The School at the River Bend
he present V.I. building dates from 1929. Before that the V.I.
was located in High Street (now Jalan Tun H.S. Lee) in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur town
where the school was first established in 1893. As the school grew over the decades, its
environment also grew and changed, mirroring the parallel growth of Kuala Lumpur. Very few
people are alive now who can remember what the old school location looked like or know what
happened to the original buildings of the V.I. complex.
After the government approved the establishment of the V.I.,
eight acres of land on the left bank of the Klang River were set aside. The
map of 1889 shows a vastly different Kuala Lumpur from that of
today. The township is barely 31 years old and most of the Asian population
live on the left bank of the Klang River. The proposed site is bounded on
three sides by the river and by the southern part of High Street which
meets the Klang River near a large engineering complex. There are no brick
buildings on the site at this time though the dotted lines representing
dirt roads suggest that squatters most likely would be living there.
There is a police station in High Street facing the site of the future
school. The street beside it is aptly named Station Street. The other
side of the river is relatively undeveloped and mostly Europeans live
there. The main road running beside the railway line is called Gombak
Road (Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin today). There is no proper railway station
Construction began in 1893 of two buildings, one a
school block known as Block 1 and the other a large bungalow for the
Headmaster. The buildings were ready for occupation in July 1894. Block
1 had two floors, the ground floor being mainly of brick while the upper
part of the building was largely timber. The style was Gothic; indeed,
Gothic arches abounded - there were two concentric walls of arches on
the ground floor. A distinctive flèche (spire) on its roof allowed
natural ventilation into the large upper floor school room. Although
the school fronted High Street, its main entrance was actually on the
north side. Above this entrance was a gable on which were mounted the
royal coat of arms and the date of the School's foundation - 1893. A
long curving porch covered the entrance steps.
No photographs have been found showing the
Headmaster's Bungalow in its entirety but according to written
descriptions by Mr R. J. H Sidney, one of the three headmasters who
lived in it, the Bungalow had large verandahs all round and a car
porch. There were servants' quarters behind it as well.
The map of 1895 shows the school a year
after it opened. Block 1 fronts High Street while the Headmaster's
Bungalow is further away at the bend of the river. A road slices
in front of the headmaster's bungalow and crosses the Klang River
to the newly built Railway Station. Quite possibly there is no school
field worth mentioning yet. Gombak Road has now been renamed Damansara
Road. The line from the Railway Station actually crosses the river to
Chinatown further north to run along the present day Jalan Cheng Lock.
Police barracks, facing the school, have now been built beside the
In 1899 a new V.I. block, Block 2, was built beside
the first block. This new block had six classrooms on the ground floor
and teachers' quarters upstairs. Block 1 housed the Infant School
while Block 2 was for the Lower School. As the boys aged and were ready
for the Middle School, Block 3 was added in 1902 behind Block 2. This
new block consisted of a laboratory and three classrooms. In addition,
a gymnasium was built beside Block 3. It looked like a Roman temple
with tall columns, two at the front and back, and four on each side.
In 1909 Block 4 was constructed about 50 metres
across the field behind Block 1. This was for the High School and
consisted of three classrooms on the ground floor. It housed the School
Hall on the first floor. In 1921, a temporary building was set up to
house three more classrooms. Five years later another one-storey
building was erected to relieve the pressure for classroom space.
In 1911, the Headmaster's Bungalow gained a bit
of notoriety during the time when the acting Headmaster was living
there in the absence of Mr B. E. Shaw who was on overseas leave. One
evening a European planter was shot several times in the Bungalow.
He staggered down from the verandah and collapsed and died on the
driveway. The wife of the acting Headmaster was accused of murder,
tried and sentenced to death but she was pardoned by the Selangor
Sultan after the staff and pupils of the V.I. petitioned the ruler.
The map of 1929 shows a vastly changed V.I.
All the buildings that make up the school complex are in place and
the road that once cut across the present school field is now gone
and all land appears pretty much used up. In fact this is the last
time the V.I. will call High Street its home, for in March of this
year, the V.I. will be moving to its new premises in Petaling Hill.
