Singapore General Hospital

Singapore Infopedia


Located at Outram Road, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) established in 1821, is Singapore’s first general hospital and oldest medical institution.1 It had humble beginnings as a wooden shed built in the cantonment for troops situated near Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road.2

Early history
The first general hospital started as a wooden shed in the cantonment for the troops near Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road. In 1821, proper buildings were built to replace the shed to provide medical attention to European soldiers, sepoys and natives. As was common at that time, European soldiers and the natives were segregated and treated in separate wards.3

In 1822, the general hospital was moved to a site near the European barracks located within the cantonment near Bras Basah and Stamford Road. But, a third general hospital had to be constructed in 1828 as the existing building was in a state of disrepair. Named the Singapore Infirmary, the building fell into state of decay again by 1830 due to shoddy workmanship, just two years after its construction. Manpower in the hospital was scarce, with convicts roped in to assist staff. The hospital was administered by just one assistant surgeon, one assistant apothecary and a few medical subordinates.4

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, due to opposition from various parties.5 The new building for the fourth hospital was erected on Pearl’s Hill in 1845. Named the Seamen’s Hospital, it treated patients with common illnesses, including fevers, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal complaints, rheumatism and venereal diseases.6

After more than a decade, 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 fifth 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 conditions and childbirth for the first time.7

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. The sixth hospital building was completed in1882.8

That was soon replaced by a new bigger hospital at the same site. Named the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), it was opened by Sir Lawrence Nunns Guillemard, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, on 29 March 1926. The new hospital was equipped with 800 beds in male, female and children wards, operating theatres, an outpatient block, a pathology laboratory and living quarters for nurses.9

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.10

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. To date, SGH remains the nation’s main post-graduate teaching hospital.11

In the 1970s, the hospital planned a new state-of-art building that was to be situated within the same grounds. Built at a cost of S$180 million, it was officially opened by then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on 12 September 1981. Another S$90 million was spent on equipping the hospital with the latest medical devices.12 In 1993, the hospital was upgraded at the cost of S$10 million.13

Bowyer Block is the only structure that remains from 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 2009.14
1821: The first general hospital opens.
1822: Second general hospital opens.
1828: Third general hospital opens.
1845: Fourth general hospital, also known as the Seaman’s Hospital opens.
1860: Fifth general hospital opens at Kandang Kerbau.
1882: Sixth general hospital opens at Sepoy Lines along Outram Road.15
29 Mar 1926: Seventh general hospital, called the Singapore General Hospital, was officially opened by then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Lawrence Nunns Guillemard.16
1970: The first renal transplant of Singapore was performed at SGH.17
12 Sep 1981: The new SGH was open by then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.18
1983: SGH became the first public hospital of Singapore to acquire a CT (Computerised Tomography) scanner.19
1988: SGH became the first hospital in Southeast Asia to provide surgery for cardiac arrhythmia.20
1 Apr 1989: The hospital was restructured and became an autonomous institution.21
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.22
1993: SGH became Asia’s first hospital to remove brain tumours and arteriovenous malformations using virtual reality surgery.23
28 Apr 1995: SGH Postgraduate Medical Institute was officially opened.24
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
SGH celebrates 175th anniversary.26

1997: Establishment of the SGH Obstetrics & Gynaecology Centre.27
1998: SGH performed the first stem cell transplant using unrelated cord blood.28
2000: SGH performed world’s first procedure of forearm attachment to shoulder blade.29
2001: SGH celebrates 180th anniversary.30
25 Jul 2003: SGH acquired the first cyclotron in Singapore to support advanced diagnostic imaging.31
20 May 2005: SGH Museum was officially opened.32
11 Nov 2009: SGH Bowyer Block was designated a national monument.33
2010: SGH performs its first double-kidney transplant from an older donor.34
2012: SGH and the National University Hospital (NUH) perform the first simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplant in Singapore.35
2013: SGH Transplant Centre began its operations.36


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Kwa Soon Bee, The First General Hospital: 175th Anniversary, 1821–1996 (Singapore: Singapore General Hospital, 1996), 7. (Call no. RSING 362.11095957 FIR)
2. Kwa, First General Hospital, 23.
3. Kwa, First General Hospital, 23.
4. Kwa, First General Hospital, 23, 24.
5. Lee Yong Kiat, “The 1926 General Hospital, Singapore,” Annals Academy of Medicine 34, no. 6 (July 2005): 54C.
6. Kwa, First General Hospital, 24.
7. Kwa, First General Hospital, 26.
8. Kwa, First General Hospital, 26, 27.
9. Kwa, First General Hospital, 30.
10. Kwa, First General Hospital, 34.
11. Kwa, First General Hospital, 39, 74–75.
12. Kwa, First General Hospital, 84, 85.
13. Warren Fernandez, “$10M Upgrading at SGH for Quicker Treatment and Shorter Hospital Stays,” Straits Times, 7 October 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Bowyer Block,” National Heritage Board, accessed 2 September 2016.  
15. Kwa, First General Hospital, 13.
16. Kwa, First General Hospital, 30.
17. Kwa, First General Hospital, 14.
18. Kwa, First General Hospital, 85.
19. Kwa, First General Hospital, 15; Julie Liau, SGH Installs Advanced $2.5 Mil X-Ray Machine,” Singapore Monitor, 22 July 1983, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Kwa, First General Hospital, 16; Magdalene Lum, Surgery to Correct Rapid Heart-Beats,” Straits Times, 7 March 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Kwa, First General Hospital, 90.
22. Kwa, First General Hospital, 16; Serena Toh, “S’pore Team Performs First Heart Transplant,” Straits Times, 7 July 1990, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Kwa, First General Hospital, 17.
24. “SGH Aims to Become Top Teaching Hospital,” Straits Times, 28 April 1995, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Sit Yin Fong, “SGH First in Blood Cell Transplant,” Straits Times, 22 December 1995, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “SGH Launching Endowment Fund for 17th Anniversary,” Straits Times, 28 April 1996, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Indrani Nadarajah, “SGH Has New Gynaecology Centre,” Straits Times, 29 January 1997, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Cord Between Life and Death,” Straits Times, 7 March 1998, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Forearm Re-Attached to Shoulder Blade,” Straits Times, 6 August 2000, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “SGH Is 180 Years Old,” Today, 22 March 2001, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Salma Khalik, “Latest Cancer Tests for Poor Patients Too,” Straits Times, 26 July 2003, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Medical Memorabilia at the SGH Museum,” Business Times, 21 May 2005, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
33. National Heritage Board, “Bowyer Block.”
34. Judith Tan, “Two Get Kidneys from Dead Donors above 60,” Straits Times, 4 March 2010, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Poon Chian Hui, “Singaporean Feels ‘Reborn’ after Double Transplant,” Straits Times, 19 October 2012, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Poon Chian Hui, “One-Stop Centre Cuts Transplant Patients’ Waiting Time,” Straits Times, 8 November 2013, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Allison Lim, “SGH Opens Its Wards to Technological Revolution,” Straits Times, 30 April 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

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

Hospital Overview,” Singapore General Hospital, accessed 25 October 2010.

Jack Hee, “Getting to Roots of First Public Dental Clinic,” Straits Times, 12 November 2000, 39. (From NewspaperSG)

Jennifer Joseph, SGH 21: Vision and Voices of the New Millennium (Singapore: Singapore General Hospital, 2001). (Call no. RSING 362.11095957 SIN)

Margaret Perry, “SGH Recreates the Past for Its 180th Birthday,” Straits Times, 22 March 2001, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 340–1. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])

Kwa Soon Bee, The First General Hospital: 175th Anniversary, 1821–1996 (Singapore: Singapore General Hospital, 1996), 7–18, 23–39, 68–70, 84–90. (Call no. RSING 362.11095957 FIR)

Singapore General Hospital, Singapore General Hospital: 50th Anniversary Publication 1926–1976 (Singapore: Singapore General Hospital, 1976), 9, 12–19, 22–23, 48–72, 115–8. (Call no. RSING 362.11095957 SIN)
Sit Yin Fong, “SGH First in Blood Cell Transplant,” Straits Times, 22 December 1995, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Tan Kok Hian and Tay Eng Hseon, eds., The History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Singapore (Singapore: Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society of Singapore; National Heritage Board, 2003), 37–38. (Call no. RSING 618.095957 HIS)

Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 164–7. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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.


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