Francis Light’s Last Will & Testament

Francis Light – Founder of Penang ….

Captain Francis Light (1740-1794) of the British East India Company (EIC) is widely recognised as the founder of modern Penang in the same way that Raffles gets credit for establishing Singapore.

He died in Penang from malaria on 21 October 1794. The day before his death he executed his last will and testament, a copy of which is on display in the Penang State Museum. It makes interesting reading.

Light Was A Suffolk Boy …

It begins,

‘I Francis Light of the parish of Dallinghoo in the County of Suffolk Great Britain and now residing on Prince of Wales’s Island in the East Indies do hereby make this my last will and testament …’

Dallinghoo by all accounts is today an unremarkable English village of about 170 residents and a couple of ghosts. It sprang to fame briefly in 2008 when a pair of detectorists unearthed a haul of 840 iron age gold coins worth a considerable sum. Young Francis Light needn’t have travelled half way across the world to find fame and fortune. He could have just dug up his back garden.

I give unto Martina Rozells four of my best Cows and One Bull …

The will continues, bequeathing the bulk of his considerable wealth …

‘unto Martina Rozells who has cohabited with me since the year 1772’.

Who was Martina Rozells? There are various versions of her background but one of the most credible is that he met her while he was stationed in Phuket, an island which was considered by Light to become an EIC trading post as an alternative to Penang. They were probably not legally married. Light’s use of the term ‘cohabits’ seems to confirm this. She was Eurasian (mixed race) and Catholic, possibly with some Portuguese blood (the name Rozells could be another spelling of Rosales) and she also went by the name Tong Di, suggesting perhaps Chinese or Thai parentage.

If you search online for an image of Martina Rozells this portrait will probably pop up. It was painted by George Chinnery 1774-1852, famous for his paintings of the China Coast. According to auction house Christies (who know a thing or two about art) the subject is most probably a Tanka girl (boatwoman) at Macao and therefore very unlikely to be of Martina Rozells.
Home, Robert; Portrait of a Malay Woman; The Royal College of Surgeons of England; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/portrait-of-a-malay-woman-145954

According to Mr Yusrin Faidz Yusoff, Advocate & Solicitor (1997-present) the above painting entitled ‘Portrait of a Malay Woman’ by Robert Home (1752-1834) is a portrait of Martina Rozells as commissioned by her husband Captain Francis Light, though the Hunterian Museum in London, where the portrait hangs, believes it is of a different woman. Robert Home painted a portrait of William Fairlie and His Family (Fairlie was the executor of Light’s will) so Martina was almost certainly known to Home, adding credence to Mr Yusrin’s theory. You can read more about this argument here.

Interracial liaisons during this period were common among Light’s EIC colleagues in India until the more narrow-minded attitudes in the Victorian-era suppressed the practice from the 1840’s onwards. British author William Dalrymple writes:

‘The wills of East India Company officials, now in the India Office library, clearly show that in the 1780s, more than one-third of the British men in India were leaving all their possessions to one or more Indian wives, or to Anglo-Indian children – a degree of cross-cultural mixing which has never made it into the history books.’

Other legends tell that Martina was the daughter of the Sultan of Kedah or even descended from the King of Siam. We’ll probably never know for sure but such claims were often woven into Eurasian family mythology in order to hide more humble or scandalous origins. (You can read more about her ancestry here.)

Whatever her background, Francis Light clearly cared for her. They had five children together and he left the bulk of his riches to her.

What else did he leave to Martina apart from cows and a bull? …

Considering that he was gravely ill with malaria he itemised his bequeathals in considerable detail including:

. The paddy field situated in Neeboonplain ? and containing one hundred oorlongs (furlongs?) of land


. Implements of husbandry and forty buffaloes


. The Pepper Gardens with my Garden House and all the land by me cleared in that part of this island called Suffolk


. My bungalow in George Town … with one set of Mahogany Tables, two Card tables, two Couches, two Bedsteads large and two small with Bedding etc, a dressing table and 18 chairs, two Silver Candlesticks, one Silver Tea pot, two sugar dishes, twelve table spoons, twelve tea spoons, one soup spoon (Silver) and all the utensils not under the Stewards charge …

He had Slaves ….

