Pay homage to the OGs of colonial edifices in the ‘Town of Everlasting Peace.’
To the north of Klang Valley, between the strong mountains of Ipoh and the murky seas of Georgetown, lies a little wet town called Taiping. It has its own fair share of emerald green hills and calm waters, with an abundance of good-hearted affability and lip-smacking delicacies to boot. Although making a mark in local textbooks for recording one of the country’s highest rainfalls, the ‘Rain Town’ is significant for another aspect – it’s colonial past.
Unlike its current fame for being a ‘pensioner’s paradise’, things have not always been peaceful for Taiping. Back in 1861, when the town was known was Klian Pauh and Perak was bustling with unprecedented mining activities, the first of four consecutive wars – collectively known as Larut War – broke out between local Chinese secret societies over control of certain mining areas in the state. These wars, which would later end with the Pangkor Treaty of 1874, erupted due to a wide range of issues, from command over watercourses to gambling and adultery, and even involved the state’s dignitaries. With British intervention in the 1870s and the eventual signing of the agreement, the peace which the town currently enjoys was restored, together with the name change to Taiping, which represents ‘everlasting peace’ in Chinese.
As the British took over the town after the treaty (much like in other parts of the country at that time) and the 1875 assassination of the first Resident of Perak Mr. James W. W. Birch at Pasir Salak occurred, Taiping was made the capital of Perak (until 1937 when Ipoh took the honour due to dwindling tin supplies). This followed with an era of colonial expansion for the British, which the town was able to benefit from and led the way to many firsts that were introduced to the country by the colonisers to be found here.
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to Taiping than the colonial hill resort of Maxwell Hill and the Taiping Zoo (which is also the first of its kind in Malaysia). Here are 7 other landmarks of Taiping that you should take note of during your next visit.
Also known as the Perak Museum, this tourist attraction dates back to 1883 owing to the fund-raising efforts of Sir Hugh Low, the state’s third British Resident who felt that there needed to be a centre for research and safekeeping of the country’s history, culture and natural treasures. Built inspired by the Moorish architecture of colonial India with Neo-Classical and Victorian design, the museum still attracts visitors on a daily basis. Currently, the museum is hosting the Honey and Poison Exhibition until 15 September 2018.
Older than the now-demolished Pudu Prison, Taiping Prison was erected in 1879, and is the first and oldest modern prison complex in Malaysia. Formerly known as Taiping Gaol, the 19th century prison replaced the Mantri’s House which was used to hold prisoners before. In World War II, during the Japanese occupation, Taiping Prison also served as a Japanese prisoner-of-war detention centre.
Taiping Railway Station
The first train station in Malaysia harkens back to 1885 and was built in Taiping to ferry the mined tin to Port Weld about 40 minutes away. However, the station was then moved to another building in 1893, with the first building being turned into the King Edward VII School. The station moved once again in 2014 to an adjoining building that was built as part of the Ipoh-Padang Besar Electrification and Double-Tracking Project. Nonetheless, the old station is still standing and currently functions as a gallery.
Taiping Public Library
The site where the Taiping Public Library sits now was once a reading and recreation room for British Government officers. However, it did not immediately transition into a library; instead it was rebuilt as a Victorian edifice for the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (currently known as Standard Chartered Bank) in 1888 to speculate on the success of the tin mines in the area. The presence of the bank here also allowed Taiping to be one of the first townships outside of the Straits Settlements to enjoy newly-launched currencies as well as post bills. As mining dwindled down, the banks prominence followed suit, and soon after the building was turned into a public library, with the Perak State Library Corporation taking full control in 1986.
Larut, Matang and Selama District Land Office
Initially called the New Government Offices, the Taiping Land Office was completed in 1897 in Victorian Neo-Classical style to accommodate the Council Chamber and Offices for the Secretariat, Treasury, Audit, Education and Forest Departments. It was designed by a senior British engineer from the Public Works Department called Francis Caulfield to become the first of its kind beyond the Straits Settlements.
Taiping Clock Tower
Located in downtown Taiping, it was the first clock tower to be built in the Malay States, in 1881. Its wooden structure was then replaced with a 20-m high brick building in 1890 and was subsequently used as a fire police station and a police station from 1908 to 1950. Only a part of the clock tower which was once known as ‘The Fort’ remains today, aptly operating as a tourist information centre.
Taiping Lake Gardens
Famous for being the first public garden established during the British rule in Malaysia, Taiping Lake Gardens is home to the century-old rain trees (Samanea saman) that shroud the entire length of a street from one side to the other, arching till the water’s edge. Born out of Taiping’s mining past, the gardens were developed by New Zealander Charles Reade, a green-thumbed town planner.
This is the first part of a series of stories on Taiping that will be appearing on UPPRE in the following months. Stay tuned here to know more about this little town!