The History of Penang Eurasians
Published on December 2, 2013 | by penangstory.net.my
The Malaysian National Census 2000 indicates that the population of the Penang Eurasian Community[Serani] is 1,469; which is 11.6% of the Eurasian Malaysian Population of 12,650. The Penang Eurasian Community, in the National Census, is classified under ‘Others’ as being 0.4% or 5254 of the Total Penang Population of 1,313,449.
Among the Minorities in Penang the Penang Eurasian Community is 28.0% of the ‘Others’ in Penang. The National Census also shows that the Penang Eurasian Community comprises 49.4% Males and 50.6% Females. Although data on Penang Eurasians by Religion and Occupation are not available, such data for the Nation’s Eurasian Community may be helpful to draw out implications.
The National Census 1990 [currently available] indicates that the Eurasian Malaysian Population comprise 89.8% Christians, 3.7% Muslims, 2% Buddhists, 1.6% Hindus and 2.9% were unclassified. By Occupation, the National Eurasian Community are 31% in Professional/Admin/Managerial positions, 25% in Clerical, 20% in Production/Transport/Labour, 20% in Sales and Service while 3% are in Agriculture.
The history of the Penang Eurasian Community began long before they were ethnically classified as ‘Eurasians’ by the British in the 1920s – thus the blurring of their heritage. Before being called Eurasians they were popularly referred to, invariably, as Portuguese or Portuguese Descendants or Roman Catholics or Serani [by local Malays] and by other names in countries experiencing them during the Portuguese/Spanish World Supremacy of 711AD – 1641AD.
In retrospect, it all began in Spain and the intermarriages of the Spanish and the Moors. Their Roman Catholic descendants, once often referred to as Lusitanians, became a strong force in the breakaway from Spain and the formation of Portugal, and in the Voyages of Discovery that paved the way for the development of the Portuguese Trade Routes.
Portugal’s Foreign Policy was based on the 3 Gs – Glory, Gold and Gospel [in no preferential order]. In keeping with their missionary endeavours, Portugal had no reservations about accepting offsprings [of any shade, shape or size] of their citizens to being called Portuguese, through out their trade routes.
This explains why there are still some Malaysians, if they have to, choose to ethnically identify themselves as Portuguese. Heritage-wise it was always a preferred practice to refer to themselves by religion i.e. Roman Catholic. They felt no slur – they were people of God, both saints and sinners.
When the Portuguese came to Malacca in 1511 their offsprings were referred to as Luso-Malays [an obvious reference to the intermarriages of Portuguese (Lusitanians) and Malays and others found in world trading centers of the time]. These Malacca Portuguese, as they may be referred to, were Traders in support of and part of the Portuguese Trade Route of Malacca – Penang (Batu Feringgi, Pulau Tikus) – Kedah (Kuala Kedah), as well as Fishermen and odd-job workers in the Church Schools.
The Catholic Church
The Malacca Portuguese were the founding members or parishioners of the Malaysian Catholic Church initiated by the Portuguese Jesuit Mission and led by, now known as, Saint Francis Xavier.
When the Dutch came to Malacca [as part of Dutch World Supremacy 1641 – 1795], Roman Catholics were persecuted as Dutch religious mission was focused on Protestantism. In defence of their Faith, ‘poorer’ Malacca Portuguese played a ‘low profile’ while the ‘more abled’ migrated or were expelled to neighbouring Malay States including the trading centers of Penang Island and Kedah; Sumatra, Macassar, Goa and other Portuguese Jesuit centers like Junk Ceylon [Phuket in Thailand].
On the Catholic Church in Malaya during this period, Rev. Fr. Felix George Lee (1963) includes a section on the Staunch Faith of the Portuguese-Eurasians with these words of recognition, “A stirring chapter in the history of the Church in Asia is the stupendous endurance of the Portuguese-Eurasians of Malaya in preserving their faith in spite of relentless persecution by the Dutch during their occupation of Malacca from 1641 to 1795 and again from 1814 to 1824.
The Portuguese during their 130-year rule had made Malacca a thoroughly Catholic city, with nineteen churches and chapels, including a cathedral, conducted by Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans and secular priests for 20,000 Portuguese-Eurasians and other nationalities.
Only 3,000 of the town’s 20,000 inhabitants survived the 1640-41 siege, and about half of these, including the principal clergy and many Portuguese, were deported by the Dutch…In spite of all persecutions, the people flocked to the jungle to hear Mass and receive the sacraments…Indeed so strong was their faith that they assimilated many of their persecutors into their families and their belief through marriage, so today a quarter of the Eurasian Catholics have Dutch names.
They have preserved themselves as a distinct race in Malaya with their own customs and language. This language, known as lingua de christao, is sixteenth-century Portuguese mixed with native words and expression.” Suffice it is to assume at this juncture, that the Catholic followers called Malacca Portuguese now can be named Malayan Portuguese as they seek solace in protection of their Faith in various parts of Malaya.
But, the history of the Penang Eurasian Community goes beyond, with the trading links in Junk Ceylon [Phuket] – Kedah – Penang, involving people of Portuguese descent.
