Satchell, May

- c. 1944
Missionary nurse and teacher

For 16 years, May Satchell laboured in “infinite patience, tenderness, and steadfastness of a good woman …”[1] Her legacy is the establishment of St. Nicholas’ Home, which continues to serve the visually impaired to this day. 

May Satchell left England in January 1912 for Malacca to work at the Medical Mission set up by the Anglican Church in hopes of reaching the Malays. The Medical Mission work had begun on April 18, 1911 with the opening of a dispensary in Banda Hilir on the outskirts of Malacca. The staff then consisted of Dr Mildred Staley and three assistants, one of whom was a Chinese Christian nurse from Hong Kong.[2]

In 1912, a branch of the dispensary was opened in Klebang on the other side of town to reach the Malays there. Over the next two years, two more dispensaries would open in Malacca. Dr Staley described the work thus:

We have paid eighty-seven visits to kampongs in six months and receive a warm welcome everywhere, and some of these kampongs already send for us in cases of serious illness and seem to trust us fully. We are able to teach the people in their own homes valuable lessons of cleanliness and hygiene, how to nurse their babies and tend the sick.[3]

The growing number of patients, most of whom were Malays, demonstrated the trust formed with the local populace.[4]

In 1914, Dr Elsie Warren who had arrived at the Mission in 1912, took over its administration. She began training a large number of Asian assistants at the dispensary, helped by Satchell and other senior nurses.[5]That same year, the dispensary underwent further expansion with the building of two new wings. The expansion enabled the Malacca Medical Mission to adopt its first orphan girl. 

This girl, who was feared to be blind, was eventually partially cured under the care of Satchell and Dr Warren. She was then sent to a school for blind girls in Foochow, China. The case drew the attention of Charlotte Ferguson-Davie, wife of the then Bishop of Singapore, to the great need for a home for the blind.[6] She advised Satchell to study Braille during her furlough in England in 1916, going so far as to say, “It may be your task to organise it [the home for the blind].” Satchell spent much of her breaks and leave periods to study the work done among the blind in England. But it would be another 10 years before she was finally released by the Medical Mission to begin her new venture.[7]

Upon her return from furlough, Satchell was transferred to St. Andrew’s Medical Mission in Singapore. By the time she began her work there in 1917, the dispensary on Bencoolen Street had expanded to Cross Street where some school buildings were repurposed to serve as an additional wing of the dispensary and the women’s hospital. Another dispensary was opened in Pasir Panjang which catered to Malay women.[8] This rapid expansion of the Medical Mission required large numbers of new staff, all of whom needed training. Satchell guided new trainees while simultaneously visiting the homes of Malay women who could not make the trip to the dispensaries for treatment. All the while, the number of children adopted or left to the care of the Medical Missions continued to grow. 

Since the establishment of the Medical Mission in Singapore in 1913, a growing number of children, most of whom were blind, were entrusted to the care of nurses such as Satchell, who brought them up as Christians. In 1919, it was decided that a home for the crippled and blind should be opened in Singapore, entrusted to the care of a team of nurses that included Satchell. A building opposite the hospital was temporarily requisitioned for this purpose while a new hospital was being built on Erskine Road with donations from some wealthy patrons.[9]At the home, children were cared for, given rehabilitation and training to perform daily tasks, taught Scripture, and attended Sunday School.[10] It was during this time that Satchell put her knowledge of Braille and education for the visually impaired to good use.

In between, Satchell was also periodically assigned to Batu Gajah, Perak, to manage a small school for the blind which had been built there under the auspices of the SPG. She had previously served in the district in her capacity as its lady district visitor, in charge of reporting cases of sickness in the community and treating them to the best of her ability[11]

By 1926, it was clear that both the home in Singapore and the school in Perak had outgrown their capacity. The Anglican Church then decided to send Satchell back to Malacca to host some of the children there. Quek Kee Suan, a wealthy local Chinese merchant, generously paid for a building that would become St. Nicholas’ Home, located within the compound of the Malacca hospital, in addition to a $1,000 donation for its upkeep.[12]The home was opened and dedicated on September 10, 1926 by Bishop Charles Ferguson-Davie. After that, the children from St. Andrew’s Mission in Singapore were sent there.

