Rev Dr Benjamin Franklin West - Founder of Methodist Girls' School
On 1 April 1867 the Straits Settlements were transferred from the control of the Indian Government to that of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. Anglican influence came about through the colonial chaplains who, in each Settlement, had been largely instrumental in starting the schools. The Pykett Methodist School Penang, formerly a section of the Anglo-Chinese School
Penang, was founded in 1891 by the Methodist Mission (Ho 1964). In September 1903, the school was refurnished, at a cost of $6,000, subscribed by several Chinese gentlemen of Penang. There was at the school a well-selected library, given by Mr Foo Choo Choon (Elcum 1908, 274). The Anglo-Chinese Schools both in Singapore and Penang were very largely attended, mostly by Chinese boys (Kynnerley 1902). In fact, from the very beginning most of the boys who attended Methodist schools were Chinese, not because the mission was solely interested in them, but because they were the majority in the large towns and were so alive to the vocational advantages of an English education (Cooke 1966, 384).
Dr and Mrs West were now in Penang. They had spent a year in China studying the language. They had brought Christian servants with them from Amoy. Mrs West, by her sympathetic ways, won the hearts of the poor people. She visited them in their homes, took her children with her. The women, always curious to know the ways of the foreigner, asked Mrs West one day what soap she used to make her children so white. The women were so glad to have someone who could speak to them in their own language. They liked also to come to visit the missionary at "The Priory".
Dr West, with those family at "The Priory" Miss Martin made her first home in Penang, was enthusiastic over every missionary learning Chinese. Miss Martin also with equal fervour took hold of the study. Her Chinese book was with her wherever she went, by day and late into the night … until step by step, the difficult Chinese language was a useable possession of the young missionary.
The Penang Methodist Girls’ School began when Dr B. F. West started the Anglo-Chinese School in 1892 at Northam Road. The increasing demand for female education resulted in the purchase of a large residence on the corner of Logan and Anson Roads (Ho 1964, 757).
(extracted from http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/5804/1/article3.pdf)
1889 The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, Singapore
The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church was founded by Dr Benjamin Franklin West who first set up his missionary practice at a shophouse at Upper Nanking Street in 1889 to reach out to the immigrant Chinese. There, he held two services each Sunday, beginning in August 1889. Even at that early period, at least 30 people would gather at the shophouse to listen to his sermons which were conveyed in Malay and then translated into Hokkien. Many were opium addicts.
West decided that mastering Hokkien was important enough for him to close the dispensary for the period between late 1890 to April 1892. He left for Amoy and entrusted his work to Dr V. T. Kensett, Lim Hooi Toh and Alexandra Fox. In 1895, West was transferred to Penang with Kensett fully replacing him. Unfortunately by 1907, West had to return to America due to his wife’s poor health but he was replaced by the capable Dr H. L. E. Leuring who was conversant in Hokkien and Foochow.
(extract from http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1377_2009-11-26.html)
The list of ministers(Church Pillars) at The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, Singapore:-
Benjamin F. West (1889-1892;1902-1903)
Lim Hoai To (1890-1892)
Alexandra Fox (1890)
H. L. E. Luering (1892-1899)
W.T. Kensett (1895)
Timeline of Rev Dr Benjamin Franklin West(1858-1933)
1858- born 22 April 1858, Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana. Crawfordsville is located in west central Indiana, about an hour west-northwest of Indianapolis, the state's capital and largest city.
1886- The first Methodist Episcopal Church at Coleman Street, dedicated on 15 December 1886, once stood where the National Archives of Singapore is today. Early in 1885, Rev William Fitzjones Oldham (1854-1937) was appointed to head the work of the Methodist Church in Singapore. He arrived with Dr James Thoburn and together they conducted a series of evangelistic rallies. These rallies were held in the Town Hall (later to be the Victoria Memorial Hall). It was here that the first Methodist Church in Singapore was established. The Church met weekly in the Town Hall until December 1886 when it moved to a building in Coleman Street (later to become the Anglo-Chinese Primary School's hall). The Church was then known as The English Church. The church is the mother church of Methodism in the region.
ACS Singapore was found on 1-3-1886 by Bishop William Fitzjames Oldham, as an extension of the Protestant Church. It was located at shophouse NO. 70, Amoy St, Singapore with 13 pupils. The second floor of shop was used as missionary quarter(Earnest Lau,2008).
