Happenings, News

On a visit to early Ipoh, Bishop Thoburn was told: ‘There is the new Methodist church’

In 1896, on one of his visits to Malaya to conduct the annual Malaysia Mission Conference, Bishop James Thoburn was accompanied by Dr B. F. West who was then stationed in Penang. Stopping over in Teluk Anson and Ipoh for a brief visitation enroute to Penang was a tiring, but uplifting for the Bishop, normally resident in Northern India.


‘… FROM Teluk Anson, a Government railway takes us to Ipoh. As we had an hour before train time, we sallied out to see the town, which we found to be a busy and prosperous place …

The railway did not seem able to carry away the merchandise which the steamers were bringing from India, China and the Malay ports. I was glad to learn that we have a small Tamil church in the place, and we were able to make a hasty call on our leading member …

Our train made very moderate time, and it was half-past eleven before we reached Ipoh. The town stands at the head of a fertile valley, flanked by two ranges of mountains, with an average elevation of 3,000 feet. At the head of the valley the mountains close on three sides, and the town of Ipoh is not only like ancient Jerusalem in being beautiful for situation, but has mountains round about it, and mountains which surpass the Judean range in richness of verdure and beauty of outline.

The town is quite new, having gained its present prominence during the past half-dozen years. As our train began to slow up, Dr West called me to his window and pointed out a new brick building, just approaching completion, and said, “There is the new Methodist church.”

I was quite surprised to see a tasteful building, 72 ft by 30 ft and asked what the cost was expected to be. “About $3,000,” was the reply. “And did I understand you to say that the people of Ipoh pay for it?” “Yes, they are pledged to pay the entire cost.”

Noticing another building going up near by, I asked what it was, and was still more surprised when told that it was the new mission house.

On reaching the Ipoh station on Feb 11th, we were met by Mr W. Cowan and a number of Indian brethren, and after a kind greeting, were driven to the temporary mission where we were lodged, while sharing bountifully the hospitality of Mr Cowan and one of the Indian brethren.

When it began to grow cool toward evening, we all went under the escort of Mr Cowan to visit a mining town about three miles distant, hoping also to see some of the tin mines which are said to be the richest of any known tin mines in the world.

On our way to the mining town we stopped to inspect the new church and mission house. The site which was kindly given by Government, is an admirable one. It contains two acres at present, but a promise of an additional acre and a half has been given. It is wonderful how our work spreads and grows, even in the face of the most adverse influences … It seems as if God purposed to have his people move forward. When a work of God gains a certain amount of momentum, it is not easily arrested.

Returning from our drive I found a congregation of thirty persons waiting for an evening service. It was a privilege to preach to the very attentive little company, and I found myself wishing I could remain a week or so among the people.

It was quite late when we returned for dinner and when I retired at eleven p.m. I knew the full meaning of the word fatigue. The average temperature in this region is by no means high, but a very little exertion is apt to cause enough physical exhaustion to make one feel in need of rest. In time no doubt, one would learn how to husband one’s strength but thus far I do not feel equal to more than half as much exertion as I do in Northern India.’ – MM May 1896, p.74-76.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.