Anglo-Tamil School part of ministry to Tamils in Singapore

May 2005    

Readers will know much about Anglo-Chinese School, but are they aware that there was an Anglo-Tamil School which opened a few months earlier – in 1885? They may also be surprised to learn that Bishop T. R. Doraisamy was an old pupil of the Serangoon English School, successor to the Anglo-Tamil School, and absorbed into Anglo-Chinese School.

THE Anglo-Tamil School was a project initiated by the Rev William Oldham in1885 as part of his ministry to the Tamils in Singapore.

As he and his wife were knowledgeable in Tamil, having been brought up in southern India, it was natural that he sought to minister to the Tamils by visiting the jail, then situated at the corner of Bencoolen Street and Bras Basah Road, to preach to the convicts.

The education of Tamil boys was also part of this ministry, and by September of that year, Oldham was successful in getting the help of a Tamil preacher, Mr M. Gnanamuthoo, who had been sent from Rangoon by the presiding elder, the Rev J. E. Robinson who later was Bishop of the India and Southeast Asian area.

With Gnanamuthoo, the mission to preach to the Tamils and teach the young boys was established. In its 25-year history until it became known as the Serangoon English School, a branch of Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), the Anglo-Tamil School experienced a series of ups and downs.

Until 1897, enrolment varied between 30 and 75, mainly because of the lack of a regular worker, both to teach and preach to Tamil worshippers. The early demise of Gnanamuthoo was unfortunate, and he was replaced in 1887 by Mr C. W. Underwood, sent by the Jaffna Mission. Although Underwood’s ministry too, was brief, he was remembered for having organised the Tamil Methodist Church in 1887.

His early death was another blow to the infant mission, until the Rev H. L. Hoisington came in mid-1891, also from the Jaffna Mission. Hoisington worked very hard at evangelistic work and watching over the 75 boys in the Anglo-Tamil School, but unfortunately, he had to leave because of his wife’s illness, leaving behind his children, two of whom studied at ACS, both winning scholarships to Cambridge University, one of whom was Henry, who taught with distinction at his alma mater. The two daughters, Mary and Margaret, taught in Methodist schools.

Between 1893 and 1896, there was no Tamil preacher, and reports to the Journal of the Annual Mission Conference made no mention of the school which might have temporarily ceased to function, since it was said to have been “opened” in 1897 by the Rev F. H. Morgan.

Morgan was the missionary appointed to the English (later Wesley) Church and concurrently in charge of the Tamil church. He acquired the services of a Tamil preacher from Penang, Mr Simon Peter, with whom a revival of Tamil work took place.

Simon Peter taught at the Tamil School and helped it to qualify for a government grant-in-aid because of its good results. Its finances were put on a sounder basis and it moved from Buffalo Road, a quiet side street off Serangoon Road, to approximately where Tekka Mall now stands, the site of the old Tekka Market. The partnership with the English Church pastor ensured steady growth.

In the years following, the school seemed to have done well and was entirely self-supporting, and it was wondered whether it might become a feeder to ACS, particularly because of its good results and the supervision given by the next missionary, the Rev Amery, although it was noted that evangelistic work did not keep pace – partly because of the uncertainty of staffing.

In 1909, the school again had to move – this time to rented quarters, probably at 367 Serangoon Road, sharing premises with the Jean Hamilton Training School, an early Methodist workers’ training school.

Partly because of the lack of suitable premises, the District Superintendent, the Rev W. F. Cherry, questioned the wisdom of its existence – whether to remain as a lower-priced ACS, or whether the mission wished “to spend $10,000 for suitable premises and equipment …” Meanwhile, the school carried on in “quarters that are both incommodious and badly in need of repairs …”

Its fortunes underwent a further change when, in 1913, a decision was made to re-organise it and call it the Serangoon English School which now had an enrolment of 102 pupils and “is in hot pursuit of a first-grade grant. The four teachers are all Christians and I think are making use of their opportunity to develop character as well as intellect”.

In the following year the Serangoon English School came under the direct control of ACS with the Rev J. S. Nagle as Principal. “It now had an average daily increase in attendance by 50, while Std IV had been transferred to ACS …” while “the inspector pronounced Std. III better than Std. IV of the year preceding …”


Theodore Doraisamy recalled how the Supervisor, the Rev Goh Hood Keng, ‘preached powerfully to the boys at morning assembly’

Miss Emma Olson, in her second missionary term, was supervisor of this school, as well as the other branch school in Geylang. Of interest is that young Theodore Doraisamy (future Bishop) was enrolled as a pupil in 1920 at the age of eight, and he recalled how the Supervisor, the Rev Goh Hood Keng, preached powerfully to the boys at morning assembly.

The school continued as a branch of ACS until 1926 when the Government established a new school in Owen Road which absorbed half its pupils.

Since the mission decided that it was not wanted in this area, the premises were put up for auction and fetched about $37,500 which the mission used in other projects. – Annual Conference Journals, 1889 to1926; The March of Methodism (1980, Forever Beginning (1885) and My Cup Runneth Over – An Autobiography (2004), by Theodore R. Doraisamy.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivis


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