𝐃𝐢𝐝 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐢𝐥𝐚𝐩𝐢𝐝𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐯𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐚 𝐧𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐓𝐚𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐌𝐞𝐭𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐨𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐧 𝐑𝐞𝐥𝐚𝐮 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐭 𝐛𝐲 𝐚 𝐟𝐚𝐦𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐭𝐲𝐜𝐨𝐨𝐧?
Drone shot of the mansion. Credit: The Eclectic Peranakans (https://www.facebook.com/.../relau-villa.../417632112480259/)
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑐𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑦-𝑜𝑙𝑑 𝑆𝑖𝑛𝑜-𝑉𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑛 𝑠𝑡𝑦𝑙𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑛𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑑 𝑅𝑒𝑙𝑎𝑢 𝐻𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 ℎ𝑎𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑑.
Relau, once an agricultural area in the south-western district of Penang Island, is today a large modern residential estate. Vestiges of its past linger on though, most notably in the century-old Sino-Venetian-style mansion named Relau House, located on Lebuh Relau 4, near Taman Metropolitan.
The Relau House is the site of the longest-surviving Penang ghost story that has been faithfully handed down generation after generation to wide-eyed, impressionable kids. It is said a maiden drowned herself in the pool after her family did not approve of a man she loved. In another version, a couple and their son drowned there.
Front view of Relau House. Credit: https://penangmonthly.com/article.aspx?pageid=15609...
Side view of the house showing the fish pond and garden. Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Penang Monthly
The swimming pool. Credit: Arkib Negara Malaysia via Penang Monthly
However, there was never any official record of tragedy in Relau House.
The truth is, the villa was built by Chung Thye Phin (鄭大平), a tin mining and planting tycoon. At that time, one of the lavish ways for the rich in colonial Penang to spend their money was to build holiday bungalows in their estates or on a hill. So, in the 1920s, Thye Phin commissioned the firm of Stark and McNeil to build a holiday home in his Sungei Relau Estate in Relau.
It was told that Thye Pin lived the life of a bon vivant with lavish mansions in Penang, Taiping and Ipoh. He built the first swimming pool on the island in Relau and by its side, a summer house where he entertained his friends and associates.
𝙒𝙝𝙤 𝙞𝙨 𝘾𝙝𝙪𝙣𝙜 𝙏𝙝𝙮𝙚 𝙋𝙝𝙞𝙣? Chung Thye Phin was a wealthy tin miner Chung Thye Phin, the last Chinese Kapitan of Perak. Chung Thye Pin Road in Ipoh, Perak, is named after him.
Thye Pin was the fourth son of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, Penang’s famous Chinese leader whose memory is now kept alive by every cendol-loving tourist who drops by Lebuh Keng Kwee (named after him).
Born in Taiping in 1879, Thye Pin went to St Xavier’s Institution in Penang.
Chung Thye Phin. Credit: Tan Yeow Wooi via Penang Monthly
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐕𝐢𝐥𝐥𝐚 𝐓𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐲 While lack of care and maintenance has left the manor in a dilapidated state, the structural remnants reveal the signs of the original beauty and grandeur of the house, which once stood imposingly on a small hill.
The most striking feature is the swimming pool, around which the house was built. The pool is surrounded by a series of columns resembling a Roman-style bathhouse, and its opulence and exoticism were perhaps unrivalled in Penang – and maybe even Malaya – at that time. The mansion has been cordoned off by the Penang Island City Council and the grounds surrounding it have been beautified.
Relau House today is overgrown with shrubs and trees. Credit: Penang Monthly
The once-magnificent swimming pool. Credit: Penang Monthly 𝑳𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒑𝒐𝒔𝒕? 𝑯𝒆𝒍𝒑 𝒖𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒍𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒑𝒐𝒔𝒕!
Books to Buy: - Tan Yeow Wooi, Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee’s Shen Zhi Jia Shu and Hai Ji Zhan, Penang: Pinang Peranakan Mansion Sdn. Bhd., 2013 - Jeffery Seow, ‘Chung Keng Quee’, in Low Wei Leng et al., Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang, Penang: Think City and MBRAS, 2013