Saturday, March 20, 2010

Penang Eurasian

The meaning of Eurasian

Eurasian is the combination of two words, Europe and Asia, or Euro-Asia. It refer to the people of two continents. The British began using the term Eurasian in 1844 British India to refer to Anglo-Indians of mixed British and Indian descent. But the meaning has extend to include the person born to anyone of the European and Asian parentage or someone with one Caucasian parent and one Asian parent. It can be Anglo-Indian,Anglo-Burmese, Anglo-Chinese,Portuguese-Malay, Portuguese-Indian, Dutch-Indonesian, French-Vietnamese, French-Cambodian etc

Many Eurasian ethnic groups arose during the Mongol invasion of Europe and the colonial occupation of Asian regions by European states and private corporations, that started with the great wave of European naval expansion and exploration in the 16th century and continues to the present. The main European colonial powers were Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, followed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and France from the 17th century onwards. The Philippines has the world's largest Eurasian population.

As the name suggests, Eurasian are descendants of a marital union between a European and an Asian. They are considered living testimony and descendants of the Europeans who came to this part of the world between the 16th and 18th Century. These were during the colonial eras of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. Yet Eurasian do have an Asian element to their heritage. For some it would be on the maternal side generations ago, for others it would be the fact that they were born on Asian soil. Nonetheless, they are recognized as one of the domiciled communities of Malaysia/Singapore as Eurasian.

Eurasian in Strait Settlement

Eurasians are one of earliest residents in Strait Settlement. The origins are linked to various ports in the region, where Europeans had settled in, including Malacca, Goa, Ceylon, Bencoolen, Macao and Penang. Some of the earliest recorded Eurasians in Strait Settlement, some as early as 1786s, came with Capt Francis Light from Phuket, Raffles from Beencolen, or from Malacca. They may be Eurasian from Ceylon(Dutch Burghers and the Portuguese Burghers), India(Anglo-Indian), Burma(Anglo-Burmese), Siam, Indonesia who migrated to Strait Settlement,they may also some from Philippines(Filipino-Spanish). Later on there were local born Eurasian family.

These early Eurasian family names include Ferrao (1820), Dias (1821), D’Almeida (1825), Leicester (1826-27), Woodford (1836), McIntyre (1939), Sequeira (1837), Oliveiro (1844), Gomes (1949), De Rozario (1849) and Clarke (1850s) to name a few.

The term “Eurasian” was perhaps first used officially in the Straits Settlements records in 1849, in the population census encompassed several smaller ethnic groups. The Eurasians of British Malaya and North Borneo (corresponding to modern day Malaysia) were classified as 'Eurasians' by the British colonial administration in the 1920s. Prior to this the Eurasians were referred to either as Anglo-Indians (for those with British or Irish surnames), Dutch Burghers (for those with Dutch or German surnames) or Portuguese Descendants or Mestizos (for those with Portuguese and French surnames). The Malays just labelled all Eurasians as "Serani" which originally meant Christians. The fact that the Portuguese Mestizos of Malacca refer to their patois as "Kristang" (Christian tongue) is an affirmation of what the Malays were calling them by the 18th century.

Originally, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Malays called the Portuguese "Feringgi" which has a common origin with the Thai word, "Farang" which today refers to European foreigners. In the British colonial era (lasting from 1786 to 1957), the English-speaking Anglo-Indians were at the top of the Eurasian hierarchy, followed by the Dutch Burghers and then only by the Portuguese Descendants. The Anglo-Indians came over with the British East India Company and later with the British colonial administration as soldiers and low level civil servants. The Dutch Burghers were the descendants of European employees of the Dutch East India Company married to Portuguese Mestizos or Asians. The Portuguese Descendants were the result of marriages of Portuguese adventurers/colonists and Asians.

Prior to this, the population census included groups that came from various regions – Native Christians (which included the Luso-Malays, Serani or Kristiang communities from Peninsula Malaya), Indo-Britons (which included the Anglo-Indians, Luso-Indians, Ceylon Burghers, Dutch Burghers and Portuguese Mechanics), Armenians and Jews. But Penang Eurasian were popularly referred to as Portuguese or Portuguese Descendants or Roman Catholics or Serani [by local Malays] and by other names in countries experiencing them during the Portuguese/Spanish World Supremacy of 711AD - 1641AD.

