Thursday, July 2, 2009

104 years old today - an heritage forgotten?

As I drove past the College of Medicine Building (COMB) at Sepoy Lines today for the umpteenth time in my professional life I couldn't help feeling very nostalgic. So much of our student life was spent at that quirky campus. So many of us grew up there, became adults, became doctors - learnt about life and death, married. Even died. Once the King Edward VII College of Medicine, it now houses the Ministry of Health.

But it didn't all begin at the COMB.

In the 19th century, there was no medical school in Singapore. Doctors were either British, or were local eurasians and Indian nationals posted to Singapore. There were few local doctors, and if one qualified to be trained the nearest medical school was in Madras.

A local entrepreneur Tan Jiak Kim, in 1904 led a petition to the British Governor Sir John Anderson to establish a medical school in Singapore.

"... your petitioners feel that no measure can so successfully diffuse this understanding as the provision of a proper supply of trained medical men who are in racial sympathy with those whom they attend..."

Together with the the Straits Chinese British Association and other local community leaders he raised a total of $87,000 to start the school.

Then on this day, 3rd July, 104 years ago (1905), the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School came into being. In 1912, this became the King Edward VII Medical School. And in 1926, the College of Medicine.

This very original building for the Straits and Federated Malay States Medical School was a disused female asylum. It used to stand round the back of the COMB. In the mid 1980's it was callously, insensitively...and I believe, criminally.... bulldozed over, and replaced by a car park.

Sadly, this heritage is all but forgotten. The medical school, 104 years old today, is only celebrated in the hearts of those who remember. Tragically, the fancy glass and steel of facades of the modern medical school does not seem to care.

A very happy 104th to a very grand old lady.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, esp enlightening for young ppl like me who work in the area but do not really know the history (truth, not rumour) and its origin.

gigamole said...

It is heartbreaking. An heritage forgotten and forsaken. It is indeed so difficult to build yet so easy to destroy.