Sunday, October 11, 2009
William Daniel's painting of Suffolk House, 1818
Memory of Suffolk House
Suffolk House is always dear to my heart, it has sentimental value to me. I had spent two years taking my food in Suffolk House in the late 70s. Suffolk House was the canteen of Methodist Boys School(established in 1891). When I stand in front of this heritage building, taking the photo, I can hear the voices of school children nearby... I remember the days when our classmates and schoolmates were there, suddenly I hear their voices. Even I am now hearing impaired, but it seems like their voices is still around, and it is very near to my heart..... may be it is my heart that listen....
I still remember the Prawn Mee,or Hokkien Mee(Prawn Noodle). I was always the earliest to take it as my breakfast, as a school boy. It was always delicious, and my best Prawn Mee....
Many have been there, Tun Abdullah Badawi(our former Prime Minister), Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon(our former Chief Minister), Datuk Kee Phaik Cheen(former State Executive Councilor),Senator Dr Sak Cheng Lum, ..... it was not only Capt Francis Light's house. It was our school canteen and I was also there.
In fact when I was there, the main part of the building was in dilapidated condition. Only part of the ground floor was used as canteen, and we were not aware the building may anytime collapse. I believed it was difficult to obtain fund for a mission school at that time.
Suffolk House is located at Air Itam Road(Jalan Air Itam), behind Methodist Boys School. The heritage building was built on the estate called Suffolk Estate, owned by Capt Francis Light from East India Company, the founder of George Town, and British Settlement of Penang. It was known as " The Great House of Penang", as it was once home to the earlier Governors and the scene of many important social and official function . The location is on the bank of Sungai Air Itam or Air Itam River, which literally means Black river.
It is reported that the double storey bungalow was the purest example of Anglo-Indian Georgian style Garden House outside India. Suffolk House represented the period of colonial history from 1805(Sept)-1830, when Penang become the 4th Presidency of British India in 1805.
The house was named after the Suffolk Estate, which was named after the town Suffolk, Capt Francis Light's home country in East Anglia, England.
Capt Francis Light(1740-1794)
He was baptised in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England on 15 December 1740. His mother was given as Mary Light, and no father is named. He was taken in by a relative, William Negus, and educated in elementary school with the Negus children: but was apprenticed early to a Naval Surgeon. He served as a Royal Navy midshipman from 1759 to 1763, but went out to seek his fortune in the colonies. From 1765, he worked as a private country trader. For about ten years he had his headquarters in Salang, Thailand, near Phuket, reviving a failed French trading post. While living there he learned to speak and write several languages, including Malay and Siamese. In 1785, he warned the Thais on Phuket Island of an imminent Burmese attack. Light's warning enabled the islanders to prepare for Phuket's defence and subsequently repel the Burmese invasion. For the British East India Company, he leased the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah, where many others had failed. The multicultural colony became extraordinarily successful from its inception. Light served as the Superintendent of the colony from 1786 until his death in 1794.
(extract from wikipedia)
William Edward Phillips
William Edward Phillips arrived in Penang on 20 April 1800 to act as secretary to Lieutenant George Leith. He bought Suffolk estate from Capt Francis Light's executors on 29th September 1805, when he was collector of Custom and Land Revenue under Robert Townsend Farquhar (1776 - 1830),the Lieutenant Governor of Penang from 1804-1805.
William Edward Phillips was acting governor of the Prince of Wales' Island on three separate occasions; On the premature death of newly arrived Lieutenant-Governor Charles Andrew Bruce, Dec. 1810 till Archibald Seton arrived in 1811. On the premature death of Lieutenant-governor William Petrie in 1816 till the arrival of Colonel John Alexander Bannerman in 1817. On the premature death of Colonel John Alexander Bannerman on 8-8-1819, until finally he was appointed as full-fledged Lieutenant-governor of Penang in 1820. He served as Lieutenant-Governor of Prince of Wales' Island from 4 June 1820 to 30 August 1824.
W.E. Phillips married Governor Bannerman's daughter Janet, at the St George's Church on 30th June 1818.
Who built Suffolk House?
But who built Suffolk House? Captain Francis Light in the early 1790s or did the subsequent governor, William Edward Phillips, build it in 1809? The question on the ownership of the current building was dated back to as early as 1929, when historian F.G. Stevens, who was commonly accepted as one of the main authorities on the early development of Penang, first discounted Light as the house's original owner and asserted that Phillips had built it instead. However, in Light's will, he bequeathed his wife " the pepper gardens with my garden house, plantations and all the land by me cleared in that part of this island called Suffolk ...". Thus, this spurred others to object to Stevens' line of argument, insisting that it was Light who built Suffolk during his tenure here.(The Star online). Capt James Welsh( Francis Light's son- in-law who married Sarah Light )who visited Prince of Wales in 1818, he mentioned being received by Colonel Bannerman at Suffolk, "once the private property of Mr Light, and his favourite residence"( ref: Military Reminiscences , published in 1830,vol ii , Pg 116,117). This may suggested that Capt Light built the Suffolk House, and it was initially support by Purcell in 1936, but he later stated that Suffolk was not built till many years after Light's death.