Early Spain & Portugal

In retrospect, it all began in Spain and the intermarriages of the Spanish and the Moors. Their Roman Catholic descendants, once often referred to as Lusitanians, became a strong force in the breakaway from Spain and the formation of Portugal, and in the Voyages of Discovery that paved the way for the development of the Portuguese Trade Routes. Portugal's Foreign Policy was based on the 3 Gs - Glory, Gold and Gospel [in no preferential order]. In keeping with their missionary endeavours, Portugal had no reservations about accepting offsprings [of any shade, shape or size] of their citizens to being called Portuguese, through out their trade routes.

When the Portuguese came to Malacca in 1511 their offsprings were referred to as Luso-Malays [an obvious reference to the intermarriages of Portuguese (Lusitanians) and Malays and others found in world trading centers of the time]. These Malacca Portuguese, as they may be referred to, were Traders in support of and part of the Portuguese Trade Route of Malacca - "Penang (Batu Feringgi, Pulau Tikus) - Kedah (Kuala Kedah)"(or even to Phuket?), as well as Fishermen and odd-job workers in the Church Schools.

Eurasians are rich heirs to a hybrid of traditions and customs from both the East and West. Most are of the Christian faith, with religious celebrations being an integral part of their lifestyle. Having passed several generations, with interesting family trees, mostly Asians yet with shades of European ancestry, heritage and upbringing, hence the term, “Eurasian”. Some may recognizably look more Asian, but their foremost link to the European ancestry is their family surnames.


The origins of the first Eurasian community probably began when the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511 and ruled for 130 years. Some of them stayed behind and formed a fishing community that has lasted till today. Over the years, the Portuguese inter-married within the local population and are now collectively referred to as Portuguese-Eurasian or Kristang and they usually speak a distinct language which is a Creole (fusion of two languages) based on Portuguese and Malay. As devout Catholics, the community celebrates various religious festivals which can still be witnessed throughout the year at the Portuguese Square within their settlement. Also referred to as the Luso-Malays, the Portuguese Eurasians have retained significant aspects of their Portuguese heritage even though they have assimilated into the dominant Malay culture.

Today, 2000 national census numbered the Malaysian Eurasians at 12,650 out of a total population of 23.3 million. Many have migrated to other countries, especially Australia. The population of Eurasian is declining.


The early history of Eurasian in Penang Eurasian is similar to the history of Penang Catholic, as most of early Eurasian were Catholic, and the early settlement are around the Catholic Church.

Penang Eurasian

The Malaysian National Census 2000 indicates that the population of the Penang Eurasian Community[Serani] is 1,469; which is 11.6% of the Eurasian Malaysian Population of 12,650. The Penang Eurasian Community, in the National Census, is classified under 'Others' as being 0.4% or 5254 of the Total Penang Population of 1,313,449.

The first wave of Catholics landed in Penang at the urging of Capt. Francis Light, who needed skilled persons to aid in his development of the island. These settlers were Thai-Portuguese who had embarked from Kuala Kedah after their brief stay there, having fled Phuket earlier, from the Burmese occupiers' orders to massacre all Christians. They landed on 15 August 1778, on the feast of the Assumption, and settled in the area around Bishop and Church Streets. These settlers were the pioneers of Penang's first Catholic parish, the Church of the Assumption, at Farquhar Street.

Penang was part of the sultanate of Kedah until Captain Francis Light established the British trading post for the East India Company on the island. Light first landed at the site of Fort Cornwallis to take possession of the island in 1786. He supposedly encouraged the local inhabitants to clear the ironwood trees by firing coins out of the cannon into the forested swamp.

It was Light who laid the grid of the commercial town, bounded by Light Street (now Lebuh Light), Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai), Pitt Street (Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling) and Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia). Beach Street then ran along the beach and Pitt Street was reserved for places of worship.

