St. George's Church, at Farquhar Street within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. Completed in 1818, and designed in a hybrid of Neo-Classical, Georgian and English Palladian styles, the church is among the most impressive colonial buildings in George Town.
The church is currently administered by the Upper North Archedeaconry of the Anglican Diocese of West Malaysia. It is also the only building on Penang Island to be listed as one of the 50 National Heritage Treasures of Malaysia.
In the initial years of British East India Company rule over Penang Island, Anglican worshipers had no church to call their own. The Church of England chaplains attached to the British East India Company had to conduct church services inside the old Government House and, after 1809, inside the Court House.
The first plans to build a church for the Protestants in George Town were proposed in 1810. More plans were submitted in 1813 and 1814. Reverend Sparke Hutchings, who would go on to found the oldest English school in Southeast Asia, the Penang Free School, played an active role by sending frequent letters to the East India Board of Directors in London.
However, several issues thwarted the execution of the plans, such as a lack of funds, the proposed relocation of George Town and deliberations with the British government over the East India Company's trading charter in 1813. Indeed, the company was only focused on trade and had little interest in building a church.
It was not until after the extension of the British East India Company's Charter for 20 years from 1814 that the plans to build a Protestant church were acted upon. The church was approved by London in 1815 based on plans made by engineer Major Thomas Anburey. However, the plans were then abandoned in favour of plans obtained by Governor William Petrie of Madras, India, with modifications by engineer Lieutenant Robert Smith. The proposed church was to be modelled after St. George's Cathedral in Madras.
Construction of the brick church commenced in 1817. It was designed in a hybrid of architectural styles, combining Neo-Classical, Georgian and English Palladin styles. The church also features a portico of Doric-style columns. Indian convict labourers were brought in to build the church. Upon the completion of the church in 1818, Reverend Henderson opened the church with a Christmas service. It cost $53,927 (Penang dollar) and was completely funded by the British East India Company, unlike most other important buildings in George Town which were privately-funded. To this day, the church stands as a great enduring legacy of the Company's 72-year rule of Penang Island.
The original Indian-style flat terrace roof was ill-suited to the climate on Penang Island and was replaced with a pitched gable-shaped roof in 1864. The cenotaph in front of the church was erected in 1824 in honour of Captain Francis Light. In 1886, to celebrate the centenary of Light's founding of Penang Island, a domed-memorial pavilion was also built in memory of Captain Francis Light.
During World War 2, Japanese aerial bombardments severely damaged the church. Looters subsequently stole numerous marble memorials lining the walls, as well as the marble floor, the pipe organ and most of the furnishings. The church was restored after the war and reopened in 1948.
Also, ex-servicemen from the British Army's King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry would go to the church annually to honour 35 of their comrades who died in the line of duty. A plaque bearing the names of those killed in action during their brief sojourn in Malaya between 1947 and 1951 hangs inside the church.
In 2007, St. George's Church became the only structure on Penang Island to be declared one of Malaysia's 50 National Heritage Treasures. The church was renovated as recently as 2011 and it is also due to celebrate its bicentenary in 2018.
Services are still held inside the church twice every Sunday, at 0830 hours and 1030 hours.
Penang State Government
N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Parliament
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)
- Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
- Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang : George Town World Heritage Incorporated.