About a week ago I had sent an appeal through the Old Frees' Association facebook group for more Old Frees to remember the founder of the Penang Free School by turning up at the Protestant Cemetery for the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings commemorative service.
I was very encouraged when I arrived at Northam Road to find bustling activity outside the cemetery's gate at 6.45a.m. Not only were there a busload of Penang Free School boys and their teachers - possibly about 20 to 25 of them - but also a group of about 10 to 15 representatives from the nearby Hutchings School.
The presence of Billy Yeoh, president of The Old Frees' Association, was very welcomed. For once, we have representatives of the Management Committee present. But there is a strong message in Billy's presence too. As the School moves towards its 200th Anniversary in 2016, the Bicentenary, I hope that I am not wrong to say that we can be assured of The Old Frees' Association's commitment to uphold the School's many old traditions. The annual visit to Hutchings' grave is one of most important among them.
I'm saying this because Christianity is not my religion. I'm a confirmed Buddhist. Yet, there shall be little that will prevent me from visiting a church or this Protestant cemetery and remembering this great man who through his efforts in 1816 pushed through his plans to establish a school that has lasted till today.
For that effort, I shall remember Robert Sparke Hutchings and I hope that many more Old Frees will honour that man too by turning up at the annual service. That is the least that we can do for the man and the institution we call our Alma Mater, the Penang Free School.
Revd Ho Kong Eng addressing the Penang Fee School students and teachers
Old Frees among the people at the cemetery
The teacher and boys from Hutchings School
Some of the Old Boys from Free School