A handful of military and civilian Europeans settled along Light Street. The Eurasians from Kuala Kedah and Phuket settled along Bishop Street (Lebuh Bishop) and Church Street (Lebuh Gereja). The Straits Chinese traders from Kedah and Malacca settled along China Street (Lebuh China). The various ethnic groups mingled at Market Street (Lebuh Pasar). The early Indian traders, of whom the majority were Tamil Muslims, settled along Chulia Street.

The Eurasian community in Penang started with the arrival of the British in 1786. Responding to the invitation of Captain Francis Light, the first group of Eurasians, who had settled in Kedah, landed in Penang on 15 August 1786, the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. This community set up an enclave in China Street and Bishop Street. They built a wooden church and called it "Assumption Church". The two most significant traits of the Eurasians at that time were a Roman Catholic religion and a command of the English language, unique at the time among the various races.

The first Eurasian arrivals in Penang settled in town in the area bordered by Church Street, Bishop Street, Pitt Street and China Street, in rather rudimentary housing, before moving with their church, the Church of Assumption (so named because they arrived in Penang on the day of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption), to the Farquhar Street area, settling along Argus Lane.

In 1810, a group of Portuguese Eurasians relocated from Phuket to Penang, They settled in Pulau Tikus. The focal point of this Catholic community was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which they built. A school, commonly known as "Noah's Ark", was eventually built to serve the community, which lived in areas surrounding the church. This whole area came to be known as "Kampong Serani" (or "Eurasian Village"). There are others who come from Kuala Kedah,the Eurasian who had escaped from Siam earlier, also settle in Penang island.

Traders and settlers come from Europe, the Arab world, India and China to the port of Penang. They also come from other parts of the Malay archipelago, Thailand and Burma. For almost all of the first hundred years of Penang's history, the most important items of regional trade were pepper from the Achehnese ports, spices such as clove and nutmeg from the local plantations, and textiles from India. Tin gained importance later on and then rubber.

By the early 1800s, the town was extended by two more streets -Armenian Street for the Armenians and Acheen Street for the local community comprising Achehnese, other Sumatrans and Malays. Each ethnic group was allotted its own street with a section of the waterfront along Beach Street. However Penang was established without the formal segregation that characterized the foundation of other colonial towns like Singapore, Hong Kong or Yokohama.

Later there are English, Scottish, Irish, Jews, Armenian, German, etc who come as professionals, traders, skilled craftsman, civilian or military man. Many of them married the local girls, and started the new generation of Eurasians.

The Church of the Assumption, Farquhar Street

The Church of the Assumption at 3, Farquhar Street, George Town, was built by the Eurasians who followed Captain Francis Light to Penang when he established it as a British trading post. The Eurasians originally living in Ligor and Phuket were facing religious persecution. In 1781, they fled to Kuala Kedah, led by Bishop Arnaud-Antoine Garnault of Siam. In Kuala Kedah, they were joined by another 80 Catholics of Portuguese descent who had made Kuala Kedah their home. Some had come from southern Siam, while others had left Malacca after the Dutch conquest.

Before founding Penang, Francis Light and his business partner James Scott had a trading business all along the coast of Kedah. This, I believe, was how Light came into contact with the Eurasians of Kuala Kedah. He spoke the local languages and was familiar with the Sultan of Kedah, so he could well commiserate with the plight of the Eurasians. Moreover, he had a common law wife by the name of Martina Rozells who was a Eurasian of Thai-Portuguese descent

When Francis Light got the Sultan of Kedah's approval to open a trading post on Penang, Bishop Garnault sought his help to relocate his Catholic mission there. Light agreed to help, and sent his ship Speedwell to assist in the exodus. The first group of Catholics landed in Penang landed on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, in 1786, and celebrated their deliverance from persecution by so naming their church as the Church of the Assumption. Its original location was on Church Street. Bishop Garnault's presbytery was located on the adjacent road, which became known as Bishop Street.

In 1857, the Church of the Assumption moved to its present site on Farquhar Street which was previously occupied by the Convent Orphanage. (In some records that I studied, it stated that the church moved to Farquhar Street in 1802 - it could be that the congregation moved to Farquhar street, but the church building was only erected from 1857? Anybody with clarification on this is requested to write to me.) The present building was erected in 1860, under the leadership of Father Manissol. When it was completed in 1861, it could hold 1200 worshippers. The building underwent an extension in 1928, when two wings were added to it.

