Colonial buildings tell interesting tales of history

Locals say that this used to be part of an old, not so secure fortress.

Locals say that this used to be part of an old, not so secure fortress.

There may be no obvious signs now but Jalan Kubu is named after a fort or stockade in ancient Malacca.

A fortress stood during the Portuguese and Dutch era along part of the road located in an area once known as Upeh.

Excerpts from the UNESCO World Heritage Site dossier confirm that this was also the location of a market during the Malacca Sultanate as well as a place of residence for traders and seafarers.

The fortification, however, was not strong enough.

Records show that during sieges by more powerful forces, people sought refuge at the A Famosa fortress, about 2km away, instead.

The wall of the not-so-secure fort apparently began from the junction of Jalan Tranquerah (named after another forgotten palisade).

Locals say that a tiny section of it can still be seen near a junction where a monsoon drain has replaced a stream that ran into the sea.

JalankubuThe Fire Station is among the prominent buildings along Jalan Kubu
The fire station is among the prominent buildings along Jalan Kubu.

The sea is much further away today as the area was reclaimed and turned into the Kota Laksamana housing scheme in the 1980s.

Monitor lizards, the main species of wildlife in the area, however, still thrive in the monsoon drain, as I found out last week.

A huge one dawdled along in the shallow water nonchalantly as I took pictures of what is believed to be part of the fortress wall.

Jalan Kubu is lined with many historically significant buildings, beginning with an old colonial one which has housed at least five different schools and a college.

The structure located at No 1, Jalan Kubu, started out as the first Protestant missionary school for girls in 1914, with land bought using money donated by prominent businessmen and funds from the Methodist mission in St Paul, Minnesota, United States.

Classes for the original school began 10 years earlier in a house of a notable Baba in Heeren Street.

Named the Rebecca Cooper Suydam Girls’ School, the school also housed boarders and served as an orphanage in addition to being the residence of the missionary teachers — James and Rebecca Suydam — who were also among the generous funders.

When it grew too big, the mission acquired a coconut grove in Tranquerah called Bickley Park in 1927 to build what is now the Methodist Girls School.

The building was later taken over by the Anglo Chinese School, the mission’s boys’ school, which started in 1910 but was moved from place to place.

It remained there until a bigger and more spacious school was built in Tranquerah in 1941.

Since then, it has gone through several changes, notably as the Methodist Boys’ School — a private school for those who had to resit key compulsory exams like Standard Six before going to secondary schools, Lower Certificate of Education (LCE), Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) and General Certificate of Education (GCE), during the 1960s and 1970s. For some reason, it was also called the “Buffalo School”.

And for a brief time, it was the home of the Malacca College of Complementary Medicine and the Malacca International School, which has since moved to Jalan Siantan, about 2km away.

Visitors to Malacca’s famous Jonker Street would not miss the picturesque Malacca Tamil Methodist Church, which stands at the junction of Jalan Tokong and Jalan Kubu.

Built in 1908, it was the city’s first Methodist church with services conducted in English, Baba Nyonya Malay (using Bibles translated into Malay), Chinese and Tamil.

When the congregation became too big, the Wesley Methodist Church was built in Tranquerah in 1954. It became the preferred church for the British and Baba Nonya adherents of the faith.

When the Chinese Methodist Church was built at the side road of Jalan Tan Chay Yan in 1965, the old church became the premises of the Tamil congregation with weekly services conducted in both Tamil and English.

Further down the road, facing each other, are the Gan Boon Leong International Gym, arguably Malacca’s first fitness and body-building centre, and the Kubu fire station, one of the best-equipped fire stations since 1965.

PayfongThe 101-year old Pay Fong Middle School, one of the oldest Chinese independent schools in the country
The 101-year- old Pay Fong Middle School is one of the oldest Chinese independent schools in the country.

Datuk Wira Gan Boon Leong, a former Malacca MCA leader and state executive council member who has won the Mr Universe, Mr Asia and Mr Malaysia titles, is widely recognised as the “Father of Malaysian Bodybuilding”.

The Malacca Light Co, which was based in Kubu, pioneered the state’s electricity supply in 1912 but most of the existing shophouses were only built in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

Among the early businesses set up along the road were flour, chilli and spice grinding mills run by Indian families and Chinese-owned tailor shops.

Only three of the mills remain while the Ming Liang tailor shop, set up 50 years ago, is the last one standing. It was started by Gan Kok Ann, 71, who still pedals away on his half-a-century-old machine, sewing pants and shirts for his shrinking number of faithful customers.

Kubu, or rather its side road of Jalan Tan Chay Yan in Kampung Empat, is also home to the Pay Fong Middle School, one of the oldest and famous Chinese independent schools in the country, set up in 1813.

During the late 1950s and 1960s however, it was a hotbed of “leftist” students and teachers. Three months after Merdeka, more than a hundred students staged a protest in the school against the government’s education policy.

They locked the gates, preventing the police from coming in. The riot squad had to be called in to break up the demonstration which ended with the students booing the police. A few years later, some students were also arrested for having “subversive” documents.

Another old school in the area is the SRJK (Tamil) Kubu, built in 1960, nine years after the proposal was mooted to meet the needs of children of Malacca Municipal Council workers, whose quarters were nearby.

The first and only Tamil school in town had six classrooms and 250 pupils and was built at a cost of RM50,000.

But Jalan Kubu is probably most famous for Kubu Stadium, which was renamed Stadium Hang Tuah 13 years ago.

A sporting ground for athletics and field games like football, hockey and cricket, the place was already in existence by the 1930s but it was known as the Kubu plain.

It was also a place where dignitaries, both local and foreign, addressed the crowds. Among those who spoke there was first Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru, who came in 1937, was accompanied by his daughter Indira, who later went on to become prime minister herself.

The grandstand, decent spectator seats and additional facilities were initiated by GEC Wisdom, the then Resident Commissioner, president of the municipal council and stadium committee chairman, who officially opened it in 1954.

A bust of PG Pamadasa, the founder of the Malacca Amateur Football Association, who also contributed to the progress of other sports, including hockey, cricket and badminton also stands at the entrance to the grandstand.

Sadly, there is no plaque providing information about this teacher and great sportsman who was executed during the Japanese Occupation.