The British-Siamese Boundary Stone: A Momentous Relic in Seberang Perai

By Johnson Lee Chong Fatt, Tan Lii Inn

October 2021 FEATURE
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IN THE SMALL town of Pinang Tunggal towards the northeast corner of Seberang Perai Utara district stands the over-a-century-old British-Siamese Boundary Stone. Very few people knew of its existence or significance until 1989, when the mechanic Ai Chop An Chian stumbled on it, mistaking it for “controls for irrigation gates”. The wordings "British and Siamese Boundary" was carved on it, and upon further inspection, he was surprised to see also accompanying lines in the Thai script.1

This discovery prompted an exploration into its origins and history, but available literature on the Boundary Stone is limited. In fact, the Treaty of 1802 which ceded Province Wellesley (present-day Seberang Perai) to the British makes no mention of the Boundary Stone. But in Article IV of the Treaty of 1869, signed between Great Britain and Siam on May 6 that year, does hint at its existence:

“It is mutually agreed that stone pillars, not less than 6 feet high and at the distance of one mile apart, shall be erected at the joint expense of the Government of the Straits Settlements and His Highness Yeang de Per Tuan of Quedah, in order to mark the eastern boundary line of the ceded territory”.2

Interestingly, the Boundary Stone does indeed stand at the height of two metres,3 or as mentioned in the Article, “not less than 6 feet high”. The Treaty does seem to be a reliable source of information on the Boundary Stone. But more detailed research is required.

The inscriptions in the English, Thai and Jawi scripts.

Remarkable as well are the inscriptions etched on the Boundary Stone; these are in the English, Thai and Jawi scripts. Having been badly exposed to the elements, only the text in English – “British and Siamese Boundary” – had been considered legible. Site visits by the two writers were however able to decipher to an extent the Thai and Jawi inscriptions. The first and second lines of the Thai script read as แดนกัมปันหนี (dɛɛn kam-pan-nǐi) and แดนไทยต่อกัน (dɛɛn thai tɔ̀ɔ-kan). In rough translation, the words are taken to mean “Connection [that shows] Company’s Territory and Thai Territory”.

The first line of the Jawi script is identified as اين ڤرڠڬن (Ini perenggan) which means “This is boundary”. A large portion of the following line has faded substantially, but in connecting the dots, we discern what may be كومڤني دان سيام or Kompeni dan Siam (Company and Siam in English). Or بريتيش دان سيام meaning British dan Siam (British and Siam).

The mention of “Company” in the Thai script clearly refers to the British East India Company which had colonised Penang Island in 1786 and Province Wellesley in 1800.4 The word “Siamese” engraved in English also reminds us that Kedah was part of the “Siamese Countries” in 18265 and was maintained under its suzerainty until 1909, after which all rights of protection, administration and control over Kedah, along with Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis, were handed over to British rule.6

“The British-Siamese Boundary Stone was significant in deciding the boundaries of power between the British and the Siamese,” explains Dr. Saidatulakmal Mohd, Associate Professor from the School of Social Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), who has often conducted field observation and research at the site. “Or it could signify the presence of Siamese people residing in the area, which explains the cultural mix in Kedah’s population we see today.”

Dr. Saidatulakmal Mohd, Associate Professor from the School of Social Sciences at USM.

As a demarcation, the Boundary Stone is still an important marker in determining Seberang Perai’s borders and “in the future, it may possibly serve as a touristic pull in attracting local and international visitors to Seberang Perai,” says Dato’ Sr. Hj Rozali bin Hj Mohamud, mayor of the Seberang Perai City Council (MBSP), during a visit he made to the site last December. He was accompanied by the Consul-General of Thailand to Penang, His Excellency Raschada Jiwalai, who affirmed that the Boundary Stone is a testament to the long-standing relations between Penang and Thailand. He looks forward to collaborating with the Mayor in promoting the site and preserving the Boundary Stone in the future. The CEO of the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP), Dato’ Ir. Jaseni Maidinsa, was also on the visit.

The Mayor of Seberang Perai Dato’ Sr. Hj Rozali bin Hj Mohamud during a site visit last December, with the Consul-General of Thailand to Penang, His Excellency Raschada Jiwalai and CEO of the Penang Water Supply Corporation, Dato’ Ir. Jaseni Maidinsa.

According to Rozali, the Boundary Stone has been included in MBSP’s list of heritage structures, with a budget in the pipeline for its care and conservation. But it first needs to be gazetted by the Department of National Heritage (Jabatan Warisan Negara). Rozali also hopes for the appointment of a Heritage Commissioner by the Penang State Government to speed up the gazettement process. “At the federal level, heritage structures can be gazetted under the National Heritage Act. This can also be done at the state level, under the state’s Heritage Enactment.” MBSP plans to submit the list of heritage structures to both the federal and state levels for further action.

A wide-angle view of the Boundary Stone, in an open field along the Muda River.

There is concern over the Boundary Stone’s current location, in an open field along the Muda River. Future development in the area is highly likely, and “it might be better instead for the original Boundary Stone to be moved into a museum for conservation and for experts to continue studying its textual records, while a replica is placed at Pinang Tunggal,” says Dr. Saidatulakmal. Unless the gazettement is successful with a sizeable budget allocation, preserving the heritage structure will be a challenge.

Johnson Lee Chong Fatt

is a dedicated tutor who teaches Mandarin and Thai. He loves travelling and often leads tours to find inspiration.

Tan Lii Inn

graduated with a Master’s Degree from Korea University. He is currently an analyst at Penang Institute.