In 1955, the Church of the Assumption was elevated by a Decreee of the Vatican, to the status of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Penang. The sanctuary was renovated for the setting up of the seat for the first Bishop of Penang, the Right Reverend Monsignor Francis Chan. From the 1970's onwards, a gradual shift in the population of Penang Island away from and into the suburban areas, resulting in a marked decreased in the size of the church congregation within the city area. In 1988, a decision was made to amalgamate the four parishes in George Town into one, bringing the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, St Francis Xavier Church and St John Britto Church, until then individual parishes, into the same umbrella of "City Parish". The status of Cathedral Church held by the Cathedral of the Assumption was transferred in 2003 to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Island Park, and the Farquhar Street Cathedral became once more Church of the Assumption.

Today, the Catholic community linked to the Church of the Assumption has been reduced to just a few homes lucked away on Argus Lane, before the cathedral.

Map of Kampong Serani, Pulau Tikus

View Larger Map

Pulau Tikus
Exodus From Phuket

In 1811, the Burmese massacre of Christians extended to Phuket. As a result, Fr. John Baptist Pasqual decided to move his parish, and the remnants of the Thai-Portuguese Catholic Community (the parishioners of the Church of Our Lady Free From Sin, a reference to Mother Mary which the Pope later changed to The Immaculate Conception) also made their way to Penang.

Founding of Parish

Fr. Pasqual and his parishioners sought refuge in a Pulau Tikus already mainly settled by Thai-Portuguese Catholics most of whom also came from Phuket and Kuala Kedah and were his relatives and friends. On land set aside for burials in Pulau Tikus by this community, he set up his Church, similar in name to that in Phuket – The Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was but a rudimentary structure - in a tent with the dead buried around it. The site of this first church is marked today by a cenotaph in the middle of the Kelawei Road Cemetery. Thus our parish was born.

The Early Years

It is believed that Thomasia Pasqual (Fr. Pasqual’s relative), and other families such as the Leandros, the Jeremiahs, the Gregorys and the Josephs gave their lands between the present College Lane and Leandros Lane to Fr. Pasqual, and this is where he built the first permanent church, made of planks and covered with attap (on the site of our present church). The neighbouring land was for poor Catholic parishioners (on the site of present-day Bellisa Row & Bellisa Court).

After setting up his parish community in Penang, Fr. Pasqual is known to have returned to a similar Thai-Portuguese Catholic Settlement called Santa Cruz which is just outside Bangkok. Thereafter, French MEP* priests based at the old College General seminary (situated at the junction of College Lane and Kelawei Road) took over the affairs of the parish.

Of Saints and Martyrs

One of these MEP priests was Fr. Jacques Chastan (1803-1839), who served as the 4th parish priest. He was in Penang from 1827-1833, serving as a professor at College General from 1828-1830, and as our parish priest from 1830-1833. In 1833, he left for Korea to do missionary work. In 1839, he surrendered himself to the authorities to protect the faithful, with the hope that his sacrifice would stop the persecution of the Catholics in Korea. He was tortured and beheaded together with Bishop Laurent Imbert. In 1984, His Holiness Pope John Paul II canonized Fr. Chastan.

Growth in Stone, in Service and in Spirit

The original church which Fr. Pasqual built lasted until 1835 when it was replaced with a brick church by the 5th parish priest, Fr. Bohet.

On the adjoining site, Fr. Bohet also built two ‘church schools’, one for the Catholic boys (traditionally known as ‘Noah’s Ark’ for its similarities and later as the original St. Xavier’s Branch School of the La Salle Brothers), and the other for Catholic Girls (later known as the Pulau Tikus Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Sisters).

In 1897, renovations were carried out on the brick church. However, in August 1898, the brick ceiling collapsed and caused considerable damage to the walls. Fr. Damais, the 11th parish priest, rebuilt the church, which was later blessed on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in 1899.