Survey records cited by FG Stevens and subsequently confirmed by researcher Marcus Langdon, reported William Edward Phillips was living at Penang Road in 1807,most probably Suffolk House has not completed yet. Langdon also reported that there is no mention of Suffolk House in Penang Gazette until 1811. It was only in July 1812, the purchase of the said land was completed. This was also same year, the two known paintings of the house were done.
(i) By James George - James George accompanied Lord Minto on his official visit as Governor of Fort William, to Acting Governor Phillip, from 9 to 12/5/1811. Lord Minto wrote a letter of his visit to Suffolk House " which he(Phillip) built himself".(cited in Steven, 1929:411).
(ii) By James Wathen - James Wathen,also known as Jimmy Sketch, visited Penang on his way to China, from 18th September to 22th October 1811. He painted several watercolour on Penang,included Suffolk House.He also described a dinner party at Suffolk House.
" At 7 o'clock we arrived at Suffolk House,which is very splendid mansion,built in mixed style, English and Indian architecture. The dinner was sumptuous and elegant and the dessert such as can only be found in a tropic climate.The wine were excellent the room were kept cool by watered mats....(cited in Purcell, 1928:116)"
John Crawfurd(1783-1868)who was the Resident of Singapore (1823-1826).He reported in 1821:
"This morning we landed and our whole party was received into the hospitable and elegant mansion of my friend Mr Phillips, the Governor of the island. Mr Phillips' residence is called "Suffolk",after the native country of the first owner, Mr Francis Light, the founder of the settlement. In the time of this gentlemen, the ground was little more than an ordinary pepper garden, but the taste of Mr Phillips has rendered it the most beautiful spot of the kind in India, the country residence of Governor-General... dated 11-12-1821"(1828)
John Crawfurd(1783-1868) was born on the island of Islay , west of Scotland in 1783. He trained as a medical doctor at Edinburgh and at twenty he was given an appointment as a medical officer in India s North-West provinces. Crawfurd acquired Malay between 1808 to 1811 in Penang, learning not just the language but the culture. In 1811, Crawfurd accompanied Lord Minto's military expedition of Java from the Dutch in 1811. When Raffles was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor by Lord Minto during the 45-day Java Expedition, Crawfurd was appointed the post of Resident at the Court of Yogyakarta in November 1811. Between 1808 and 1816 he was part of the British presence in Java, including serving as the British Resident at the Court of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. He was also a great writer. Some said he was the true founder of Singapore as he was the one involved in the treaty with Johore)
Lord Minto(1751-1814), Governor-General of India(between 1807 and 1813), paid visit to Suffolk House in 1811, and described it as "Phillip's magnificent lodge".
Four documents supported that the house was built after Capt Francis Light death:
1)List of brick buildings upon the Prince of Wales Island written in 1793 - Light was reported to have 2 dwelling houses and office(cited in City Council, 1966)
2) Will of Capt Francis Light(Light died in 1794 - " unto the aforesaid Martina Rozelles, the pepper gardens with my "Garden House", plantations and all the land by me cleared in that part of the island called Suffolk...." and he continued ..."a Bungaloe in George Town", and "...all the others of my effects with the Brick house and out houses and ground there unto belonging : be sold....". Note: The term garden house was used in India to identify brick residence of East Indian Company officers, it did not commonly used for other building types until early 19th century.
3) The 500 pages dispatch to Bengal by Major MacDonald, Superintendent for the island in 1796 - He report how Light and his business partner Scott assimilated themselves to the Malays, describing Scott's house "built of wood in the Malay fashion"(cited in Logan, 1851:104)
4)Ian Morson's book on Capt Francis Light - He cited letters from Anna Maria Davis to her sister. Anna was traveled to Macau with Mrs Beal and stopped in George Town for 6 days. The two ladies were guest of Mrs Grey, the only European woman on the island. A letter illustrated a picnic on Light's estate and she described the house as of typical Malay construction(Morson, 1993: 105). Dances for their entertainment were held in various houses around the town including on terrace of Light's "Madras" style house, Government House,which still stands in the ground of Convent Light Street. No mention of dance in the ballroom of Suffolk,which had it being built at that time, would have been an extraordinary extravagance considering there was only one European female dance partner on the island, Mrs Grey, and occasional visitors. (note: Mrs Grey may be the wife of Lt Commandant James Gray of Marine Corps, who signed the Act of Possession, of Penang on 11-8-1786)
The existence of Suffolk House during the 4th Presidency(1805-1830) is now well documented. Suffolk House was built after Light's death, and not built by him. The house was completed before 1811, but purchase of land by Phillips was completed only in July, 1812, may be Suffolk House has started constructed prior to completion of the legal transfer, possibility between 1806-1810.
There is another theory that there were two houses. The earliest of the two buildings is notable for serving as the residence of Capt Francis Light, the founder of British Penang settlement. Following Light's death in 1794, as Penang became the fourth presidency of India in 1805, a newer Suffolk House replaced the original house, assuming multiple roles and was later neglected before its current restoration. The current Suffolk House is the 2nd building built after death of Captain Francis Light, not the original house built by Francis Light.
