• Vol. 34 No. 6, 90C–97C
  • 15 July 2005

The Early Years of Pathology as a Specialty in Singapore



During the first 86 years of Singapore’s medical history (1819 to 1905), nobody was officially designated a “pathologist” although pathology was practised. All pathological work (purely medical or forensic) was done by non-specialist doctors. Representative cases are quoted so that conclusions can be drawn regarding what pathological practice was like and the problems faced. In 1905, the Governor, concerned about the high death rate in Singapore, consulted the Principal Civil Medical Officer, who advised that the most effective means to reduce the death rate was the establishment of a Department of Pathology with a full-time specialist pathologist in charge. Dr GA Finlayson was appointed the first Government Pathologist, responsible for all the hospitals in Singapore. He was also appointed Lecturer in Pathology in the Medical School. Work in the Pathology Department increased by leaps and bounds, and no research was possible. The first Annual Report of the Department (1907) is quoted in some detail to show the scope of the work done, reflecting the public health conditions of Singapore a hundred years ago. The Department gradually expanded and more staff were recruited. The new position of Government Bacteriologist was created. This officer served under the Government Pathologist in the Pathology Department.

As in previous articles on the medical history of Singapore by the author, this one has many quotations from primary sources. This makes for more interesting reading than a rehash of the results of his research.

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