Old Protestant Cemetery, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

If you read even just a little of what I share here and on my other forms of social media you'll know I have an interest in cemeteries and the history within them. So you can imagine my excitement when the Protestant cemetery in Georgetown came recommended by a friend as somewhere worth a visit. There was no choice for my husband, it had to be visited.

Although disused now it is listed as a Class 1 Heritage Site and has a lot of very important people from Penang's colonial past buried within it. The cemetery was established in 1786 and was the first cemetery to be consecrated after Captain Francis Light founded the Prince of Wales Island settlement, later to become Penang Island, in 1786. The oldest recorded burial was in 1787 but the exact location of this grave is now no longer known. The oldest actual surviving grave stone dates from 1789 but again the exact location of the grave itself is unknown, the stone having been moved to a wall of the cemetery. The last burial in the cemetery took place in 1892 and it was closed to new burials soon after.

Although the cemetery is on a busy road and surrounded by buildings once you get inside amongst the graves and frangipani trees it seems peaceful and relatively secluded. We were the only ones wandering around when we visited and I wonder how many people do take the time just to go and have a look around. As I mentioned above this cemetery gives an informative glimpse at the colonial history of Penang and helpfully gives you information as to notable burials (see below) and markers around the cemetery to direct you to particular graves. If you look at the list below, and in particular at number two, you'll see that there are also a number of Chinese graves here. These are believed to be refugees from the Taiping Rebellion, a rebellion in China lasting from 1850 to 1864. Other notable graves include that of the founder of Penang, Captain Francis Light, four former Governors and Thomas Leonowens the husband of Anna Leonowens who, after his death, went on to teach the children of the King of Siam and was the inspiration for  the character in the novel, Anna and the King of Siam  and in the musical, The King and I.  Of particular interest to us too, having previously lived in Singapore, was the grave of a Quintin Dick Thompson the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore and in a nod to our home here in Edinburgh the grave of James Scott, a second cousin of Sir Walter Scott. Whilst looking at the graves it was quite striking to note how young many of those buried here were at the time of their deaths and how many children are buried here too, a reminder of how harsh conditions were for those who came to settle here. A good example of that is included in the photo below of the graves of the Jackson family who all died within a twenty-four hour period.

A visit to this cemetery, whilst perhaps not the first thing to do in Georgetown, is certainly worthwhile if you are interested in history. It's something that you can be as quick or as long as you want to be over, obviously depending on how closely you want to study the graves. In the guidebooks we have it got no more than a paragraph of a mention which is a shame given the importance of some of the people buried there and their place in the history of Penang. If nothing else though you are pretty close to the Eastern & Oriental hotel so can go there afterwards for a refreshing drink and break from the heat.


Popular Posts