The island of Junk Ceylon [a mispronunciation of ‘Ujong Salang’] or Phuket as it is now called, is situated close to the west coast of Thailand and about 200 miles to the north of Penang. The existence of large deposits of tin-ore contributed mainly to the importance it had attained as a center of commerce and in mid sixteen century the Portuguese founded a factory for trade in elephants, tin and other produce.
It was managed by Portuguese settlers, who with their descendants [known as Thai-Portuguese] ‘in large numbers were established on the island and the mainland opposite’ (Clodd H.P., 1948). Kedah claimed overlordship of Junk Ceylon and installed a Malay Governor who was the principal merchant.
In 1772 English East India Company officials Francis Light and Edward Monckton together with an interpreter called Mr. de Mello [a popular Malayan-Portuguese name] began trade talks with Kedah Royalty. During 1772 on his return to Junk Ceylon, Francis Light allied himself with ‘ a Portuguese of Siam’ Martina Rozells whose name ‘certainly shows Portuguese origin and it is quite possible that she was a member of the Portuguese Roman Catholic community then located in Junk Ceylon’, and was known to have had connections with the Kedah court.
The affairs of Junk Ceylon and Kedah were closely interknit, very largely as the result of the religious activities of Portuguese missionaries in founding Jesuit colonies in both places. When the Siamese reasserted their authority in Junk Ceylon, the Thai-Portuguese Catholic community fled to Port Queda [Kuala Kedah] when Phya Tak in 1778, ordered the massacre of all Christians. Many of them made the arduous journey trekking southward, to seek religious freedom in adjacent Kedah.
In 1781, two French missionaries, Coude and Garnault, escaped from persecution and reached Port Queda. Finding the Catholics [presumably Malayan/Thai-Portuguese] there without facilities to practise their religion, they asked the Ruler of Kedah for land on which to build a church. In 1782, ‘The Ruler, Sultan Abdulla, most graciously gave them a large house to use as a church and religious center.
There they practised their faith, the sermons being preached in Portuguese and Siamese on alternate Sundays’ (cf. Augustin J.F., undated). Sultan Abdulla, in need of military and naval protection, indicated a willingness to negotiate with the British East India Company and Francis Light acted as the mediator. During his discussions with the Sultan he stayed in Kuala Kedah among his Catholic friends.
When Francis Light urgently needed suitable and capable people to help him in the administration and development of Penang, he turned to his Thai/Malayan-Portuguese friends and brought them to Penang. This Community were the witnesses at the site of the present Fort Conwallis, when Francis Light took formal possession of the Island of Penang.
Francis Light gave the Catholics a piece of land bounded today by Pitt Street, Bishop Street, China Street and Church Street. Immediately after Francis Light hoisted the Union Jack in Penang on 11th August 1786, he sent his ship ‘Speedwell’ to bring the remaining Malayan/Thai Portuguese in Kuala Kedah to Penang.
They landed on the 15th of August, which is known, to Catholics as the Feast of the Assumption. The Catholic community, led by now Bishop Coude and his assistant Father Garnault settled in the vicinity and with ‘Light’s permission’, Father Garnault built the first Church, named Church of the Assumption, on Church Street. This primitive Church was built of timber and roofed with attap.
It was constructed on stilts because the site was a mangrove swamp that extended from the eastern shore of the town to present Carnavon Street. In 1787, on the death of Bishop Coude, Father Garnault became Superior of the Catholic Mission in Siam with the title of ‘Bishop of Siam and Queda’, and the Parish House for the Bishop and Priests was built on present Bishop Street.
French Catholic Mission
The Malayan/Thai Portuguese Catholics were now being groomed under a ‘foreign’ French Catholic Mission, thereby making them the ‘founding parishioners’ of the revived Catholic Church and Faith under the French Catholic Mission as opposed to the organization of the previous Portuguese Catholic Mission in Malaya. By 1788 the Malayan/Thai Portuguese Community numbered about 200 and lived in the then popularly known ‘Kampung Serani’.
The word ‘serani’ is the colloquial form of the Malay word ‘nasrani’ which to them meant Christian and a direct reference to the Catholic Community then. ‘Kampung Serani’ in Georgetown was located in present Argus lane, Love Lane and Muntri Street. The Hokkien inhabitants in the early days of Penang referred to these streets as ‘Sek-lan-ni hang’ and the church as ‘sek-lan-ni Le-pai-tng au hang-a’ which could be literally translated as ‘Christian Sunday Praying-place’ (cf, Reutens,G.S., undated)
Back in Pulau Tikus, there were pockets of Malayan/Thai Portuguese settled in between the rivers of Bagan Jermal Road and Cantonment Road which currently are covered drains flowing towards Gurney Drive. Stories from the early settlers, and handed down by Mary Massang-Nieukey, tell of their arrival during the Portuguese Trading operations, which had stopovers at Butu Ferringghi [Ferringhi being the word that the Malays used to refer to the Portuguese traders who parked their ships at the rock island for fresh supplies] and Pulau Tikus [the island off the coast of Tanjung Tokong/Bunga], and at low tide walked on the shoals of sand banks which appeared like the back of rats leading on to what is historically known as Pulau Tikus [an inland Island of Rats ?].
