The Church of St George the Martyr is one of the most recognisable structures in George Town, Penang. It was also the first Anglican church in South East Asia. Commissioned by the East India Company and begun in 1817 at a cost of 60,000 Spanish dollars, St George’s Church is the earliest church built for Anglican worship in Southeast Asia. The church was completed in time for the celebration of divine service on Christmas Day the following year, and was consecrated on 11 May 1819 by the Right Rev. Thomas Fanshaw Middleton (1769-1822), the first Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, whose diocese included all the territories of the East India Company.
Work began in 1817 and was completed in 1818 and the church consecrated in 1819. As celebrations to mark the Bicentenary are underway, the church has produced a guide to the church’s history and its memorials.
St George’s Church began as a place of worship for civilian and military officials of the East India Company, according to Rt. Rev. Charles Samuel, Assistant Bishop of West Malaysia and Vicar of St George’s Church. “For most of the nineteenth century it remained primarily a colonial church with Company and later Colonial chaplains. Change came gradually. By the 1880s the church began missionary work with the Tamil and Chinese communities.
After the Anglican Church broke away from the government of the Straits Settlements in 1916, Anglican chaplains were no longer appointed or paid by the government. The transformation of St George’s into an independent local church for Malaysians came with Merdeka in 1957 when the annual government grant was ended. In 2007, St George’s Church was officially listed as a national heritage site, affirming its historical significance for Penang and for all Malaysians.
Using this rich history as a background, Leslie James produced The Church of St George the Martyr: A Bicentenary Guide to the Memorials and Historical Artefacts. This booklet provides an interesting record that helps us understand and appreciate the first two hundred years of the life of St George’s Church in Penang.