Missionary couple’s contributions are well-recorded in Penang

Article by Wong Chun Wai

metd_kk_0308_28aThe newly refurbished church in Farquhar Street is one of the country’s 50 national treasures.

IT IS easily the most beautiful church in Penang but more than that, St George’s Church, which was built in 1816, is the oldest Anglican church in South-East Asia.

Not surprisingly, the church, located on Farquhar Street, has been declared one of the 50 national treasures of Malaysia by the Government.

The landmark church was completed in 1818 on the initiative of the Penang Colonial Chaplain Rev Robert Sparke Hutchings, more popularly known as the founder of the Penang Free School.

Much has been written about Hutchings but there is another name associated with the church that is not so common — Rev Louis Coutier Biggs, of which Biggs Road is named after.

metd_kk_0308_28dLandmark: A photo of St George’s Church taken sometime between the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Biggs Road is a relatively unknown tree-lined road in the Ayer Rajah/Pulau Tikus area, which runs from Cantonment Road on one end to Park Road on the other.

Biggs is virtually unknown today even to Penangites, which is quite sad considering the unwritten legacy he had left behind.

Biggs and his wife, Katherine, were missionaries of the St George’s Anglican Church, who had the honour of founding the St George’s Girls School.

In 1886, he also founded the St Paul’s Church, formerly known as the St George’s Church Chinese Mission, which is located on Macalister Road.


The newly refurbished St George’s Church in Farquhar Street. 30 April 2011

Biggs was a man of distinction, graduating at Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1863 and a Master’s degree in 1866. He was already an ordered deacon in 1864 and ordained a priest in 1865.

He was the Colonial Chaplain of Penang from 1885 to 1897.

Their contributions to church and education are thankfully well-recorded in Penang.

According to reports, the St George’s Girls’ School, now located on Macalister Road, was started on Farquhar Street at their home called “The Manse”.

metd_kk_0308_28kEdwardian architecture: The former St George’s Girls’ School in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. – Picture taken from ‘Giving Our Best: The Story of St George’s Girls’ School, Penang. 1885-2010′.

It was here that Mrs Biggs taught for a year before a formal school was set up and named after St George, the patron saint of England, who is often pictured slaying a red dragon.

St George was often used throughout the British Empire for schools and churches established by Anglican missionaries.

In Penang, it is reported that in the early days of St George’s Girls’ Schools, the pupils mostly come from well-to-do families.

“They often come to class on trishaws, shielded from public view by a curtain, ferried right up to the school entrance.

“In that Victorian age, it was considered indecent for unmarried ladies — especially those of well-to-do families — to be seen in public,” one report said.

metd_kk_0308_28sSun Yat Sen’s daughters, Sun Yan (right) and Sun Wan, studied in St George’s in 1911. — Photos taken from ‘Giving Our Best: The Story of St George’s Girls’ School, Penang, 1885-2010.

The school population expanded and it was relocated to its present premises in 1954.

The school has produced famous personalities such as Raja Permaisuri Tuanku Bainun, Wanita Umno leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, playwright Datuk Faridah Merican, conductor Datuk Ooi Chean See, historian-writer Khoo Salma Nasution, athlete-sports psychologist Zaiton Othman, journalist-actor Fatimah Abu Bakar and former DAP women’s wing chief Dr Oon Hong Geok.

“Former students included the daughters of Dr Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Republic of China — Sun Yan and Sun Wan,” according to Giving Our Best: The Story of St George’s Girls’ School, jointly written by Khoo Salma Nasution, Alison Hayes and Sehra Yeap Zimbulis.

The Sun girls stayed in Penang from September 1910 to February 1912, and attended St George’s in 1911. “Here, they spent precious time with their father, who was usually away making revolution,” they wrote.


Article originally featured in Penang’s History, My Story, on August 3, 2013.

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