Francis Light’s bronze statue undergoes conservation

CONSERVATION work on the bronze statue of Francis Light, which was vandalised recently, has begun at Fort Cornwallis.


State Tourism and Creative Economy Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said the conservation work, which began yesterday, would take approximately six months.


The 82-year-old statue was defaced with red paint on June 30 and a police report was made the following the day.


Police do not rule out the possibility that the incident was related to dissatisfaction with the practice of slavery and colonial system as expressed in some other countries.


Yeoh cleaning the paint on the bronze statue of Francis Light using acetone. With him are Penang State Museum assistants Mushtaq Ahmad (right) and Faridth Mustafa (left).


Yeoh said although the statue is sited at Fort Cornwallis, which is under the care of Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI), he requested Penang Museum Board to initiate the conservation work.


“Whether pro-colonialism or not, we’ve to respect history.


“Actually, we should know the history and let the next generation know that we had been colonised before. So, Asian countries must improve themselves so that they won’t be colonised again. We can learn from history,” Yeoh said when he visited the site today to check on the conservation work.


Penang State Museum director Haryani Mohamed, who was also present, said she believed the vandalism had to do with fascism or anti-colonialism.


“If you destroy the evidence, how are you going to tell that there was Francis Light here before?


“The statue is a work of art. It is our responsibility to take care of it,” Haryani said.


Haryani says it is important to preserve historical evidence.


She said the conservation work might just need three months but because of weather conditions and also the unpredictability of Covid-19 situation, they have set six months for the work to be completed.


She also stressed that it was important to seek experts’ advice or services to conserve or restore any monument that has been vandalised.


Also present at the site today was CMI curator Nurul Amira.


According to records, Haryani said the statue of Francis Light was specially ordered by the Penang Municipal Council and was placed in Fort Cornwallis in 1938 as a commemorative statue in conjunction with the 150 years anniversary of his arrival in Penang.


The ceremony was officiated by the Governor Sir Shenton Thomas.


The statue was sculptured by F.J. Wilcoxsan and Thomas Dutton at Burton’s Foundry in England in 1936 based on the feature of his eldest son, Colonel William Light, as there were no records or illustrations of his actual looks.


In the beginning, the bronze statue was first placed at the southern part of the fort at the site where he first landed in 1786.


Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the statue was placed at the High Court Building.


It then became an exhibit when it was brought to Penang State Museum in Farquhar Street in 1965.


Eventually, the statue was brought again to the site where it was originally placed by the Department of Museums and Antiquities in 2003.


The sword, which was supposed to be hung at the waist of the statue, is missing. It was believed to have been melted to produce weapon for the Japanese army during the Japanese Occupation in Penang.


Story by K.H. Ong

Pix by Chan Kok Kuan