Found: 19th-century mental hospital's wall

REMNANTS of the boundary wall of a defunct 127-year-old lunatic asylum have been unearthed in the heart of Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Nestled in a wooded area, the perimeter wall once fenced in the 300-bed New Lunatic Asylum, one of Singapore's three early psychiatric hospitals. It was in operation from 1887 to 1928 and was also the predecessor of the Institute of Mental Health.

Associate Professor Ng Beng Yeong, head and senior consultant psychiatrist of SGH's department of psychiatry, said the find is significant. The wall, 3m high and 75m long, serves as a reminder of an asylum that was revolutionary for its time, he said.

"It practised patient kindness by, for instance, reducing restraints to the bare minimum and doing away with straitjackets," said Dr Ng, author of a book on the history of mental health services in Singapore, at a briefing held yesterday by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and SGH.

NHB was alerted to it by Mr Charles Goh, 46, co-founder of Asia Paranormal Investigators, who found it in September.

An NHB team spent a few months researching the asylum and found that under the charge of Dr William Gilmore Ellis, straitjackets were not used. Instead, locked gloves made of two small padded canvas bags were tied around patients' wrists to prevent self-injury.

The facility can trace its roots to Singapore's first mental facility, the Insane Hospital. It was built in 1841 at the junction of Bras Basah Road and Bencoolen Street and moved to a new facility near Kandang Kerbau before moving to Macalister Road.

Findings on the asylum are detailed in a documentary launched on NHB's website today.

Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's group director of policy, said the board is working closely with SGH to assess the wall's condition. It is considering preserving parts of it and erecting a storyboard.

The find follows the discovery of 11 tombstones in the compound recently by Mr Goh.

He said of the wall: "It's a piece of our past and it takes just a little effort to keep it standing."

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