Penang Opium & Spirit Farm Office (鴉片及米酒的貨倉及發牌照所)
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It was reported in 1905, that at Penang in 1906 the Government will erect premises for the Opium and Spirit Farm Factory at a cost of $128000. A farm town office is also to be built. The Opium and Spirit Farm Office was built in 1906. At that time, the opium trade was still under the wholesale monopoly of the colonial government, and operated under a tender system, called Revenue Farming System. At the time the area around King St and Queen St was the opium trading hub, an active opium market.
The Revenue Farming System operated until 1910, where retail monopoly took over, when a new government department was formed. Now only the government can dispense cooked opium to ultimate consumers. The opium trading activities in the area(market) was gone, and only packed chandu sold from the opium & spirit farm office. It was over the counter business.
The opium retail monopoly was stopped and totally banned by the colonial government, after the World War 2, in 1946.
The Opium & Spirit Office was located with the frontage at Queen Street, George Town, Penang. This side of the building (now the front) faces Pitt Street. Pitt Street now is the frontage of the building. The heritage building is directly facing Penang Chinese Town Hall, 22 Pitt Street, 10200 Penang. Its official address was 15-19, Pitt Street, Penang, but Pitt Street was later changed to Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling. It is measuring 22,640 sq ft, and leasehold title expiring in 2055.
Queen Street - The Opium Godown
The local Chinese called it Chap Jee keng Chu, literally means 12 houses. There were originally a row of 12 houses of the same height, original and primitive designed using rough logs as beams, instead of planed beams. There were the early example of Penang shophouses in Francis Light grid. The 12 houses are at the row close to Church Street. The Opium and Spirit Farm Offices however replaced 6 of the 12 houses in 1906. The continuous arcade is however retained.
The Malay however called it Gedung Rumput, literally means grass godown. This revealed that the Indian bullock carts parked along the street. The cart was the main goods carriage for the old days, may be mainly to transport the opium to their respective retailers.
The opium and Spirit farm offices, constructed in 1906 at the cost of 48,767 strait dollars, was rented out to the contractors for 900 strait dollars a month. It served as a godown and dispensary for Chandu or cooked opium, and samsoo, an alcohol distilled from rice and sugar. Opium was mainly consumed by the Chinese, and Samsoo by Indian.
King Street - the Opium Farm Street
(i) 廣東大伯公街 Kuíⁿ-tang-toā-pεh-kong-ke, literally means Cantonese Heavenly Emperor's street, after the Cantonese temple there.
(ii) 亞片公司街 À-phièn-kong-si-ke,Opium farm street, after the Opium & Spirit Farm Offices at the junction with China St.
I do not know why the local Chinese called King Street A-phien-kong-si-ke(Opium Farm Street) where the actual location was at Queen Street. I can only understand that before the construction of the Opium & Spirit Office in 1906, the original office was at King Street and China Street junction. That is the next block after the new Opium & Spirit Office build in 1906.
Revenue farming of Opium - the tender system
Opium was a lucrative business for the colonist, British Empire and its trading arm, East Indian Company. The China market was the main attraction for the EIC to the Far East where it can be trade with huge profit for them to use as capital to buy other goods, like spices, silk, tea, etc from the far east. Penang was found as trading port mainly for opium. In Strait Settlement, opium was the attractive consumer items for the Chinese coolies. Opium was the medium of political control of the coolies by the taukeh, who were also the opium farm monopoly holder. It was also the colonist’s tool of power control over the economy of Chinese communities, opium become a secure income source from coolies to the revenue farmer, ultimately to the state. It effectively shifted the power base from kongsi to the colonial government. The control of opium measn control of the Chinese community’s political and economical power.
For all of the Straits Settlements, opium was an important item of local excise revenue. From the time of its foundation until 1910, Penang had an opium farm. Penang and later, Singapore, were founded to service the British opium trade between India and China. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it was a safe haven for British country traders carrying goods between India and the regions to the east. Indeed, during the decade between 1809 and 1819 (the years before the establishment of Singapore) opium imports and exports constituted about one-third of the annual trade of Penang. (Cowan, 1950, p.86) While opium did not hold this commanding position in Penang's trade throughout the century, its importance declined only gradually. Despite a decline in relative importance, it may be confidently said that it was always a major item of trade throughout the nineteenth century.
