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About 1856 | St Andrew's Church Msion | The First Girls' School | St Andrew's Medical Msion

1856 WAS A TURNING POINT FOR THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN SINGAPORE. It was the year when it began the all important task of changing from being a British Christian community to a church that would seriously take the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to Asians who were flocking to Singapore seeking a livelihood.

In March, the Bishop of Calcutta had laid the foundation stone of a new church building, intended to replace the first St Andrew’s Church building that was demolished.

The inscription placed below the stone read as follows:

The first English Church of Singapore, commenced A. D. 1834 and consecrated A. D. 1838, having become dilapidated, this first stone of a new and more commodious edifice, dedicated to the worship of Almighty God according to the rites and discipline of the Church of England, under the name of St. Andrew, was laid by the Right Rev. Daniel Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan, on the 4th day of March, 1856, in the 24th year of his Episcopate.

ON PENTECOST SUNDAY that same year, REV. WILLIAM T. HUMPHREY, then the Resident Chaplain, preached a sermon in St Andrew’s Church and challenged the congregation to support a Msion to the general local population. He was burdened by the spiritual needs of the inhabitants of Singapore and saw how the majority of the Chinese and Tamil speaking inhabitants were being neglected.

“……. we continue to have many enquirers, whom we have every reason to believe to be sincere in desiring to enter the fold of Christ. Thus we cannot stop even if we would. We cannot withhold our attention from those who so pleasingly require it; so that the congregation of St Andrew’s must, in spite of itself, become a Msionary congregation – a centre of diffusing to others the light and comfort and peace of the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified.” Extract of Rev Humphrey’s Sermon

Rev. Humphrey’s sermon galvanised the congregation of St. Andrew’s Church to launch its own Msion to Asians and on 25th June 1856, the St. Andrew’s Church Msion was born. Subscriptions and donations were collected and catechists were engaged to take the gospel to the Asians living in Singapore. Rev Humphrey’s Chaplaincy ended in 1858 but the work of the Msion continued.

In 1881, St. Andrew’s Church was made the Cathedral church of the then newly established Diocese of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak. A diocese over such a large area was quite unmanageable, and in 1909, Singapore was made a separate diocese, with Bishop Charles J. Ferguson-Davie as the first Bishop of the Diocese.

The legacy of the St Andrew’s Church Msion continues through both the Cathedral and all the parishes established in the Diocese of Singapore during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Today, the Diocese of Singapore includes the deaneries of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

There are 27 parishes in Singapore (as at Jan 2012).

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The first catechist who arrived was a Tamil, Peter Tychicus from Madras. The early catechists working in the Chinese Msion included Yan Quey, Ing-See, Sim Kam Tong, Phoah Sin See, Tye- Kim, Chok Loi-Fat, Tan Chong-Keng, Kan-King and others. They also started schools; the Chinese boys’ school which started in 1862 became the fore-runner of the present St. Andrew’s School.

The work of the Msion was significantly enhanced in 1872 when Rev William Gomes, was appointed the Superintendent of the SAC Msion. Gomes had considerable ministry experience obtained in Ceylon and Sarawak.

“Catechist” is not a common word today. It was used to refer to native Christians who could teach and explain the gospel in their native language.

In 1873, the government granted the Msion, land at Stamford Road (later the site of the National Library). A Msion Chapel was built. Services were conducted in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese. The Gospel went out in a variety of languages - HAKKA, CANTONESE, HOKKIEN, TEOCHEW, HYLAM, TAMIL AND MALAY. On week days, it was the site of a school. The Msion Chapel was a hive of activity for 60 years until the site was acquired by the government in 1938. From these humble beginnings, the groundwork was laid for the subsequent vernacular work of the Anglican church.

Superintendent of the St Andrew’s Church Msion 1872-1902

REV WILLIAM GOMES ARRIVED IN 1872 AND WAS APPOINTED SUPERINTENDENT OF THE SACM, UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1902. He was a Sinhalese, born in Ceylon in 1827 and from young, was inspired to spend the rest of his life in the service of God. He was sent to Sarawak where he laboured among the Dyaks and Malays for 15 years.
Gomes was fluent as a preacher in Tamil, Malay, Dyak and he subsequently succeeded in learning Hokkien. He translated portions of the Anglican Prayer Book as well as selected hymns into Malay and Romanized Hokkien.
Gomes realised that the team had to be conversant in a particular language or dialect. He recruited suitable candidates and trained them with sufficient biblical knowledge to teach others.
Gomes was a true pioneer and his ministry became the springboard for the later development of the Anglican church.

CHOK LOI FAT was a catechist who came from China. Prior to Singapore, he had worked with a German Msionary in and around Canton.
This is an extract of his report after the first 2 months of working in Singapore…..

“ During these 2 months, the greatest part of my time has been occupied in preaching from house to house, in shops, at plantations, in coolies’ dwelling and sawyers’ sheds etc. ….. The accustomed places of my visits have been in Singapore town, Kampong Glam, Rochore, the dock in New Harbour, Sandy point..… The most favourable time for teaching the workmen and coolies is at noon from 12 to 1 while they are resting from their work……I went out every day, the Sabbaths excepted, to distribute tracts and to preach the good tidings of salvation in different places….
On Thursday evenings, I have a meeting for prayer and preaching in my house….. The usual attendance is 10 to 15. On Tuesday evenings, the Cathechumens are instructed by me; their number is at present 7. On Saturdays, I prepare my sermons for the Sabbath. The usual attendance at Divine Service in my house on Sundays is 19 at 9am and 15 at 7pm. The number of tracts which I have distributed during these two months to those who can read Chinese is 105. ”

PETER TYCHICUS reported in 1863 a conversation he had with non believers concerning the “ash” which is painted on foreheads with the vain hope of obtaining the forgiveness of their sins...

