Penang Free School

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Penang Free School
大英义学 (Simplified Chinese)
Penang Free School.png
Cmglee Penang Free School main gate.jpg
Penang Free School main gate

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Coordinates5°24′10″N 100°18′18″E / 5.4028°N 100.3051°E / 5.4028; 100.3051Coordinates: 5°24′10″N 100°18′18″E / 5.4028°N 100.3051°E / 5.4028; 100.3051
TypeAll-boys secondary school
MottoLatin: Fortis Atque Fidelis
(Strong and Faithful)
Religious affiliation(s)Christian
DenominationChurch of England
Established21 October 1816; 205 years ago (1816-10-21)[1]
FounderRev. Robert Sparke Hutchings[1]
PrincipalShamsul Fairuz bin Mohd Nor
GradesForms 1 - 6
Co-educational (Form 6)
Number of students2,000
Colour(s)White and Azure

Penang Free School, located at Green Lane in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, is the oldest English-medium school in Southeast Asia.[1][2] Founded in 1816, its academic achievements lead to its inclusion in the Malaysian Ministry of Education's Cluster School and High Performance School systems.

This secondary school has been an all-boys school since its inception, although girls are now admitted for Form 6.[3] In addition, the school has produced several notable Malaysian and Singaporean personalities, including Tunku Abdul Rahman, P. Ramlee, Wu Lien-teh and Wee Chong Jin; its alumni are known as the 'Old Frees'.[4][5]

Penang Free School maintains its historical rivalry with St. Xavier's Institution, another school in George Town which also claims the honour of being Malaysia's oldest school.[6]


The establishment of a 'free school' that was open to all ethnicities was first mooted by a committee led by Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings in 1816.[1][7] It was initially proposed that a boarding school would be built to provide education and daily care for orphans and the poor, and that the boarding school would consist of two blocks, one for male students and another for girls. Local Asian children would be taught in their mother tongues, while English would only be taught for those who desired it.

Penang Free School came into being on 21 October that year, with William Cox as its first principal, and was originally housed at Love Lane.[1][8] This was a temporary arrangement, as the new school building at the adjoining Farquhar Street was still under construction. The building, situated next to St. George's Church, was completed in 1821.[9]

The Penang State Museum at Farquhar Street in the city centre once housed Penang Free School.

By the 1890s, as the school building became overcrowded, a tender was called for the construction of a new wing. The new wing, funded mainly by Chinese philanthropists such as Chung Keng Quee, was completed in 1896. Another wing was also built in 1906. In addition, English was made the standard medium of instruction within the school.

By the 1920s, the building was also reaching its maximum capacity. Therefore, plans were drawn up for the relocation of Penang Free School to a suburban site further inland, while the school premises at Farquhar Street was to be turned into a primary school. In 1928, Penang Free School was officially moved to a 30-acre (12 ha) site at Green Lane, where it remains to this day. The old school building was turned into Hutchings School; today, this particular building houses the Penang State Museum.

In 1958, the then Prime Minister of Malaya and an alumnus of Penang Free School, Tunku Abdul Rahman, opened the school's Form 6 block, making it the first school in northern Malaya to offer secondary education up to Form 6.[1] More school blocks were added over the years, enabling it to switch to a single-session school system by 1992.

Panorama of Penang Free School at sunset

List of principals[edit]

The following is a list of principals of Penang Free School.[8][10]

Year Name
1816–1821 William Cox
1821–1822 David Churcher
1822–1826 George Porter
1826–1827 William Anchant
1827–1828 William Anchant
1828–1843 John Colson Smith
1843–1846 Bruton
1846–1853 Fitzgerald
1853–1871 John Clark
1871–1891 George Griffin
1891–1904 William Hargreaves
1904–1925 Ralph H. Pinhorn
1925–1926 William Hamilton
1927–1928 D. R. Swaine
1929 L. Arnold
1929–1931 D. W. McLeod
1931 E. D. l. M. Stowell
1931–1933 M. R. Holgate
1933–1934 J. Bain
1934–1941 L. W. Arnold
1945 Koay Kye Teong
1945–1946 N. R. Miller
1946–1947 J. N. Davies
1947–1950 D. Roper
1950–1951 P. F. Howitt
1951–1957 J. E. Tod
1957–1963 J. M. B. Hughes[11]
1963 Mr. Brian Smith
1963–1968 Tan Boon Lin
1969–1971 Poon Poh Kong
1972–1974 K. G. Yogam
1975 Lim Boon Hor
1974–1979 Goon Fatt Chee
1979 Lim Chin Kee
1979–1983 R. Visvanathan
1983–1988 G. Krishna Iyer
1988–1993 Goh Hooi Beng
1993–2000 Hj. Mohd. Ismail bin Ibramsa
2000 Hj. Abdul Rahman bin Salim
2001–2004 Arabi bin Sulaiman
2005–2006 Hj. Muhammad Yusof bin Omar
2006–2012 Hj. Ramli bin Din
2012–2016 Jalil bin Saad
2016-2020 Omar bin Abdul Rashid
2020–present Shamsul Fairuz bin Mohd Nor

Notable alumni[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f "School History" (PDF). Penang Free School.
  2. ^ "Penang Free School retains its name, officially". Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Mixed reaction to flexible dress code for Sixth Formers - Nation | The Star Online". Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  4. ^ "Penang Free School celebrates 200 years". 22 October 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  5. ^ "The Old Frees' Association Website". Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Penang Free School has a long history with St Xavier's Institution - Community | The Star Online". Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  7. ^ "Penang Free School and producing the Anglophile". NST Online. 27 September 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Principals and Prominent Teachers" (PDF). Penang Free School.
  9. ^ Langdon, Marcus (2014). A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precincts. George Town: George Town World Heritage incorporated.
  10. ^ "History of PFS". Historical Society Penang Free School. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  11. ^ Hughes, J.M.B. '"The White Crocodile's Tale: My Memoirs", George Town, Penang: Areca Books. (2014). ISBN 9789675719127
  12. ^ "Our Chairman's Message|Value Partners". Value Partners. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  13. ^ "QUAH, Danny 柯成兴 |". Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  14. ^ a b hermes (16 October 2016). "Penang Free School marks 200th anniversary". The Straits Times. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  15. ^ "Sorry no cure for '88 crisis". Malaysian Bar.
  16. ^ "Leaving a legacy - Health | The Star Online". Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  17. ^ "The case for English-medium schools - Nation | The Star Online". Retrieved 4 May 2017.

External links[edit]