Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Suffolk House

I was in the Penang Museum on 15 & 16 April 2012, in one of the colonial display rooms when I noticed many picture frames depicted Suffolk House. I was wondering why would Penang Museum want to display a British home. I read the captions and it says Suffolk House belonged to Francis Light - it was his residence. I found it strange that a British man would want to live in style in Penang where everybody lives in simple wooden homes. So I dug deeper on Suffolk House. Suffolk House was also connected to my alma mater, the MBS at Jalan Air Hitam. I knew from my childhood days that Penang had a lot of estates owned by the British, one in particular was Brown Garden which is adjacent to Minden Heights.

This is Suffolk House in Wikipedia:

The text in Wikipedia says Francis Light lived in a timber house with thatched roof, not the brick Suffolk House (below) which was built later over the original house that Light had lived in. Light was the first governor of Penang (1786-94). He was governor till he died in 1794. No cause of death is mentioned in the text but I think he died young from malaria (just like Alexander the Great and Stamford Raffles).

The other structure comparable at that time was the original Masjid Kapitan Keling which was also a thatched structure, and was later built over in brick in early 1800s, and renovated many times till its present-day state.

The second Suffolk House from Wikipedia. This building was associated with Light but Light never lived in this brick mansion.
Here are 2 paintings of Suffolk House from my visit to Penang Museum on 15-16 April 2012.

The Penang Museum text mentioned Governor W. E. Phillips and Light's son-in-law, Captain James Welsh. James Welsh visited Suffolk House and described it in 1818. In 1818, two structures would be outstanding in Penang - Suffolk House and Kapitan Keling Mosque. It will be worthwhile to study the structures at both sites and find similarities.

Ayer Hitam, Air Hitam or Ayer Itam refers to the blackish and smelly water that flows nearby, Sungai Air Itam. When I was growing up and often visited Penang on weekends (1964-67), it was smelly. According to my grandfather who was a former Penang Health Inspector, after he retired, the river became foul-smelling. He said when he was in charge, the river was clear and not foul-smelling. I gather after he retired, people just started throwing stuff into this river and it became foul-smelling. One of the TV documentaries featured it as a dead river - fish could not survive in the black foul-smelling river.