A specialised school was also set up for the children who were taught Braille, English, and simple arithmetic, in addition to life skills and handwork. Those who had musical talents were also given simple music lessons.[13] Satchell herself stated:

The object of the home is to provide a safe and happy shelter for these poor children and to teach them self-respect and some useful work, so that in the after life they may by their own work help to support themselves. The work is still in its infancy. I have only had time to find out and leave indications on what lines it can be best developed within these 16 months, and to prove that these little children … can be helped and made happy in spite of their limitations. [14]

Throughout her tenure, Satchell continued to petition for support from the local authorities and wealthy elites for funds to expand the school. Her pioneering methods of care towards the visually impaired eventually won her support. Members of the colonial elite were among those who gave generously to the home.[15] 

May Satchell eventually resigned from her post and returned to England in February 1928. She was credited not just with founding and running St. Nicholas’ Home well, but for raising awareness about the necessity for more homes for children who were visually or physically impaired.[16] The funds that she helped raise would eventually allow the children to move into a larger rented home in Klebang, Malacca, and later to Penang in 1931, where it has remained since.[17]

Upon her return to England, Satchell underwent training at St. Andrew’s House in Portsmouth to become a deaconess.[18] Her work eventually brought her to Hong Kong on the eve of the Japanese occupation. She is presumed to have been killed in January 1944 when a flight of B-25s mistakenly bombed central Hong Kong during their attack on Kai Tak airfield.


  1. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  2. ^ Charlotte Elizabeth Ferguson-Davie. In Rubber Lands: An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya. (London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921), 64
  3. ^ Ferguson-Davie, In Rubber Lands, 65
  4. ^ May Satchell, Letters to the SPG. Malacca. 1915
  5. ^ Ferguson-Davie, In Rubber Lands, 66
  6. ^ May Satchell, Letters to the SPG. Malacca. 1915
  7. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  8. ^ Ferguson-Davie, In Rubber Lands, 67
  9. ^ “History.” St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital, 
  10. ^ May Satchell, Letters to the SPG. Malacca. 1920
  11. ^ The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 5 June 1925
  12. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  13. ^ Ooi Hock Thiam. “St. Nicholas Home, Penang: 75 Years and Beyond.” All you need to know about Penang, September 12, 2023, 
  14. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  15. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  16. ^ Malacca Guardian, 13 February 1928.
  17. ^ Timothy Tye. “St Nicholas’ Home”, Penang Travel Tips, 
  18. ^ Malaya Tribune, 7 March 1929

Brendan Yeo

The writer is a student of history and is currently pursuing his Masters in Southeast Asian History at the University of Malaya.



“Deaconess Ordained”. Portsmouth Evening News. 14 October 1930.

Carter, Kit C. and Mueller, Robert. U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology. Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1991.

Ferguson-Davie, Charlotte Elizabeth. In Rubber Lands: An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya. London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921. 

“History.” St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital. Accessed March 2, 2024.

Satchell, May. Letters to the SPG. From the National Library of Australia, Women's Work: Letters received (originals), June 1901-1929.…. Accessed February 29, 2024.

“Malacca Medical Mission: Farewell to Miss Satchell”. Malacca Guardian. February 13, 1928. 

Ooi, Hock Thiam. “St. Nicholas Home, Penang: 75 Years and Beyond”. “All you need to know about Penang”, September 12, 2023.

“The Evening News”. Portsmouth Evening News. December 30, 1938.

Tye, Timothy. “St Nicholas’ Home.” Penang Travel Tips. Accessed March 1, 2024.

“Safe in Hong Kong”. Portsmouth Evening News. January 7, 1944. 

“Untitled”. Malaya Tribune. March 7, 1929.

“Untitled”. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). June 5, 1925.

“Wymering Fellowship”. Portsmouth Evening News. October 14, 1936.