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Capturing Penang in the 1930s


With Penang’s rich history, it’s surprising how difficult it is to find film of the island before WWII.

Penang was a major port in Southeast Asia at the turn of the 20th century, site of a famous naval battle during WWI, and a required stop for many steamers carrying pilgrims to Mecca, as well as Western tourists on round-the-world trips. Tourists that included many famous personalities of the 1920s & 1930s like Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, May Pickford, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, and Somerset Maugham. All of whom stayed at the E&O Hotel in George Town.

Film does exist like the restored vacation film (shown above) from an American couple who visited Penang in 1932 aboard the Glasgow built ship – Edavana. The film provides a glimpse of Penang in 1932 with shots of the harbor from the lawn of the E&O Hotel, of Weld Quay and the Malayan Railway Building (the tallest structure in George Town at the time), kampung houses with attap roofs, Batu Ferringhi, bullock carts, and Snake Temple. But the most fascinating shots are toward the end, when the American tourist films his journey (on a rickshaw?) through the shophouse lined streets of George Town on his return to E&O Hotel.

But where are the other films of Penang? With the number of affluent tourists and famous personalities who passed through, they must exist?  Many films must have already deteriorated or been lost. Others stored away in film studios and military archives. And maybe more buried in attics in Europe and the US. Some may have been found and restored, but the owner hasn’t made them public, or has, but can’t determine the locations of a film that may cover numerous countries during a round the world trip.


Evelyn Reinhardt, a high school teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, dreamed of traveling the world before her 40th birthday. And in 1939, at the age of 39, she boarded a ship in San Francisco and filmed her journey around the globe, stopping shortly in Penang.

The majority of the clip (shown above) reveals life in Singapore a few years before WWII, as well as a few shots of the Kuala Lumpur area and a major tin mine in Malaya (maybe in Perak?).  But the last part of the clip shows Penang, starting with a shot of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si Temple, and then a very interesting shot of a trishaw, which didn’t replace rickshaws in Penang until after WWII. She then films her ride down Penang Hill on the funicular railway, with views of Air Itam before it was the heavily populated area it is today. A quick shot of a viper from the Snake Temple, but note that the temple shown after is actually Khoo Kongsi Temple (with a badminton net in the foreground). She then films a shophouse lined street in George Town (maybe Beach Street?), and scenes of Weld Quay.

Hopefully, more film of Penang before WWII will be found and made available to the public.


Unfortunately, films of Penang in the two decades following WWII seem to be almost as scarce.  The clip above is of a group of men pulling in large fishing nets at Batu Ferringhi in 1952.


And this is a vacation video from a couple, Hans & Toyoko, during their visit to Penang in 1964.

11 comments:

Stephen said...

Great clips!

Stephen said...

Great clips!

Stephen said...

Very nice clips of Penang back in the good old days. Seen a couple before whilst trolling YouTube but nevertheless still great to see them again. Wonder what's become of Hans and Toyoko? Nice looking couple and Toyoko looked real pretty!
But I digress!hehe! My dad took several 8mm silent movies of Penang in the fifties. Have to look them up when I get back to Penang next in-between gorging myself silly with durians!
The clips showed policemen in their khakis which brought on a smile. I would occasionally complain about the high cost of food and refer to their prices way back when and my missus would always say "yes yes and in those days policemen wore shorts"! Haha!

debi yaz said...

Reese,
I love these glimpses into the past. Especially Evelyn's brief shots of Penang.
I hope you find more.
debi

Reese said...

Stephen - You should post your father's Penang films on YouTube for us all to see. By the way, the durians are cheap now in Balik Pulau, and the mangosteens are more than abundant for the post-durian gorging...

Debi - The films are really special. I hope we can find more soon too.

Cumuluscloud57 said...

Hi Reese thanks for the info on the durians! Just did a little research on the couple. Hans Brinckmann married Toyoko in 1959. They met while he was a bank manager in Tokyo. Sadly, Toyoko passed away a few years back. Hans is now a writer with a few books and bestsellers to his credit. He shuttles between London and Japan. He has a FB account and is a good friend of Michael Rogge, another contributor of old films.

Christina Schweighofer said...

I love what you are doing on your blog, collecting all this material, and I am happy to be witnessing your journey of discovery. One day I hope to find a big, beautiful coffee table book on Penang in the stores: Capturing Penang by Reese and Mark. Great job!

Reese & Mark said...

Thank you, Stephen, for looking up the story of Hans and Toyoko. Sad to hear that Toyoko has passed away. From the short clip above, it is clear she made a good impression on the people she met in her travels (and animals too - still can't believe she had that viper around her neck, and later she's hugging a wild macaque).

Thank you Christina! That means so much to us. It's been quite the journey through Penang already, and we are always happy to receive your thoughtful comments to keep us motivated to share more.

stephen said...

Went thru' my dads home movies of penang in the 50s. Real interesting, it shows all the attractions including night clips of the cinemas. Wonder if theres shops who can convert 8mm movies to dvd.

capturingpenang said...

That's great Stephen! Would love to feature the videos on Capturing Penang. If you can convert them, and upload them on YouTube, please let us know and we will show them here on the site.

Gcwison4 said...

Can anyone tell me how people traveled from Singapore to Penang in the late 1930s?