Penang’s Old Protestant Cemetery

It’s run-down, dilapidated, and seemingly forgotten.  Many of the tombs have been defaced by time and desecrated by unsympathetic individuals who have scrawled their names on them and have stolen the heads and limbs of statues erected in honor of the dead.  You will also find trash and disowned clothing littering the area.  If you are used to seeing perfectly manicured and maintained graveyards, a visit to the Old Protestant Cemetery will definitely shock you.

It’s not a surprise, then, that tourist brochures neglect it.  You probably would walk right by the cemetery’s unassuming entrance even if it were a few meters from you. It almost exists in isolation, frozen in its own time and place.  Yet doing so would mean missing one of Penang’s more interesting places.  It is there, in the Old Protestant Cemetery, where many of the noteworthy, or notorious, British colonizers are buried.  Most notably, you will find the resting place of Sir Francis Light, who led his fellow countrymen in claiming Penang for the British Empire in 1786.  Luckily, many of the headstones are still readable thanks to efforts to clear off moss and debris that would have made it difficult or impossible otherwise.

I stumbled upon it after walking by it myself.  Even though Lonely Planet mentions where it is, it didn’t rate highly on my list of sites to visit.  It’s a cemetery, after all, and doesn’t jump out as a place you would like to visit on vacation.  I only managed to see it while trying to cross the road, which is always a difficult and time-consuming task in Penang.  I was about to keep walking when I decided to take a peek, which turned into an hour.  It is perhaps one of the more memorable things I did in Penang.

Of course, a visit to the Old Protestant Cemetery isn’t mandatory.  But if you are in the area, check it out, if only to catch a glimpse of Penang’s fading colonial past.  The cemetery is on the left hand side of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.


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