GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s heritage activists are up in arms over a mock grave built at the old Protestant cemetery, where Penang’s founder Sir Captain Francis Light is buried.
The cemetery had its last burial in 1892, with Cornelia Josephine Van Someren interred there. All burials since then have moved to the Western Road cemetery.
The first burial at the cemetery was in 1787, a year after Captain Light took possession of the island.
But after 125 years since the last burial, a new grave has shown up close to the feet of Captain Light’s, thanks to a visiting Hong Kong film crew.
A mock tomb with the name “Danny Song (1976.05.10-2018.08.01)” was constructed over the Hari Raya holidays, says Penang Heritage Trust council member Clement Liang.
Liang posted a photo of the tomb, appearing to be built with a black marble tombstone and a concrete mould. The tomb appeared to be in stark contrast to the granite, marble and sandstone headstones of its surroundings.
“Someone is playing a joke in this Category I heritage site?” Liang said in his post.
George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay questioned the authorities’ lack of heritage monitoring at the cemetery.
“Has a sacrilegious act been committed? Does this show a total lack of heritage conservation management of a Category I listed site within the George Town World Heritage Site?
“Or is it no big deal as the fake grave can easily be removed when filming has finished? In addition, surely the movie is promoting George Town and may further boost tourism?” he asked.
China Press reported that actress Charmaine Sheh and a film crew were spotted at the cemetery last Friday (June 23) to film a movie there.
The 41-year-old Hong Kong soap star was seen wearing a trench coat and paying her “last respects” at the mock grave.
At last count in 2013, the cemetery had 459 graves, including 432 in-situ graves and 27 disturbed ones. Researchers note that the numbers might be more as numerous family members, too, have been buried there.
The cemetery has about 350 tombs, half of which are unrecognisable due to age. Most buried there are victims of war and tropical diseases. Tropical diseases such as malaria, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis were the leading causes of death in 19th century Penang.
The cemetery’s east and west ends were heavily bombed during the Japanese occupation and were later replanted with trees.
Under national heritage laws, it is an offence to excavate or build anything at a heritage site or conservation area without prior approval by the Commissioner of Heritage.
The cemetery is of significant historic interest as it is older than many burial grounds in Europe.
Penang Island City Council officials were not reachable for comment at the time of writing.