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Penang State Museum

Penang State Museum is located at Farquhar Street. Along the street, you will also find other well-preserved heritage buildings such as the Court House and St. George church. In the area also, you will see some of the oldest institutions in Penang such as St. Xavier Institute (a high school for boys) and Light Street Convent (a school complex for girls). Walking slightly further, you will meet the Blue Mansion at the corner of Leith Street. 

Penang Free School old building
An old picture of Penang Free School that now houses the State Museum. The East Wing was destroyed during the World War II.

The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery used to have the statue of Francis Light (allegedly to be the founder of Penang) installed there in its front yard but the statue has now found its permanent home inside Fort Cornwallis.

Do you know that the building that is now Penang State Museum used to house Penang Free School?

	 current state museum at Farquhar Street
Picture of the current Penang Museum showing the West Wing that is still intact.

Half of this massive structure was sadly destroyed during the World War II. It was set to be demolished but thanks to the intervention of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the would-be first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the part that survived the war was saved and turned into Penang State Museum instead. We should be grateful that Tunku Abdul Rahman had the vision to realize that old buildings needed to be preserved.

wooden funicular train
Wooden funicular train that used to serve Penang Hill is on display here outside the museum.

For only a paltry sum of RM1.00 (about USD0.30), you can enter the museum to see the artifacts on display and to learn about the early history of the island.

Visitors are not allowed to take photographs of the interior of the museum but you can of course take notes!

Upon entering this two storey premises, you pay for your ticket and go through the turn stile to go back into history.

The first room you encounter tells the story of the early residents of the island by showing the old maps, its various names and also the chronicle of events starting from the middle of the 18th century.

You then move forward to other rooms, I can say that each one is unique in its own way. You can visualize the bridal chamber of Baba and Nyonya, experience the decor of a rich Peranakan drawing room and also marvel at the intricacies of old fabric used to make traditional costumes. Malay and Indian costumes and wedding paraphernalia are also available in separate chambers.

At the upper floor, part of the building used to house artwork but now most of them have been moved to at the gallery Dewan Sri Pinang. Here you can see the old photos and a glimpse of a bygone era of colonial supremacy.  Learn about the racial riot that occurred in late 19th century and how the British dealt with the rebels. Also you can find out about the Japanese occupation in Penang during the World War II.

truck with one front wheel owned by a smelting company
The truck with one front wheel owned by a smelting company.

Be informed about how public transportation was organized back then; the trolley bus, the tram and human pulled rickshaw (or lanca in the local dialect).

Now, when you go to the city center and if you observe carefully, you can still see the remnants of the tram track from part of Chulia Street into Penang Road. They still exist until now.

By the way, outside in the museum compound, there were a few old vehicles, including the truck head used to carry tin ore to a smelting foundry.

One thing that was amusing to see was a graffiti that Francis Light did, scratching his name on a window pane when he was boarded at his school back in Suffolk. The school kindly donated the window pane to the museum on a permanent basis.

You can also read his last will and testament, which was written shortly before his demise in 1804, due to malaria.  Do not miss also, a declaration by Queen Elizabeth II on 1st January 1957, recognizing George Town as a city.

You could easily spend a couple of hours browsing through the items in this small museum. This is a good place to see samples of antique furniture too. I know a lot of people tend to dismiss this museum because of its small size. However, I still find it to be educational.

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