Kuala Lumpur Landmark

Tucked away practically in the middle of Kuala Lumpur is a hidden gem with a legacy dating back to 14th August 1893. The school building was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Swan and McLaren. It has a main block with a plan view representing the letter ‘E’ and is designed in the style of Art Deco. The main attraction is the impressive clock tower that dominates the landscape of Petaling Hill. The imposing Main Block is fronted by a huge sports field.

This is the Victoria Institution or more commonly known as the VI.

The building was opened on March 26, 1929 after a construction period of nearly 18 months. Built on the site of a former chinese cemetery, it is of interest to note that the contractor was Low Yat who later went on to found a large construction group and build many other famous landmarks in the city. The original foundation stone was also moved from the previous building on High Street and built into the new building. It can still be seen as part of the front porch.

The history of the school goes back to the early 1890s when three prominent residents from Kuala Lumpur, mooted the idea for the establishment of an English school to cater to the rising demand for an educated workforce.

A public meeting was convened where the three residents, namely Capitan China of Kuala Lumpur, Yap Kwan Seng, together with Towkay Loke Yew and Thamboosamy Pillay each promised to donate $1000 for the formation of the school. The British Resident in Selangor, Sir William Hood Treacher was supportive but the biggest obstacle was the lack of funds. In March 1893, a sum of $3,188 of unspent money was discovered in the government Treasury. This was money that had been raised six years earlier by public subscription for the erection of a permanent memorial to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.

It was suggested that this sum could be added to the sum from the previous 3 to build a school.

With their agreement, this amount became the nucleus of a building fund for a school that would be named “The Victoria Institution”.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Abdul Samad, proceeded to donate a sum of $1,100 and became one of the two patrons of the school – the other being Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, the Governor of the Straits Settlements. Soon, further public donations and the Selangor government’s contribution of $7,000 brought the total money available to the princely sum of $21,291, sufficient to begin building the school.

With this, the Victoria Insitution was founded on 14th August 1893 and the foundation stone of the building was laid by Lady Treacher in High Street, what is now known as Jalan Bandar. The school opened on 28th July 1894 and the first Headmaster was Mr Bennett Eyre Shaw from the Grammar School at Bishop’s Stortford in England. The initial intake of the school was 115 pupils ranging in age from Primary One upwards.

Intake to the school continued to flourish and it was soon realised that a new building was needed. This was further compounded by the fact that the Klang River, flowing behind the school, would often overflow and caused flooding in the school compound. Furthermore, in September 1925, the Quasi-Independent status of the school was changed when it was fully taken over by the Government. It was thus decided to move the school to the new premised in Petaling Hill.

The new VI became a secondary school with 500 boys from Standard Six (Form Two today) to Senior Cambridge (A Levels/STPM). Its old primary pupils in Standards Five and below remained in the High Street premises and they later transferred to the newly-built Batu Road School in June, 1930. Together with Pasar Road School, these two primary schools became feeder schools to the VI.

With brand new science labs in the new building, the VI was now able to introduce science as a subject, the first school in Malaya to do so. The VI boasts many other firsts. It was the first school in the country to have a Cadet Corps. The VI Cadet Corps dates from 1901 and many members went on to serve in WWI and WWII. In 1909, the drum and fife band was formed, the precursor to what is now the world renowned Victoria Institution Cadet Corps Band . The VI was also one of the very first schools in Malaya to form a Prefects Board. Another first is the first Scout Troop in the country, originally known as the First Selangor Troop.

By 1941, war clouds were gathering. The School Hall was requisitioned by the War Taxation Department, military barracks sprouted around the school and many of the European VI masters were called for military training. When Kuala Lumpur was overrun by the Japanese, The VI’s commanding location on Petaling Hill made it an ideal choice for the Japanese headquarters.

The climax of the Pacific War came with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 1945, respectively, after which Japan surrendered unconditionally. For Malaya, Wednesday, 12th September 1945, was Victory Day and an impressive ceremony was held in Singapore with Lord Louis Mountbatten accepting the formal, unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces in Southeast Asia.

A separate surrender ceremony took place in Kuala Lumpur the following day, 13th September, 1945 at 2 p.m. at the Victoria Institution Hall. In a twenty-minute ceremony, Lieutenant-General Teizo Ishiguro signed the surrender on behalf of the Japanese forces while Lieutenant-General O.L. Roberts was among Allied signatories. The VI was then commandeered by the British Military Administration which would run the country until late 1946.

With the war now over but deprived of its premises, the VI carried on educating students through afternoon sessions at Batu Road School beginning 22nd October, 1945 and then moved to the defunct Maxwell Road School premises after five months. The VI finally returned to its proper home in September 1946.

In 1953 the school celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June with concerts and ice cream treats for the boys. The VI building was one of many in Kuala Lumpur to be floodlit for the coronation revelry.

In 1980, the Malaysian Football team, known as Harimau Malaya, used the Victoria Institution field for their centralised training. The team qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, only the second time in its history that Malaysia qualified for the Olympics. Sadly however, due to a political boycott, the team could not go to Moscow. Years later, in 2016, this story was made into a semi fictionalised movie called Ola Bola which became one of the highest grossing Malaysian films in recent times. The school and especially the field, is easily identifiable in the movie. Later, the movie was made into a musical. Ola Bola the Musical featured the school Pavilion as the backdrop in some of the scenes.

The VI also has other notable timelines in Sports. The Legendary Footballer, Mokhtar Dahari, was an old boy of the VI. Till today, the VI Old Boys Association organises the Mokhtar Dahari Challenge that pits different batches of old boys against one another. The VI was also always known for their prowess in badminton and the famous Sidek brothers were schooled in Victoria Institution. In fact, the last time that Malaysia won the badminton Thomas Cup was back in 1992. It is of note that 6 players from the Thomas Cup Squad were all Victorians!

The 1998 Commonwealth Games had rich VI connections. The Chairperson of the Organising Committee for the Games was an Old Boy of the school. The VI field was designated as one of the venues for the international cricket matches and a second sports pavilion, a permanent addition to the School’s frontage, was built for that purpose. The VI Cadet Corps Band performed in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.

Indeed, throughout the 1990s and 2000s the VICCB had been the most visible standard bearer for the school. It won the gold many times in National Day parades and in National School Band Competitions. It also participated in marching band festivals in Sydney, Australia, in Yokohama, Japan, in Calgary, Canada, in Italy, in Hong Kong, in Copehagen, Denmark and most recently in Taiwan in 2018. In the various competitions, sanctioned by the World Association of Marching Show Bands, the band boys, ranging from 14 to 18 years old, belied their age to produce performances that earned them Gold Medal rankings. Gold Medals are awarded when a band achieves a score of 85 and above.

Due to its long history and traditions, in February 2009, the school was accorded Heritage Status in line with the National Heritage Act 2005.

This year, 2018, sees the school celebrating its 125th Anniversary of its founding.

Article Source – Kuala Lumpur Landmarks

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