Founded as an English class for a handful of Malay students in 1876, Victoria School has produced many notable alumni over the years, including poet Edwin Thumboo and three of Singapore’s former presidents: Yusof Ishak, C. V. Devan Nair and S. R. Nathan.1
Early history and founding
The origin of Victoria School can be traced back to 1876 as an English class for 12 Malay boys at Kampong Glam Malay Branch School, under its first principal, Mr. Y. A. Yzelman. Until 1988, Victoria School had regarded 1890 as its year of founding. However, in light of the findings in a postgraduate thesis on the school’s history completed in 1987, the school decided to change the year of its founding to 1876. According to the thesis, 1890 was in fact the year that the English class had resumed at another school called Kampong Glam Malay School.2
Syed Alwi Road
In 1897, Kampong Glam Malay Branch School merged with Kampong Glam Malay School. The school moved to Syed Alwi Road, which was close to Victoria Bridge. Henceforth, the school was renamed Victoria Bridge School.3
Victoria Bridge School was originally established as a preparatory school to Raffles Institution – the only government secondary school at the time – and other aided English secondary schools. In 1909, Victoria Bridge School started Standard Five classes, as Raffles Institution was not equipped to coped with the rising enrolment. Until 1930, Victoria Bridge School only had primary classes up to Standard Five.4
In 1930, Victoria Afternoon School began, catering to students who could not progress to Raffles Institution after passing Standard Five and to those who had to leave school to make way for “students of normal ability and age”. Victoria Afternoon School was a continuation school, and was not part of Victoria Bridge School. However, as Victoria Bridge School’s principal was overall-in-charge, it is considered part of Victoria School’s history. The afternoon classes ended in 1952.5
In 1931, Victoria Bridge School became the second government secondary school in Singapore, as Raffles Institution continued to face capacity challenges in accommodating the increasing number of secondary school boys. From 1932 to 1934, Standards Six and Seven classes (equivalent to present-day Secondary One and Two) were held in the school.6
In 1933, the school moved to Tyrwhitt Road and was renamed Victoria School. It has been known as Victoria School ever since, except for a brief period during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45) when it was renamed Jalan Besar Boys’ School.7
Some of the school’s prewar milestones were the adoption of the motto “Nil Sine Labore” (Latin for “Nothing Without Labour”) in 1938, and the establishment of the Old Victorians’ Association in 1941 for its alumni.8
In 1951, the first pre-university (then called the Post-school Certificate) classes started and the school began admitting girls for the first time. The school anthem was also composed and set to music in the early 1950s.9 In 1979, when junior colleges were introduced, the school became a pre-university centre and offered a three-year pre-university course. In 1984, Victoria Junior College was established in Marine Parade to cater to students who had done well in their General Certificate of Education Ordinary (GCE O)-Level examination.10
Victoria School left the Tyrwhitt Road site in 1984, and the departure was marked with a 2.3-kilometre march by some 1,500 current and former students, teachers and principals from Tyrwhitt Road to the school’s new premises in Geylang Bahru.11
After the move to Geylang Bahru Lane, Victoria School became one of the six pioneer autonomous schools in 1994. Autonomous schools aimed to provide better, more affordable education. In 2001, the school also became the seventh Secondary Gifted Education Programme Centre, offering the Gifted Education Programme from 2001 to 2005.12
In 2003, the school moved to its current premises at Siglap Link. As Victoria School approached the new millennium, the school’s executive committee decided that Victoria School would attract even better students by relocating to the east, closer to Victoria Junior College in Marine Parade. The Siglap Link site, where the Marine Parade Bus Terminal used to be located, and just a street away from Victoria Junior College, was favoured. However, the government had planned to zone this prime land for condominium development. Through the efforts of the school’s executive committee, approval was eventually granted by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Development for part of the land to be allocated for the new Victoria School campus at Siglap. To enhance the school’s competitiveness, a hostel was integrated into the design of the school. The school and hostel were completed in 2003 at a cost of about S$40 million.13
In 2012, Victoria School and Cedar Girls’ Secondary School launched their six-year Integrated Programme (IP) for Secondary One students, in partnership with Victoria Junior College. The IP lets students bypass the GCE O-Level and advance directly to the GCE A (Advanced)-Level examination. It is a through-train education scheme meant for students who are likely to go to university.14
Considered a prominent landmark, the former Victoria School building on Tyrwhitt Road is now home to the People’s Association Headquarters. The premises feature two school buildings from the pre- and postwar periods, and the hall-cum-canteen building from 1967 is the only known school hall left of this style and configuration in Singapore. The buildings were gazetted for conservation in 2007, and its conservation project won the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Architectural Heritage Award in 2009.15
1. “Milestones,” Victoria School, accessed 1 November 2017; “League of Extraordinary Victorians,” Victoria School, accessed 1 November 2017; “Poet Laureate,” Straits Times, 2 March 2008, 68. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Victoria School, “Milestones”; “Past Principals,” Victoria School, accessed 1 November 2017; “Victoria School Chose Earliest of Three Founding Dates,” Straits Times, 13 August 1990, 24 (From NewspaperSG); Ernest Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987 (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 1987), 7–10. (Call no. RSING 373.5957 CHE)
3. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 10.
4. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 24–25.
5. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 24–25.
6. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 25.
7. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 30, 37–37.
8. Victoria School, “Milestones.”
9. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 44, 72.
10. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Cheong, Victoria School in Singapore 1876–1987, 73–74; “Victoria JC Will Be Set Up Next Year,” Straits Times, 22 May 1983, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Matilda Gabriel, “Victorian Farewell…,” Straits Times, 19 November 1984, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Victoria School, “Milestones.”
13. Victoria School, “Milestones”; Ong Chit Chung, “Victoria School’s 127th Speech Day,” The Victorian 2003, 70–72; Singapore Land Authority, Victoria School, 2 Siglap Link, Year 1995, n.d., map.
14. “Victoria and Cedar Schools Start through-Train for Sec 1,” New Paper, 19 November 2011, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Jalan Besar,” Urban Redevelopment Authority Singapore, accessed 1 November 2017.
The information in this article is valid as at 3 January 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.