Opium is a government monopoly.The local opium market was monopolized by EIC,and later the Strait Settlement, it allow them to control and distribute using a type of tender system called revenue farming. This systems apply not only on opium, but also to gambling, tobacco, samsoo, and other enterprises. The tender with the highest bid will acquired the monopoly for the commodity or revenue farm. Most of the holder of the monopoly were the prominent member of Strait Chinese community, especially the famous 5 Hokkiens families.
The Revenue Farmers
Khaws of Penang and Ranong in southern Siam. (Cushman 1991)Others include the five clans associated with major kongsi foundations in Penang: the Khoo, the Cheah, the Lim, the Yeoh and the Tan, not to mention a number of other clans who are outside this group of five. Throughout the nineteenth century, a number of family groups were dominant in Singapore, including the Seah, the Tan Tock Seng family, the Tan Cheng Lock family and the Cheang family. Some of these had their origins in Melaka which remained the family base into the twentieth century.One of the primary sources of wealth and power among the rich families was the opium revenue farms.From the beginning of the British presence in the region to the end of the revenue farming system in 1910, members of these families tended to dominate the revenue farms of both Penang and Singapore.
The holder then farmed out licenses for the preparation and sale of opium to sub-contractors who retailed the products to the ultimate consumers, at a price two to three times higher than the cost of the raw opium import from India. The subcontractors are the revenue farmers. The monopoly holders are the farm owner.
The bidding is very competitive, initially there was individual bidders; but later syndicates were formed and bid for larger farms, like bid for a farm in the state.
The revenue from the revenue farming of opium was the main income for the colonial government , and later Strait Settlement. In 1906, more than 50% of revenue for Strait Settlement derived from opium farms.
By the middle of the 19th century, Penang had become a major player in the Chinese opium trade, which provided more than half of the colony's revenue. It was a dangerous, rough-edged place, notorious for its brothels and gambling dens, all run by Chinese secret societies.
There were two opium and spirit farms let in each of the Settlements of Singapore, Penang, and Malacca in 1906. In Penang, Opium & Spirit Farm Offices (鴉片及米酒的貨倉及發牌照所),was located at Queen Street, George Town, Penang. The factory was at Sungei Pinang. From Sungei Pinang, the cooked opium or chandu was transported to the godown at Queen Street where it was sold to the revenue farmers. The godown was then a market for revenue farmers to sell or dispense Chandu or cooked opium, and samsoo,to the retailers. The Indian bullock carts will helped to carry the chandu to the opium den or outlets all over Penang. Imagine there must be much activities at Queen Street for opium each day.
It was reported in 1907, the monopoly was contracted for 135,000 strait dollars a month, and sold through 145 licensed sub farms in Penang and Province Wellesley.
For a short time after this an opium factory was maintained in Penang, but this was soon closed and opium production for the whole of Malaya was carried out from the factory in Singapore. The government continued to manufacture and sell. The Penang factory closed down in April, 1910.
Anti Opium Movement by Dr Wu Lien-Teh
Due to the social awareness movement of the bad effect of opium, The Penang Anti-Opium Association was formed in October 1906 at 72, Love Lane amidst the campaign against opium-smoking in Malaya. Anti Opium Movement was started in Penang, was found by Dr. Wu Lien-the (伍连德). A Penang born doctor make famous as plague fighter in China. Dr Wu became the President and Physician in Chief of the association. He call for restriction and prohibition of the opium . The association organized the first ever Anti-Opium Conference of the Straits Settlements. But some source said when first founded, Foo Choo Choon (Hu Zicun,胡子春), (b. 30 July 1860; d. 27 Mar 1921), a Hakka tin miner, revenue farmer and businessman from Penang and Perak, was elected President.
The Opium Commission set up in 1907 later ruled that the prohibition of opium trade/farming was unnecessary as it would only reduce the revenue stream. Opium smoking continued to be allowed until after WW2 in 1946. However the report resulted in fomation of new department called Government Monopolies. Measures also introduced to gradually reduce the number of opium smokers.
1910-1935 Government Monopolies Office
In 1910, all customs activities were operated by a new government body called the Government Monopolies. This body was authorised to grant import license and process and sell certain goods such as opium, tobacco, arrack, cigarettes and matches. At that time, excise duty were imposed on such goods as rice-wine (samsu), toddy and locally made opium whilst customs tax was imposed on opium imported from China, tobacco, cigarettes, liquor and fire crackers. The Government Monopolies Department was the early Malayan Customs Department.
