21 Jun CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR
Lying just on the fringes of George Town’s Heritage Zone, where Farquhar Street meets Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (formerly known as Northam Road), is the Old Protestant Cemetery (or less commonly known as the Northam Road Cemetery), a disused Christian cemetery that lies in a grove of frangipani (or plumeria) trees. The cemetery is only metres away from the beachfront and a short walk away from the Eastern & Oriental and Bayview hotels. Historically, it is one of the earliest Christian cemeteries in Malaysia, having been established in 1786, and its earliest known grave dates back to 1789. In fact, it is older than many better-known burial grounds such as the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau, which is younger than its Penang counterpart by 35 years!
Cemeteries may serve as a place of peace and tranquillity among some tourists, and the Old Protestant Cemetery certainly provides just that. The abundance of flora that follows the pathways within makes for scenic settings, which would be sometimes used as a backdrop for wedding pictures or other photography.
There are about 500 graves in the cemetery, with 12 of them being of Chinese refugees of the Taiping Rebellion, a few graves of early German merchants and their relatives, and two Armenian graves. A quick glance at some of the tombstones will reveal that many of the people during that time died at a very young age, due to a malaria outbreak after the clearing of the forests here. Some of the graves serve as the final resting places of notable folks such as Penang’s founder, Captain Francis Light; Reverend Hutchings, who led the St. George’s Church at one time and also founded the Penang Free School; and Thomas Leonowens, husband of Anna Leonowens, who was the subject of the films The King & I and Anna and the King – the latter of which was filmed in George Town itself.
Some of the simple, square-shaped tombstones are in a state of disrepair due to the advent of time and weather, as well as additional vandalism by wandering vagrants. Nevertheless, an extensive restoration and conservation effort has beautified the cemetery as naturally as possible, and the site is currently a protected area of George Town’s Heritage Zone. Today, a walk in this part of George Town will surely result in a memorably ethereal experience.