The Penang State Museum is housed inside a handsome-looking colonial building at Farquhar Street inside George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. The museum is recommended for tourists seeking a glimpse of George Town's early years and the various cultures which traded on the shores of Penang Island.
The building was constructed in two phases. The first phase commenced in 1896, while the second phase was completed a decade later. Initially, it housed the Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Southeast Asia. After the Penang Free School was relocated to its present grounds at Green Lane in 1927, the building was used by the Hutchings School. Japanese aerial bombardments during World War 2 destroyed the older wing; consequently, the building you see now is actually the wing completed in 1906.
The Penang Free School, which was established in 1816, had been initially housed at Love Lane, before relocating to its own purpose-built premises beside the St. George's Anglican Church. By the 1890s, the school was getting overcrowded. A new wing was urgently needed, and after funds were made available by Penang Chinese businessmen, construction of an eastern wing began in 1896.
The Straits Settlements government then purchased the plot of land where the Penang State Museum now stands in 1903. A large extension of the wing was subsequently completed in 1906.
After the Penang Free School was relocated again in 1927, this time to its present premises at Green Lane, the Hutchings School took over the building. Today, the Hutchings High School is located right next to the museum.
The Japanese air raids of George Town during the Second World War eventually destroyed the older eastern wing. The western wing, which was completed in 1906, is the building you see today. After the war, the Hutchings School continued occupying the building until the 1960s.
There had been a museum in George Town; it was located inside the original St. Xavier's Institution building, also at Farquhar Street. However, St. Xavier's Institution was destroyed by Allied aerial bombardments during the Second World War. After the war, an impromptu museum was housed in a residence at Northam Road. However, the house was also demolished and all surviving historical exhibits became scattered.
In 1962, the Penang state government suggested the establishment of a dedicated museum for the State of Penang. The then Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, concurred, and mooted the idea of using the former Penang Free School and Hutchings School building. Notably, Tunku Abdul Rahman was an alumnus of the Penang Free School when it was located inside the building at Farquhar Street. He may have wished to preserve the former Penang Free School building where he and many other prominent citizens were educated.
A committee was subsequently set up by the Penang state government in 1963 to discuss the establishment of the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery. Initially hampered by the lack of funds, the Penang State Museum was finally opened to the public on 14 April 1965.
Since then, the building has also undergone several renovations. In 2011, a branch of the Penang State Museum was opened within the former King Edward VII Memorial Hospital at Macalister Road, George Town.
*All prices are quoted in Malaysian Ringgit (RM).
The museum opens between 0900 hours and 1700 hours from Saturdays to Thursdays. It is closed every Friday. An admission fee of RM1 is imposed on every adult.
The museum comes highly recommended for heritage-inclined tourists seeking to learn more about the history of Penang. It possesses a collection of paintings depicting George Town's early years by Captain Robert Smith, giving visitors a glimpse of early George Town. Also, numerous exhibits showcase the different ethnic communities in Penang, as well as their cultures and traditions.
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)
- Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
- Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang : George Town World Heritage Incorporated.