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Penang Club History

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The Club was established in 1868 and was then known as the ‘Pinang Club’. The first President of the Club was Mr Walter Scott who was also a member of the Penang State Legislative Council. The Honorary Secretary at the time was Mr F C Bishop. Unfortunately, no comprehensive record was kept of the history of the Club. References to the Club were however made in various publications over time. For instance, this extract from ‘20th Century Impressions of British Malaya’ which was published in 1908:

‘Social life in Pinang is centred in the institution known as Pinang Club, which was established in 1868, with Mr. Walter Scott, then a member of tile Legislative Council, as the President and Mr. F.C. Bishop as Hon. Secretary.



The Club premises, of which several illustrations are shown, are pleasantly situated on the sea-front, and have been lately acquired by the Club at a cost of £10,500 sterling. Passing through the spacious entrance hall, with the Committee and secretary’s rooms on either side, the large reading and general room opens to view. On the left is the billiard-room, containing four modern tables, and close adjacent are the card-rooms, with a breezy verandah facing the sea. An adjunct, overlooking the harbour, provides pleasant residential quarters. Attached to the Club is a modern American bowling alley. Cinderella dances are given by the members every month, and balls are held twice a year during the race weeks. The president of the Club is Mr. J .W. Hallifax, and the Committee consists of the president and Messrs. J.G. Berkhuijsen, D.W. Gilmour, F.J. Hallifax, C. A. Law, H. Pickenpack, A.R. Adams, E.W. Presgrave and Dr. F.M.T. Skae. Dr. D.A.M. Brown, the secretary is the eldest son of Mr. David Brown, a well-known pioneer of the settlement, to whom reference is made elsewhere in his work. Born in 1871, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity Hall Cambridge, where in 1891 he distinguished himself as captain of the ‘Varsity Golf Club’ On returning to Pinang in that year he entered the Perak Civil Service as a cadet on the nomination of Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, then Governor of the Straits Settlements. In 1894, however, he resigned and commenced business on his own account in partnership with Mr. Richard P. Phillips. Mr. Brown is secretary of the Chambers of Commerce, the Fire Insurance Association and the Pinang Turf, Town and Golf Clubs, besides many public and private companies.’

More history can be gleamed from a Foreword written in 1993 by the then President, Mr R. J. Manecksha in the Club’s 125th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine:

It is a hundred and twenty-five years since the Penang Club was founded and this publication is a festschrift of articles and pictures to mark the occasion. I am indeed honoured to be placed by circumstances, in the position of President of Penang Club in its 125th year and thus be given the opportunity of writing this foreword.

A look at the old photographs now hanging on the Club’s premises will show how much the Club and its members have changed over the past one hundred and twenty- five years. Just as a nation inherits its cultures and tries to preserve and cultivate them, so a club or society similarly inherits its habits and traditions from previous generations of members. Whether the club or society then wishes to preserve them or discard them for some new ones, is an issue which its committee and its members must attempt to answer. If the decisions are good ones, they would be welcomed, if not the club will go into a decline. The phrase used about “inheriting traditions” is a loose one because we all know, and sociologists will confirm it as well, that just as a nation’s social and economic conditions change, so do our habits and ideas. In conjunction with that, our Club too will have to change to keep up with the times.

By the above I mean a simple observable fact. When Penang Club was founded, it was an exclusive expatriates’ enclave, following probably the Victorian traditions of Britain. From the time of our nation’s independence, Penang Club was one of the first exclusive clubs to open its membership to a broader category of members. Members, too, comprise every sector of our society, from businessmen, industrialists, professionals, loveable retired planters to their spouses and children, in all manners of attires.

What the Committee has done is to regulate some of the changes it felt necessary so as to blend the old traditions with the new ones in the making. We felt that sometimes, but not always, an attempt to treat the Club as just a restaurant or hotel should be discouraged strongly as the members deserve the old quiet ambience to which they subscribed when they joined the Club. The exceptions are the days, a few in a year, when members and their family can let their hair down, so to speak, and throw some indiscretions here and there, again without being offensive to others.

Whilst it is profitable to keep the old tradition, I feel that a few changes to the Club’s rules and a bit of tightening up on some regulations would be realistic in the light of the overall changes that have taken place in our island of Penang as a whole.

To consider the question broached between keeping traditions and insisting on the old ways, on the one hand, and encouraging the reception of the new is a fascinating but unending one. I cannot pretend to have found any definitive answers. To my mind the debate will continue well into the decades when robots would have substituted human beings in the service centres of Penang Club.

More recent history of the Club is recounted by a member of the Club, Mr T. R. Hepworth in an article entitled “A Short History of the Penang Club in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s” published in the Club’s magazine in 1986:

There are probably those who are better equipped to tell the history of the Penang Club because I only became a member in 1961 and then I left for Singapore in July, 1965, and only returned to Penang in December, 1969. However, I will recount certain things which will, I hope, be of interest.

By 1961 the Club, which had originally been for Europeans only, had a number of Asian members. To mention a few, Eusoffee Abdoolcader (now Tan Sri Datuk Abdoolcader, a Judge of the Federal Court), Jimmy Ong Huck Lim, a noted local lawyer and a Committee Member of the Penang Turf Club, IK Cheah (later Datuk IK Cheah) also a noted local lawyer and a Committee Member, and later President, of the Penang Turf Club, Fanson Kuo, a banker, and Martin Koh, who was (and still is) a wizard of the Stock Markets of the world. Jimmy Ong Huck Lim was the first Asian President of the Club being elected for the year 1964 -1965, and for a second term the following year 1965 - 1966. IK Cheah was also elected President for two terms, but not consecutively, being elected for the years 1967 - 1968 and 1972 - 1973. Fanson Kuo was also elected President for the year 1969 - 1970.