1888- Rev Dr Benjamin Franklin West and wife arrived early 1888 at Singapore (Earnest Lau,2008)as medical attendant on the HMS Orion
1889- As medical attendant on the HMS Orion, he was attracted to Methodist evangelistic work in Singapore and decided to become a missionary. On Friday, March 15, 1889, the front room of his home was opened as a dispensary. In this house, at a rental of $4 (gold), he and his family lived, began the Chinese work. The Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church was founded. He started all with the help of friends, without financial help form mission or Missionary Society.
Noted HMS Orion was launched She was commissioned to the Mediterranean Fleet on 24 June 1878. After paying off into the Reserve at Malta in 1883 she was recommissioned in 1885, and served as guardship at Singapore until 1890. Rev Dr must had decided to become a missionary by the time the battleship demoted to the second class reserve at Malta in 1890. He may not wish to leave Singapore as his had started the medical mission work in Singapore.
1890 - Become a missionary as teacher at ACS, Singapore; and doing door-to-door evangelism, then preparing himself with a US medical degree. He also visited Borneo.
1891- Appointed as Superintendent of the Mission ex-officio, and was reappointed in 1892( Earnest Lau, 2008).
Went to Amoy, China on 1-9-1891 to 1892. Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD.was appointed to take charge of the work. At that time Kensett was not a physician & was unable to treat patients as had been done during the previous year
1892- Dr West returned to take charge of his former work until he went on furlough. Chinese mission was then put in charge of the Rev H.L.E. Luering, Ph.D(1892-1899). In 1892 when Dr BF West now Methodist Missionary of Penang visited Sumatra.
1892-1897 Penang?Dr and Mrs B. F. West went to Penang after spending a year in China studying the Chinese language
1894- Rev G.F. Pykett came to Penang, where he and Mrs Young were married in January 1894. Dr and Mrs West were now in Penang
1895 - Returning in 1895. In 1895, West was sent to Penang to bear the responsibilities of Superintendent in that new District, especially in developing the ministry amongst the Chinese. 1895-96 Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD was appointed to takeover the medical work in Singapore.
1896 - In September 1895, subscription lists were started in order to build a new Church for Ipoh Wesley and School buildings for ACS Ipoh. In Febuary 1896, Rev Dr BF West,Rev. G. F. Pykett,Curtis and Bishop James Thoburn arrived on visit to Ipoh. They traveled from Penang to Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan) by a small coasting streamer, the Lady Weld. The train journey from Telok Anson to Ipoh took three-and-a-half hours. In November 1895, sufficient money was subscribed to start the building work which cost $3,000 then. It was completed in May 1896. Rev. Dr. B.F. West (Presiding Elder) of Penang preached at the opening and dedication service on 3rd May 1896.
1897- Miss Clara Martin was in Penang before the end of the year, 1897. Dr West, with those family at "The Priory" Miss Martin made her first home in Penang, was enthusiastic over every missionary learning Chinese. Miss Martin also with equal fervour took hold of the study
1897 - MBS Kuala Lumpur was established by Dr & Mrs W T Kensett in July 1897. With a bid of $700, this plot of land on top of Petaling Hill was secured. The church started with 4 members and 23 preparatory members. The school was founded by Christian missionary Dr. Kensett in July 1897. Note: Dr Kensett told personally that the church and school was found by Rev Dr West.
1898- Rev Dr B.F. West was the minister at Wesley Church, Penang. First Christian Chinese Wedding held and Theological School began with 4 students.
1901- He took a year’s furlough in 1901, returning later that year to fulfill his appointment as Methodist Elder of the Singapore District. While his wife and children remained in America, he brought along his brother Herbert West who served as a teacher at the local Anglo-Chinese School.
1905- West and his wife also helped establish the Jean Hamilton Memorial Theological School in 1905 at Mount Sophia. This institution is known today as the Trinity Theological College.
1906- In 1906, the Wests journeyed to Japan, but his wife seemed to have taken ill during this journey.
1907- West then returned to America in 1907 on account of Mrs West's declining health.
1910 -went to Seattle
1933 - passed away on 2 July 1933, at Seattle,King County, Washington, USA
As a medical attendant on the HMS Orion, he was attracted to Methodist evangelistic work in Singapore and decided to become a missionary, first as a teacher at ACS in 1890 and doing door-to-door evangelism, then preparing himself with a US medical degree. Returning in 1895, he served in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (where he built the Methodist Church and headed the Methodist Boys’ School) and Penang, but sadly had to return to the US in 1902 because of his wife’s failing health
The story told by Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD
On Friday, March 15, 1889, the front room of his home was opened as a dispensary. In this house, at a rental of $4 (gold), he and his family lived, began the Chinese work, and saw the nucleus of what is today a flourishing Chinese mission.
