History of Penang State Museum

Old Building
For a number of years residents of Penang had been urging that Penang should have a Museum & Art Gallery. In 1941, a small museum was built up at St. Xavier’s Institution; this with all its specimens was wiped out by enemy action during the war. Another independent effort was made in 1956 under the stimulus of Mr. R.P. Bingham and the nucleus of a museum was collected in a house in Northam Road. However, owing to the demolition of the house, this too had to be abandoned and its collections became scattered.

The initiative then passed to the Historical and Art Societies of Penang, whose members persisted on keeping the need for a Museum & Art Gallery alive through research, lectures and exhibition held when and where they could.

In 1962, action was taken by the State Government to secure a suitable place. The acquisition of the present building, which once housed the Penang Free School (1821 – 1927) and then the Hutchings School (1928 – 1960) was inspired by the late Y.T.M. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj who wished to preserve this dignified old building where he and many leading citizens had been pupils.

On 10th July 1963, the State Government formed the first Committee comprising officers and representatives of various interests under the chairmanship of the State Secretary, Encik Abu Hassan Abdullah, to discuss the setting up of a Museum & Art Gallery. The outcome was the formation of a Working Committee under Miss Nicol-Smith, Senior Lecturer in English at Malayan Teachers’ college and who have had some experience as a Museum Curator before. After three meetings, this Working Committee presented on 29th October 1963, recommendations to the State Government which accepted in toto on 24th February 1964, the setting up of a Museum & Art Gallery proper.

However, the Art Gallery Committee was struggling behind to establish its own section due to the lack of funds. A happy ending was reached when the Museum Committee decided to make available $3,000/- of its grant with a joint office so that the Museum & Art Gallery could be open officially to the public on 14th April 1965.

The Museum & Art Gallery was planned as a regional one administered by two sub-committees under a joint Main Committee. Its staffing then consisted of a Hon. Curator, a Museum Secretary, typist, four attendants and a watchman. They became the pioneers and core of the Museum staff to this day.

Although its emphasis was rightly on local history, art and crafts and the natural history of Penang, the Museum & Art Gallery, through constant permanent and temporary exhibitions, widened its scope. Its aim can best be summed up in the words of the unveiled plaque:-

The Penang Museum and Art Gallery was opened by his excellency Raja Tun Uda Al-Haj Bin Raja Muhammad, SMN Governor of Penang on the 14th April 1965. In this building, which once housed The Penang  Free School (1821-1927) and The Hutchings School (1928 – 1960). For the interest of residents and visitors in the history, cultures and art of the state of Penang and the education of its children.

The standing of the Museum Main Committee remained ad-hoc and had no legal status. It was all along envisaged that in the near future the Museum & Art Gallery would be managed by an independent Board. Thus, on 7th August 1972, an enactment known as the State Museum Board Enactment 1972, was passed at the State Legislative Assembly whereby a proper Board of Management was set-up and the Museum & Art Gallery became a Statutory Body.