The Headmaster's Bungalow appears to have its own private road running
north along the river bank to join Sultan Street. This road is called
Jalan Sekolah for obvious reasons. The school's tennis courts, not
shown on the map, are along this road, between the river and the shop
houses. The town of Kuala Lumpur shows more built-up areas. The
latest (and current) version of the Railway Station no longer sends
a track across the Klang River.
What was life like in the V.I. in the twenties?
There were the cadet corps and the scouts to keep the boys busy after
school. The cadets had their own rifle range in an open space nearby.
Wednesdays were reserved for bugle band displays in front of Block 4.
The games played were football, cricket, tennis and hockey. The Musical
and Dramatic Society was founded during that period and put up several
plays that were well received by the population of Kuala Lumpur. In
fact the Society even took its plays to other towns like Penang, Ipoh
The annual school sports were nothing short of a
carnival with massed physical drill displays - dumb-bell, wand and
club swinging in unison - in the presence of hundreds of parents,
not to mention the public who poured in from High Street. The different
communities would put up their own tents in the V.I. field and from
these would exude the appetizing odours of a hundred and one delicacies.
And on Empire Day, the twenty-fourth of May each year, every pupil
participated in the sports events and almost everyone received a prize.
Headmaster Richard Sidney wrote that the old V.I.
was a fairly noisy place as there were hawker cries and traffic noise
coming from High Street throughout the day and even at night. Then
there was the Railway Station a mere 200 metres away with the squeals
of brakes and the noise of trains shunting and chugging past. The
engineering works just south across the river was sometimes unbearably
noisy during school hours.
As if that wasn't enough the school had the Klang
River crocodiles to contend with. Kuala Lumpur was still sufficiently
wild enough in those days for crocodiles to be lurking on the banks of
the river. The Malay Mail of 16th September 1898 reported that a
seven-foot long crocodile had been dispatched with two shots. It had
been lying on the river bank behind the school toilets which in those
days were built over the Klang River. Some teachers in the 1920s, like
Mr. F. C. Barraclough, used to keep rifles in the classrooms that
overlooked the river a mere hundred feet away and take potshots at
the reptiles. One year a ten-footer was reportedly bagged. Nevertheless,
some V.I. boys would take their lives in their hands during school
recess to harass the crocodiles basking on the river bank by throwing
stones at them.
The Klang River had another hazard - it flooded
often. As the V.I. site was on low ground, the school would occasionally
be under a few feet of water during the rainy season and had to be closed
(much to the delight of the boys, undoubtedly). The Headmaster's Bungalow,
being closer to the water's edge, got the worst of it. In 1926, the
Headmaster, Mr. G. C. Davies, and his family had to be rescued by sampan
when they were stranded in his Bungalow.
The flood nuisance was so persistent that after
much discussion over the years government approval was given for the
V.I. to build its present premises on what used to be a Chinese cemetery
and golf links. After the school moved to the current premises in 1929,
the old Headmaster's Bungalow was demolished to allow the Klang River
to be diverted and straightened in the early nineteen thirties.
The crudely drawn AAM map of 1939 shows a
significant change in the former V.I. complex. The various kinks in
the Klang River are now gone and the river is pretty much what it is
like today but only three buildings are shown in the complex now known
the Technical College. The artist seems to have missed out Block 4 and
the other smaller buildings for some reason, but has drawn in the road
separating Block 1 from Blocks 2 and 3.
The map of 1950 shows little change in the
former VI complex five years after the war, except the artist has put
back the buildings missing from the 1939 map! There is extensive road
remodelling south of the complex near the Chinese Assembly Hall where
a roundabout has been built. The Technical College remained in High
Street until 1954 when it moved to Jalan Gurney (now Jalan Semarak)
and the newly established High Street School took over the old V.I.
premises (its first Headmaster was an ex-V.I. teacher, Mr. H. M. de
Souza). In 1957 this School in turn moved out to new premises in
Setapak and, dropping the Street from its name, called itself High
The map of 1961 shows a densely packed
post-Merdeka Kuala Lumpur, with buildings sprouting everywhere.
The end of an era is approaching as all the remaining former V.I.
buildings except Block 1 are to be demolished at year's end to allow
for the construction of the viaduct spanning the Klang River from
the National Mosque to the Chinese Assembly Hall. Station Street
has been renamed Jalan Balai Polis and its length is truncated
considerably as the Police Station premises have been extended
into the junction of the street with High Street. High Street in
turn has now been renamed Jalan Bandar and the roundabout at the
Chinese Assembly Hall is now known as Bulatan Merdeka. Of interest
is the road called Old River Road. This can only be a hint as to
what the road once was - a watery bend in the river which once coursed
alongside the school's Blocks 2 and 3 and which had been filled in
during the early thirties. The river has become a road!
Over the next thirty years, Block 1 would become,
firstly, the Panggung Derama under the auspices of the National
Drama Council and later the Pusat Seni. Its final and rather
ignominious rôle was that of a storehouse for Alam Flora, a
waste management company which stacked litter bins at the back of
this hundred-year-old heritage building. As the map of 1993
shows, Block 1 sits forlornly amidst massive change. Tall skyscrapers
loom above it and there is a busy traffic interchange a stone's throw
away. Jalan Sultan Mohamed now runs where the old Klang River used
to curve past the Headmaster's Bungalow. The old Jalan Sekolah is
now nameless and is just a narrow lane separating the Klang Bus
Station from the Uda-Ocean Shopping Complex. Since 1998 an LRT track
(not shown) follows Jalan Sultan Mohamed to the Pasar Seni station
opposite the Bus Station. Old River Road has lost its name but still
serves its function of funnelling High Street (Jalan Bandar) traffic
into Bulatan Merdeka. Ever since the late sixties, Jalan Bandar has
been called Jalan Tun H.S. Lee. To complete the V.I. connection,
the late Tun H.S. Lee, though not a Victorian himself, sent his sons
to the new V.I. in the forties and fifties.
On the evening of July 26, 1999, a fire broke out
in Block 1, started possibly by drug addicts who had sneaked into
the empty and supposedly locked building. The roof and wooden floor
were destroyed although the concrete walls survived. The gable with
"1893" inscribed on it and which had stood for 106 years was
consumed by the flames. Thus, the very first and most historic
building of the Victoria Institution met its sad demise.
The above visualization depicts the school at
the end of a school day in the late twenties, with students
involved in the major extra-curricular activities - cadets, scouts,
football, Indian club swinging and cricket. Hawkers along High Street
do roaring business with home-bound V.I. boys. Across the Klang River
in the background is the Railway Station. Facing the school (roof
partly shown on left foreground) are the barracks of the High Street
Police Station. To the far left, accessible by a bridge (not shown)
from High Street, is a large engineering works. Large trees actually
line the school's frontage with High Street and many more flourish
within the compound, but they are not depicted here in order that
the school buildings are not obscured. The Headmaster's bungalow is
drawn from imagination, based on written accounts of its features
and from its outline in the maps.
[Click here for a four-fold enlargement of the same sketch]
Copies of this visualization have
been presented to the National Archives, Badan Warisan Malaysia, the
Library of the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur and the V.I. Museum. The
visualization was also printed in The Victorian of 1999 with a
two-page summary and with no other accompanying visuals.
An Old V.I. Photo Album
- View of the north façade (the Infant School)
with the Royal Coat of Arms and the year "1893" on the gable.
- Mr Chan Hung Chin with his wolf cubs at the High
Street (east façade) entrance. (1926)
- View of the south façade taken from High
Street with a bit of Block 2 visible on the left. (Early 1900s)
- The west façade is background to a group
photo of scouts in 1913.
