Sunday, 10 March 2013

Suffolk House

I first saw a painting of Suffolk House at Penang Museum. In the painting, Suffolk House stood alone on a hillock and overlooked the sea. I had thought Suffolk House was in England and didn't have the urge to find out. In reality there is no sea, just a creek.

This was our first visit to Suffolk House in Penang. It is behind my old school, Methodist Boys' School (MBS) on Jalan Air Hitam (Ayer Itam), and I never knew. There are two routes to Suffolk House. We took the long route there since we didn't know there is also a shorter route. I think we must have gone so far and then came back along Jalan Masjid Negeri and the overhead pass, then we turned left at the Al-Mashoor School and then took another left at the signage for Suffolk House. We followed the narrow in-road passed the bright yellow brick bungalow on the right, passed some double-storeys on the left, swerved right and followed the road till we came to a large empty parking lot. Nobody was there. There was a bridge and we didn't see Suffolk House at all. We saw just a bridge to go to a set of high-rise flats.

I thought we were possibly lost and turned round to see where we were in this jungle green, and to my surprise, Suffolk House was in the opposite direction! It just stood there and we were amazed that such a beautiful structure exists in the midst of such peaceful green surroundings. It seemed so serene! We couldn't believe our eyes that we have at last arrived at the most beautiful piece of architecture on Penang island, apart from the picturesque Masjid Kapitan Keling.

You have to come to Suffolk House and see for yourself to believe that this amazing piece does exist in Penang. This mansion is so huge and so majestic, like the Parthenon. It has a granite gravel road (batu tiga-suku or batu 3/4) leading from the gate to the mansion. They probably used horse-drawn carriages here in the old days.

There's no porch at the mansion, just some ruins on the right side of the mansion. There's a long slender unplastered pillar on the ground, totally out of place - weird! There's a wooden boardwalk leading to the main entrance at right.

I didn't understand what the Indonesian guard at the gate told Affandi so I didn't enter the mansion but just explored only the exterior. Affandi probably understood the guard and he went inside and came back out, calling me to enter the mansion and see for myself. Notwithstanding curiosity, I entered the luxurious mansion!

Suffolk House may look big on the exterior but inside it was a bit small I think, much like a cowboy inn. There was a big hall and a dining area beyond the arches. The dining tables were set and some people were having late tea or early dinner.

We didn't know anyone there and I didn't know what we were allowed to do/not allowed to do. So I only took some photos of the interior for this post and for keepsake. Most of the photos were dark since I didn't use a flash.

There was some music playing, I think it was Nora Jones the Indian-White lady's CD playing. I have the CD - Affandi bought it in Australia for me.

I am still surprised that this venue is hardly used-there was no function when we visited it. I don't know if there are stories attached to the mansion but I feel it is alright and one should not expect any banshees. I keep looking upstairs to see what it would be like when Captain Francis Light lived here and how his lady Martinha Rozells would go upstairs to meet him. Did Captain Francis Light really live here at Suffolk House? Which staircase did she take? Which room is Light's room? Where is the main bedroom? Where is the toilet? Where is the kitchen? There must be a secret passage from the mansion to the harbour, as usually mansions this big have one, like in the Black Tulip.

Since there wasn't much to explore inside and we didn't go to see the museum upstairs as it was closed, we left Suffolk House at dusk, and the lights were always left on at Suffolk House (as history has it). We hope to return and visit the museum next.

Painting of Suffolk House in Penang Museum
Painting of Suffolk House in Penang Museum.
First view of Suffolk House from the parking lot. This image makes a lovely wallpaper.
Viewed from the front cast iron fence. The vast green front lawn is captivating. The MBS is the red roof in the right bkgr.
Viewed from the gravel road to the mansion. The box hedge is mentioned in the history of Suffolk House. It is missing a porch on the right - only an unplastered pillar remains standing.
Suffolk House viewed from the creek side. The ground was steep and uneven here and it was difficult trying to get a proper footage to get this shot without falling backwards (into the creek below). This shot was taken as I fell backwards!
Entrance to the grounds of Suffolk House, viewed from the boardwalk. Loose gravel fills the area where the old porch used to be - the remain is the unplastered pillar is the slender structure at left.  The entrance to the mansion is at right (not shown in this pic). The guardhouse is at the end of the gravel road, at left.
Foyer with terracotta floor tiles. A marble table with four black lacquered legs greets the visitor. 
Marble Hall with a soft pink glow and flowers to enliven the place. Bare painted wooden rafters for the ceiling can be seen. Checked black-and-white floor tiles (some were broken) fill the dancing hall. The government held several functions which ended with a ball (dancing) and dinner here. The best dinners on Penang island were also served here at Suffolk House. 
The MBS shares a common back wall with Suffolk House. A part of the land belonging to Suffolk House was given to build the ACS or now MBS. The MBS was formerly the ACS (Anglo-Chinese School). When Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos attended school here it was called the ACS. When I attended school here, it was the MBS. A scouts photo of the ACS then is in Dr Che Lah's biography but I can't make out which big tree was in his photo of 1919. The tree is probably gone now.
Another view of the adjacent MBS classrooms viewed from Suffolk House.