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The Founder: Rev. Sparke Hutchings


from PFS magazine Sesquicentennary issue.


The name of Hutchings, as is the name of most the English people, is of Saxon origin, occurring most commonly in the South-West of England. The ancestors of the Hutchings were Devonshire people. The earliest Hutchings who was repectable enough to be traced was John Hutchings who was a wealthy enough merchant, judging from the fact that he was able to send his son to Christ Church College, Oxford, the favoured college of the aristocracy. This son, also John Hutchings, is to be the father of the Founder. He grew up to become Rev. John Hutchings, Rector of Dittisham. His marriage to Sarah Sparke of Dartmouth, a woman of some position, brought him 16 children. Living too fast and too well, he was not too well-off. Yet he managed to send his youngest son, Robert, born in 1783, to Christ Church where the latter matriculated in 1798.

In The East

Robert succeeded his father as Rector of Dittisham. He erected a beautiful new Rectory house there, and was responsible for the construction of the first road for carriages to drive from Dartmouth to Dittisham. Today, we find fine memorial windows dedicated to him and his father. Possibly, owing to financial difficulties, while still a bachelor, he gave up his parish in Devonshire to take a Chaplancy in Bengal in 1814. He was then posted to Prince of Wales Island (as Penang was then known) where he succeeded the Rev. Aitwell Lake who was the first Chaplain. Here, he soon learned the language and worked with a Major Mclnne on a revised version of the New Testament.

While in Penang, Hutchings’ inspiration led to the construction of St. George’s Church in 1816. The cost of $60,000 for this project was defrayed by the East India Company. However, Hutchings was not in Penang at the church’s consecration. The Free School was also founded in 1816. Then, it existed on a plot of land alongside the Church compound. The School which still exist at the site has been rechristened Hutchings School when the Free School moved to occupy its new premises in Green Lane. Hutchings’ worthy contribution towards education in this respect can be judged from the fact that the School he initiated had matured into one of the premier Schools of this country. Perhaps 1816 was a year of achievement for the Founder for it was also in that year that he founded the Auxiliary Bible Society in Penang. This move was welcomed by the Calcutta Auxiliary and soon the new Society was recognised.

Hutchings was also a Malay Scholar and he seemed to have compiled and written what were considered the first books on Malay grammar, in addition to several elementary text-books and a dictionary mainly for school use.

In 1817, Hutchings had to leave India, mainly and primarily at the request of the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society. His duty was to see through the press a Malay Version of the Old Testament in the Jawi script and a Gospel of St. Mathew. While in Serawpore, Bengal, he was transferred to Baucapore (Barrackpore). It was here that he met and married his sweet and lovely wife, Elvira in 1818.

Hutchings must have been a noble character. He was a grave and thoughtful man who kept away and rebuked the careless and even gross language of those days. For his efforts of seeing the Bible through the press, the Bible Society offered him a generous gift of 2,000 rupees. But in his reply Hutchings wrote, “As I cannot think of encroaching, and so largely too, on the funds of a Society whose interests I have deeply at heart , and by whose exertions this money may be the means of doing so much good, I trust, therefore, I may be excused by sending back the draft with my grateful acknowledgment.”

His Return to Penang

His work in India completed, Hutchings and his family returned to Penang in 1820. Here, he purchased an estate on one of the peaks of the island. He cleared the slopes and planted nutmegs and other spices. For his family he built a substantial bungalow. He hoped, living at that height, to escape the malaria which prevailed then. But he was tragically disappointed. He and some of the children caught it. He suffered badly from the fever and died of it on 20th April, 1827. He was buried at the Northam Road Cemetery where, to this day his tomb lies. It is most befitting that each year, on the anniversary of the foundation of the Free School, tribute is paid at his graveside by representatives of the Free School and the Vicar of St. George’s Church, to the memory of one who served Penang so well.

His Widow – Elvira

Hutchings’ 10 years of married life with Elvira made him the father of 8 children, most of whom, perhaps all, were born in Penang. After his death Mrs. Hutchings and the children returned to England.

Elvira was indeed a contrast to Hutchings. She was gay and full of fun. She must have been a sweet and lovely woman. The younger child of Mr. Constantine Phipps, grandson of the Earl of Mulgrave and first cousin to the Premier of England during the reign of George III, she was born in Caen, Normandy. Her mother was a very strict woman so much so that Elvira’s spirit rebelled and she decided to go out East and join her brother, Pownell, in Bengal. It was there that she met the Founder.

After her return to England on the death of the Founder, she did not remain there for long. Soon she left on a voyage to the Cape of Good Hope where she was to marry a Colonel Cameron. The voyage was long and very tedious and the only other passenger on board was a Mr. James Carey who was a bachelor of 24. They fell in love and married. The event caused much excitement amounting to a scandal. A duel was fought between the contenders at the Cape. The younger bachelor apparently won. This second marriage brought her 5 children: 3 sons and 2 daughters.

Hutchings called his bungalow on the hill, Mt. Elvira, after his wife, so lovely, so spirited, so gay. The estate fell to decay soon after his death. However, the forlorn ruins may still be seen by those who would like to attempt the climb from behind the Ayer Itam Reservoir. It is an expedition which is to be recommended. The hill is still called Mt. Elvira on topographical maps.

Mrs. Hutchings seemed to have stood godmother to nearly every baby – legitimate or illegitimate – during her stay in Penang. Even to this day many Eurasians bear the name of Elvira. This speaks volumes for the estimation in which she was held.

The Present Hutchings

A great-grandson of the Founder, Sir Robert H. Hutchings visited the School in 1961. Sir Robert has kept up the connection with the Bible Society, of which he is a Vice-President. He was also connected with the founding of a Scholarship in Pharmacy at the University of Malaya for Free School boys and girls. Sir Robert’s grandfather, son to the Rev. Hutchings, the Founder, was born in Penang in 1820. His father who was a solicitor died in 1832. Captain Brian Hutchings of the Royal Navy is the son of Sir Robert. The Hutchings also have two grandchildren.

Each year on 21 October, the School and the Old Frees all over the world pay tribute to its Founder.As long as the School exists his name shall be revered and his work forever cherished.