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Rex Panorama No.24 (Set 2) - St Michael's Institution, (SMI), Ipoh - A Brief History
This photograph shows the St. Michael School, Ipoh at Clayton Road, after it was extended in 1951. The picture also shows the Shaik Adam mosque beside the school.
A priest of the St. Michael's Church (Ipoh), Reverend Father J B Coppin, convinced Brother Visitor James Bryne, stationed at the St. Xavier's Institution (Penang), to start a school in Ipoh. Hence, the school site was acquired by the La Salle Brothers for $6,000 in 1912. The St Michael's Institution started in December 1912, with 37 students in a large double-storey half-brick half-timber Malay house, set in a coconut grove at one end of Kampong Pisang. Due to competition from two existing English schools, the school started out by accepting students of older boys.
P.J. Morsingh, a Sikh convert teaching in St. Xavier's Institution (Penang), was the first headmaster of St. Michael's School, due to the shortage of priests then. When Mor Singh left the school in 1920, Vicar-General Father Mariette inveighed upon Brother Visitor to take over the school immediately.
According to the book entitled ‘LaSalle – Brothers: Malaya & Singapore 1852 - 1952’, by Francis Brown, Brother Finian Loran joined the school on 11 August 1920 when the La Salle Brothers took over the management of the school from Father Coppin and Mr Morsingh. Brother Finian was accompanied by Reverend Brother Paul Flannan (Director) and Brother John Hermenegild. At that time, there were 377 pupils enrolled and Junior Cambridge was the highest standard taught. Brother Finian took over as Director in 1936, but left the post and school in 1938.
The architect who designed the first block of the present building (completed in 1923) was the French-born La Sallean Brother Vernier Auguste, who also designed the St John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur (1908), and the exquisite chapel at St Francis' Institution, Malacca (1937).
The construction of the block containing 14 classrooms, an office and a bookshop, the Brothers' quarters and accommodation for 50 boarders, was supervised by Father Coppin himself and completed in 1927. It was among the first schools to use reinforced concrete, for better fire resistance. Granite coping was used for the gables and the cross.
The cost of the original block came to $200,000, met mainly from the Brothers' savings over the previous sixty years. Stark & McNeill were the submitting architects.
The foundation stone was laid on 17th June 1922 by Mr C W C Parr, the British Resident of Perak, marking the commencement of work on the building. Many citizens of Ipoh witnessed the historical ceremony. The building was finished in 1923, blessed by Father Coppin on the Feast Day of St John de la Salle. As the enrolment increased, the building at Clayton Road was twice extended sideways in 1941 and 1951 until it reached the present 177-foot wide facade.
During the Japanese Invasion, St Michael’s housed British soldiers from the 1st Leicester Regiment and the 2nd East Surreys just days before the arrival of the Japanese army in Ipoh. It was in St Michael’s that the 1,400 soldiers, who had recently lost many men (killed or captured)to the enemy in Kedah, banded together on 20th December 1941 to form the “British Battalion”, prior to deploying to Kampar in preparation for their next clash with the Japanese in the Battle of Kampar (30th December 1941 to 2nd January 1942. On 23rd December, the Japanese bombed Ipoh and those still in the buildings fled to a makeshift shelter behind the school.
Just 8 days later, as the Japanese occupied Ipoh, the school was closed and commandeered by the Japanese. The entire building was used to house the Japanese Administration and it was renovated to suit to their needs. The present lecture theatre was filled with sand and used as a bunker and an underground shelter was also constructed for the Governor and his senior-ranking officers during air raids.
The first classroom next to the main staircase, on the ground floor, was the telephone exchange centre while the other classrooms housed various government offices, including the Police Headquarters. The current school hall was the State Treasury and important documents were safeguarded and kept in the room below the main staircase.
After the Japanese Occupation had ended, Brother Denis Hyland took over the Directorship of the school, which reopened on 24 September 1945. During his administration, further expansion of the school took place. Both wings of the school were extended so as to accommodate more classes.
When Bro Ultan Paul became the director, the need for further expansion arose once again. As the cost of constructing another building with the same architectural design was extremely high, a four-storey building was built adjoining it. This new building, now known as the "U-Paul Block", houses the library, science labs, classrooms, staff room, offices and canteen.
Finally, the school as it today; famous for its architectural beauty; the alma mater of many current leading citizens of Malaysia; and a distinguished centre of education stressing all-round excellence.
For any further information regarding the school, please visit the following websites.
To read more about the La Salle Brothers, click here.
To see a photograph of the opening day of SMI in 1912, click here.
To see a photograph of the first SMI buildings, click here.
To see an aerial view of SMI in 1968, click here.
To read more about Shaik Adam and his Mosque in Ipoh, click here.
To go to the next panorama, click here.