This Catholic community remained loyal to their faith as given to them by their ancestors through the Portuguese Catholic Mission (cf. Nieukey, Ambrose, undated jottings).
It was in this vicinity that the French Catholic Mission purchased a sizable piece of land from one Mr. Mitchell and in 1808 revived College General, which was first established in Ayuthia in 1665, to train priests for the Catholic Churches in Asia. Funds to build the new seminary were collected ‘from as far as Mexico’ (Sinaran 1995). The general architecture and atmosphere was that of a monastery – awe-inspiringly proclaiming discipline and absolute silence.
The building itself was set deep in a wide expanse of jungle interspersed with mangosteen, coconut, durian, banana and pineapple trees, hugh angsana trees and lallang. Most assuredly the Malayan/Thai Portuguese across the Lane [now Kelawei Road] kept their distance and access to the seaside was only through pathways on both sides of the fences.
Back at Phuket, the remnants of the Thai-Portuguese Catholic Community – the parishioners of the Church of Our Lady Free From Sin [a reference to Mother Mary which the Pope changed to The Immaculate Conception] fled Phuket in 1811 when the massacre of Catholics extended to the island. Under the leadership of their Parish Priest Father John Baptist Pasqual, they made their way to Pulau Tikus.
In his own handwriting from his church records entitled ‘Liber Defunctorum, Ecclesioe, Districtus Pulo-Ticus Ad Anno 1811’, Father Pasqual testifies that as a result of war and its devastations, he was moving his parish to ‘Civitate Pinang’. Prior to his arrival, ‘Pulo Ticus’ was mainly settled by Thai-Portuguese Catholics most of whom came from Phuket and were Father Pasqual’s relatives and friends.
He set up his Church in a tent and the dead were buried around it, as it was then the practice, on land that is presently the Kelawei Road Catholic Cemetery. It is believed that his relative Thomasia Pasqual and others such as Leandros, Jeremiahs, Gregorys and Josephs gave up their lands between the present College Lane and Leandros Lane to Father Pasqual where he built the first Church of The Immaculate Conception.
Kampung Serani Pulau Tikus
The neighbouring land was for his poor Catholic parishioners. Descendents of these early settlers referred to the land as ‘Tanah Wakaf’ and it became popularly known as ‘Kampung Serani’. These Thai-Portuguese Catholics looked upon Father Pasqual, a member of the Portuguese Jesuit Mission reporting to Goa, not only as their spiritual leader but also as their benefactor who provided them with a settlement to develop their community during the pioneering days of Penang. They were not the concern of the French Mission across the road i.e. the College General and continued with Father Pasqual with their Portuguese related religious and cultural practices.
Portuguese – French Mission Rivalry
At this juncture it is significant to note the strained relationship between the Portuguese Mission and the French Mission which was aptly described by Joseph C. Pasqual (undated) when he described the fall of Ayuthia from Missionary Records – “But when the decay of Portuguese power, and after the fall of Malacca in 1641, and consequent diminution of missionary enterprise which was solely vested by the Pope in the Crown of Portugal, the Holy See appealed to France to enter the field and supplement the evangelical efforts of the Portuguese in the Orient.
This met with strong opposition from the Portuguese. Arriving at the Siamese capital, the three French Bishops appointed by the Pope to the Eastern Mission met with the greatest hostility from the Portuguese Camp.” Father Pasqual , a member of the Portuguese Jesuit Order of Priests, and his Parishioners held steadfast to the administration and practices of the Portuguese Catholic missions as instructed by the Archbishop of Goa.
Across Kelawei Lane and in Georgetown the Malayan/Thai Portuguese Catholics and other converts remained under the administration of the French Catholic missions in Pondicherry, the largest French colony on the east coast of India. In early 1820s, Father Pasqual’s personal Portuguese Catholic missionary enthusiasm in PuloTicus seemed to wane and this coincided with the British Government’s colonial interests in Penang. A Pulo Ticus Church Record shows that in May 1823 Father Pasqual performed his last burial services for one of his parishioners.
He made his way back to Thailand and Church Records of the Santa Cruz Church just outside Bangkok indicate that he was its Parish Priest from 1834 to 1836. On his death, after an illustrious priestly life spanning Bangkok, Phuket and Pulo Ticus Penang, Father Pasqual was buried in the cemetery at the back of Santa Cruz Church.
The coming of British Administration into Penang made a significant impact on the identity of the community with a traditional catholic Portuguese heritage and those arising out of intermarriages with the Catholic and other Christian descendents of Dutch and British colonialists. In the 1820s the British in India introduced the term ‘Eurasians’.
This term was used to describe people of European-Asian intermarriages and to classify the children of British compatriots who were referred to either as Anglo-Indians, Indo-Britons, descendants of Europeans, or even Christian natives. In India, the term ‘Eurasian’ was rejected outright. However in Southeast Asia and the Far East it did gain currency.
