Northam Road Cemetery – Georgetown, Penang

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The Old Protestant Cemetery, also known as Northam Road Cemetery, is a disused Christian cemetery in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. After more than a century of neglect, it is now classified as a heritage site and is maintained by the Penang Heritage Trust.

The cemetery lies in a grove of frangipani trees along Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah) near the historic core of George Town, only metres away from the beachfront and a short walk from the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

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Established in 1789, the cemetery is of significant historic interest: it is older than many better-known burial grounds such as Père Lachaise in Paris, Powązki in Warsaw, the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, and Highgate Cemetery in London. It is also 32 years older than the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau, which is somewhat better-maintained. In 2012, conservation works were undertaken to protect and preserve the site, although there had been some concern about how the restoration was done.
Northam Road Cemetery was the first cemetery to be consecrated after Captain Francis Light founded the Prince of Wales Island Settlement in 1786. The earliest known burial is that of one H.D.D. Cunningham in 1789 (the exact location of his/her grave within the grounds is unknown; though a plaque survives on the wall), and the latest is Cornelia Josephine Van Someren in 1892. After that, the cemetery was closed and subsequent Christian burials have been carried out in the Western Road Cemetery.
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The cemetery also contains 12 Chinese graves, refugees of the Taiping Rebellion, as well as the graves of some of Penang’s early German merchants and their relatives. There is at least one Armenian grave. Of around 500 graves, over 25% are not identifiable due to weathering and damage, the latter due in part to vandals and drug addicts who often hide out at the relatively secluded cemetery. The tablets of many tombs have fallen off; some, which could not be matched to their tombs, are mounted on the south wall.
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A remarkable portion of the graves are of people who died before reaching 50 years of age; many of the men and women buried are in their twenties and thirties. Several graves belong to infants – a poignant reminder of the harsh conditions the early settlers encountered in Penang.
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Behind this cemetery, accessible through a small door in the wall, is the adjacent Roman Catholic Cemetery.

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