Slavery was not abolished in the colonies until 1833 and Light included his slaves among his possessions.

I give and bequeath all my Batta Slaves unto Martina Rozells.

As far as I can make out, Batta slaves may have originated from an island off the west coast of Sumatra, not far from Bencoolen which was a British colony at the time.

I leave all my Caffree Slaves the following choice, either to remain with Martina during her life she being willing to maintain them or each man to pay her fifty dollars and be free.

Caffree slaves came from Madagascar. Caffree sounds like a corruption of the Arabic word ‘Kaffiri’ meaning non-believer. The Arabs were the main slave traders on the east coast of Africa.

I give unto Enneat a female whom I have liberated the sum of two hundred dollars and unto Emai another female slave I give one hundred dollars with her freedom.

He had debt bondage slaves too ……..

I release the following from all further Bondage of Servitude and bequeath each of them ten dollars viz I Boon and his wife I Boon small and Echan his wife and children, I Tong, Tong Dam and his wife and daughter Ton Chan and her Brother, but not Esan she remained with Martina. Seng Pao and Elloi are not Slaves, they may go where they please.

His Friends May Not Have Been So Loyal After All ….

My Gold Gurglet and Bason I bequeath to William Fairlie Esqr. as a token of friendship, My Silver Gurglet and Bason I bequeath to James Scott as a remembrance My Watch I bequeath to Thomas Pigou also the choice of any of my books.

It seems Fairlie and Scott, who were executors of the will, may not have been satisfied with their jugs and washbasins and it appears they cheated Martina out of the bulk of her inheritance including Suffolk House which they sold to another EIC official. Martina sued Fairlie and Scott for breach of trust and misappropriation. She initially won her case but lost the appeal and the rumour was that EIC paid her a pension to hush her up.

The Suffolk estate bequeathed by Light to Martina would have been very desirable. This was how it was painted in 1820 by Capt. Robert Smith. The house itself was most likely built after Light’s death. Not surprising that Fairlie and Scott ignored Light’s dying wish and cheated Martina of her inheritance.
This is how the house looks today after a recent restoration. It is now a restaurant and events venue.

His Kids Turned Out OK ….

The residue of his estate he left to his children, whom, in his will, he describes as

the Children of Martina Rozells with whom I have long cohabited whose names are Sarah Light, William Light, Mary Light, Lanoon Light and Lukey Light.

Sarah Light married James Welsh who reached the rank of General in a distinguished career with the Madras Army of the East India Company.

William Light was packed off to England to be educated at the tender age of 6. We wonder what Martina would have thought of this strange English custom of sending their children away, especially as it is unclear whether William ever saw his parents again. Still, he did well in life. He pursued a military career and is famed as the founder of Adelaide, Australia.

Mary died in her nineties in France. She married twice, to George Boyd and Samuel Cornish Truran.

Francis Lanoon Light married Charlotte Arboni and Ann Lukey Light married Dr. Charles Hunter.

Francis Light’s face is quite well known in Penang thanks to his statue at Fort Cornwallis. He even appears on the logo of a chain of coffee shops. Except that the statue was actually modelled on the features of his son William, since by the time the statue was made, 150 years after Francis Light’s death, there were no records or illustrations of how he actually looked.

Bill Bryson’s Big Bad Book Sale

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I purchased this Bill Bryson book at the Big Bad Wolf book sale last month. BBW is an annual event in Kuala Lumpur where publishers dispose of print overruns or remaindered books at heavily discounted prices.

I like Bill Bryson. His writing produces in me many a wry smile, one or two titters and even an occasional guffaw. I hadn’t seen In A Sunburned Country before so I assumed it must be a new title.

As you might have guessed from the cover, it’s about Australia. I’ve just finished reading it and while putting it away in my bookcase I noticed that I had another Bryson book, Down Under. Flicking through the pages I could see that it is exactly the same book, only under a different title.