Since 1870, it has been commonly used from Burma to Hongkong to describe people of European and Asian descent even in the official population census. In the Malayan context, the term ‘Eurasian’ proved to be a very inaccurate description for the category of people that it was meant to describe. The term was initially intended to refer to the first generation descendants of the British.
The term ‘Eurasian’
At this stage in the history of Penang the Community began to occupy a mediocre position, largely being overwhelmed by numbers within and outside the Catholic Church, which has hitherto not been given much attention. All they had was the reminiscence of, as what is written by H.P.Clodd (1948), ‘In so small an area it would be difficult to conceive a more remarkably varied assortment of nationalities than that which formed the population of Penang shortly after the coming of the English.
People of Portuguese extraction predominated so largely that their language became the lingua franca in the Courts, where the services of a Portuguese interpreter were in constant requisition’. Through their colonial and cultural backgrounds the community developed a collective self-esteem, which they have adapted from the past to suit local conditions. It was inevitable that the community should find its identity and become a self-contained group (cf Ronald Daus, 1989).
The Georgetown ‘Kampong Serani’ community, now quite entrenched in the affairs of the French Catholic Mission, were quicker to accept the term ‘Eurasian’. The Pulau Tikus ‘Kampung Serani’ community, yet to get out of the declining Portuguese Catholic Mission, were and still are indifferent about what they were called but had no choice but to adapt with officialdom and convenience.
They remained closely associated with Catholism and preferred to refer to themselves as ‘Serani’ which in the Malaysian National Population Census 2000, is the only term used to classify the community under ethnic groups or dialects. However, for convenience, the rest of this paper, will use the term ‘Penang Eurasians’.
While the Penang Eurasians were blessed to have been the founding-parishioners of the organised return of the Catholic Faith to Malaysia through the Portuguese and French Catholic Missions and later through the presents of the College General at Pulau Tikus to the rest of the country, they were equally blessed to be the founding-students at the introduction of modern education.
Back in the 1820s Bishop Boucho the parish priest of the old Assumption Church opened a ‘church school’ known as St.Francis Xavier’s Free School in Bishop Street near the site of the old Armenian Church, as well as a girls school for 39 pupils near bye (cf. Reutens, G.S., op. cit.).
In Kampung Serani, Pulau Tikus, popularly referred to as a ‘village’, Father Pasqual and his community built two ‘Malay-type’ premises to serve as ‘church schools’ for boys and girls. The boy-school, beside the Church, was later renovated and popularly called ‘Noah’s Ark’. It was destroyed in 1994 to make way for development.
The girl-school, behind the Church, was rebuilt at the close of the century and remains at present as Pulau Tikus Convent Primary School. The medium of teaching in the schools in Georgetown and Pulau Tikus [predominantly Eurasian pupils] was Malay.
Catholic Brothers and Sisters
As Penang’s administration and commercial houses developed there was an increasing need for people who could read, write and count in English (Augustin, J.F., op. cit.). At the request of Bishop Boucho, the La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus arrived in 1852.
The Brothers took charge of St. Francis Xavier’s Free School and in 1853 the first public examination was conducted and the Resident Councillor expressed his satisfaction with the progress of the 80 pupils then receiving instruction. In 1856 the Brothers transferred the School, which then numbered 125 pupils to its present site at Farquhar Street and named it St. Xavier’s Institution.
The Sisters took over the small girls’ School and in 1853 acquired ‘Navy House’, the former residence of Francis Light, which is situated on the site of the Light Street Convent.
In 1906, the Brothers took over the boy-school and referred to it as the Pulau Tikus School’. In 1918, the Brothers established St. Joseph’s Novitiate at Pulau Tikus, opposite ‘Kampung Serani’ on land said to have been owned by Mr. Leandros. The Novitiate was a ‘Training House’ for Brothers recruited in ‘our schools all over the Far East'(cf. Souvenir of the Christian Brothers’ Schools 1887 – 1937).
Recessed towards the beach alongside their neighbour the College General for Priests, Pulau Tikus – the ‘heritage of Penang Eurasians’ now becomes the ‘heritage for the propagation of the Catholic Faith in the Far East’. This began the downsizing of ‘Kampung Serani’ to the site between the Church and Leandros Lane / Burmah Road and Kelaiwei Road.
The Sisters also took over the girl-school and renamed it the Pulau Tikus Convent. In the 1950s, the Sisters built new premises on the right side of the Church, which was then also included as ‘Kumpung Serani’, and called it Pulau Tikus Convent Secondary School.
Eurasian Teachers and Students
The medium of instruction in both the Brother Schools and Convents was English that gradually replaced the vernacular, and Eurasians formed the majority of the pupils in the schools. Significantly, the 1903 the first staff-photograph of St. Xavier’s Institution (printed in the ‘Souvenir 1887 – 1937’, op. cit.) comprised four Brothers [two Burmese-Eurasians] and 18 lay-teachers – all Penang Eurasians viz.