Opium had completely become a government monopoly, no more private retailers. The authorised sale of chandu by retail took place solely in prescribed government shops. This practice which had the desired effect of confining consumption to specified premises, also encouraged smuggling
The Penang factory closed down in April, 1910.
The first Manager of Government Monopolies, Penang, was Mr WS Gibson. In 1912, the official name for Manager, Penang had changed to The Asst Superintendant of Government Monopolies in Penang , and the post was still held by WS Gibson. The retail trading last until after the WW2, when it was banned by the colonial military government, British Military Administration Malaya or BMA/Malaya in 1946.
1935-1941 Excise Department(1935-1938);Department of Customs and Excise(CED)(1938-1946)
In Apr 1935, the name "Government Monopolies Department" was replaced by the "Excise Department". The change reflected the decreasing emphasis on revenue derived from the chandu monopoly and the increasing reliance of the government on its revenue from the duties imposed on tobacco, petroleum and intoxicating liquors. The emphasis of excise concept confirmed the importance of locally manufactured liquors as a source of revenue. The name of the Excise Department was later changed to that of Department of Customs and Excise(CED) in 1938 and the designation of its head was amended to be read as "Controller of Customs". (Note: It was later renamed as the 'Controller of Customs & Excise' in 1966 with the addition of the phrase "and excise" reflecting the importance of expanding its excise base).
JG O’Reilly,was the Deputy Commissioner for Penang in 1935.
In 1941, for Penang, the post was Asst Comptroller of Customs, Penang , however no names was listed in the report, Malayan Establishment Staff List 1941 as at 1-7-1941. The last reported as at 1-7-1940, Asst Comptroller of Customs, Penang was GJ Gilmour, may be the last Comptroller of Customs, Penang(pre war). GJ Gilmour was however Assistant Comptroller of Customs, Opium, Singapore in 1941, and the vacant position in Peanng was not filled in 1941. On 11th December 1941 Penang became the target of the Japanese bombers, and on 16-12-1941, Japanese occupied Penang.
1941- 1945 Japanese Occupation
Japanese landed and occupied Penang on 16th December 1941 without any fight, as British had evacuated. The military government of Imperial Japanese Army continue the opium trade during Japanese occupation for 3 years and 8 months until the British military retook Penang. During the Japanese occupation of Penang from 1941 to 1945, the register of opium users were ignored by Japanese military, and anyone who could pay for it was allowed to smoke. Opium addiction was openly encouraged, the number of smokers increased, which nullified the effort of colonial government to reduce opium smoking.
1945-1946 British Military Administration
On 15-8-1945, BMA was established by Proclamation in Malaya in Singapore. On 3-9-1945, a civil affairs detachment was landed in Penang.
By Sept 1945, 95% of the local staff at Customs and Excise Department was back at work. Few former expatriate staff played any part in BMA, most of them had been as detained as POW or civilian internee during the Japanese occupation.
British Military Administration Gazette of December 27, 1945, provided that the Customs duties fixed under Customs Enactment, 1936, of the Federated Malay States should apply throughout the Malayan.
Major LR Barnett –Smith(b 1905 – d?),was the Staff Officer,Customs and Excise, Penang and PW, BMA.
In February 1946, an Opium and Chandu Proclamation declared a total prohibition of the sale and use of opium except for medicinal purposes.
The Strait Settlement was dissolved with effect from 1 April 1946. with Singapore becoming a separate crown colony (and ultimately an independent republic), while Penang and Malacca joined the new Malayan Union (a predecessor of modern-day Malaysia). By forming Malayan Union on April 1 1946, the BMA was also dissolved on the same day, and was replaced with the newly formed civilian confederation, Malayan Union, which included Strait Settlement(except Singapore), Federated Malay States and Unfederated Malay States.
1946-1948 Customs and Excise of Malayan Union, Penang.
In January 1946 the British Military Administration decided to end Penang's duty-free status. That together with the plan to break up the Straits Settlements and impose the Malayan Union prompted the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce to lead a protest of Penang's chambers of commerce including the Penang Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Penang Muslim Chamber of Commerce. The protests aimed at the Colonial Office proved successful and Penang's free port status was restored in June 1946.
