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In the last 100 years or so, there had been various attempts to document the long and rich past of Penang Free School. While these early attempts did provide brief insights into the Free School’s progress and achievements since its founding in 1816, the finer details of the School were often overlooked. As a result, many of the historical details were lost or forgotten with the passage of time.

When the PFS Bicentenary Committee first decided on a long-term literary project to chart a more comprehensive history of the oldest English school in South East Asia, as a commemoration of Penang Free School’s 200th anniversary in 2016, the onerous task fell on Mr. Quah Seng Sun to dig deeply into the past and take a fresh look at the School’s long history. His job was not made any easier because most of the early records of the Free School, particularly material from the decades leading up to the Second World War, had been lost, damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, the history of the Penang Free School had close parallels with the development of education since the days when Penang was controlled from India as a Presidency. It was from that starting point that the painstaking task began of piecing together information from a wide variety of sources.

Let the Aisles Proclaim, the story of the first 200 years of Penang Free School, is the culmination of at least an 18-month work. The author’s love for his Alma Mater shows in the efforts that he had put into this diligent research. Although this is probably the most ambitious essay ever written to date about Penang Free School, it is probable that the complete history can still never be told fully. But for the Old Frees of either gender, the present generation of Free School pupils, the local historians and heritage conservationists and any reader with a more than casual interest in the School, this tome can represent the new point of reference for all future works.

The title of this book, Let the Aisles Proclaim, is taken from one of the most recognisable lines of the Penang Free School Rally which was composed in time for the Sesquicentenary celebrations in 1966. The School Rally made its debut in the week leading up to the celebrations but today, it has assumed a life of its own among the Old Frees and the present Frees who treat the song with much reverence.

More than being largely a chronological documentation of the history of Penang Free School, Let the Aisles Proclaim pays fitting tribute to the men and women who have passed through the portal of Penang Free School – men and women alike who had played significant roles in, and contributed to, developing the School and the nation – and the institutions that are closely connected to the School itself.

Let the Aisles Proclaim is also about the School’s long traditions and proud heritage. We were at the forefront and we continue to be at the forefront of education; we believed then and we still believe in an all-rounded education both in the classrooms and on the playing fields. We nurtured some of the most successful minds in Malaya and the Straits Settlements; and one among us was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935.

Above all, Let the Aisles Proclaim bears testimony to our competitive spirit. We take inspiration from the successes of Old Frees and apply them to the Frees of the present. Our Free School spirit means that we shall all continue to move onward to win and gain new laurels for our Alma Mater. It does not matter to us how strait the gate, nor how charged with dangers the goal. The tempest may rage and the fell odds may inflate but to the sons and daughters of Penang Free School, we strive with our hearts and soul in the face of challenges.

This book, therefore, is the testament to commemorate our once-in-a-lifetime Bicentenary celebrations. Penang Free School has thriven through 200 years and we, the members of Society who have passed and will pass through the School, are confident that she will still progress through the next 100 years.

Fortis atque Fidelis.

Dato' Haji Abdul Rafique bin Abdul Karim
Penang Free School Bicentenary Committee
21st October 2016