In 1975 His Excellency Tun Sardon Bin Zubir, (the Governor of Penang from 1975 to 1981), graciously consented to be the Patron of the Club. On his appointment as the Governor of Penang in 1981 His Excellency Tun Datuk Hj Awang Bin Hassan also graciously consented to be the Patron of the Club in the place of Tun Sardon.

In 1961 the old Club building was a solid and uninspiring edifice. On entering there was a large hall with, high up in a place where a gallery would have been if there had been one, a life size portrait of Queen Victoria supported all around the hall at the same level by life size portraits of past presidents. The effect was extremely intimidating. Happily by 1961 the practice of enshrining for posterity the memory of past presidents by their portraits had been discontinued. There is a painting of the old Club in the Committee Room.

Although there were residential chambers upstairs, the only three good things about the old Club was the Grill Room, the Chef, and a Squash court in the grounds. The ground of the Club at that time stretched right down to the main road. The Grill Room was a delightful little place and the Chef, though temperamental, could produce, among other skills, on order any number of excellent steak and kidney pies measuring about 2 feet square, a boom to housewives with problems of entertaining hungry guests. Male chauvinists might add a fourth good point in that the Club was out of bounds to ladies except in the Grill Room and the residential chambers, and the rest of the Club, but not the Men’s Bar, on special occasions.

One of the features of the old Club was the Men’s Loo, the stand up variety. For some reason the Loo was so constructed that it was necessary to negotiate a step before reaching the required position. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed this step could constitute a hazard. However, presumably with this in mind, a brass rail had been placed horizontally the length of, and about 5 feet 6 inches above the Loo, as a safety rail to be seized if necessary. This brass rail also had a second function and that was to allow for fevered brows to be cooled while answering the call of nature. Portions of this rail are to be found in the upstairs Men’s loo in the new Club.

The old Club was, I think it is fair to say, an extremely dull place apart from the Grill Room, being chiefly used by a few of the older members of the community. The “in” place at that time was the Penang Sports Club, those being the days of Rock and Roll and Chubby Checker. The Dutch Swing College band played there for dancing on one occasion.

That something was necessary to be done about the old Club building must have been clear to Club Committees at that time, and that the only feasible solution to the problem was to knock the old building down and build a new, and more up-to-date building. The easiest way to finance this was to sell off an area of the Club land nearest the road which was not being used by the Club. Accordingly an area of approximately 120,000 sq. ft. was sold at $4.00 p.s.f.

George Davidson was an architect and a member of the Club who had been elected the President in the year 1961 - 1962. The Club was left with an area of 53,121 sq. ft. facing the sea and with a right of way to the main road. On this George Davidson designed and had built by the Contractor, Mr Ong Chim Poh, the present Club building at a cost of $218,900.00. The new Club building was opened by His Excellency the Governor of Penang, Raja Tun Uda Al Haj Bin Raja Muhammad, SMN on 10th December 1965.

It will be seen that what had been achieved was a new, and up-to-date Club building, the payment of the Club overdraft at the Bank, and a bank account with a credit balance and a substantial sum on deposit. With the benefit of hindsight it might have been better had a little more land been retained, but the new Club building was adequate for the number of members of the Club at that time. The total membership of the Club in 1965 was below 500.

Jimmy Swales, who was then the Manager of the Mercantile Bank in Beach Street, was elected the President of the Club for the year 1966 - 1967. Subsequently on retirement he became the honorary secretary of the Club and remained in this capacity until his death, due to a traffic accident, in February 1974.

The accounts were kept by a firm of accountants, Messrs Grummitt, Reid & Co. Jock Reid was the Treasurer and was always returned unopposed as a member of the Committee at Annual General Meetings, as he looked after the Club’s finances. The clerk employed by Grummitt Reid & Co. knew the signature of all the members of the Club, no mean feat. It was not necessary therefore for members of the Club to have Club numbers. It was not until 1974 when the clerk became ill and the number of the members increased that it became necessary to allot numbers to members.

For a number of years up to 1974 it is fair to say that the day to day running of the Club was carried out by Jimmy Swales as Hon. Secretary and Jock Reid as Finance Member or Treasurer. The Club office was run by Mr Teh Kim Phoe from November 1961 under the guidance of Jimmy Swales and after him a number of other Hon. Secretaries and paid Secretaries and later on his own, as Secretary until February 1989.

Jock Reid died while on holiday in Scotland in July 1976, and subsequently the Club finances were looked after by Coopers & Lybrand.

The Club now has a General Manager, En Srinuvasan, but before him the following were employed as paid Secretaries:-

Major Ramasamy from 1979 -1981

Encik Zainul Ariffin from 1982 - 1987

En Teh Kim Phoe from 1987 – 1989

These appointments were and are considered necessary because the membership has grown from under 500 in 1965 to 2085 in 1988.

There have been additions to the Club building. A squash court was built in 1979 (the old squash court having been demolished with the old Club building). A swimming pool was added in 1981. A substantial addition on the seaside of the Club was completed in 1988 giving a large family dining room upstairs and a covered patio on the ground floor.
Successive Committees have for the past 20 years been faced with the problem of getting more members not only to use the Club but also to take an interest in the running of the Club by attending General Meetings and giving their views on current problems. The present Committee are taking steps to try and solve this problem and it is hoped that all members will do their best to assist them. The future is in members’ hands.