Georgetown’s British Naval Cemetery
Georgetown, the principle city of the Malaysian island Penang, is one of the country’s biggest and most prosperous cities. It’s also a historical gateway to the days of British Colonialism, the spice trade, and the East India Company. The brick roads and colonial architecture are a constant reminder of the city’s roots- a trade outpost founded by Francis Light in 1786. But the city’s most enjoyable trip in time is the aging Naval Cemetery.
More commonly known as the “Old Protestant Cemetery,” the Naval Cemetery is the oldest on the island. The Protestant plots are the most picturesque and hold the most notable remains (such as Sir Francis Light), but there is also a less maintained Roman Catholic section connected.
Forgotten and left behind a gas station and Lexus dealership, the cemetery is located on Northam Road (Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), amidst newly developed western restaurants and upscale hotels. But once within the walls, only the faint sound of passing cars is a reminder that you are in the 21st century.
The cemetery is the “coolest” place in Georgetown. The ubiquitous shade provides sanctuary from the intense sun and the crumbling and overgrown graves creates a nostalgic and romantic atmosphere. The graves of traders, seaman, and soldiers are monuments to British Imperialism, manifestations of a British ‘stiff upper lip’ in the face of death and exploration with tags like “Her Majesty’s Rifles,” “Bengal Artillery,” and “British East India Company.” The tuft of jungle is reclaiming the graves with an air of mystery worthy of the “land of mystery.” In fact, the place seems on the wrong continent, as if it would be better placed on the banks of the Ganges or somewhere in Bangladesh.
While relaxing amongst the graves, I couldn’t shake the desire to have tea and read Kipling.
I looked and failed to find the graves of Peachy or Danny, though the graves were real life examples of “The Man Who Would be King.”
I visited the cemetery twice during my 3 days in Georgetown for a new Thai visa. The second was with my new friend and couch surfing host Sin Kok. We came to grab pictures with his Nikon D60 and take a break from the grueling heat. Sin Kok had recently gotten his Penang Tourist Guide license, so his schedule for me during out brief time together was hectic and exhausting (and fantastic), so this was a needed break.