Friday, 27 June 2014

Was Penang Free School founded on 6 January 1816?

It's an interesting question, according to Marcus Langdon, a well-known author with deep interest in the history of the Straits Settlements. In an old account by the Penang Free School Historical Society which had interviewed Langdon quite some time ago (not later than 2008 or 2009, I believe), he had this to say about the school:

Q. When was the Free School founded and when was it first called the Free School? 
A. Revd Hutchings proposed the school to a meeting of the East India Company’s Penang Council on 6 January 1816. In his address he referred to it as ‘the Native School of Prince of Wales Island’. A committee was established and met the following week to draw up the regulations, etc. By June that year it was being referred to as ‘the Charity School’, or simply ‘the Public School Institution’, and even when it opened for the reception of students on Monday, 21 October 1816 -- in the house in Love Lane that William Cox had rented for himself while waiting clearance from Madras to take up the position of schoolmaster -- it had no particular title. As administration of the School was by a management committee, no doubt there were minuted records of their meetings; however, none of these have been located during my own investigations. The first mention of a name I have found is when the committee advertises a meeting of subscribers in the Prince of Wales Island Gazette of 18 October 1817, when it is called the ‘Prince of Wales Island Free School’. It is likely it became known as that colloquially and that the name stuck, rather than a conscious decision at committee level. It was there forth commonly referred to as the 'Free School ' or the 'Protestant Free School'. There was also a Roman Catholic Free School; both of which were supported by the local EIC administration...I'm talking 1820/30s.

Q. The name Penang? 
A. The island was known as Pinang well before Light stepped ashore; Prince of Wales Island was purely the name given it by Light in August 1786 and it was henceforth officially known by that name, though in every day use it was still Pinang or Penang. All official records therefore refer to it as Prince of Wales Island.

Q. When was the school founded? 
A. The first intake of students was, as stated above, on 21 October 1816, but one could argue that it was founded with the formation of the committee at the Council meeting of 6 January 1816.   The early history is indeed not well known and is fascinating!

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