GEORGE TOWN, Nov 6 — Behind a stretch of nondescript-looking walls along the busy Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah is a 225-year-old cemetery where you will find crumbling, sinking tombstones.
This is the historical Northam Road Protestant Cemetery, well-known as the place where the founder of the settlement of Prince of Wales island Captain Francis Light was laid to rest in 1794.
Identified as a Category 1 heritage site within the George Town Heritage zone, the cemetery is one of the more popular tourist sites in the inner city but time and the weather has taken its toll on the site.
In a bid to restore the cemetery and repair the crumbling, sinking tombstones, the George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) and Think City Sdn Bhd began a five-week upgrading work at the site today.
The RM230,000 upgrading will include repairing the pedestrian walkway, installation of benches and bicycle parking bays, levelling the ground, drainage repair, replacing the existing signboard and repairing the main gate.
Local government and traffic management committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, who gave a press conference on the restoration works at the site this morning, said the damage needed to be repaired to improve visitors’ experience of the site.
“During the upgrading work, the cemetery will be closed until December 5,” he said.
According to GTWHI general manager Lim Chooi Ping, there are a total of 457 tombs in the cemetery.
MPPP together with Penang Heritage Trust has been conducting maintenance works on the site regularly such as cleaning, minor repairs, foliage trimming and installation of lights since the 1990s.
GTWHI has carried out preparatory works including a site survey, dilapidation report and repair of broken tombstones since 2012.
“We will be putting up bollards to prevent motorised vehicles from entering the cemetery as only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to enter, while cars and motorcycles must be parked outside the compound,” Lim said.
Phase one of the tomb repair works started last year and another 30 tombstones were repaired this September.
Lim said tomb repair works are an ongoing process.
“All the tombs here have been documented since 2012, so we have a full record of those buried here,” she said.
A comprehensive map of the location of the tombs and those buried there will also be displayed at the entrance of the cemetery after the upgrading works.
The cemetery was the first to be opened in the settlement of the Prince of Wales Island by Light.
It was used between 1789 to 1892 and many famous people such as R.S. Hutchings, the founder of Penang Free School and Thomas Leonowens, the husband of Anna Leonowens of Anna and the King fame are buried here.