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Two thoughts sprang to mind:

1. It’s a bit sneaky of Mr. Bryson to bring out the same book twice under different titles, tricking suckers like me to part with twelve Ringgit. Perhaps he’ll release the book again in a few years time and call it something like The Parched Continent and I’ll buy it for a third time.
2. More worryingly, why did I have zero recollection of ever having read Down Under? I read all the way to the end of In a Sunburned Country without once having déjà vu, or thinking ‘that seems familiar’. I know I must have read Down Under because I have read all the books in my bookcase, probably about 17 years ago judging by the published date and its tatty, tropicalised condition. Either Bill Bryson’s books, though very entertaining, are not particularly memorable or, more likely, this is a sign that I’m getting old and forgetful.

Looking on the bright side, if my memory is getting frail, there is no need for me to buy books anymore. I can just re-read my old ones, as if for the very first time.

Dindings – Britains’ Least Known Former Colony?

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Like many of my generation, I was an avid stamp collector as a boy and I specialised in Commonwealth and British Empire stamps. Through stamps I learned something of Britain’s former possessions and protectorates with exotic names like the Kathiri State of Seiyun, Mafia Island, Stellaland, Poonch and the Cocos Islands (the Cocos were for a time part of the Straits Settlements).

But until I moved to Malaysia I had never heard of Dindings, a strip of Perak territory which was ceded to Britain in 1826 and remained a colony as part of the Straits Settlements until it was returned to Perak in 1935. This may be because Dindings never issued its own stamps, using instead either Straits Settlements or Perak stamps. Stanley Gibbons’ specialised stamp catalogue for Malaysia doesn’t even mention Dindings, possibly an oversight on their part.

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Sitiawan and Pangkor Postmarks

Dindings (which was renamed Manjung on 1 January 1982) comprises the island of Pangkor and the towns of Lumut and Sitiawan on the mainland. The districts of Beruas and Pantai Remis also come under modern-day Manjung.

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Railway Map 1914 showing the Dindings, shaded in British pink.

Following the signing of the Anglo Dutch Treaty in 1824 the British stepped up their involvement on the Malay Peninsula and they took control of Pangkor Island in 1826 with the aim of suppressing piracy. They also probably wanted to prevent the Dutch from returning – the Dutch had had a minor presence on Pangkor since 1661 though they abandoned the island for good in 1748.

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In 1874 the Pangkor Treaty was signed with the Sultan of Perak under which Pangkor and the strip of mainland containing Lumut and Sitiawan was ceded to Britain and placed under the wing of the British Governor in Penang. Britain demanded this territory as reward for helping to bring peace to Perak between two rival Chinese clans who were feuding over tin mining.

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Pantai Remis has a number of well preserved wooden shophouses.

Having obtained the Dindings, Britain did very little with it. The original intention may have been to use it as a gateway to Perak’s booming tin ore trade but it was found more convenient to use Port Weld, which had a harbour and branch railway line, to export tin. No railways were ever built in Dindings and no port was developed. With Penang not far away the Dindings were probably seen as superfluous.

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This old British made pillar box outside the post office at Lumut is still in use. It is inscribed ‘McDowall Steven & Co.Ltd, London & Glasgow’, a firm of iron founders in operation from 1862-1909.

Today there is little to show that Britain was ever there – just a couple of post offices and police stations, one or two schools and churches and a number of colonial-era bungalows and government offices.

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From the top of Lumut’s Bukit Engku Busu you can get a good view of the naval base and Pangkor Island behind left.

In recent years Malaysia has developed Manjung significantly. The Royal Malaysian Navy has its main base at Lumut and the bustling towns of Seri Manjung and Sitiawan sprawl over a wide area. Pangkor has become a major tourist destination but it still retains a relaxed and sleepy feel.

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Teluk Gedung on Pangkor Island

By the way, while revisiting Pangkor last week I made a discovery. The drawing on the famous rock on the island which people have for years been calling Tiger Rock is not a tiger at all. You can read about my revelation on my Malaysia Traveller website.

