New Penang museum focuses on island’s colonial past

An ancient letter signed by Captain Francis Light is now being displayed at the Colonial Penang Museum. ― Picture by K.E.Ooi
An ancient letter signed by Captain Francis Light is now being displayed at the Colonial Penang Museum. ― Picture by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Jan 17 ― Behind the leafy green perimeter fencing and an imposing ornate gate is a double-storey bungalow set on wide open grounds under the shade of high rainforest trees.

Several decades ago, the building ― a state government property ― used to be the meeting point for senior citizens where they would linger around the grounds, play a game of cards in the bungalow or sing some karaoke.

This is because the building, located along Jalan DS Ramanathan, used to be rented out to the Penang Senior Citizens Association and served as its clubhouse of sorts.

The association was well-known for its cafeteria, located at a small squat building that used to be the stables behind the main building. People came for its crispy inchi cabin (spiced fried chicken), roti babi (deep fried pork sandwiches) and spring rolls.

Their lease ended several years ago and since then, the building has been left vacant and subsequently fell into a state of disrepair.

Until a family of antique collectors decided to take up the lease, fully restore the building and today, it stands magnificent with a fresh coat of paint and gilded finishings as the Colonial Penang Museum.

According to museum director, Eric Ma, a total RM3 million was spent to restore the heritage building as it was in a dilapidated condition when they leased it from the state government.

The museum boasts a collection of colonial antiques from Ma’s and his family’s collections accumulated over the years.

One of the priceless exhibits is a document dating back to 1794 and signed by Captain Francis Light, the founder of the settlement of Prince of Wales island.

Ma said the document, related to land matters, was signed by Light on July 8 in 1794. Light passed away on October 25, 1794.

Within the building, there are also also magnificent displays of stained glass windows by Hubert McGoldrick, Alfred Ernest Chuld and Katherine O’Brien.

There are also white Carrara marble statues by Atelier R. Bigazzi Florence and paintings by William Morris & Company (Westminster) Ltd.

Some Baba Nyonya furniture like the pair of Baba Nyonya bridal tables can also be seen here.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who officiated the opening of the museum yesterday, said the state government only provided the premises while the restoration and setting up of the museum was a private venture by Ma.

He stressed that the state government did not spend a single sen on it but is glad that Ma set up a museum about Penang’s historical colonial past.

The museum is open daily from 9am to 6.30pm.

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