Peter: What do you think of the ash ?
Non-believer: I believe that I will receive the reMsion of my sins and heaven if I use it with strong faith.
Peter: What if I killed you and took your money and then use the holy ash and paint it on my body; for even if God pleases to send me to Hell, he could not because here is the holy ash. I firmly believe that I shall have forgiveness of this sin and heaven without hindrance through this ash… What would you think and say about this ?
Peter reported that some did not know what answer to give and four of them asked him how they could obtain pardon from God.

TAN CHONG KENG who worked in the Geylang branch of the St Andrew’s Chinese Msion reported in his journal ……

“The Geylang Chapel is surrounded by several Chinese shops, to which I have often paid visit, my object being to spread the Gospel among those who live in them. They seem willing to listen, but refuse to attend the services in the Chapel. Their remarks to me generally run thus “After we have been fully supplied with the riches of this world, then we shall become the followers of Christ.”

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THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN 19TH CENTURY SINGAPORE WAS DEPLORABLE. In the 1860s, Chinese males outnumbered females by fourteen to one. Among the Indians, it was eight to one. It was common for baby girls to be abandoned, young girls to be denied education, older girls to be confined to the house and many others to be exploited.

The Singapore Free Press, 8th December 1863 reported a complaint -
“I have seen many of these recent arrivals – what are they? Chiefly girls from 13 to 16 years of age, either lured to Singapore by the glowing accounts of fortunes to be here acquired, or brought by their keepers – but in either case when they land here they are neither more or less than slaves to be bought and sold.”

THIS PLIGHT OF YOUNG GIRLS CHALLENGED THE CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE. In 1842, Mrs Samuel Dyer started a school in a rented shop-house in North Bridge Road. This was a boarding school which gave unwanted girls an opportunity to be educated without charging any fees. When Sophia Cooke, a British Msionary arrived from England in 1853, she took charge of the school. There were 20 pupils then. One of the first things that Ms Cooke did was to learn Malay and for the next 42 years, she devoted all her efforts and time to the school, giving her best to raising the level of education of the girls in the school. This was the Chinese Girls’ School (CGS), better known as Ms Cooke’s School.

There were lessons in Scripture and great emphasis was placed on providing a Christian foundation. From an early age, the girls learned the meaning of Christian service. In the 1860s, two day schools were started for women and children. One was run entirely by girls from CGS and the other was held in the home of a former pupil. Here, they put into practice all the things they had learnt. The school was so recognized for developing young women of good character and virtue that CGS was reputed the “training home for Christian wives”.

Sophia Cooke

CGS moved to Sophia Road, opposite Government House in 1861. The Church of England Zenana Msionary Society took over the management of the school in 1900 and 49 years later, it was re-named St Margaret’s School. Today, St Margaret’s carries on the good work of Ms Cooke in grooming young women in the virtues of charity, patience and devotion.

While Sophia Cooke is best remembered for her work with the school, her ministry branched out to many areas. Her collaborative work with others led to what later became the Bible Society and the Young Women’s Christian Association. She conducted Bible classes for women, and later, extended it to Chinese immigrant men, sailors, for whom a rest house was set up in South Bridge Road, policemen and soldiers.

She confided to a friend “I am so thankful our loving Lord will use one so weak, the least of all. Will you ask that I may be more completely consecrated to His service and live only for His glory?” Bobby Sng’s book “In His Good Time” describes her as one of the Anglican Church’s greatest gift to the church in Singapore.


Anglican Schools
Anglican High School (Upper Changi Rd)
Christ Church Secondary School (Woodlands Dr 17)
St Andrew’s Junior College (St Andrew’s Village, Francis Thomas Dr)
St Andrew’s Secondary School (St Andrew’s Village, Francis Thomas Dr)
St Andrew’s Primary School (St Andrew’s Village, Francis Thomas Dr)
St Hilda’s Secondary School (Tampines St 82)
St Hilda’s Primary School (Tampines St 82)
St Margaret’s Secondary School (Farrer Rd)
St Margaret’s Primary School (Sophia Rd / Wilkie Rd)

Kindergartens, Child-care and Student-care Centres
Ascension Kindergarten (St Andrew’s Village, Francis Thomas Dr)
Ascension Kindercare (Potong Pasir Ave 1)
Christ Church Kindergarten (Dorset Rd)
Commonwealth Student Care Centre (Commonwealth Dr)
Five Stones Playschool (Strathmore Ave)
Good News Community Service Centre (Commonwealth Dr)
Heartfriends Before and After School Care (Dover Rd)
Kiddy Ark Childcare & Development Centre (Tampines St 71)
Pasir Ris Family Service Centre (Pasir Ris Dr 1)
Praiseland Childcare and Learning Centre (Yishun Ave 4)
Queenstown Good Shepherd Kindergarten (Dundee Road)
Sonshine Childcare Centre (Bt Batok St 21)
St. Andrew’s Cathedral Child Development Centre (Jurong West St 52)
St. Hilda’s Kindergarten (Ceylon Rd)
St. James Church Kindergarten (Leedon Rd)
St. Paul’s Church Kindergarten (Upp Serangoon Rd)

St Andrew’s Village provides a unique educational opportunity. Located at Francis Thomas Drive, it is the site of the three St Andrew’s Schools (Primary, Secondary and Junior College) and Ascension Kindergarten. Facilities include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a cultural centre, indoor basketball court, indoor gymnasium and Centre for Excellence for Design and Technology. The offices of the Diocese of Singapore and three Anglican churches, namely, Chapel of the Resurrection, Chapel of the Holy Spirit and Church of the Ascension are also located on this site.

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