Fred Aeria, Freddy Aeria, Hugh Balhetchet, Campbell, de Souza, Philip Doral, Jalleh, Bob Lesslar, Theophilus Lesslar, Bobby Louis, Charles Robless (Sr.), Charles Robless, Isidore Robless, Ned Robless, J.D.Scully, Michael Scully, Sunny Scully, Captain Vaz. – surnames which continue to be present among members of the community today.
The ‘Souvenir 1887 -1037 (op.cit.) cites
|1888 July 18.||Centenary Scholarship won by Dunstan Aeria,|
|1888 August 18||Penang Centenary Scholarship won by Charles Robless|
|1889 August 9.||The winner of the Centenary Scholarship: James Magness|
|1894 July 14||December, Enrollment: Europeans 10, Eurasians 147, Chinese 142, Malays 15, others 13 : Total 327.|
|1898 April 23.||‘Cross and Bee Medal’ for ‘Truth, Honour and Industry’ won by Michael Foley.|
|1899||St.Xavier’s won its first Queen’s Scholarship in the person of Robert Smith.|
|1900 April 24.||Queen’s Scholarship Examination won by Michael Foley.|
|1906 May 1.||Queen’s Scholarship won by J. Aeria|
|1916 September 24.||The sad news was received of the death in action in Dardanelles of Capt. Michael Foley, B.A., 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, an old pupil of St. Xavier’s and a Queen’s Scholar.|
|1919||The School Cadet Corps was reorganized and placed under the Education Department. Mr. C.A.Reutens – Officer in Charge, his Assistant Mr. A. A. de Cruze, and Sargeant T.J. Williams – Drill Instructor.|
|1921 April 4.||Order of Merit for the Juniors Examination of Penang – one of top ten: C.J.Campbell.|
|1923 April 18.||Three of Top Ten Boys for the Junior Scholarship; P.J.Gautier (3rd), J.B.Quays(6th), and P.A.Aeria (9th).|
|1924 April 14.||The Senior Scholarship for Top Ten Boys in Penang; C.J.Campbell (8th)|
|1926 December||Catholic Boys 321, Non-Ctaholic Boys 849, Catholic Boarders 22, Non-Catholic Boarders 67: Total 1,259. Catholic Teachers: 29, Non-Catholic Teachers: 6.|
|1927 March 2.||Report of the Cadets from Capt. H.A.O.Howell|
|1934 March 26||Miss S de Cruz Supervisor of the Primary Classes for the last 16 years leaves the school after an outstanding success.|
Penang Eurasians who joined the British in their new efforts of colonial expansion not only became powerful but were well paid too. They invested their money in profitable businesses throughout Malaya and appeared as entrepreneurs in their dealings. These families were soon wealthy enough to send their children for higher education. As a result, there were many teachers, technicians, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and engineers.
There were others who occupied positions in the colonial services. The men, for example, worked in the postal service and at the port authority or were office clerks. The women were teachers in the girl-schools, nurses in the local hospital, while some were secretaries, were recruited to be clerks in the Government and Municipal services, and business houses (c.f. Augustin, J.F., op.cit.).
Georgetown ‘Kumpung Serani’ diminished to just about Argus Lane as many Penang Eurasians moved to the government quarters along Burmah Road, Chow Thye Road and Phuah Hin Leong Road.
Pulau Tikus ‘Kumpung Serani’ stayed on and some of the more fortunate, like the Pasquals, managed to claim ownership of some portions of land surrounding the area. One such was Joseph C. Pasqual (1865-1937) who was born in Pulau Tikus and was educated at St. Xavier’s Institution.
He furthered his studies in Singapore and Hongkong. Equipped with knowledge in agriculture and tin mining, he was responsible for opening up land in Phya Terubong and Province Wellesley and owned coconut, nutmeg and sugarcane plantations. His interests in tin mining made him a popular figure in Changloon, Kedah and he was a good friend of the royal family. A lane in Alor Setar where he lived while there and where his son was born is called Lorong Peringgi as he was known to the locals as of Portuguese descent.
A very keen writer, he shared his knowledge and expertise in articles and publications namely: Rice Cultivation, Sugarcane Growing in Malaya, Malay Customs and Traditions, Prince of Wales Island – an Historical Memoir, Penang in the Past and A Trip Through Thailand. He contributed articles to the Penang Gazette and in 1934 is known to have had a column entitled Malayan Reminiscences in the Sunday Times, which included articles on the Kedah and Selangor Royal families.
J.F. Augustin (1936) wrote ‘…according to the Census of 1931 Eurasians numbered about 17,000 [including Penang Eurasians]. Although it is small, measured on the basis of population, Eurasian activities in public, professional and sporting life are far out of proportion to their numerical strength. The people are decidedly literate in a country, where only about 10% are literate; and as far as occupations are concerned, they may be said to be largely urban, with a special aptitude for technical and industrial pursuits.
By their courage, initiative and reliability they have proved themselves eminently suitable in all branches of Government and Municipal Services. Eurasian women too form the mainstay of the nursing staff of hospitals and the teaching staff of the girls’ schools, and are entering public services and mercantile offices in large numbers.
