What’s happening at Sia Boey, heritage groups ask

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The now dilapidated shops once used to be used by wholesale merchants back in the day. Maxwell Road, which used to run across these houses is today shortened. Before Komtar was built, the road used to extend up to where Loke Thye Khee (Burma Rd) is today.

GEORGE TOWN: Heritage groups are puzzled over the authorities’ silence over the study of relics from the 1800s discovered in August at Sia Boey here.

Sia Boey is a disused market in the heart of George Town, straddling the Prangin Canal and just outside the gazetted heritage zone. Also in its vicinity are a row of unattended pre-war shophouses.

A question mark has arisen over the fate of the artefacts in that area as Sia Boey is earmarked for a future major LRT terminal.

The state government’s ambitious plans might change following the discovery of remains of ancient buildings, ceramics and coins by the canal.

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George Town Heritage Action group co-founder Mark Lay said the famous former riverside market looks abandoned and there was no sign of any activity in the area.

He said a report on the results of an excavation dig-up, which was supposed to have been publicised by Nov 20, had yet to be released.

“We are excitedly waiting to see the archaeological report, assuming there were significant findings.

“We are anxious to know whether they are going to cancel, destroy or build something over the market. The public deserves an update every now and then,” he told FMT.

In August, archaeologists discovered an old canal and the remains of an old police station dating back to the mid-19th century at Sia Boey.

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Sia Boey is a Hokkien word meaning “tail-end of a settlement”. Pictured here is a row of shophouses in the background. At the forefront, is the canal built by the British in 1804.

A secure wall, a canal lock and building built with red brick and mortar showed it was highly likely built during the early history of George Town by the British East India Company in 1804.

Further digging also revealed Chinese and European ceramic shards, ceramics, a wooden bollard (block) and old coins minted by the British North Borneo Company.

The revelation came following five months’ of excavation work by Universiti Sains Malaysia, contracted by the market’s landowner, Penang Development Corporation (PDC).

PDC had earlier stumbled upon the archaeological remains of earlier canal works while carrying out a canal diversion project.

In September last year, the Penang government announced the conservation of the section of the Prangin Canal, the Victorian era market and a row of shophouses facing the canal.

The project, entitled “Sia Boey Reborn”, was to convert the area into a Penang Heritage Arts District.

The PDC has spent several million ringgit rehabilitating the site and strengthening the shophouses.

However, barely six months later, the Penang government appeared to have scrapped the “Sia Boey Reborn” project.

This was when it was announced that Sia Boey would be the site of the transport hub, comprising one LRT line and two Monorail lines, to be built as part of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

Meanwhile, Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) vice-president Khoo Salma said it was sad to see the site in such a “sorry state”.

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Back in the day, traders used to transport their goods via the Prangin Canal, built in 1804, to bring their goods to George Town. Obvious today are the warehouse buildings (far left) on Prangin Road, as a result of the great canal that used to be the business nerve centre of Penang. Pictured in background is the disused market, with the Prangin Canal in foreground.

“Anyone who passes the site today along Magazine Road and Jalan Dr Lim Chew Leong (Prangin Road) will notice wild vegetation growing wantonly on the shophouses and on the ground, including the area where archaeological excavations were conducted.

“Prangin Canal is now a stagnant waterway with grass growing between the granite walls.”

Salma said PHT was previously briefed by the landowners and researchers on how it was planning to manage the site.

“The Sia Boey site was in an excellent state of management when we took part in the public site visit in August.

“But three months on, the site is in a sorry state… the weathering and decay is clearly detrimental to the heritage fabric itself.”

Salma said more measures are required to keep the site from further decay, while the report on its future is readied.

“We urge the authorities to safeguard the Sia Boey site and to continue PDC’s conservation efforts with professional standards of heritage management befitting George Town’s World Heritage status.”

FMT has contacted the state heritage agency and the current site managers, George Town World Heritage Inc, for comment.