Penang Free School

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Penang Free School
Penang Free School.png
Latin: Fortis atque fidelis
"Strong and faithful"
Jalan Masjid Negeri (Green Lane)
George Town, Penang, 11600
Type Public
Established 21 October 1816; 199 years ago (1816-10-21)
Principal Omar bin Abdul Rashid
Number of students 1,800
Campus Suburb
Colour(s) White and azure

Penang Free School is a secondary school located on Green Lane (officially Jalan Masjid Negeri), George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Penang Free School is the first English-medium school in Southeast Asia, and is the oldest recorded school in the country. Alumni are known as "Old Frees". There is a history of rivalry with St. Xavier's Institution, another of Penang's premier schools, which also claims to be Malaysia's oldest school.


The school was founded by Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings on 21 October 1816, on the island of Penang, Malaya. Its first headmaster was Mr. William Cox 1816-1821. Its premises on Farquhar Street first housed the Hutchings School, but is now the Penang State Museum. In 1928, the school moved to its current location on Green Lane (officially Jalan Masjid Negeri). The school hosted the first communist cell ever to penetrate a Malayan school. Several of the schoolmasters were socialist in outlook and encouraged the formation of the cell, which produced a cadre of communist leaders who made their careers in China. The communist cell was suppressed in the late 1930s.

The school received cluster school status from the Malaysian Ministry of Education in 2007.

Inception: Between 1805 and 1816, education was available only for European children and children of Government Officials. The increasing number of Asian children, however, resulted in an increasing interest to provide for their education needs. For this purpose a public meeting was convened after representations to the Government by the Rev. R. S. Hutchings, Chaplain of the Presidency, on 16 January 1816. It was Rev. Hutchings who first petitioned for a "free school". His aim was to provide a school to educate, feed, and clothe orphans and poor children. Because they were to be so completely taken care of, he suggested that it should be a boarding school, but with room for day scholars. The day scholars were to be taught their own language by "nation teachers", and English would be taught to them only if they desired it. A plan for a girls' school was included in the petition on the same basis.

Founding and first years: The difficulty of recruiting a suitable teacher delayed the founding of the school until 21 October 1816. The school was first accommodated in a building rented for 50 dollars a month at Love Lane. On this date (21 October 1816) the committee could only admit twenty-five boys since it was unable to enlist a lady teacher to teach girls. (Coincidentally, it was the anniversary of Captain Light's death (21 October 1794), whose tombstone may still be seen in the Protestant cemetery in Northam Road, Penang, where he was buried.)

First teachers and board of directors: The first teacher was Mr. William Cox, recruited from Madras and paid a monthly salary of 80 Spanish dollars. When his wife joined him several months later, she was appointed as teacher at 50 Spanish dollars a mouth, and a girls' school was founded on 1 July 1817. The committee resigned its care of the school to a Board of Directors who were elected on 18 October 1817. This change in management was to imbue in the inhabitants of Penang a desire to be actively concerned with the progress of the school.

Moves from Love Lane to Farquhar Street to Green Lane: At its first meeting, the Board noted that the school was name "Free School" and that only children who could afford were requested to pay a fee of $3, $2, and $1 per year. Poor children who could not afford to pay were exempted, but every child had to be nominated and accepted before admission to the school. At this meeting too, it was announced that the Government had granted the school a piece of land adjacent to St. George's Church on Farquhar Street. A plan was approved for the construction of a school, plain in design to save costs, to accommodate 100 boys and 50 girls. The successful tender for this project was given to a Chinese contractor who had bid $6,500. On 31 December 1927, the Penang Free School moved again, to its present site on Green Lane. On 1 January 1928, the school next to St. George's Church, vacated by the Free School, was renamed Hutchings School in honour of the late Rt. Rev. Hutchings, who was the prime mover to establish a "free school" for the education of the children in Penang. Because of his key and cardinal role, and support for his concept of a "free school" for all children, he is acknowledged as the founder of the Penang Free School.


Headmasters since 1816: [1] [2] [3]

  • 1816–1821: Mr. William Cox
  • 1821–1822: Mr. David Churcher
  • 1822–1826: Mr. George Porter
  • 1826–1827: Mr. William Cox (Acting)
  • 1827–1828: Mr. William Anchant
  • 1828–1843: Mr. John Colson Smith
  • 1843–1846: Mr. Bruton
  • 1846–1853: Mr. Fitzgerald
  • 1853–1871: Mr. John Clark
  • 1871–1891: Mr. George Griffin
  • 1891–1904: Mr. William Hargreaves
  • 1904–1925: Mr. Ralph H. Pinhorn
  • 1925–1926: Mr. William Hamilton
  • 1927–1928: Mr. D. R. Swaine
  • 1929: Mr. L. W. Arnold (Acting)
  • 1929–1931: Mr. D. W. McLeod
  • 1931: Mr. E. d. l. M. Stowell (Acting)
  • 1931–1933: Mr. M. R. Holgate
  • 1933–1934: Mr. J. Bain
  • 1934–1941: Mr. L. W. Arnold
  • 1945: Mr. Koay Kye Teong (Acting)
  • 1945–1946: Mr. N. R. Miller (Acting)
  • 1946–1947: Mr. J. N. Davies (Acting)
  • 1947–1950: Mr. D. Roper
  • 1950–1951: Mr. P. F. Howitt
  • 1951–1957: Mr. J. E. Tod
  • 1957–1963: Mr. J. M. B. Hughes[1]
  • 1963: Mr. Brian Smith (Acting)
  • 1963–1968: Dato' Tan Boon Lin
  • 1969–1971: Mr. Poon Poh Kong
  • 1971–1974: Mr. K. G. Yogam
  • 1974: Mr. Lim Boon Hor (Acting)
  • 1974–1979: Mr. Goon Fatt Chee
  • 1979: Mr. Lim Chin Kee (Acting)
  • 1979–1983: Mr. R. Visvanathan
  • 1983–1988: Mr. G. Krishna Iyer
  • 1988–1993: Mr. Goh Hooi Beng
  • 1993–2000: Mr. Hj. Mohd. Ismail bin Ibramsa
  • 2000: Mr. Hj. Abdul Rahman bin Salim
  • 2001–2004: Mr. Arabi bin Sulaiman
  • 2005–2006: Mr. Hj. Muhammad Yusof bin Omar
  • 2006–2012: Mr. Hj. Ramli bin Din
  • 2012–2016: Mr. Jalil bin Saad
  • 2016–present: Mr. Omar bin Abdul Rashid

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ Hughes, J.M.B. '"The White Crocodile's Tale: My Memoirs", George Town, Penang: Areca Books. (2014). ISBN 9789675719127

External links[edit]