This church survived until the late 1960s. To accommodate the growing Catholic population in and around Pulau Tikus, the 25th parish priest, Fr. Louis Ashness further renovated the church, considerably altering the façade to what it is today.

In Pulau Tikus, there were pockets of Malayan/Thai-Portuguese Catholics settled, long before the arrival of Francis Light, in between the estuaries of Bagan Jermal Road and Cantonment Road. This area roughly corresponds with our parish BEC Zone 10. Stories from the early settlers tell of their arrival during the Portuguese Trading operations, which had stopovers at Batu Ferringhi and Pulau Tikus.

In 1810, a group of Portuguese Eurasians relocated from Phuket to Penang and settled in Pulau Tikus.

The Eurasians were another early group to settle in Pulau Tikus. They are of mixed parentage, between the Portuguese and the Thais, and are Roman Catholics. The people of Portuguese descent had had no peace to practise their faith since the Dutch arrive in Malacca in 1641. Religious persecution drove them out of Malacca. They settled in various Malay states as well as in Phuket, which at that time was called Ujung Salang (corrupted in English to Junk Ceylon), an island claimed by the Kingdom of Kedah but ruled by Siam. By the late 18th century, the Eurasians were on the run again, this time due to a decree by the increasingly demented king of Siam, Phraya Taksin @ Phya Tak, who ordered all Christians in Siam to be massacred. The Eurasians fled to Kuala Kedah, and from there, they made their way to Penang.

There were still remnants of Eurasian community in Phuket going into the 19th century, until the Phya Tak Massacre of 1810 forced another group to Penang. Pulau Tikus had become an attractive location to settle down. They were parishioners of the Church of Our Lady Free From Sin. They arrived in 1811, headed by Father John Baptist Pasqual. In Pulau Tikus they built their church which the pope later renamed The Immaculate Conception.

The focal point of this Catholic community was the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which they built and is today still being used. A school, commonly known as "Noah's Ark", was eventually built to serve the community, which continues to live in areas surrounding the church.

This whole area came to be known as Kampung Serani (or "Eurasian Village").

Eurasian community in Penang were the pioneer students in the missionary schools which were first set up in Penang in 1852. "Education was their strong point and later they went on to serve in the civil service, joined the armed forces and served as educators in the same missionary schools where they received their education.

Church of Immaculate Conception, Pulau Tikus

The Church of Immaculate Conception along Burmah Road in Pulau Tikus, Penang, was founded by Portuguese Eurasians who came to settle in Penang to escape persecution in Phuket. They were the latecomers - an earlier wave of Catholic immigrants arrived in Penang on the invitation of Francis Light, and had founded the Church of the Assumption. The Catholic community in Phuket, although dwindling in numbers, stayed put in Phuket until the Phya Tak Massacre of 1810, which propelled them to leave.

The Eurasians, or Serani as they were locally called, adopted local elements such as speaking Malay, and live in kampong houses, similar to the Portuguese settlement in Malacca. There was a sizable Eurasian community in the Pulau Tikus area of Kelawai Road, so much so that there once was a Kampong Serani, and road names such as Leandro's Lane bear their imprint.

The church was built in 1811. The present building of the Church of Immaculate Conception was erected in 1899, and was last renovated in the 1970s. The characteristic of the church has gradually turned from Eurasians to Chinese, as the Eurasian community of Pulau Tikus was gradually erased and taken over by the Chinese population of Penang.

The first local trained doctors 1910 - 2 Eurasian from Penang

The Medical School in Singapore was founded on 3 July 1905; it was named the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School. It was the forerunner of the Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore(NUS). This year (2005), the Faculty of Medicine (NUS)and the NUS celebrate their centenaries. When the Medical School started in 1905 it was a 5-year course and the students graduated with an LMS Diploma (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery). The pioneer group of 7 that graduated in May 1910 (the Magnificent Seven), included two Eurasians from Penang. Drs Willie Carnegie and Mark W Chill from Penang.

Kampong Serani

Kampong Serani (Serani is a local term for Eurasian) Serani to mean. “Nazarene” is an old synonym for Eurasian. The final section of Burmah Road, from Cantonment Road to Gottlieb Road, was traditionally a Eurasian settlement - called Kampung Serani - their presence is most conspicuously represented by the Church of Immaculate Conception, Noah Ark, and road with names such as Leandro's Lane.

