Crag Hotel, Penang Hill
The site was originally owned by William Clubley. In 1885, it was sold to Captain J.W. Kerr of the East India Company who was trading between Penang and Aceh.
The Scotsman, Captain Kerr built a bungalow on the hill and named it ‘The Crag’. He spent most of his retirement days there. From the Crag he could catch a glimpse of the boats arriving and leaving the Penang harbour.
The Crag Hotel
In the late 1880s, the Sarkies brothers, took control of the property. The Sarkies Brothers, Aviet, Arshak, Martin and Tigran were the founders Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town. The bungalow was converted to Crag Hotel.
The legendary Armenian hoteliers turned the site into a full scale hotel, adding several private chalets and bringing it up to the same level of opulence as their Eastern & Oriental Hotel. It opened in 1894.
According to the ‘New Straits Times’ – Dec 24, 1994, an advertisement in the Penang Gazzette dated Nov 1, 1894, stated that “wines and liquors of the best brands, lawn tennis, billiards, croquet and other amusements” were available at the hotel.
The Sarkies Brothers went on to establish the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Strand in Rangoon.
The hotel was advertised as ‘Crag Hotel and Sanatorium, Elevation 2260 ft’ a sort of resort hotel and spa in those days. It took advantage of Penang Hill’s reputation as a health resort and a place where officers would come to convalesce.
The Crag Hotel, where they stayed, had a most beautiful view, and as arranged on a charming plan. Each party visitors there has a bungalow to themselves, with attendance, etc. provided.
‘Ladies Letters’, Holmby House Toorak, Punch 1915
‘The Crag’ became a well known and popular holiday destination in 1925. English colonists would come to the Crag for a break or for their honeymoon.
Set amidst lush tropical gardens, with intertwining pathways, the Crag Hotel comprised primarily of a cluster of detached bungalows for families, a bachelors’ establishment, reading room, lounge and large dining room. The pride of the hotel was its dining room, which stood on the highest point of the precipice 2,260 ft. above sea-level.
In the late 1920s, when the railway was being built, the Crag was taken over by the Federated Malay States Railway and subsequently by the colonial government. Most of the hotel was completely rebuilt in 1930.
An advert in 1939 for the Crag Hotel has this to say:
This is a European Hotel under the management of the Runnymede Hotel Ltd. situated on the Penang Hills at an altitude of 2,400 ft. above sea level. The Dining Room, Reading Room, Lounge and most of the Hotel Bungalows were rebuilt in 1930, and excellent accommodation is provided with modern sanitary conveniences. Tennis courts and a billiard table are available. … Some of the best hill views are to be obtained from the Hotel Grounds: views of virgin jungle, sea views, and the panorama of the mainland of Malaya.
extract from ‘Penang Postcard Collection 1899-1930’s by Khoo Salma Nasution (alias Khoo Su Nin) & Malcolm Wade
Guests at the Runnymede could enjoy the amenities at the Crag Hotel and also the Refreshment Rooms at the Hill Railway upper station. It matters not where they had their breakfast, luncheon, tea or dinner as the meals were interchangeable at no extra cost.
1941, the Second World War broke out in Malaya, The Crag was taken over by the invading and occupying Japanese forces during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945).
1955, during the ‘Malayan Emergency’, the International Society of Planters (I.S.P) leased the hotel for its remote location and turned it into an international primary boarding school known as Uplands School.
It was used as a safe refuge for expatriate planters’ children in Malaya with children coming from as far as Melaka. During the Malayan Emergency, communist insurgents would often attack rubber states in the country. A separate site, the Grace Dieu was used as the kindergarten and later the Hillview in 1965.
Penang Hill was identified as a suitable location and the I.S.P leased the premises of the former Crag Hotel on Penang Hill to open a new Primary Boarding School.
1972, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Penang Hill.
1977, the building was abandoned as Uplands school moved to the former St. Xavier’s Branch School on Kelawei Road in Pulau Tikus.
In 1992, the Crag Hotel was used as a film location for the Academy Award winning French movie Indochine.
Channel Four’s drama series, Indian Summers.
Through history, the building served as a residence, a hotel, an International boarding school, a film set and a shooting location for a drama series.
Indian Summers Prompted a Flood of Malaysian School Memories
Crag Hotel Penang Hill – The Untold Stories of This Building