Pop-up prison exhibit in Penang showcases history of Malaysia's first two inmates


By AGENCY

At the International Museum Day Festival 2024 at Dewan Sri Pinang in George Town, Penang, the Malaysian Prison Museum's booth is spotlighting the evolution of modern prisons. Among the exhibits is the tale of Malaysia's first two prisoners, adding depth to the exhibit's historical exploration. Photo: Bernama

At the International Museum Day Festival 2024 in Dewan Sri Pinang, George Town, the Malaysian Prison Museum's booth is highlighting the history of modern prisons, including the story behind Malaysia's first two prisoners.

Prison Officer Sergeant Major Ahmad Fesal Noor said that visitors could learn about the country's first prison, built at Fort Cornwallis, and the story of the two inmates brought from Bengal, India, by British authorities in 1790.

Based on research, he added, the first prison in the country was closely related to the establishment of a settlement on the island in 1786 by Sir Francis Light, however its existence was only detected in 1811 based on the remains of the prison within Fort Cornwallis (a bastion fort in George Town, built by the British East India Company in the late 18th century).

The booth's design invites the public to glimpse into a cell through a peephole, offering a firsthand look at the confined conditions. Photo: Bernama The booth's design invites the public to glimpse into a cell through a peephole, offering a firsthand look at the confined conditions. Photo: Bernama

"In March 1790, the British authorities brought two men, Eyeno Deen Sheikdan (Ainuddin Sheidan) and Mohamed Heiant, from Bengal to Penang to be imprisoned there as political prisoners, making them the first two inmates in Malaysia, thus marking the existence of modern prisons in the country," said Ahmad Fesal at Dewan Sri Pinang.

"They were used as cheap labour to build infrastructure and economic activities. The second prison was built in Chowrasta Lines, but due to overcrowding of inmates, Penang Gaol, a new prison was built and used in 1849, which still stands today (known as the Penang Remand Prison).”

Ahmad Fesal added that the history of the Pulau Jerejak Moral Rehabilitation Centre, once used to house leprosy patients, is also on display.

A view of the pop-up exhibition, where visitors have the opportunity to view a diverse and historical array of prison-related artefacts. Photo: BernamaA view of the pop-up exhibition, where visitors have the opportunity to view a diverse and historical array of prison-related artefacts. Photo: Bernama

At the exhibition, he said visitors could also see various prison-related items on display, including the original cell door from the 1870s, prison cell keys from the 1960s, and the original stone of Fort Cornwallis.

The booth's layout is designed to depict the grim prison environment, allowing the public to peer through a cell door peephole to see the conditions inside a prison cell.

"We want to educate and provide insights to the public about the challenging life in the narrow cells of prisons, where 23 hours are spent confined within the cell and only one hour for release,” he added.

Thirty-eight agencies, institutions, and museums in Malaysia are participating in the International Museum Day Festival 2024, which runs until May 22. - Bernama

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