Happenings, News

Early days of Malacca MGS

An early 1900 picture of, from left, Miss Tan Siok Kim, Mrs Shellabear and Miss Pugh. — Methodist Church Archives picture.

Malacca MGS moved to new premises at Bickley Park in 1927, thanks to generous support from American well-wishers. But it was the early efforts of Mrs Shellabear and Miss Ada Pugh that brought the school into existence more than 20 years earlier.

‘FIVE years ago the 15 acres in Malacca known as Bickley Park was but a quiet coconut grove, bordered by a Malay cemetery. Today this city of the dead is the only reminder of a former tranquillity, for Bickley Park has become a lively school compound.

With its Mission bungalow, its Suydam Girls’ Day School, its beautiful Shellabear Hall housing 70 boarding school girls and the missionary women in charge, with its Malay hostel and its several tennis and badminton courts – the coconut grove has become a student centre bristling with life. It is the new Malacca.

The opening of the Girls’ School and the Board School buildings was no mere Methodist event. All Malacca was interested. The fact that Lady Guillemard has consented to be present for the first time at a public function in this ancient city, has made its impress …

… In July 1904, a school was started in the home of Mr Tan Kiong Keng at Heeren Street by Mrs W. G. Shellabear, that good and self-sacrificing lady who was keenly interested in education of girls. Mr Tan Kiong Keng was no less keen on education for girls than this lady, and used his influence on his relatives and friends to send their daughters to this school. Miss Tan Siok Kim, the eldest daughter of Mr Tan Kiong Keng, was the first teacher.

Miss Ada Pugh took charge of the school in November of that year, and has continued in its service in various capacities ever since and it is due to her untiring services for the cause of education that the present school is in its flourishing condition today. The past and present generations of the girls in the school owe a deep and lasting debt of gratitude to Miss Pugh, who may well be proud of the good work she had willingly done in Malacca.

Within two years of its establishment the school had an enrolment of 70 pupils and a house had to be rented at Tranquerah Road, but when widows and poor people pleaded for the education of their daughters as boarders, an orphanage became necessary, and in 1908 Mr Tan Kiong Keng’s house was once more rented consequent on his removal to Singapore.

In 1911 America sent sufficient funds for the purchase of a piece of land, and a school at Kubu Road was in due course erected and not only used as a Day School but also as a Boarding School and Orphanage and the residence of the Missionary teachers; Mr and Mrs James Suydam of St Paul, USA, being generous supporters, the school was named Rebecca Cooper Suydam Girls’ School. Last year there was an enrolment of over 200 in the Day School at Kubu and the Boarding School was crowded to its utmost capacity; moreover, it has the drawback of having no adequate playground facilities for the little children.

It therefore became necessary to move into a more commodious building and when a gift of $20,000 gold came from America, the School Management approached a certain number of prominent Chinese in Malacca with the object of raising a subscription to erect another school and an orphanage to relieve the congestion.

The Government complied with the request for the defraying of half the cost of the Day School and the rest of the amount required having been raised by the generous and public spirited Chinese at Malacca, we have the privilege of seeing these beautiful buildings today …’ — Methodist Message, April 1927, p. 10-11.



Earnest Lau, Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.


3 sisters wed ‘good Christian men’

AN INTERESTING historical sidelight was that all three of Mr Tan Kiong Keng’s daughters married “good Christian men” in Singapore – Chew Cheng Yong married the eldest daughter, Tan Siok Kim, Goh Hood Keng (the first Straits Chinese to enter the Methodist ministry) married the second daughter, Swee Loo, and Goh Leng Inn wed the third daughter, Swee Eng. Chew Cheng Yong’s eldest son, Benjamin, became a leading Christian leader, while Goh Leng Inn’s elder son, Dr Goh Keng Swee, was a leading architect of modern Singapore.