The original Suffolk House served as Francis Light's residence and has been described as a simple Mayan style building (alternately described as an Anglo-Indian Garden House style) of timber and attap construction, built within his pepper estate called Suffolk. Light settled in the estate until his death in 1794.
On the purchase of the land from Light's estate(James Scott & William Fairlie) in 1805, William Edward Phillips began to construct a Georgian-styled mansion called Suffolk House. He was not governor of the island at that time. The house he built is the Suffolk House of today.
During the 1810s and 1820s, the mansion function as a Government House that assumed the role as an official residence of the Governors of Penang and Strait Settlement. It was also the venue for social and official functions,and meeting place for critical political discussions. Suffolk House was the residence of Governor Colonel John Alexander Bannerman - father-in-law of Phillips,from 1818 to 1819. People who visited him in 1818 included Sir Stamford Raffles(1781-1826)and Lady Sophia Raffles. Political discussion on the establishing of port east of Malacca(known today as Singapore)were the agenda(note: Singapore was found in 1819), there was heavy dispute or rivalry between them. So Suffolk House also played its historical role in the founding of Singapore.
The sale of Suffolk House
In the late 1830s, Suffolk House was sold due to its lost of Presidency and the need for expensive repairs(Langdon, 2005). the Suffolk estate land was further divided and passed through many owners. A portion was purchased by Municipal Council,which proceed to build large bungalow, which were used as residence for senior government servant or rented out. The buildings still remained today. Rev Peach of Methodist Mission purchased a further portion in 1929 for RM20,000. The building housed the Anglo Chinese School(ACS) which later become Methodist Boys School.
The school planned to build a new building over the grounds of the Suffolk House, but due to the Great Depression and unable to raise sufficient building fund. The school only renovate the existing mansion, and a school building was built near the mansion.
The building temporarily occupied by the Japanese administration during WW2. After the war the building was returned to the school. It was used first as office, but latter as canteen until 1974.
In 1975, the Suffolk House was declared unsafe.
Restore to its past glory
The campaign to restore Suffolk House started in 1961, but it was only in 1993 when PHT(Penang Heritage Trust)conducted a Dilapidated Survey and initiated fund raising, it created the awareness of the restoration in the state. Hong Kong Bank(HSBC)was the main donor, and with the support of the state government to exchange land with the school. The restoration finally took place. The restoration work began in 2000, and was completed in June 2007.
The Suffolk House has been restored to its past glory, thanks to the state government, Penang Heritage Trust(PHT), Hong Kong Bank(HSBC) and other cheerful donors. Suffolk House, Penang has won the 2008 UNESCO Award of Distinction. It is the second highest award given by UNESCO Asia Pacific for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Note: The other heritage building in Penang which has won the UNESCO Award of Merit in 2006 was Penang Teochew Association or Han Chiang Ancestral Temple(韓江家廟), Chulia Street.Cheong Fatt Tze mansion(張弼士故居) was the other winner
The Citation for the award to Suffolk House was as follows:
"The restoration of Suffolk House has returned one of the most important colonial heritage landmarks in Penang to its former state of grandeur after years of neglect. The massively dilapidated building was restored to its 1812-1820 form in strict accordance with historic paintings and archaeological evidence uncovered after a meticulous process of research and investigation. Modern additions to the site have been handled in a sensitive manner while the period landscaping consolidates the historic setting of the building. The restoration works were carried out to a high level of technical competence and demonstrate standard-setting excellence in craftsmanship. The public-private enterprise in undertaking the project has renewed the building's historic role and serves as a worthy modelo for future restoration initiatives in the Penang World Heritage site".
The award was officially handed to the State Government of Penang, as represented by Penang Chief Minister Mr Lim Guan Eng, by Dr Tim Curtis, the Head of Culture Unit at UNESCO Bangkok office on 9th October 2009.
1. 首長：政府私人界攜手成果‧瑟福屋獲古蹟特優獎,星洲日報／大北馬‧2009.10.10, http://mykampung.sinchew.com.my/node/79506?tid=4(article in Chinese)
2. http://www.pht.org.my/suffolkhouse.htm; the official website of PHT(Penang Heritage Trust)
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffolk_House,_Penang, wikipedia.
4. Building's origins still a subject of dispute , http://www.penang.gov.my/index.php?WebsiteId=1&ch=14&pg=90&ac=412
5. Contested Space: Cultural Heritage and Identity Reconstructions: Conservation Strategies Within a Developing Asian City(2009), by Gwynn Jenkins, published by LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, Pg 214-226.
6. Did Francis Light Build Suffolk House?, by Timothy Tye, http://www.penang-traveltips.com/did-francis-light-build-suffolk-house.htm
7.THE RESTORATION OF SUFFOLK HOUSE, PENANG, MALAYSIA, by Siti Norlizaiha H.a, & A.Ghafar A., cipa.icomos.org/fileadmin/papers/antalya/25.pdf?PHPSESSID.(note: it contained the pictures of the Suffolk Houses under dilapidated condition, when it was used as canteen)