The money used in the purchase of drugs and surgical instruments was given by members of the Singapore English Methodist Episcopal Church and by others interested. Even up to the present time all monies received for the purchase of drugs, etc. have been given by friends and no assistance whatever has been received from the funds of the mission or Missionary Society.
Dr West prayed to God to give him one convert by the close of the Conference year, and with this prayer on his lips continually, he did his part and trusted God to do the rest.
Patients would visit him, and while their medicine was being prepared he talked to them about the great love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and His power to save them from sin. It was a new story to them. They had never heard of the Christian’s God.
He did not work and pray in vain, for at the next Conference, Bishop Thoburn baptised 13 converts, 12 men and one woman. The names of these converts are found in the dispensary register, indicating that at some time or other during that year they had received medical advice or medicine. During the first year about 3,000 patients entered the dispensary and received assistance …
One patient was a confirmed opium smoker, mistrusted by his friends, confided in by no one. An opium smoker is the last man a heathen person will trust. But he became a Christian, and because he did so his former companions pounced down upon him, beat him, and made him pay dearly for having changed his heathenism for the worship of the true God. He, however, soon recovered from this attack and lived a Christian life until he was called home.
On his dying bed, he told us that he claimed the promises of God as his very own, and after testifying to his greatness, fell asleep to awake on the resurrection morn. His is not the only case in Singapore where converts have had to suffer for their convictions. Many have been beaten, persecuted, insulted and otherwise ill-treated for having exchanged heathenism for Christianity.
The next year Dr West left for China to learn the language and I was appointed to take charge of the work. Not being then a physician, Missionary William Thomas Kensett, MD was unable to treat patients as had been done during the previous year, but I was careful to keep by me some remedies which I knew could do little or no harm, and used them to the best of my ability. During this year some hundreds of patients were treated and at the close I had the pleasure of seeing the membership considerably increased in numbers.
After being away a year Dr West returned to take charge of his former work until he went on furlough … and the Chinese mission was then put in charge of the Rev H.L.E. Luering, Ph.D who did very effective work. Many souls were converted through his instrumentality and joined the Church.
Rev Dr. Benjamin Franklin West
Dr. Benjamin West was a graduate in medicine from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. In 1889, he was appointed to pioneer the Chinese missionary work in Malaya and Singapore. In that year, he set up a clinic in Upper Nanking Street where he catered to the medical and spiritial needs of the Chinese community. There, he also conducted Sunday services, which marked the beginning of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church. To reach out to the Chinese more directly, Dr. West went to Amoy, China to study Hokkien dialect. Besides taking Malay in his stride, he learnt enough Tamil to read the rituals. He served faithfully for 19 years in the Methodist Mission field.
Benjamin Franklin West, Dr.By Tan, Bonny written on 2009-04-28
National Library Board Singapore
Benjamin Franklin West (b. 22 April 1858, Crawfordsville, Indiana, USA - d. 2 July 1933, Seattle, Washington, USA) was an American medical practitioner and Methodist missionary to Penang and Singapore.
Born in Indiana, West was educated at Wabash College and thereafter at the Miami Medical College, Cincinnati where he received his training in medicine. He set up a medical practice in Iowa after graduating and married Mary Graham in 1881. Unfortunately, Mary died in 1885 leaving behind two children, Nathan and Harold. At a Methodist conference, he was convinced by the preaching of Bishop Thoburn to go East to Malaya. In preparation for his call, West wed his late wife's sister, Letticia Graham in 1886, joined the North-West Iowa Methodist Conference in 1887 and was ordained for missionary work. The couple along with his son and daughter left for Singapore, and arrived here in early 1888.
West began his missionary work teaching at the Anglo-Chinese School but was clear his calling was in medical missions. On board Orion, a British battleship passing through the region, a young British hospital assistant, William T. Kensett, heard of West’s work and appealed to join him. Through the influence of West, the Methodist Mission paid for Kensett’s discharge from the navy and Kensett soon joined West in 1888 to help him in his work and to take charge of his medical duties whilst West left for Amoy for further language studies.
