Sunday, 8 November 2015

Fire, spice and edifice: Penang's early history

The E&O Hotel in Farquhar Street was the perfect colonial-type setting for the launch of Marcus Langdon's latest book -- Penang, the Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830 Volume Two: Fire, Spice and Edifice -- which, appropriately enough, was all about Penang's early history. This was at a time just about 20 years after Captain Francis Light landed at the Esplanade and proclaimed the island as a British settlement.

Langdon's Volume Two (Volume One was published in 2013) is divided in seven chapters, or Books as he called them, with each chapter devoted to a different subject. Thus, his Book One was all about the Fort Cornwallis, Book Two all about the Fires in George Town, and so on and so forth. There are Books on the St George's Church, the Spice and Botanic Gardens, the Library and Battling the Sea. Oh yes, I've omitted mentioning one very important section: in Book Three, Langdon wrote about the early years of the Penang Free School, a subject now very close to my heart.

But I'm not going to disclose much about the topics covered; anyone wishing to delve into Penang's history should get a copy of this book from the bookstores. I can assure you that it is money well spent as it is a very good read.

All I want to say is that I had bought Langdon's Volume One back in 2014 at a time when I was already very interested in Penang's heritage. While reading it, I came across several references he made to the Penang Free School and in a footnote, he mentioned that a whole chapter would be written on the school in his Volume Two. Unfortunately, there was no knowing when it would be published because when I met him for the first time in late 2014 and posed the question to him, even he wasn't sure of its publication! But at least, I had established contact with him, a contact which I was certain would come in useful later.

Then in January this year I invited Langdon down to The Old Frees' Association and had a good chat with him. I told him that I was going to start a project on the Penang Free School and was sure that whatever information he had with him would be very helpful to me. Thus he agreed to give me a copy of his manuscript, the section that dealt with the Penang Free School, which turned out to be a goldmine indeed. It filled in a lot of blanks in the school's history. Of course, I was duty bound not to say anything about it to anybody then because Volume Two still had not seen the light of day, although he hoped that it would be available by June or July.

And now that Volume Two has been published and officially launched by the Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, on 7 November 2015, I will publicly thank Marcus Langdon here for sharing that pertinent, all-important chapter with me.

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