Historians see red after council paints over colonial-era foundation stone

An overview of the Town Hall building. The foundation stone is located at the highlighted portion. (K Ganesh pic)

GEORGE TOWN: The act by the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to paint over a historic foundation stone laid some 140 years ago has sparked calls by heritage observers for the stone to be restored to its original state as soon as possible.

The foundation stone was laid at the Town Hall, across the Esplanade grounds. The hall once housed MBPP’s predecessor, the George Town Municipal Commission.

The stone, made from granite, was engraved with the name of then lieutenant-governor of Penang, Colonel Archibald Anson, on Jan 1, 1879.

Khoo Salma Nasution, the vice-president of Penang Heritage Trust, said MBPP should have prevented the stone from being painted over.

“Questions that need to be asked are how did this happen and why was it painted over? It must be carefully restored to its original state as soon as possible. It has been classified as Class I Heritage,” she told FMT.

The foundation stone, painted over in white, was spotted by heritage enthusiast K Ganesh on Saturday. He claims it is the second time this has happened. (K Ganesh pic)

The matter came to light after K Ganesh, a heritage enthusiast, posted a picture of the stone painted over in white on Facebook. He took the photo on Saturday.

When contacted, he told FMT this was the second time this had happened. The first time he saw the stone painted over was about five years ago.

He said MBPP removed the paint after being alerted about it although the black paint used for the engraved words was not restored.

Noting that a time capsule was buried beneath the foundation stone, according to a newspaper report from that era, he said it was best that the council immediately remove the paint and restore the stone.

A picture of the foundation stone in 2009. K Ganesh says the black font was not restored after the first time the stone was painted over some five years ago. (K Ganesh pic)

The building was completed in May 1880. It was officially opened on July 28 that year at a cost of 35,000 Spanish dollars.

It was built by military engineers of the British Army and designed by Captain William Innes, who died at the Pasir Salak stockade in 1875 while following a troop there after the murder of Perak resident JWW Birch.

The Town Hall was built primarily to provide a much-needed entertainment space. It was constructed before electricity, and later featured one of the first electrical lamps in Penang.

FMT has contacted Mayor Yew Tung Seang for comment and is awaiting his reply.