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The Star newspaper, Metro North, 9th July 2018

The Star Online, Metro News, 9th July 2018

The Star: Rich legacy of Penang Free School
IN history textbooks at schools, Penang Free School (PFS) is described as the oldest English school in South-East Asia.

But this passing mention of the 202-year-old school does not do justice to what it went through to become the crowning glory of Penang’s educational history.

To really know what the school is made of, try picking up a copy of ‘Let the Aisles Proclaim’, published by Penang Free School Foundation and authored by Quah Seng Sun.

The book title is a line from the school’s anthem.

Readers will learn how Rev Robert Sparke Hutchings began the school at a rented prewar shop house in Love Lane before it was relocated to the current Hutchings School in Farquhar Street and finally to its current grounds in Jalan Masjid Negeri in January 1928.

Clear-cut chronological documentation is seen throughout the book as it goes into other aspects such as the principals, new buildings, the iconic school bell as well as the school’s notable alumni.

But Quah could never tell the tale of PFS without also outlining Penang’s history.

He put PFS’ ancient archives to good use, detailing delightful historical details like how Captain Francis Light developed Penang island to the point that it was ripe for PFS to be born.

Quah, 64, is an Old Frees Association (OFA) member and a historical enthusiast who studied at PFS from 1966 to 1972.

The Penangite was a journalist for six months before he entered the banking industry and stayed there for 24 years before making another career switch,joining an Internet-based recruitmentcompany.

Though not a professional historian, Quah, who wrote extensively on chess games in the past, proved his dedication to be exacting in his quest to trace the historical trail of PFS.

A chat with the author revealed thatinformation from 1860 was a difficult task, as well as the happenings between the two world wars.

“Everything that happened in PFS since 1945 was well-covered.

“But during World War II, many records were burned to keep information out of the hands of the Japanese,” he said.

He added that most of the documentation about the school were usually personalrecollections and short essays by personalities, rather than a comprehensive coverage of the school’s history.

Before ‘Let the Aisles Proclaim’, he said there had never been a volume to crystallise the school’s history.

“It was important to show how thechanges took place at the school because it also reflected the development of education in the country,” he said.

In 2016, the school was bestowed heritage status in time for its 200-year anniversary on Oct 21, 2016, and the book commemorates PFS’ bicentennial celebration.

‘Let the Aisles Proclaim’ retails at RM100 each and is available at Gerak Budaya Bookshop, Areca Books, The Old Frees’ Association in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah and Penang House of Music.

Areca Books

Review by Areca Books online bookshop
Let the Aisles Proclaim commemorates the once-in-a-lifetime Bicentenary celebrations of the Penang Free School (PFS). The title was taken from one of the most recognisable lines of the PFS Rally, which was composed in time for the Sesquicentenary celebrations in 1966.

“More than being 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 the Penang Free School 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, and bears testimony to our competitive spirit. We take inspiration from the successes of Old Frees and apply them to the Frees of the present. This book, therefore, commemorates 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.” -- Dato’ Haji Abdul Rafique bin Abdul Karim, the Chairman of both the Penang Free School Board of Governors and Bicentenary Committee

In the last 100 years or so, there had been various attempts by Penang Free School to document her long and rich past. While these early attempts did provide brief accounts of the Free School’s progress and achievements since its establishment in 1816, the finer details of the School were often overlooked in the effort to compress the rich history into a form concise enough to be appropriate as an overview. As a result, many of the historical details were lost or forgotten with the passage of time.

When the 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 the book’s author, Mr. Quah Seng Sun, to dig deeply into the past and take a fresh look at the School’s long history. Let the Aisles Proclaim, the story of the first 200 years of the 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, 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’s history, this tome represents the new point of reference for all future works.