I have initially credited the formation of the St George's Church to Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings*, the same person who founded the Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, and who gave his name to Hutchings School nearby. However, I have since uncovered more details on the background of the church.
According to historian Marcus Langdon, Reverend Hutchings was present when deliberations were going on regarding construction of a church; however, rather than being the main mover of the project, he was only one of those consulted. The desire to erect a church for the Protestant inhabitants of Penang had been present long before that and indeed plans were submitted in 1810, 1813 and 1814. It was not until the extension of the East India Company's Charter for a further 20 years from 1814 that plans were finally acted upon. Rev Hutchings arrived in August 1814 and held services in the Court House opposite in Prince St, a now defunct road which ran between Farquhar and Light streets.
Approval to build the church was received from London in 1815 based on plans provided by engineer Major Thomas Anburey but this was not implemented. Instead the church was built according to plans obtained by Governor William Petrie from Madras in 1816 with modifications by engineer Lieutenant Robert Smith.
Although Hutchings was present when these plans were being considered, his input appears to have been minimal. He had in fact suggested that the church be built on the site of James Scott's property, Ossian Hall, on Light Street, on the grounds of today's Dewan Sri Pinang. Hutchings actually went to Bengal before construction of the church commenced and did not return until well after the church was opened, Rev Henderson officiating in his place.
The St George's Church was named after the patron saint of England. The saint's name was often called out in battle, a practice that goes back to the 12th century. The church itself was built in 1816 using convict labour, when Colonel John Alexander Bannerman was the Governor of Penang. The cost of building it was 60,000 Spanish dollars. This was a princely sum, considering the British paid only 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum to Kedah for Penang, while they bought Singapore a few years later for also 60,000 Spanish dollars.
The church was designed by Captain Robert N. Smith of Madras Engineers. (Smith is also a gifted artist whose oil paintings of Penang landscape still grace the walls of the Penang State Museum nearby.) The church was designed in the Georgian Palladian style - that's a combination of the Georgian style, named after the reigns of King George I and IV, 1714-1830; and the Palladian style, named after the Grecian architecture of a Roman called Palladius. (Compare it to the St Andrew's Cathedral in Singapore). This calls for graceful Grecian columns along the front of the building. The original roof was flat. However, it was modified to its present gable shape in 1864, after the original flat roof was found to be unsuitable for the weather in Penang.
The first significant event to take place at the St George's Church was the marriage of Janet, daughter of Governor Bannerman, to William Edward Philips, in 1818. Philips was the man who took over the pepper estate belonging to Francis Light, on which stands Suffolk House, believed to also have been built by him. Incidentally, Philips was acting Governor of Penang in 1817, when the construction of the church building was started, and completed in 1818, during Bannerman's term.
St George's Church on Google Maps Street View
Front façade of St George's Church (17 April 2011)
Side view of St George's Church (17 April 2011)
Side façade of St George's Church (17 April 2011)
View of the Francis Light Memorial in the compound of the St George's Anglican Church (17 April, 2011)
Rear façade, St George's Anglican Church (14 May, 2011)
2010-2011 Restoration of St George's Anglican Church
The St George's Anglican Church underwent a 9-month restoration in 2010-2011. The RM1.8 million resoration was carried out under the Ninth Malaysia Plan allocation by the National Heritage Department. The result of the restoration is a gorgeous whitewashed building that is believed to have returned the church and the Francis Light Monument to their original states.
The St George's Anglican Church was designated one of the 50 National Heritage Treasures of Malaysia in 2007.
Interior of St George's Church, after the 2011 restoration (14 May, 2011)
Altar of the St George's Church (14 May, 2011)
Interior columns of the St George's Church (14 May, 2011)
Baptismal font, St George's Anglican Church (14 May, 2011)
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