Penang Hill Founded on 1788
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Penang Hill
Penang Hill(formerly known as Flagstaff Hill) was founded by Captain Francis Light who was also the founder of Penang Island. Penang Hill started as a strategic place to build a base as it is a good lookout point and a cold place for a retreat. Thus, later in time, it has gone on to become a good place for convalescent by high position official of the British East India Company to recover from malaria(a very common and fatal tropical disease in the 1820s) and influenza. The earliest and oldest convalescent bungalow on the Hill will be Bel Retiro, Fern Hill, Convalescent (yes, it is the name of the bungalow on Mt. Hygeia), Strawberry (currently David Brown Restaurant) and Bellevue.

Penang Hill consist of more than 10 hills but 7 of the more common and easier to access and are normally explored by travellers.

The 7 Hills are:
1. Strawberry Hill
The first flat land founded in Penang hill and the first “atap” hut was built here. It was said that strawberry plants found in Malaysia today started from this hill as Captain Francis Light brought it from the garden in his hometown in UK to this place when he came. Later, John Macalister(assistant collector of customs and land revenues at Malacca) erected a 2 storey building called Strawberry House on the hill  and was sold in 1830, to C. Galastawn esq. The 2nd storey of building was burn down later and it was restored as a single storey tea kiosk. More than half a century later, it was refurbished and rebrand as the David Brown Restaurant. Today, it is famous for its scone which comes from a recipe  that was passed down since 1930s.

2.  Government Hill
The highest point of government hill stood Bel Retiro. It is the second flat land founded on a higher ground by East India Company officials. They built the Government Bungalow Bel Retiro here. Bel Retiro is the grandest bungalow on the Hill with two bungalows connected with a walkway, a big compound and had two colonial style terraces as the guard house. This is also a place where a huge flag staff was built to notify the defenders on the ground about any vessels that approach the Penang Island. Today, Bel Retiro is still a Penang government bungalow and it is still reserve for high government official and very important guest of the state. But the two colonial style terrace guard house is open for public.

On the other side of Government Hill lies a hidden gem of Penang Hill, the Monkeycup garden and its café Kopi Hutan which means ‘Coffee in the Jungle’ in Malay. Not many people knew about the garden but it offers a great eco-friendly environment to relax to mind extracting you away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

3. Gun Hill
The Gun hill is named after the event where the soldiers on the hill will blast a cannon to notify the defender units on the ground to look at the flag on the flagstaff. On top of Gun hill also lies an Indian Temple where it was used as a place of worship for the coolies from India who were brought into the island by the British East India Company. The coolies were brought in to carry building materials and British high position official up the hill, to built the Penang Hill railway, and to help cultivating the spice garden. The mosque on the Hill was later built after the independence day of Malaysia.

4. Halliburton Hill
It was a hill developed by Mr.Halliburton who was the first sheriff in Penang. He built a bungalow on the top of the hill and named it Belle Vue which means beautiful view in French. Throughout the years the Halliburton’s former bungalow had transformed to a hotel and later transformed into a group of businesses where it consists of a hotel, restaurant with ‘Belle Vue’, an award winning garden(a private collection of rare native plant of the owner),etc. But travellers are still able to walk through the ‘time travelling alley’ of Bellevue Hotel to the back and enjoy the scenic view of Penang island from Bellevue Restaurant.


5. Around Mt. Hygeia
All the bungalows around Mt. Hygeia were the 3rd batch of bungalows built for private use on the Hill starting in  1925. Mt.Hygeia is named after Greece’s Goddess of healing – Hygeia. It resemble people staying in the here would be blessed by God Hygeia and recover faster. 

There are 5 Roads to explore the unique ‘rich people’ bungalow in the 1920s.
1) Summit Road
2) Upper Tunnel Road
3) Lower Tunnel Road
4) Viaduct Road
5) Moniot Road (the first horse track used by Francis Light)

Travellers normally would only explore Summit Road to part of the ‘rich people’ bungalow. But those adventurous travellers who like hiking are able to explore more unique bungalows by walking along the 5 routes (who knows you might discover some hidden gems during exploration)


6. Fern Hill (Woodlands Brae)
The Fern Hill on the right side of Summit Road. It has a very close connection with the convalescent bungalows on the Hill. Fern Hill is the place where all the nurses used to stay. Every morning, nurses would go down Fern Hill and visit all the convalescent officials of the British East India Company.  The Bungalow where all the nurses stayed has been deserted but visitors are able to have an idea of how it looks like. However, visitors must be aware that some of the floors are rotten and not as strong as it used to be.

7. Lomond Hill
The first hotel on Penang Hill was built here. Initially was built by Mr.Bright in 1850s as a sanitarium. Later, sold it to a group of Dutch Planters and operate purely as a hotel named ‘The Crag’ was built here. It was taken over by Sarkies Brothers(who also operate the well known E&O Hotel-Penang and Raffles Hotel-Singapore). After World War II it was converted into ‘Upland School’ until 1992. The Craig was abandon after the school move out from the hill.



Background Story
Note: This is a draft. The proofreading is not complete.
The Story of A Flagstaff and A Hill
Chapter 1: The Founding of the Hill – In search for a look out point
It all started in 1780s, spice trading was a very prosperous business and Captain Francis Light from the East India Company (EIC) established a port in Penang Island and created lots of opportunities. This attracted spice trading merchants and coolies who are looking for opportunities to make a better living, but this also attracted pirates and others unwanted threat.

“To keep the port safe, Captain Francis Light exhibits huge effort to search for land that is suitable to be used as a look out point to build a base used for monitoring vessels that approach Penang Island”
 
In 1788, to keep the port safe, Captain Francis Light exhibits huge effort to search for land that is suitable to be used as a look out point to build a base used for monitoring vessels that approach Penang Island. With his horse, he slowly worked his way through the bushes, trees passing through colony of monkeys up to Penang Hill. When he managed to find a plot of suitable land, he plotted the first horse track (Moniot route – it was destroyed by heavy rain fall during 1995 but part of the route still remains and well maintained courtesy to some of the enthusiastic Penang Hill hikers)from the Waterfalls Garden (currently Penang Botanical Garden - was developed later in 1790s) to the top of Penang Hill.
As Captain Francis Light went up higher, the temperature becomes cooler. He then rested several times due to the arduous journey. After much rest, he finally found a flat land on top of a small hill where he could oversees the majestic view of the straits of Malacca. He cleared the plot of land, built a small “atap” hut and planted some strawberries and roses that he brought from his garden in Dallinghoo, England. The plot of land is named Strawberry Hill (Today’s David Brown Restaurant). Francis Light passed away 6 years later in 1794.
 
 
Chapter 2: EIC Building Convalescing Facilities For The High Ranking Officials
Later in 1789, the EIC found a higher ground with a wider view to monitor vessels that approach Penang Island. EIC started with building a larger “atap” (a local species of palm leaves) shelter with the size of a bungalow. The bungalow was built in a temporary way by using wood and “atap” for the sole reason of easy disposal when the design is deem not suitable. Later another bungalow with “atap” roof was added. Two bungalows were connected with a corridor. They named the whole structure Bel Retiro which means beautiful/rare resting place in Spanish.

Building materials were carried by the Tamil coolies or ‘Convicts (referred by the EIC-where they were actually freedom fighters when EIC colonised India)’ up the hill using man-power. Bel Retiro was used as both a residence of Lieutenant Governor and a retreat from the heat in GeorgeTown City.
A huge flagstaff was erected outside Bel Retiro as a signalling pole for the ground units. A canon was placed on a hill nearby where they call it Gun Hill. When a vessel approach the island, soldier who stationed on the hill will raise Flag and blast the canon so the ground units will know what type of vessel is approaching. A hut was also build at the entrance of Bel Retiro for the soldier who stationed on the hill to signal the ground units when a vessel approach the island.
 
“EIC build the first convalescent bungalow for the company’s high position officials to recover from any sufferings, sickness or even escape the heat from the city”
 
Around 1802, just a few minutes walk away from Bel Retiro, on Mt.Hygeia the EIC build the first convalescent bungalow for the company’s high position officials to recover from any suffering, sickness or even escape the heat from the city. Later, another “atap” bungalow (Woodlands Brae) was build on the nearby Fern Hill where a medical attendant was stationed there.

In 1805, as Penang got more prosperous, she was upgraded to a Presidency level where more civil servants and military were needed in the island to maintain economy stability and safety of the island. After 23 years of development, and more EIC higher ranking officials from other presidencies of India came to Penang or trip up and down the straits to Malacca and Singapore, demand for convalescent bungalow got higher and EIC required high ranking officials to made an application accompanied by a certificate from any medical officers of the company in order to get permission to convalescence in the convalescing bungalow.
 
Chapter 3: Good Friends of EIC Building Convalescent Bungalow on the Hill
With high demands, limited supply of bungalow, good air, peaceful ambience, great temperature, great view most importantly great place to restore one’s health spread very fast and Flagstaff Hill(Penang Hill’s former name) gain it popularity especially among those who are not qualified to stayed in the EIC bungalow.

As popularity of Penang hill increased, good friends or close associate of the EIC, such as the honourable John Macalister(assistant collector of customs and land revenues at Malacca) and Mr. Halliburton(first sheriff of Penang) decided to build bungalow for own use and later rent it out on Strawberry Hill ($30/month) and Halliburton Hill (Bellevue – The first hill bungalow built using solid granite - $50/month). There are also others who built their private Bungalows such as David Brown who built Belmont (later sold in 1887 and became Brothers’s Bungalow).


“The impact of the first industrial revolution was felt in Penang Island when EIC making less profit due to introduction of canals, improved roads and railways where it enable more people to participate in trading”

The impact of the first industrial revolution was felt in Penang Island when the EIC making less profit due to introduction of canals, improved roads and railways where it enable more people to participate in trading. EIC was forced do some restructuring. In 1830, Penang status as a Presidency was abolished. The cost cutting by EIC causes reduction of civil servant which lead to the falling of  property prices. During this period many properties on the hills changed owners even the 2 storey Strawberry House was also sold to C. Galastawn esq.



Chapter 4: Good Friends of EIC Building Hotels On The Hill
In 1845, Mr. Bright intended to purchase a bungalow and convert it into a hill hotel. The plan failed as the bungalow intended to be sold is no longer for sale. However, the EIC awarded him with a piece of land where he built the ‘Sanitorium’ the first hill hotel in Penang. Later, a group of Dutch planters and their families visited the ‘Sanitorium’. They love the place so much that they formed a consortium to buy over the ‘Sanitorium’ and renamed it as ‘The Crag’


“The outbreak of Malaria in Penang causes more demand for convalescent bungalow”

In 1865, the outbreak of Malaria(a fatal fever between 1820s-1890s) in Penang causes more demand for convalescent bungalow. It is believe that the less dense and cold temperament not only help in recovering physical strength but also relaxes the mind extracting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This phenomenon is followed by higher net-worth individual building bungalow on the hill. By the end of 1882, two more bungalows ‘Lomond’(currently known as Big Lomond) and ‘Richmond’ were added near the entrance road of The Crag. The second hotel of Flaggstaff Hill, Highland/The Straits Sanitarium(currently known as Bukit Cendana) was also added in 1886. Highland is slightly different as it offers a children friendly environment whereas The Crag offers a more premium stay with professional medical attendance and purely for convalescing therefore no kids are allowed.


Chapter 5: The Upgrade Of Hill Bungalows
Between the year of  1885 - 1889, north wing of Bel Retiro was renovated followed by the redesigned and rebuilt of a more modern two storey south wing with grey granite. The upgrade of Bel Retiro created a trend where many private bungalows was redesigned and upgraded from the “atap” roof bungalow to wooden bungalow building built on concrete pillars with a more private residential design. The second upgrade of the governments’ Convalescent bungalow on Mt. Hygeia a year later.

As increase among of high ranking officials were staying on the hill, a post office was erected in 1894 to create a higher efficiency of communication.
 
Chapter 6: The Founding Of The Railway
Since the 16th century, the British Empire had been growing and colonising other countries at a very fast pace. The colonisation had grown so big in the 19th century where its far beyond the government’s control. The community bond between the government and the community has loosen each day. To strengthen the bonds between the community in the ‘sister settlement’ and the government, a permanent memorial was to be built in each sister settlement including the EIC in Asia which also include Penang Island.

“ To strengthen the bond between the community in the ‘sister settlement’ and the government, a permanent memorial was to be built”

In Singapore, funds were raised to build a new Town Hall(currently the National Museum of Singapore) in celebrating QV (Queen Victoria) Diamond Jubilee. In Penang, the Flagstaff Hill was the most ‘valuable gem’ in Penang. It was suggested to build a hill railway in tribute to QV Diamond Jubilee. The idea received very close attention from certain enterprise and influential citizen.

All aspect of the hill railway such as where should the railway should be built, what source of power should be used to pull the railway up the hill, the cost of different type of constructions, the breakeven of the hill railway, the targeted customers for the railway, labour cost that could be saved (1500 coolies were engaged in carrying passengers up the hill), etc. 


“A few influential citizens had suggested that the hill railway should be built at Air Itam with the reasoning of there is already tram service that could carry passengers to the railway station there, a straight line and shortest distance to the top, but there was a hidden agenda behind”

A few influential citizens had suggested that the hill railway should be built at Air Itam with the reasoning of there is already tram service that could carry passengers to the railway station there, a straight line and shortest distance to the top, but there was a hidden agenda behind. There were also rumours saying that T’ni Kong Tnua  and Kek Lok Si were under construction the same time. By building the railway at Air Itam, allow the influential citizens to lower the cost of transporting the building materials to build the temples.

After two years of detailed survey, finally in 1899, EIC approved the project and granted the project a strip of land to build the hill railway. Penang Hills Railway Company was formed, the capital needed was raised quickly and the construction of the railway began very soon after. Sadly, QV passed away 2 years later but the railway will still be a tribute to her. 

Chapter 7: The Wounding Up Of Penang Hill Railway Company
In 1904, the Penang Hills Railway Company invited the shareholders and guests to witness the first trail run of the railway. The signal start was given, the water power was turned on with a gentle hissing noise, the first batch of adventurous passengers waved at the less adventurous lookers…. Yet, NOTHING HAPPEN even the water power was turned on. Thus, a civil engineer from Hong Kong’s hill railway was hired to examine the failure of the railway and he suggested that another $193,000 will be needed to make the railway project a success.


“ The first trail run had caused lose of confidence in the investors in raising additional capital”

The first trail run had caused lose of confidence in the investors in raising the additional capital. Without any additional capital to run the company, Penang Hill Railway Company was wounded up. But this was not the end of the railway.



Chapter 8: Revitalization of Penang Hill Railway Company
In 1908, the Company was taken over by the EIC with intention to revitalising the project and lower the cost of development of the upper levels of the hill. The next year engineer from Federated Malay States Railway was sent to investigate the construction of the new railway and sent to Hong Kong and Switzerland to study hill railways there.
 
 
“The delay of the construction was followed by another delay thus more fund is needed as labour cost and price of building materials sky rocketed after the World War I”

Four years later, in the year of 1913, construction of the new railway began but the out broke of World War 1 in 1914 caused the delay in construction. In 1917, a heavy rain causes the first landslide which cause part of the hill to be destroyed. The delay of the construction was followed by another delay thus more fund is needed as labour cost and price of building materials sky rocketed after the war.
 
“The launching of the hill railway has called an end to the concept where ‘ The Hill is preserved for the rich or the highest ranking officials’”

It was until 1920, when funds again became available and construction of the railway resume. After 25 years of the original proposal to mark QV’s Diamond Jubilee, Penang Hill Railway was officially open for public on New Year’s Day 1924. The launching of the hill railway has called an end to the concept where ‘The Hill is preserved for the rich or the highest ranking officials’

Chapter 9: High Net Worth People Developing The Summit Area
A year before the grand opening of the railway, 16 bungalow sites were awarded to a mixture of private individuals, banks and Municipal Commissioners to encourage the development of the hill.
However the development of the bungalow lots were slow mainly due to post-war price slump of rubber and tin which were both important income source for people in Penang.
 
“However the development of the bungalow lots were slow mainly due to post-war price slump of rubber and tin which were both important income source for people in Penang”


After the grand opening of Penang Hill Railway, EIC constructed the Viaduct Road and offer more bungalow site to be built. On the same year, the EIC constructed their 5th bungalow between Fernhill and Convalescent. A Tea Kiosk was also constructed on Strawberry Hill. By 1928, improvements of Penang’s economy continued to be seen as more bungalows were completed and some were under constructions and more bungalow site were taken.

In 1929, a new road was constructed between Tunnel road and Viaduct Road. The roads were named as Lower Tunnel Road. New bungalow sites were awarded but with new conditions of 99-year leases and the house should be completed 3 years from the leasing date. This is to prevent speculation of the bungalow sites. On the same year, a small park for children was added on Gun Hill, a police station was built beside the post office and extension had been made for the post office.


“The impact of the Great Depression in 1929 hit Penang a year later. Tourist arrival in Penang Hill drop dramatically and building work on the hill were also stopped drastically.”

The impact of the Great Depression in 1929 hit Penang a year later. Tourist arrival in Penang Hill drop dramatically and building work on the hill were also stopped drastically. The slow development was compounded with a 14hours rainfall in 1932 which causes the second land slide on the hill which destroyed some of the jungle paths. Despite the great depression and additional spending on recovering the landslide, the Governor continued on with suggestion on building a double track motor road up the hill. The idea was fought by ‘The People’s Lawyer’ Mr. Lim Cheng Ean in 1933, opposing that the huge amount of expenses of building the hill road should be used to build public school or housing for the poor instead. 



Chapater 10: The Outbreak Of WWII
Good Scene doesn’t last too long. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 hit Penang in 1941, the rapid Japanese invasion and the seemingly to be permanent collapse of the British Empire ended the idyllic era. The Japanese bombed the railway but later they found out that the hill was a strategic location for a military base. The railway was repaired the next year and continue to operate throughout the war. Many bungalows along summit road were converted into stores for food, petrol, weapons and ammunition. There are also a few prominent figure of Penang who hide in their families away from the city just right under the Japanese nose in the bungalow, the lower part of the hill using the jungle path. 
World War II was ended in 1945 with the dropping of 2 atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United State. The British Empire came back to Penang Island, took over the hill railway and did some essential maintenance and open for public in 1946.

Penang Hill Railway was back into action. The hill was brought back to life. A lot of local Penangites re-visit the hill and have a look at the new Penang Hill after the World War II. All the holiday bungalows were fully booked during festive seasons and this brought back cheerful and carefree ambience that have not been felt in the past 5 years surrounded the hill.

“Withdrawal of Japanese army at the end of World War II left Penang with a lot of economy problem such as a lot of Penangites are unemployed, those who were employed have low wages and high level of food prices”



Not to forget that with withdrawal of Japanese army at the end of World War II left Penang with a lot of economy problem such as a lot of Penangites are unemployed, those who were employed have low wages and high level of food prices. With the major traffic that went up the hill drives a lot of business opportunity to the hill. The Crag and Hillview Hotel was re-open in 1947 followed by hawker and flower stalls that nearly chocked the exit. The next year the petition by Penang Hill residents to operate a buggy service along Summit Road was also approved.
 

Chapter 11: The Malayan Emergency
The growing business opportunity on the hill was not enough to feed the whole population of Penang Island. Although minor adjustment had been done for the railway workers such as increase  of salary and upgrading of the existing poor accommodation. However the British had not done any major action to address underlying economic problems in the Penang Island.
 
“The growing business opportunity on the hill was not enough to feed the whole population of Penang Island, colonial masters were living good life and they were harsh in dealing with opposing suggestions”
 
On top of that, the colonial masters were living good life and they were harsh in dealing with opposing suggestions. This caused the rebellion of the Malayan Communist Party toward the British where they killed 3 European plantation managers in 1948 which mark the start to the Malayan Emergency. 
Three days after the murder of the 3 European managers, all the high level Governors sat at Bel Retiro to discuss about the security measures such as setting Pulau Jerejak(the Island Opposite Queensbay Mall) as a detention camp.

During this period, many hill bungalows again changed owner as some of the owner had aged or passed away and passed to the next generations who have a different social values in result of selling the property, some had sold the property and escaped to other countries, some was passed into government’s hand, etc.
The hill was not spared from the rebellion. In 1950, the railway has failed to be sabotaged, but it has caused a small damaged, petrol was poured on the couch and the railway was set on fire. Another case that has happened where a Chinese women with her daughter and son-in-law was hacked to death near the railway road.
 