It is to their credit that they have filled them well and earned the recognition of Sir Hugh Clifford who placed it on record that “during the twenty years he served in the Straits Settlement and the Malay States, it always seemed to him that the wheels of Administration had been formed by Eurasians who crowded in such numbers in the clerical services in the early days of development in the FMS. Without these solid wheels to carry the affairs of this Government he did not know where the Government would be.” (Straits Echo, August 1, 1927.)
The British, as part of their administrative strategies in the Straits Settlements, established well before the first World War ‘Volunteer Corps’ in each of the European, Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian Communities ‘to exemplify the imperial-minded spirit and willingness to serve the King and his far-flung dominions’ of the colonial masters.
The Penang Eurasian volunteers were referred to as the ‘E’ Eurasian Company. An extract from The Straits Times entitled “Eurasians Advance” and appearing in The Eurasian Review of March 1937 states, “…Eurasians are a numerically substantial and socially and economically very important section of the population of Malaya, and for most of them this is their birth-place and home.
They can be proud to bear the share in securing its defences against external menace and internal disorder. That they would acquit themselves honourably in any emergency is beyond doubt. The fine record of the many Eurasians who fought in the Great War affords sufficient guarantee of that, and it is fully realized that among the young manhood of the community is much splendid material, which will respond ably and keenly to training.
In the days when the responsibilities of the British Army are so onerous and widespread, the creation of efficient local forces in different parts of the Empire must obviously be a cause for great satisfaction and assist usefully in the completion of the scheme of Empire defence, and is surely a pity not to take full advantage of a readily available source of vigorous and adaptable manhood.
Such a unit (Eurasian regular troops) would be valuable in many ways. It would go some way towards solving the grave unemployment problem which now harasses the Eurasians and it would stimulate unity and warrantable pride in the community as a whole.”
Nipponese Military Administration
With this kind of reputation, which went on to the Second World War, it is not unexpected that the Penang Eurasians will be held in suspect when the Japanese invaded Malaya in 1941. Surviving members of the ‘E’ Company, now in their seventies and eighties, relate numerous fun-stories indicating their tremendous comradeship and enjoyment while in-service.
One such story is that the ‘E’ Eurasian Company was the only volunteer present at the Esplanade when Japanese warplanes were heading towards Penang. Their orders were to lower the British flag. In the moments of extreme anxieties the ‘Union Jack’ refused to dislodge and someone had to climb the flagpole to do so. The responsibility fell on Francis Xavier Augustin, who was small in stature, sporting and affectionate and who was often the brunt of pranks given the nickname ‘King Kong’.
In his own words the late Uncle Frank, as he was later in life affectionately called, said ‘…it was frightening; I could hear the planes up there. ‘ On hind side, it is significant that while the early Penang Eurasians witnessed the raising of the ‘Union Jack’ at the Esplanade on 11th August 1786, Penang Eurasians saw the reversal, in 1941.
Penang Eurasians as well as many other Penangites found their way of life completely disrupted. They were compelled to adapt themselves to the barbarities of Nipponese Military Administration, were a suspect-people because of their pro-British tendencies, subject to severe restrictions, and constantly spied upon.
As a result of one such ‘intelligence’ a well-known Dr Smith, President of The Penang Eurasian Association who represented his community on the Legislative Council, and his relatives were beheaded. Likewise a group of Eurasians who met daily at the doctor’s house for company were driven to a Chinese cemetery, made to dig a trench, lined up, and beheaded one by one.
More than 200 ‘first generation’ Penang Eurasians whose fathers were British, American or Australian were interned in Taiping Gaol and kept in captivity until liberated in October 1945. Those Penang Eurasians who were not interned served the new administration and were awarded certificates at the monthly public rallies for their good work (cf. Augustin, J.F. op.cit.). The remaining members of the ‘E’ Eurasian Company were given police duties. On the return of the British in 1945 they continued in this service and some were suitably qualified to testify at the numerous War Crimes court-sessions.
James F.Augustin, a notable Eurasian educationalist, in his paper (op. cit.) in as early as 1937 made this observation, which in the 1950s holds true for the Penang Eurasian Community:
“It will thus be seen that the entire economic structure of the Eurasian has been involved in Government and Municipal Services, out of which he is gradually being squeezed by the pressure of stronger communities.
The Eurasian’s economic situation is rapidly changing and he must be given a fresh economic outlook; and that he must be taught to face more and more away from Government Service and seek new avenues of employment.”
Population numbers especially at the close of the 1900s most assuredly overwhelmed the Penang Eurasians, which had an impact on not only the economic structure but also their involvement in the propagation of their faith. Nonetheless, their evolution enabled them to learn from various colonial masters, who took turns ruling their territories. They are living examples of the adaptability of the ruling systems, which were set up by the first colonialists.
The Eurasians on the other hand lived within a fixed community and had a large circle of friends and relatives. They did not need to be conscious of their status. On the contrary, they were clearly proud of it. They saw themselves as a successful result of a century-long development (cf. Daus, Donald. 1989).
Independence of Malaysia
The Declaration of Independence in 1957 was of not much consequence to the majority of the Eurasians. They were open to the principle of self-rule, which had four categorical safeguards, viz. i) preservation of habits, customs and culture; ii) representation on a bi-cameral legislature; iii) religious liberty; and iv) establishment of a common nationality. They were, as a minority group and in line with their heritage, in support of the ruling government.
Eurasians had the advantage of a good educational background and professional training coupled with their experience in the bureaucratic system. They also experienced the process of decolonization and the formation of new countries. In addition, they were the ones who spoke good, accent-free, and easily understood English (cf. Daus,Donald. 1989) which remains as an important second language.
In fact Eurasian Malaysians have adopted the English Language as their mother-tongue and use it as a language in their homes without any impediment on the Malaysian life-styles like many other non-Eurasians are now adopting. Convinced of the importance of the English Language as a universal language for communication coupled with their experience in their growth process, the opportunity to heed the advice of James F. Augustin in 1937 in real terms was at hand. The Penang State Government introduced the Penang Free Trade Zone with English speaking foreigners setting up their own industries. The Eurasian’s economic situation was rapidly changed and he was ‘ given a fresh economic outlook’ and began ‘ to face more and more away from Government Service and seek new avenues of employment.’ So much so that currently there are signs of more Penang Eurasians working in the Private Sector rather than the Public Sector.
Kampung Serani – Georgetown -The End
‘Kampung Serani Georgetown’ was no longer identifiable especially with the moving out of Eurasian retirees from the government quarters to the newly developed housing projects at Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bunga and Green Lane. The Church of the Assumption which was elevated to a Cathedral when the first Penang Bishop Francis Chan was appointed in 1955, prepared the way for the Malaysianisation of the Church.
The church in Georgetown gradually lost numbers in terms of parishioners. Today it combines with two other Churches in Georgetown to form what is now known as the City Parish. A new parish was established with a new Church in the vicinity of Green Lane. Those who moved to Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bunga became the parishioners of the Church in Pulau Tikus.
Kampung Serani – Pulau Tikus – Final Curtains
‘Kampung Serani Pulau Tikus’ was still occupied by the descendents of past occupants although they were less dependent on the Church for their material needs. In fact a prominent teacher who later become one of the earliest City Councilors Mr Ambrose Reutens and his family, moved into the Kampung.
Those who could manage, also bought their own homes in the newly developed housing projects while their relatives and family friends moved in to take their places in the Kampung. In 1950 the first Malaysian Eurasian Parish Priest, a position hitherto reserved for French priests after Father Pasqual left in 1823, was appointed. Father De Silva who remained at the church until his death in 1965 was quite a reserved person who executed his duties in accordance with the Catholic traditions of the time.
Also in 1965 and in Rome, Vatican Council II was concluding its revision of the Church Universal, which would result in changes in church practices. Among them the place at the alter for the priest, and the change from Latin prayers to English and other local languages. This would have a tremendous impact on the traditional worship practices of Eurasian Catholics.
From 1965 until his death in 1973, the second Eurasian parish priest Father Louis Ashness was appointed. A sportsman who mixed well socially within and outside the church, he was enthusiastic about the changes made by Vatican II and in the process had visions of renovating the Church to accommodate the increasing catholic population, his way.
He set up a temporary church at ‘Noah’s Ark’ as, in good timing, the St. Xavier’s Primary School had moved to their new premises at Brother James Road. The ground floor of Noah’s Ark became the living quarters of his personal workers and their families, as well as to store all the traditional church paraphernalia like candle stands and memorial tombstones of earlier contributors to the old church. The first floor of three classrooms was renovated to that of a place of prayer and worship. Renovations to the old Church took some time but were completed within Father Ashness’s remaining years.
The ‘new-look’ church completely lost its old facade inside and outside. Noah’s Ark remained as workers’ living quarters. Important and useable equipment were moved back to the church and the rest were discarded. Others in need of housing moved in and in time with shortage of space when family sizes increased together with the lack of a church budget for maintenance and preservation, Noah’s Ark by the early 1990s was in a state of shambles and unfit for restoration.
At this point in time Church the official owners of the site initiated the eviction of the settlers in Kampung Serani on the grounds of making way for development. The settlers not as cohesive as in earlier times, with changing life styles and needs and even some being non-Catholics, appealed in support of the development of a portion for low-cost housing and used the preservation of heritage Noah’s Ark to enhance their plea in long drawn negotiations.
In 1992, descendents of the early settlers led by Aunty Regina Pasqual Sibert [Aged 91] and Aunty Mary Scully Joseph [Aged 85] who lived all their lives in Pulau Tikus and grew to believe that it was always meant for the Catholic poor but now not necessarily Eurasian, together with their children and some members of the Penang Eurasian Association, staged a peaceful demonstration in defence of Eurasian heritage. Newspaper articles and reports gave support. In 1994 ‘Kumpung Serani Pulau Tikus’ was flattened.
