” Singapore Free Press, 12 September 1959, 3; “Singapore Doctors Get All-In-One Association,” Straits Times, 31 August 1959, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 124; K. H. Lim, “The Medical Alumni Story,” Annals Academy of Medicine 34, no. 6 (July 2005): 192C. (Call no. RSING 610.5 AMSAAM)
10. Sharifah Al-Attas, “Banking on the Future,” New Straits Times, 13 November 1999 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Cohen, “Association, Profession, Adaptation,” 124; “SMA – 25 Years,” SMA News 37, no. 7 (July 2005). (Call no. RSING 610.95957 SMAN)

The information in this article is valid as at April 2019 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. 

Medicine--Singapore--Societies, etc.