West was appointed to head the local Chinese Missions in August 1889. He began his work at Upper Nanking Street where he set up a clinic. Using the missionary model applied in China, the secular outfit also served as an agency for religious and educational services. The Telok Ayer Methodist Church traces its beginnings to the weekly services conducted by West here. By 1891, the Chinese Church registered 43 members and a weekly attendance of almost 100, mainly from the Hokkien community. A number had been opium addicts, an affliction common amongst the Chinese coolies. Besides being fluent in various Chinese dialects including Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese, he acquired Malay through the help of Mr Phillips who first called the Methodists to Singapore. He also knew enough Tamil to read the rites and rituals for service.
He went against current assumptions that the Chinese could not be understood and advocated closer study of their culture and philosophy. So between April 1890 to February 1891 West moved to Amoy where he refined his understanding of the Chinese language and culture. Meanwhile he recruited a Presbyterian Chinese, Sng Lim Chiau and an Anglican, Lim Hoai Toh (Oh Ai Toh) to assist him in his medical missions.
Appointments and Establishments
Whilst busy in Singapore, West also initiated Methodist work in Borneo in 1889, visiting it twice a year over two years.
In 1895, West was sent to Penang to bear the responsibilities of Superintendent in that new District, especially in developing the ministry amongst the Chinese. He had already set up the Anglo-Chinese Girls School in Penang in 1892 (today known as the Methodist Girls School in Penang).
By the turn of the 20th century, he had been elected Malayan Conference historian for his knowledge of the ministries in Malaya. He took a year’s furlough in 1901, returning later that year to fulfill his appointment as Methodist Elder of the Singapore District. While his wife and children remained in America, he brought along his brother Herbert West who served as a teacher at the local Anglo-Chinese School.
West and his wife also helped establish the Jean Hamilton Memorial Theological School in 1905 at Mount Sophia which provided training to local church workers. He started the work by inviting a few locals who had showed scholarly promise to study with him at his home, tutoring them when he had time. This institution is known today as the Trinity Theological College.
This was not the only educational institution that the Wests established. West and his wife also presided over the Women’s Training School which later was transferred to Malacca. He was also involved with the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Many of his duties were on account of his appointment as Elder of the Methodist work in the Singapore District.
In 1906, the Wests journeyed to Japan, but his wife seemed to have taken ill during this journey. West then returned to America in 1907 on account of Mrs West's declining health. After retiring from missionary work and settling in Seattle, West continued working, setting up a drug store which gave him income as he had relinquished his rightful claims to annuities from the Methodist Church. He later set up a practice and voluntarily served at the Children’s Home Finding Society. He also continued his bible teaching and preaching at the University Church and in other Christian societies.
Father: Dr Thomas Jefferson West (b. 1827 - d.1872)
Mother: Mary Louise Lee (b. Indiana - d. Indiana)
Brothers: Frederick West, Herbert West
Wife: First wife, Mary Graham (d. 1885) (m. 12 September 1881). Second wife, Letitia Letty Lee Lincoln Graham (b. 6 April 1865, Crawfordsville - d. 28 November 1948, Seattle, Washington) (m. 15 May 1886).
Children: Daughter, Nathan and son, Harold were born to Mary Graham. Letitia was mother to Ruth, Thomas Nathan (b. July 1889, Singapore - d. October 1889, Singapore), Irene (b. 9 January 1891, Amoy), Mary (b. June 1892, Singapore), Thomas Mark (b. 18 May 1894, Singapore), Mildred H. (b. 13 August 1898, Penang?) and Herbert (b. 12 August 1899, Penang)
"…faint-heart and weak faith were put to shame in the presence of his sturdy character" (James M. Hoover, D. D.)
"…because I could never get the consent and approval of my conscience to actually do the thing…" (Benjamin Franklin West referring to his strong desire to give up teaching at the Anglo-Chinese School because of the challenges faced and why he was unable to do so)
Author Bonny Tan
Related books, articles & websites:
1. The Singapore triglot vocabulary. The Chinese renderings by B.F. West(1891), complied by Shellabear, William Girdlestone, 1862-, http://www.ttc.edu.sg/csca/hd.htm
2. From mission to church: the evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore(2008),by Earnest Lau, published by Genesis Book, Singapore. Pg 17(There was a photo of Rev Dr Benjamin Franklin West and his wife)
3. Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1377_2009-11-26.html