David, Edward, Eduardo & Nelly

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It’s strange how random facts and occurrences can sometimes link together in a string of weird coincidences.

Over Christmas my daughter was showing me a mobile app. called Twinning by Popsugar which compares your photo with famous celebrities and tells you which ones you most resemble. Apparently I bear a 35% similarity to David Niven. It’s obviously a rubbish app. since I don’t look anything like that suave and debonair British actor who died in 1983.

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David Niven in Paper Tiger

David Niven starred in a 1975 film called Paper Tiger which was partially filmed in Malaysia.

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While in Penang last month I stayed at the Royale Chulan Hotel at Weld Quay which occupies the beautifully refurbished former godown and Penang office of Boustead & Co, a trading, shipping and insurance business established by an Englishman, Edward Boustead, in 1828.

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Edward Boustead (1800-1888)

Edward Boustead’s great-grandson was David Niven, though there’s not much family resemblance judging by this photo.

David Niven starred in at least two films about the Philippines, The Real Glory and The Extraordinary Seamen. While filming he would no doubt have learnt about the national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal. During his travels in Europe, Rizal had a relationship with a woman called Nelly Boustead.

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Nelly Boustead, sweetheart of José Rizal

Nelly was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Filipino called Eduardo Boustead who was the son of the above mentioned Edward Boustead and his Filipina partner with whom he lived as a family when visiting his Manila office. Edward also had an English wife and children and when Edward died, Eduardo travelled to London to claim his considerable inheritance, much to the dismay of his English step-family who were unaware of his existence. Since Eduardo was unable to prove his legitimacy, most of the estate passed to the English family but Eduardo was still comfortably off and he moved to France.

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So it would seem that Nelly Boustead was a distant relation of David Niven. Using Nelly’s face on the Popsugar app might it show a resemblance to David Niven? Apparently not. It says she is a 76% match to Prince Edward! Does the British royal family have Filipino ancestors we don’t know about?

Before you rush to try out Twinning by Popsugar there have been reports that they have been leaking users’ photos without permission, so be warned.

Van Gogh in Amsterdam & Ramsgate

amsterdam-bicycles

We were in Amsterdam in for a couple of days stopover in October. It is still one of my favourite cities although it is suffering from over-tourism like many of the world’s top destinations. When I first went to Amsterdam over 30 years ago it was possible to visit the Ann Frank House museum as a walk-in customer without queuing. Nowadays even the museum’s website gets overcrowded and the server will put you in an online queue just to buy tickets which have to be purchased well in advance in order to secure a slot.

amsterdam-shop-window

Worse is still to come for tourism hotspots like Amsterdam, Venice, London, Barcelona and Paris. The Chinese, Indians and Indonesians have only just begun to take foreign holidays en-masse. When ten million Asians book a Spring break in Paris it’s going to get a bit crowded around the Eiffel Tower.

amsterdam-streetAmsterdam is taking steps to prevent it being overrun by tourists, by banning Airbnb rentals in the busiest areas, diverting cruise ships and other measures. For now the city continues to retain its unique charm and culture and long may it last.

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Famous Bench

My teenage daughter wanted to visit this bench which apparently played an important role in a film popular with her generation called The Fault In Our Stars. It looks like a regular bench apart from a lot of graffiti and a few of those love padlocks which no doubt have to be regularly removed.

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Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Since we couldn’t get to see Ann Frank’s House we went to the Van Gogh Museum, which also requires advance online booking but I managed to get a slot in time. Visitor numbers are strictly controlled but it is still a bit of a melee in front of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Photography is banned throughout most of the museum otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move for selfie-sticks.

In the museum I learnt that Van Gogh spent some of his young adulthood in England, firstly in London in 1873 working at the London branch of Goupil, his uncle’s art gallery business, and later in 1876 in Ramsgate and Isleworth where, having had enough of art, he tried his hand at teaching.