Customs Union for the Malay Peninsula could only be established in 1946, that is with the formation of the Malayan Union in April, 1946, and the department was given the name Customs and Excise of Malayan Union. Nevertheless, with the dissolution of the Malayan Union in 1948, Customs Department comprise not only those under the Federated Malay States(FMS) but also included those under the administration of the Non-Federated Malay States(UMS) and the Straits Settlements(SS).
By 10-10-1946, opium smoking was prohibited in Malaya and in British protected territories in the Far East. A decree issued by the British Government state that it has been decided not to reestablish the government opium monopoly in these territories on their reoccupation by Britain. The prohibition was enforced on 10-10-1946, however Toddy was still on sale from 1-11-1946 until even today.
The banning of opium smoking however increased the role of Preventive Branch in the department. The custom department Penang rented 2 offices at 2nd floor, old ‘ FMS Malayan Railway’ building(built in 1907) at China Street Ghaut in 1946(Today the building had been bought over by Customs in 1972, and renamed Wisma Kastam). Maybe the Opium & Spirit Farm Offices no longer able to cater for the space demanded by an expanded customs department in Penang.
Due to strong opposition from the Malay community, Malayan Union was abandoned in favor of the Federation of Malaya on 1 February 1948.
1948-1957 British Federation of Malaya
In 1948, with the formation of the Federation of Malaya, the Customs and Excise Department were established for the whole of the Malay Peninsula. Under the Customs Ordinance 1952, this department was put under the control of the High Commissioner for Malaya and headed by a Comptroller of Customs as can be found since 1938. This lasted until the country achieved its independence in 1957.
Section 138, Customs Ordinance, 1952 gave the Federation Council power to issue all rules and regulations on Customs affairs. The Customs main area at that time was the whole of the Peninsular of Malaya excluding Penang (to maintain its free port status). As free port, the preventive role become crucial task of Penang's customs department.
Note: The Colonial Government may have sold the building during this period and moved to Malayan Railway building under lease contract, which was finally boughtover in 1972 for $500,000. I was not able to confirm the date Loh Boon Siew bought the building. It can easily be done, by looking at the actual title or from the extract of title. Need confirmation, can anyone help?.
1958 Honda Showroom at Pitt Street
In 1958, Boon Siew noticed the popularity of the Honda Super Cub motorbike which had been just introduced in Japan. He believed that this low-cost, high-efficiency machine would find a similarly receptive market in the rapidly urbanizing areas of Malaysia. Boon Siew arranged to meet with Mr. Soichiro Honda, the bike's creator, and quickly convinced him to set up a Honda subsidiary in Malaysia.
Founded by the late Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew(骆文秀, b 1915 - d 1995), the motorcycle distributor started off as Boon Siew Ltd in 1958. The first Malaysian Honda showroom was set up on Pitt Street in Penang. This should be at former Opium & Spirit Farm Office building.
Boon Siew Sdn Bhd was involved in the production and distribution of Honda Motorcycle in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore under a franchising agreement with Honda Motor Co.td in Japan. acquisition of the Honda motorcycle distributorship in 1958 and Honda car franchise in 1969
1971 The Star Office
The office is later used by The Star, a Penang based newspaper for its printing presses and office in 1971. The Star was first published on Sept 9, 1971, starting off as a regional newspaper with its plant at Opium & Spirit Office in George Town, Penang.
In 1974, Loh Boon Siew played a role in the brief merger between Kwong Wah Yit Poh and The Star (Malaysia). He was the owner of both Kwong Wah Jit Poh and The Star.
The Star went national on Jan 3, 1976, when it set up an office in Kuala Lumpur. Two years later in 1978, it relocated its headquarters from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. Their main office moved to Petaling Jaya in 1981, the premise of current UTAR.
The office at Pitt Street, become Star Northern Hub, Pitt Street Office. Now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. In 1983, it was bought over by The Star.
In 1997, Star bought over 12,085 sq metres of industrial land at Bayan Lepas, and later in 2002, additional 19472 sq metres was bought as regional office and printing plant. The printing office in Penang however was later relocated to new premises at Bayan Lepas, Penang, located at No. 202, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Penang. It is also Northern Hub Bayan Lepas office for The Star or Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd.