Saturday, 4 July 2009

David Brown, who?

I went to change the tyres on my car yesterday. Went to this tyre shop called LITA in Dato Kramat Road. It's right across from the Esso and Shell stations, and located smack between the CIMB Bank and Public Bank. Nobody can miss this prominent shop. While I left the car at the shop, I walked to the hawker centre at the corner of Perak Road and Anson Road.

This hawker centre must have been around for at least 50 or 60 years, or maybe even longer. It's appearance hasn't changed at all, though. On one side was the Chinese section and on the other side were the Malay stalls. My favourite Chinese food here are the popiah and the yong tau foo. The yong tau foo is quite unique and you won't find any other stall that's close to it in terms of quality and variety. And the popiah, well, it's differently delicious too.

For a long while already, I've noticed this monument in the middle of the hawker centre but never really paid any close attention to it. Nobody does. However, something made me walk up to it on that Friday.

This is the monument to David Brown. He was one of the early British settlers here. A qualified lawyer, he became one of the biggest landowners in 19th Century Penang. Brown and his descendents donated large tracts of land to the people. Among some of his notable donations included the Snake Temple grounds, the land that is Brown Garden today and of course, the 4.8-hectare field which is today known as the Padang Brown or the Dato Kramat Padang.

It's still being used mainly as a football field although a night market can be found here occasionally. The hawker centre sits in one of the far corners of this field together with the monument. I have no idea when exactly this monument was erected but on one of its sides was this inscription:

It reads: "This monument was erected by public subscription by the European and native inhabitants of Penang: To the memory of the late David Brown Esquire in testimony of their esteem and approbation of his character and for his unwearied zeal and usefulness as a member of the community during the long period of 25 years which he was a resident on the island. His death took place on the 12th September 1825 in the 49th year of his age on board the H.C.S. Windsor Castle on her passage to Malacca."

So it seemed that David Brown was quite an active and participative member of the community in those days. Among his large tracts of land was the Glugor Estate which was planted with nutmeg and other spices. He brought in Tamil workers from India to work his estate and in return, alienated some land for them to build their village, rear cows and goats and plant fruit trees. This was supposedly some 200 years ago.

The land was later vested in the Crown as the Helen Brown Housing Trust under the Housing Trust Act, 1950, named after their owner and then current employer, Helen Margaret Brown. Shortly after the British left Malaya in 1957, the Penang government took over the village in the capacity of ‘trustee’ and began collecting annual Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) rents. This village of coconut trees and about 300 residents staying in 24 houses is today known as Kampung Buah Pala. It's still one of the largest Indian communities in Penang. However, the Indians here are now immersed in deep controversy.


stephen said...

Padang Brown. The place for Lok Lok (expensive though), good Char koay teow, poh Piah and excellent chinese pasembur.It is where the civil service club is where my uncle would spend his time and most of his money gambling in the bad old days.
My dad would take me to the roadside stall diagonally across the padang for some really good chendol during my school shaved the old fashioned way with the ice block slid back and forth a wooden board with a blade affixed in the centre.
Its unfortunate that the residents of the kampong have been shortchanged. I bought a piece of land in Kulim, the developer went belly up, then quietly formed another shell company to buy back the land at a greatly discounted sum free from encumbrances and then tried to take over our paid for land.Would have succeeded if not for the caveats we lodged!! Why am I not surprised that the villagers are in this predicament.Seems like anything goes.

Kah Seng said...

Penang people tend to look down on the cheap and humble nutmegs. Our children are even repelled by the taste of candied nutmeg flesh these days.

But nutmeg had a glorious history. The British traded a nutmeg island for New Amsterdam -- now known as Manhattan Islandof New York.

This trade in 1640's helped channel Dutch influence to Indonesia, and gave Britain a beachhead in North America (before the time of Pocahontas and Mayflower).

See this amazing book's reviews about the nutmeg island in Indonesia, 150 years before the Browns developed the Penang plantation: