In Penang, 138-year-old tomb of Kapitan Cina’s wife quietly destroyed despite preservation bid

·3-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 30 — The 138-year-old gravesite of Foo Teng Nyong, the third wife of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Qwee, has been exhumed and demolished despite appeals by her descendant for the tomb to be preserved.

Foo and Chung’s great grandson, Jeffery Seow, said no one informed him about the exhumation and that he did not know who would gave the landowner permission to exhume the tomb.

“No one reached out to me and I am not aware if they reached out to anyone I know,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail via email.

Seow had sounded the alarm and appealed to the Penang Heritage Council and Penang heritage commissioner Rosli Nor to protect the site from demolition due to its historical significance.

“In the beginning, I was so alarmist and kept reminding how other sites had been destroyed secretly,” he said.

He said on May 23, Rosli emailed him to reassure him that there had been no progress regarding the proposed exhumation and demolition of the tomb to make way for development.

Rosli wrote in his email that the developer would put the project on hold while considering the Penang heritage council’s proposal to retain the grave in situ as part of the green reserve of the project.

He had optimistically written that the developer would give a fresh proposal.

“However, reassurances notwithstanding, my greatest fear has come to pass. It is now gone. For good,” Seow lamented.

He said now that the tomb was gone, it was no longer be possible to preserve the heritage even if the developer were ordered to stop work.

“Personally, I feel they should be made to rebuild the tomb to its original design and condition, failing which they are to be charged RM500 per day for each day it is unrestored,” he suggested.

He said if the developer were to object to rebuilding the tomb, they should not have destroyed it in the first place.

“I engaged in so much correspondence with Rosli. I hollered warnings that fell on deaf ears. What else is there left to say?” he said.

The landowner had initially published a notice of exhumation for the tomb on February 16 this year.

After finding out about it, Seow sought assistance from the state authorities for the tomb to be preserved and he even started an online petition which garnered about 1,200 signatures.

Foo’s gravesite was initially part of the Chung family burial plot in Mount Erskine which included Chung’s grand tomb and their son, Chung Thye Phin’s tomb.

However, the land where Foo’s gravesite is located is now no longer under the Chung family and current landowner is planning to develop the land.

Foo was one of Chung Keng Quee’s (also known as Chung Keng Kwee) many wives and she was the mother of Chung Siew Ying, Chung Thye Phin and Chung Thye Chong.

She was the aunt of Foo Choo Choon, who was known as the Tin King of Malaya, and was believed to have been instrumental in securing a job for Choo Choon in her husband’s mines, which jump-started Choo Choon’s career in tin mining.

Chung Keng Quee had been the largest tin mine owner and employer in Malaya. In 1887, he was the largest tin producer in Perak.

He was dubbed the founder and administrator of modern Taiping and appointed as Kapitan Cina by the British in 1877.

His and Foo’s son, Chung Thye Phin, served in the Perak State Council till 1927 and was the last Kapitan Cina of Perak.

Seow said his great grandmother’s grave has a unique design that is rarely seen and should be protected.

He said Teng Nyong died in 1884 so the grave is essentially older than Hye Kee Chan, now known as Pinang Peranakan Mansion, at 29, Church Street that is protected within the Unesco World heritage site.