In London he stayed in various boarding houses including this one at 87 Hackford Road, Brixton (the one with the blue plaque), the house of a teacher called Ursula Loyer. Van Gogh fell for Ursula’s daughter Eugenie and it is believed he proposed to her, unaware that she was already spoken for. This rejection seemingly weighed heavily on young Van Gogh, aged just 20, and he became reserved and withdrawn and may have prompted the beginning of his religious phase.

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Van Gogh’s sketch of his Hackford Road accommodation.

After a spell at the Paris branch of Goupil, he returned to England at age 23 where he found an assistant teacher position at a boarding school in Ramsgate. The school, run by Mr William Stokes, was at 6 Royal Road within site of the harbour. It was a bit of a Dickensian dump with rotting floors and windows and Stokes sent his pupils to bed without supper if they were noisy. He didn’t pay Van Gogh a salary but just paid for his board and lodging.

Van Gogh taught here in 1876. This is how it looks today. If you pan around you can see the same view that Vincent sketched here:

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Sketch made by Van Gogh of the view from Mr. Stokes’ school in April or May 1876.

He lived in an attic room just a few doors away at 11 Spencer Square, Ramsgate, then a dilapidated block which also housed a few of the boarders. Looks better nowadays:

Soon after Van Gogh’s arrival Stokes moved the school to Isleworth, a suburb of London. Van Gogh was offered an extension of his contract but since he was not being paid anyway Van Gogh moved to a paid position in a better school, also in Isleworth, run by Rev Thomas Slade-Jones school. This is how the building looks today:

He was allowed to give sermons at a local church and run Sunday school lessons which was more in line with his passion for the Bible but his family were concerned that he was becoming too pious and after a visit to the family in Holland in December 1876 he did not return to England.

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Van Gogh often illustrated his letters to his brother Theo with sketches in the margins such as this one showing nearby churches at Turnham Green and Petersham. I believe neither of these buildings survives today.

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Back in Holland

Luckily for art lovers Van Gogh was not a great success at either teaching or preaching and after his return from England he focussed on his drawing and painting career to leave us with pieces like this.

Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht, The Hague Vincent van Gogh, March 1882
Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht, The Hague
Vincent van Gogh, March 1882

Kuala Lumpur Cenotaph

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Following the recent Remembrance Day ceremonies marking 100 years since the end of World War One I thought I would relook at our own cenotaph here in Kuala Lumpur.

This simple granite monument was unveiled in 1924 as a memorial in tribute to those who lost their lives in that war. It was designed by the architectural firm Stark & McNeill with offices in Penang, Ipoh and Johor. It used to stand on Cenotaph Road (Jalan Tugu), off Victory Avenue (Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin) outside KL’s famous railway station but it had to be shifted in 1961 to make way for a flyover and the cenotaph now stands proudly at the Tugu Negara (National Monument) garden near Kl’s Botanical Gardens.

Each of the four sides of the monument displays a bronze tablet engraved with the names of the fallen from WW1 (mostly British and Indians fighting for the British).

Compared to World War Two, which affected Malaya severely, Malaya was not greatly impacted by the First World War. Apart from a German naval attack on Penang there was no fighting in the country. Indeed the economy of Malaya experienced a boom as its main exports, rubber and tin, were in great demand. The British working in Malaya at the time were playing an important role in the war effort by supplying the home country with vital commodities and there was no obligation for young British men to go home and fight. Even so, many felt the need to volunteer and play their part and a good number paid the ultimate price.

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Every year on Remembrance Sunday the British High Commission hosts a service of remembrance at Tugu Negara for those who served in both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency and other conflicts.  Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave poppy wreaths here.

Trawling though the internet I can find no list of the names inscribed on the KL cenotaph so I am including photos of each of the four plaques in case they are of use for people tracking down lost ancestors. I have also tried to find details of one name from each plaque, so that these souls at least know that they are not entirely forgotten.