“A few measures taken by the British such as curfew, limiting food supply to all families so there is no leftover to help the Malayan Communist Party, wiring up the ‘White Zone’,etc”
 
A few measures taken by the British such as curfew, limiting food supply to all families so that there is no leftover to help the Malayan Communist Party, wiring up the ‘white zone’, etc. After 11years of battle and implementation of all the security measures on 1959, Penang Island was declared ‘white’ which means free from Malayan Communist Party.
 
Chapter 12: After The Independence Day Of Malaysia
Three years after the independence of Malaysia, Bellevue was transformed into Penang Hill Hotel and became the only hotel in Penang Hill since closure of The Craig in 1954. However in the 1960s passengers that showed up on the hill was not predictable mainly due to insufficient of attractions offered. Penang economy was bad and development was slow on the hill, the mosque was the only building erected during this period.
 
“The Federal Government took Penang free port status away followed by a racial riot which causes even more damage to Penang’s economy”
 
On 1969, the Federal Government took Penang free port status away followed by a racial riot which causes even more damage to Penang’s economy. In addition, the third huge landslide on the hill happen on the same year near the middle station which causes the development of the Hill to be stagnant.
The next development of the hill was not done until 1977. The development involved  the replacement of the 3rd generation Switzerland-made coach. After the upgrade it was expected that passengers that goes up the hill would increase and in 1984, the kacang putih stall started to move up the hill hoping business would be better.
 
“tourist arrival on the hill was not too high and the traffic on the hill were mainly the hill resident, police in the police station and hikers”
 
Two years later, the Penang municipal built a food court in front of the current 1st generation railway coach to allow small businesses to set up food stalls and there was a small playground beside it. Later, it was followed by different type of businesses such as bicycle rental and horse riding. But tourist arrival on the hill was not too high and the traffic on the hill were mainly the hill resident, police in the police station and hikers.
In 1995, the 4th major landslide hits the Hill. Moniot Road (the first horse track to go up the hill) was partly damaged in this incident. Monkey cup was later founded in 2002, it was initially a very unique garden with interesting collection of monkey cups. Followed by the upgrade of the 79 years old Tea Kiosk into David Brown Restaurant which sells scones with the recipe that was passed down since the 1930s.
 
Chapter 13: Taking Over Of Penang Hill Corporation
Development was slow on the hill until in Penang Hill Corporation(PHC) took over Penang Hill Railway in 2011. In the same year, David Brown Restaurant added a sky terrace with a more modern look and the 3rd generation railway coach was replaced with the Switzerland made 4th generation air-conditioned coach.
 
“Development was slow on the hill until Penang Hill Corporation took over Penang Hill Railway in 2011”
 
A year later, Penang municipal rebuilt the food court into a larger and more comfortable one called Astaka which means ‘The Royal Pavilion’ in Malay. The owner of all the food stalls moved to the new food court and more food stalls and attractions were added in the new food court. The old food court was demolished to become an open spaced in front of the new Astaka.
The upgrades had successfully attracted more visitors and in 2013 the lower station was extended to occupied more visitors and an alternative walkway connecting the upper station to Astaka food court was built to divert the heavy traffic. Landscapes along Summit Road, upper and lower stations created a safety environment while adding a more romantic ambience. The following year, a skywalk and viewing deck was build and more modern garden were added around the walk path to allow visitors to submerge themselves in the nature. 

By 2015, as Penang Hill had attracted a huge amount of visitors and to create convenience to visitors, a multi-storey car park was build. The huge amount of visitors also attracted people to open up more attractions on the hill such as Habitat, little village, owl and camera museums, Earthquake and Typhoon and love lock. Nature Guides were also launch to divert tourist to explore the non mainstream places around the hill in 2017.

On the same year, Typhoon Damrey hits Penang and causes the 5th major landslide on the hill over her 200 over years history. Trees had fallen and many hill routes were inaccessible. Hundreds of men-power was employed everyday to clear the damages as many parts of the hill slopes were not accessible by machines. However the effective management successfully recovered most the huge damage within 2 months.

And the story continues…….


Operating Hours
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