A buffer to their sadness could well be in the case of the College General once also in original Kumpung Serani, was flattened, also in the name of development, in 1984.
From a different perspective, the destruction of original site of the Eurasians in Pulau Tikus and in particular the remaining portion of Kumpung Serani in 1994, can be considered as the long awaited ‘liberation of the Eurasians from the Church’ at least in terms of the dependence on the Church for a place to live.
Eurasians are now free, so to speak, to develop their own individual potential so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Penang Eurasians take solace in the thought that the mission of their forefathers has been accomplished. With so many non-Eurasian converts today the mission for the propagation of the faith has been passed on.
Eurasian Perseverance – A New Order
With the coming of independent Malaysia the situation poses a challenge, which the Eurasians of today are facing and overcoming. It evolves around what James F. Augustin concludes his booklet (op. cit) with: “Eurasians appreciate that racialism is a necessary evil which will, in course of time, work itself out.
They realize that its presence in the political field is largely due to the economic imbalance of the different racial communities and the cosmopolitan nature of the population divided into groups that are largely sectarian in character, parochial in customs and habits, and multilingual.
Until in the natural process of assimilation aided by wise statesmanship, removes these ramifications and diversities and embraces the different sections of the populace into a single unit, racialism will have a command consideration.”
In the 1980s, Malaysia’s leading statesman Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu while addressing Penang Eurasians in a function organised by their Association during his tenure as the Chief Minister of Penang, indicated that racism was working itself out.
After acknowledging the important roles played by Eurasians in the development of the country, he went on to say: “More important, they have contributed an important share towards the promotion of goodwill and harmony among people of various ethnic origins and backgrounds, and co-operated closely and well with the Government in its tasks of creating a just, progressive aand united nation.
In Malaysia of tomorrow ethnic barriers and artificial cultural limitations will have been eliminated to give rise to an integrated, forwarding-looking community imbued with a deep sense of civic responsibility and national pride. In their community Eurasians can see glimpses of Malaysians of the future.”
In the year 2000, Portuguese / Eurasian Malaysians were honoured to be invited by The National Economic Consultative Council II, to participate in The Memorandum on The National Development Policy 2000. Penang Eurasians in their deliberations on the guidelines provided, made valuable contributions to the Memorandum that reflected the sentiments of Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu.
Penang Eurasians concurred with the national body of Portuguese / Eurasian Associations that the community “clearly has confidence in the National Ideology and The National Education Philosophy as an important vehicle for the eradication of poverty, the restructuring of society, national unity, national economic competitiveness and human resource development” (Sibert A.E. et. al. 2000).
At the oral presentation of the suggestions to the Memorandum to YAB Tan Sri DR. Koh Tsu Khoon at a function in his honour at the Penang Eurasian Heritage House in former Pulau Tikus Kumpung Serani, Tan Sri Dr. Koh responded with “I would like to assure you that the Government
especially at State level and also at the Federal level will assist in any way we can. And this is the reason why the National Economic Consultative Council (The NECC II) out of 155 participants, has a Eurasian representative”. He concluded his address with “I want to say that the Eurasian Community has definitely made tremendous contribution to the causes of nation building and the causes of economic and social development in Penang and Malaysia.
I have no doubt that in terms of absolute numbers and percentage, the Eurasian Community is extremely small. But numbers is not everything – it is the quality and I feel that Eurasians, though small in number, have contributed disproportionately larger than your actual number”.
AND THUS, IS THE HISTORICAL HERITAGE OF MINIORITY PENANG EURASIAN COMMUNITY
Augustin, J.F. Bygone Eurasia, Rajiv Printers, K.L. (undated)
Clood, H.P. Malay’s First British Pioneer – The Life of Francis Light, Luzac & Company Ltd., 1948.
Church Records (undated)
DAUS, Ronald- Portuguese Eurasian Communities in Southeast Asia – Institute of South east Asian Studies – Free University of Berlin, 1989.
Lee, Felix George, The Catholic Church in Malaya, Eastern University Press Ltd. 1963.
Pasqual, J.C. A Trip Through Siam , Penang Gazette Press, (undated).
Penang State Government, Historical Personalities of Penang, 1987
Santa Maria, Bernard. My People My Country, The Malacca Portuguese Development Centre
Sibert, A.E. ‘Pulo Ticus 1810 – 1994 , Mission Accomplished’ unpublished manuscripts.
Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of Bro. James, Christian Brothers’ Schools 1887-1937
The Eurasian Associations, The Eurasian Review, July 1934 and March 1937 .
This Paper is dedicated to the eternal memory of Associate Professor Dr. Ivor deSouza Caunter who returned to his Creator on October 18th 2001 after a serious illness bravely borne. Dr Ivor Caunter served his King, Country and Community in the best way he knew and could. Despite his tremendous contribution to Universiti Sains Malaysia particularly in the research and development of Biological Sciences, he always made time to be involved in the growth and development of his Eurasian Community at State and National levels.
He was a good friend to many and an excellent role model to his fellow Eurasians. May His Soul Rest In Peace.