We always say ‘We Will Remember’ and indeed we do remember the terrible cost paid by that generation but as the years have passed we are inevitably losing our collective memory of the individuals. There is probably nobody left alive today who personally knew anyone who died in that war.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-A-DMajor Tom Lowis Bourdillon M. C. 8th Batt. Kings Royal Rifle Corps 14th Division,. Killed in action at Ypres 24 August 1917. Aged 29. Son of Sir James and Lady Bourdillon of Liphook, Hampshire. He is buried at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

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Lieutenant Frederick St John Ford North Echlin died of wounds on 27 September 1916, aged 27. He was from Echlinville in Northern Ireland which today is home to a whiskey distillery of the same name. He had not long been married, to Dorothy Blanche Echlin (nee Dobree) of Guernsey, and they had one child. Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Frederick Echlin had been working in the Federated Malay States. He volunteered for service and was commissioned on 6 March 1915 to the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 27 October 1915 and became a pilot. He was buried in Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-N-REric Herbert Justus Maule-Ffinch was a Second Lieutenant killed in action near Bray, France on 27th August 2018 aged just 18. He served with the 7th (Res.) Batt of the London Regiment. He is buried at Bray Military Cemetery. Son of Knightley Heneage Mauleffinch and Evaleen Massie Maule-ffinch (nee O’Dowd), of Hendon, London. Joined the Malay State Volunteer Rifles at 17 years of age

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Uttam Singh. It is hard to be sure due to many soldiers with a similar name but the only Uttam Singh with a Malayan connection listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website is Sepoy Uttam Singh of the Malay States Guides who was killed on 9 December 1915. Son of Sher Singh of Tangri, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Punjab. His name is commemorated on the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial in Cairo. The Malay States Guides saw action in Aden in 1915 against Turkish soldiers threatening the British-controlled city.

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Malay States Guides

Melaka Tourism

 

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Melaka is one of my favourite places in Malaysia but whenever I visit I come away thinking that it could be better.

Melaka-Tourism-christ-churchAs a UNESCO World Heritage Site it attracts a lot of tourists; 16.7 million in 2017 according to press reports, with Chinese tourists taking the top spot.

Melaka-Tourism

They are not evenly distributed. On any day you can see coach loads of Chinese tourists milling around ‘Dutch Square’, taking selfies next to the Stadthuys, Christ Church, clock tower and the Hello Kitty trishaws. Then they are taken to selected souvenir and food shops in nearby Jonker Street, probably owned by associates of the tour operators, to buy chicken rice balls, durian products and pineapple tarts, before being bussed back to a hotel in KL. You have to wonder whether the ordinary small business owners in Melaka see much benefit from the daily invasion of tourists.

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Deserted alleyway. Murals have been painted in many places in Melaka to brighten up the dreary and cover up the ugly.

By the time the sun sets, most shops in downtown Melaka are firmly shuttered and soon the streets take on a deserted look apart from a few eateries in Jalan Hang Jebat and side streets but even here they struggle to find customers on weekday nights.

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Melaka’s tourism chiefs and real estate developers have plans to vastly expand Melaka’s attractions with ambitious developments under way on land recently reclaimed from the Straits of Malacca. These projects were agreed prior to the Malaysian General Election and it remains to be seen whether they will all be completed given the new Government’s emphasis on saving money.

Even fewer tourists venture beyond Melaka City to visit other places in Melaka State. At Kampung Duyong few example just outside the city is a large tourism complex, built at considerable expense, celebrating Malaysia’s famous hero Hang Tuah.

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The Hang Tuah Centre includes a large museum, shops and a Malaysian martial arts arena. I was the only visitor there.

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Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

I was in Northern Ireland recently where we saw Dark Hedges, a tree-lined street which apparently featured in Game of Thrones. It doesn’t look anything special in my photo (probably need a zoom lens).

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Dark Hedges, Melaka

This is Malaysia’s version of Dark Hedges, a street near Kampung Duyong, Melaka. It looks much more impressive.

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The mausoleum of Sultan Ali of Johor near Merlimau, Melaka. He was in dispute with the Temenggong of Johor for his throne.

Perhaps Melaka needs to become the setting for a popular series like Game of Thrones with filming locations spread around the state in order to share the benefits to tourism more widely.