Colin Goh Talks about the Sacred Heart Chapel
“When the church applied for land, the British would only give leasehold land for 9 years.”
I grow up in Tranquerah, my first years of living were in Tranquerah and Limbongan. I used to go to Sacred Heart Chapel, Sacred Heart Chapel was run by St Peter’s Church, the priest of St Peter’s Church. In 1800 in the Dutch period, there was already a large Christian community staying in Tranquerah. The reason they built this church in the second half of the 18th century was to cater for these people, so they can have their own church nearby, to make the people around Tengkera to come together so they need not go to St Peter’s Church to do their prayers, their services nearby for them. So that’s why the SHC was started, and that’s the same reason why the Assumption Church was started in Praya Lane.
In Banda Hilir there was also a large Portuguese Eurasian group. Whereas in Tranquerah it was a mixture of the Eurasian group. A lot of the Dutch Eurasians who were fairly middle class lived in Tranquerah.
When we talk about Eurasians and Tranquerah it includes Portuguese Street as well, Jalan Portuguese at the temple here. The people were there, now no more. They were all part of Tengkera chapel (SHC). Even in Heeren Street there were also few Eurasian families at that time. So Tengkera Chapel served the needs of the people. But in the British period, when the church applied for land, the British would only give leasehold land for 9 years. It was such for a long time, until early 1970s when government wanted to take back the land. The church asked to buy or extend the lease, but the government did not want to extend. St Peter’s is lucky because Dutch title, so freehold. This is leasehold, government just give the temporary licence, means every year need to pay a fee. It’s not much but no permanency. I don’t have a year, but I know in the 1970’s it was gradually closed down.
“By the time of the 1970’s with new housing areas, people started moving out from Tranquerah.”
Many reasons for the closing down. We talk about when it was first built, in the 1800s, there was a very large community of Eurasians there, Catholics, Christians will go to Sacred Heart Chapel. After World War 2, the families left Tranquerah, many of them moved away. Either they moved to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for work or for a better life. So, the migration started. More so in Tranquerah because quite a number of the families were well to do also, so they got chances to go anywhere. So the population dwindled but still enough people to continue. By the time of the 1970’s with new housing areas, people started moving out from Tranquerah. Not only the Eurasians, the Chinese also moved out. So the congregation became smaller, and with that there were less frequent services also, because there were only one or two priests to run. But still people came to the chapel, those who moved away but were still in Melaka Town would go back for service when they knew there’s a service there. So it was a working church.
When the lease expired and the government shut the thing down, it finished it lah. There’ve been applications to renew it or to get a new lease, but it didn’t work. Government was not interested. Suddenly we heard they want to use it for the heritage society. There was the roof put to the church by the Heritage Trust, they manage to do something but it’s gone. Then suddenly we heard it was for sale, but they won’t sell it to the church. They could have offered it to the church, for whatever reason I don’t want to say because it’s a bit sensitive. Now we found that the Singapore fellow bought it.
“Now we found that the Singapore fellow bought it.”
He came to speak to me about it. I asked him, how did you manage to buy? He said the price was there, I wanted to buy the church and the land behind as well so that the land is a bit bigger, so I can do things. He told me, “one of the strange conditions that I had to abide by when buying this land is that it cannot be used as a church again. Even if I want to give it to the church it cannot be used as a church again”. That was because you know lah, because of the tensions of those times. I don’t want to bring religion in because it’s not so nice when we talk about it. But this is the reality when dealing with government, it’s not easy to deal with the government when it’s religion, it’s a sad thing. You know, Chitty temples, if they weren’t under Dutch titles, they would be lost in the same manner. But a lot of your Chitty properties are leased, and they (the Government) take over. So the Chitty Trust loses property. Because the house I lived in in Tranquerah was Chitty property.
So that’s more or less the background to Sacred Heart Chapel.
Interviewed on 26 September 2018 at Badan Warisan, No. 8, Heeren Street