- 2009/03/05 The Stadthuys still has a fascinating tale to tell

If walls could speak, then the Stadthuys Complex built during the Dutch era would certainly have a fascinating and an interesting story to tell. This is because the complex is the region's longest serving official building with an unbroken history spanning 360 years.

Located in the heart of the old city, the massive red hued building was recently declared by the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry as one of the country's 172 National Heritage sites. The entire complex and its courtyards, coveres approximately one-hectare.

Image: The Stadthuys building at night.
The Stadthuys building at night.

The Dutch East India Company completed construction work in 1650, nine years after capturing Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641. It served as the Dutch's main administrative centre until Malacca was handed over to the British in 1824 where the complex continued to serve as the government's administrative complex until 1957. Following independence, the newly formed government of Malaya maintained its use as a government complex, where it was finally converted into the state museum in 1984.

Image: The Stadthuys complex has been around for more than three centuries.
The Stadthuys complex has been around for more than three centuries.

Among those who had previously worked in the complex was former state assemblyman and executive council member 62-year-old Datuk Hamdin Abdollah. Hamdin, who was attached to the Income Tax Department and Labour Department between 1965 and 1968 as a clerk, recalled what it was like to work there. "It was such an honour back then to work at Stadthuys. We were considered the lucky ones, who had the opportunity to be posted there," he said while taking a walk down memory lane through the Stadthuys recently.

He described the working atmosphere at the complex as cheerful as he worked alongside people of various ethnic groups in Malacca. "It was very muhibbah at the government offices back in the 1960s. "We were like one big happy family and everyone treated each other like brothers and sisters irrespective of race or religion," he said. Hamdin, who held the Durian Tunggal state seat in 2004, had come a long way since being a clerk at Stadthuys as he was now the chairman of the Malacca Museums Corporation that is responsible for the building's usage.

Image: The once Dutch administrative complex is now the state's Ethnography and History Museum.
The once Dutch administrative complex is now the state's Ethnography and History Museum.

Meanwhile, fifth generation Dutch descendant Dennis De Witt, 42, described the declaration as timely owing to the complex's location within the state core heritage zone under the Unesco World Heritage Site. "Based on records, I can actually trace my ancestors back to when they actually worked in the Stadthuys," he said, adding that many important decisions affecting Malaysia's history had been made within the four walls of the complex during the Dutch reign.

De Witt, who authored the History of the Dutch in Malaysia, said the complex was the oldest surviving and best preserved administrative building in the region. "The structure was modelled after the Stadthuys or Town Hall in Hoorn, Holland. However, the building no longer exists in Holland, so those wanting to see what the Stadthuys in Hoorn looked like, can come to Malacca. "Many historians and architects involved with heritage work have visited the complex and also conducted research here," he said.

De Witt urged the government to consider declaring other monuments and sites such as Dutch era Jonker and Heeren Streets as national treasures. According to Malacca Museums Corporations general manager Khamis Abbas several other buildings including sites and local traditional food have been submitted to the ministry to be declared as national treasures.

More on the Dutch in Malaysia can be found on www.dutchmalaysia.net

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