- The west façade is on the left as the
photographer of this scout group faces southwards and captures Block
3 in the background. Behind the scoutmaster is the stone staircase
leading to the upper floor of Block 1. In the background beyond this
staircase may be seen a skywalk linking Block 3 to Block 2. (1924)
- Block 1 as seen from the Police Station on the
other side of High Street. In this 1960s photo it is now known as the
Blocks 2 and 3
- Block 2 (left) and Block 3 form the backdrop
for a cadet parade. (1899)
- The west façade of Block 1 is in the
left foreground. The gap between Block 2 (left) and Block 3 ends at
a hedge beyond which is the Klang River. (1923)
- The School Cricket team posing in front
of the gymnasium.(1913)
- The school staff in front of the entrance
to Block 4, the High School. (1910s)
- The cadets on the school field with Block
4 in the background. (1927)
- An inter-school debate in the School Hall
on the first floor. The top of the staircase can be seen through
the door on the left. (1924)
Around the School
- Cricket practice. Block 1 (left) and Block
4 (right) are in the background. (1924)
- The school car park between Block 1 (right)
and Block 4. (1923)
- Mass club swinging to piano music on the
school field with a bit of Block 4 visible on the right. Taken from
the Headmaster's Bungalow looking eastwards towards Block 1. (1924)
- Cars passing Block 1 (not shown) on the left
and heading for the High Street exit. (1923)
The Tennis Courts
Located opposite the shop houses in Jalan Sekolah,
this 1925 photo shows the tennis courts beside the Klang River just
north of the school field. Today this same spot is occupied by the
Klang Bus Station. The shop houses have gone but their façades
have been preserved as part of the Uda-Ocean Shopping Complex.
The Headmaster's Bungalow
- The map outline of the Bungalow with three
sides surrounded by the Klang River. (1929)
- The school's newly appointed prefects pose
in front of the Bungalow. (1923)
- Richard Sidney decides to sleep on the
verandah of his Bungalow and converts his bedroom into an office,
thereby allowing his office in the school to be used as a staff room.
- This undated photo shows the principal room
of the Bungalow after two smaller rooms were remodelled with the
removal of a dividing wall.
- Prefects and their guests gather on the front
entrance verandah for the Annual Prefects' Dinner. (1926)
- The Annual Prefects' Dinner in progress.
- No distinct photographs of the Klang River
together with the school have been located. In this 1928 group
photograph of prefects gathered between Block 4 (right) and the Klang
River, the glint of the river may be seen in the left background.
- In this 1927 photo of Mahluddin, the School
Football Captain, the Klang River is also visible in the background
on the right.
- An undated photo of the confluence of the Klang
and Gombak in the early days of Kuala Lumpur. The V.I. is only 3/4
- A portion of either the Klang or the Gombak
River in the 1880s. The early huts of Chinatown may be seen in the
Klang Valley Panorama
This early 1900s view was taken from the hilly
Belfield Road area overlooking the Kampong Attap shop houses which
face the Klang River. The scope of the photograph is marked in gray
in a superimposed 1889 map of Kuala Lumpur. The Klang River's wildly
meandering course is clearly seen on the map and indicated in the photo.
The sunlit façade of Block 1 marks the V.I.'s location in the
middle of the town but, unfortunately, the many trees in the school
compound serve to obscure the other school buildings. That portion
of the Klang River which skirts the V. I. is also not visible.
The 1999 Fire
- The skeletal remains of the porch facing High
- The southern façade with its small
- The northern façade with part of the
long curving porch most of which has been spared. The gable above,
inscribed with "1893" - the year of the school's foundation - is gone
along with the fronds of the nearby palm trees.
- The southern façade from the top of
- Collapsed rafters on the first floor beams.
- The ground floor with the some of the
ubiquitous gothic arches in the background.
- The ground floor with remains of partitioning
that were probably of post-1960 vintage
Photos 1 - 3 are used by courtesy
of Lim Huck Chin of Badan Warisan Malaysia. The rest are by the writer.
Many thanks to:
- Old Victorian Dr. Chong Siew Meng who supplied
me with many old maps and old photos of K.L and with whom I shared
the exhilarating experience of unravelling the mystery of the old
- Mr G. Alphonso of the National Archives
for maps and information on old K.L. and for general advice.
- The V.I Library for access to the old school
- Mr. George Yap (class of 1926) and Mr. Leslie
M. Keun (class of 1928) who helped confirm the essential layout of
the High Street premises and for interesting snippets about the old
- Badan Warisan Malaysia for use of its photos
and for its donation of a framed old V.I. visualization to the V.I.