It was a cool, overcast afternoon and the light was gorgeous, so I walked over to Penang’s Protestant Cemetery to take pictures.
The British East India Company settled Penang, an island off the west coast of Malaysia, in 1786. This cemetery was opened that same year and used for over 100 years. It’s full of frangipani trees and mossy old stones.
An informational plaque reads:
Dating back to the first settlement of Penang by the British East India Company in 1786, this cemetery was in use for just over 100 years. A new cemetery was then opened in Western Road.
First simply known as the Burying Ground, the original access was from Penang Road. Protestants were interred in the northern section, Roman Catholics in the southern. The two sides were later separated by the dividing wall seen today.
The total number of persons interred in the Protestant Cemetery is not known. As of a 2013 survey, 459 in situ and disturbed memorials survive. Of these, 150 cannot be identified. Many more memorials were lost when Japanese bombs landed in both ends of the cemetery during World War II. The same bombing raid damaged St. George’s Church, and subsequently many of its burial records were lost.
Innumerable individuals were also buried in unmarked graves, and new graves were often laid over old. Americans, Armenians, Australians, British, Chinese, Dutch, French, and Germans are interred here, including the founder of the settlement, Captain Francis Light.
There is a broad cross-section of colonial society interred in the Cemetery, ranging from high ranking government officials and civil servants to army officers, policemen, doctors, engineers, judges, merchants and clergy. There are also planters, printers, tavern keepers, coopers, shipwrights, sailors and occasional prisoners of war.
Around 33% of the identifiable persons memorialised are aged below 30, reflecting the high mortality rate from diseases such as malaria, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis. There are also 12 surviving memorials believed to be of Hakka Christian refugees from the Taiping Rebellion in China (1850-1864).
The cemetery is a Category 1 site located within the George Town World Heritage Site. It is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of an 18th-19th century Christian cemetery in Southeast Asia.