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George Town Dispensary, Beach Street, George Town, Penang

George Town Dispensary at the junction between Beach Street and China Street Ghaut, George Town

The George Town Dispensary Building at Beach Street, within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, was designed by Singapore-based architects Swan & Maclaren, and was completed in 1923. Located at the junction between Beach Street and China Street Ghaut, the three-storey building used to house the George Town Dispensary and George Town Chambers.

In the late 19th. century, the George Town Dispensary, which was founded by an Armenian physician in 1886, was the most prominent of all in town. Initially based inside Logan's Building, business soon grew rapidly, enabling it to move into this building in 1923. While its front side facing Beach Street housed the dispensary, the Church Street Ghaut side of the building was leased out as professional offices for lawyers, doctors and architects, named the George Town Chambers.

Today, the building stands closed, while the George Town Dispensary has been transformed into George Town Pharmacy Sdn. Bhd., a Penang-based pharmaceutical company with branches all over Penang Island and the neighbouring Sultanate of Kedah.

History

Thio Thiaw Siat Building and George Town Dispensary, Beach Street, George Town, Penang

Thio Thiaw Siat Building (left) and George Town Dispensary (right) along Beach Street.

In the early years of George Town, the British East India Company was responsible for providing pharmaceutical and chemical services. This later gave way to private dispensaries towards the end of the 19th. century.

The George Town Dispensary was founded by Dr. Thaddeus Cachick Avetoom, an Armenian physician who was born in Calcutta, India. He received his medical qualifications in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1885 before travelling to George Town and establishing the George Town Dispensary within Logan's Building the following year.

In 1895, the dispensary was relocated to 37A Beach Street, which was next door to the current George Town Dispensary Building. The business was advertised as ‘Wholesale & Retail Chemists and Druggists’ supplying ‘patent & proprietary medicines, pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals’.

Business soon grew rapidly; by 1900, it was distributing high quality imported pharmaceuticals to dispensaries and hospitals all over British Malaya and Siam. It also served as an agent for 'sight-tested' glasses.

George Town Dispensary, Beach Street, George Town, Penang-0

The building in the middle was 37 Beach Street that formerly housed the George Town Dispensary before its relocation to the current George Town Dispensary Building in 1923.

In 1901, the George Town Dispensary Ltd. was established to manage the George Town Dispensary, by then the most famous of all dispensaries in George Town. Business continued growing and the firm soon opened branches in other parts of British Malaya, such as the Straits Settlement of Malacca and Ipoh, the capital of the neighbouring Sultanate of Perak.

Other than the medical field, Dr. Avetoom also served as a Municipal Commissioner, a Justice of Peace and the President of the Penang section of the British Medical Association, as well as owning shares in tin mines in Ipoh. He passed away in 1915 and the ownership of the George Town Dispensary was subsequently transferred to British hands.

The George Town Dispensary Building was designed by Singapore-based architects, Swan & Maclaren, replacing an earlier building at the same site. It was initially designed as a double-storey building in 1922, before being modified to accommodate an additional floor. It was completed in 1923 at a cost of $93,661.77 (Straits dollar).

The side facing the junction between Beach Street and China Street Ghaut bears a pediment marking the main entrance of the building. Along its Beach Street side stretches a five-foot way, with the dispensary immediately inside it. The first floor contained two physician's consultation rooms with a shared waiting area and laboratories. These are accessible through a staircase on the China Street Ghaut side of the building, which also housed professional offices for lawyers, doctors and architects, collectively named the George Town Chambers.

George Town Dispensary Ltd. survived the Second World War and the turbulent times that followed, all the way until the 1980s when it was acquired by another firm. Today, its successor, George Town Pharmacy Sdn. Bhd., continues to retain its position as a major Penangite pharmaceutical company, with nine branches all over Penang Island and two more within the neighbouring Sultanate of Kedah.

Political Representation

Penang State Government

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
  2. Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. George Town World Heritage Incorporated, Penang.
  3. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
  4. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/george-town-dispensary.htm
  5. https://www.georgetownpharmacy.com.my/

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