Kampong Serani was an urban village on 1 4.8 acres site, consist of 150 working class residents who were predominantly Eurasian. The house also sub rent to Indian Catholic families and Chinese Catholic family. The title to the land was registered under Titular Catholic Bishop of Penang. The residents were the tenants of the Church. The village consist of 13 village houses of which the church owned three, two sheds, a coffin making company, and a building known as Noah Ark. The kampong house or village houses are wooden houses with zinc roof. Noah Ark was the largest structure, but the most dilapidated. The building was named Noah Ark because it was reported it resemble a ship. It was build over hundreds years by a Pulau Tikus parish priest, as first village school in Pulau Tikus.

The church jointly developed Kampong Serani into high end condominium, resulted in protest by the Penang Eurasian Association. The incident is called Kampong Serani Conflict, and such a historical site was gone.

Legacies left by early Eurasian - Kampong Serani

It will be a pity if there is nothing left from the Kampong Serani, as this is the early settlement of early Eurasian. The Serani or Eurasian, unlike Eurasian in Malacca are fully westernized, which is easily assimilated into the western culture, except their food and their names, the few road names left, and the church and the Convent Pulau Tikus. As for school, there were story of how the new headmaster took down/replaced some legacy of missionary schools in Penang, it is high time the Eurasian stand up to protect their legacies, especially the school, otherwise the character of the missionary catholic school will be erased by either ignorant headmaster or narrow minded headmaster in due time. The Eurasian history will be gone, and look like ordinary school with only names remained. As a heritage city, the head of the school should learn to protect the heritage school building and their tradition, otherwise the said headmaster has failed its responsibility, and have no place in missionary schools.

Just have a walk in some top missionary schools,and you will find something is different, something is missing.... is it the spirit of the missionary school? the missing of its relic? the traditional teaching of early nuns and fathers?....or Eurasian teachers are lacking?..

Just look at St George Girls' School, Penang Free School; do you think they are still missionary schools? just the names left.....

Road Names

College square(Medan Maktab)
College Avenue(Lebuhraya Maktab)
College Lane( Lorong Maktab)
Leandros Lane (Lorong Leandros)
Leandros Close(Solok Leandros)
Serani Close(Solok Serani)


Church of The Immaculate Conception


Convent Pulau Tikus(Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent Pulau Tikus)

The family names of Penang Eurasian

Aeria family - Fred Aeria(teacher of SXI,1903), Freddy Aeria(teacher of SXI, 1903), Dunstan Aeria(1888 Centenary Scholarship holder), J. Aeria(1906 Queen's Scholarship holder), P.A.Aeria(rank 9th in Top Ten Boys for the 1923 Junior Scholarship). The Aeria family is still around in Penang. The notable names are Associate Professor Dr Andrew Aeria(Universiti Malaysia Sarawak), Michael Aeria( The Star, Group Chief Editor 2006-2007, now chief operating officer of the Multimedia Business Division, CEO, Star Rediffusion Sdn Bhd), Alban Aeria(a banker), George Aeria(Tanjung Bunga Residents' Association chairman) etc

The other family names are:
de Cruz family -
Scully family
Robless family
Karl family
Reuten family
Boudville family
Westwood family

Note: This is not a complete list, it can be further improve or update.

The Penang Eurasian Association(PEA)

The Eurasian in Penang are represented by The Penang Eurasian Association(PEA). It was set up in 1919.

The Heritage House @ Solok Serani
107-A Jalan Kelawei, 10250 Penang
Tel: 604-2260354

Related articles:

1. Stand off over future of Penang Eurasian Legacy, NST dated 20-3-1992,,3755657
2. Wong set to retire, Aeria to take over, The Star dated 9-9-2006,
3.The History of Penang Eurasians, by Dr. Anthony E. Sibert PJK
4.The Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project (MDDP),
5. The Selangor & Federal Territory Eurasian Association,
6. The Eurasian Association, Singapore,
7. Kristang people,

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