By: Aida Aziz
GOPENG: The discovery of ancient British graves near Kampung Lalang here serves as important evidence that Kota Bharu was once the administrative centre of the Kinta district before being relocated to Batu Gajah.
Kota Bharu refers to a small town in this state, located seven kilometres from Gopeng.
It is understood that there is only one grave at the site, which has been neglected without any maintenance. It has become overgrown with bushes and undergrowth, obscuring the area.
It is not surprising that many are unaware of the existence of the cross-shaped graves in the Kota Bharu, Gopeng, and Malim Nawar areas, except for the residents or longtime inhabitants.
According to the Deputy Chairman of the Malaya Historical Group Society (MHGSoc), Nor Hisham Zulkiflee, the grave belongs to a British officer named H. Forker ESQ, who served as a British mining investigator in Kampar.
Forker played a significant role in exploring the natural resources in the area, particularly tin ore.
Moreover, one of the main reasons for relocating the administrative centre to Batu Gajah was due to a malaria outbreak in Kota Bharu in 1884.
Nor Hisham mentioned that during his visit to the historical site with the Chairman of MHGSoc, Shaharom Ahmad, they discovered that Forker had passed away on August 13, 1884.
The exact cause of his death is unknown, but some claim it was suicide. However, according to Nor Hisham, they are still seeking more reliable facts.
“Based on information from the historical researcher N. A Halim, we learned about the existence of an ancient grave there. Interestingly, there is only one grave, and the current condition of Kota Bharu is sparsely populated and desolate.
“We would like the grave to receive attention from the Department of Heritage and other relevant authorities for preservation because it reinforces the evidence that Kota Bharu was the administrative centre of the Kinta district from 1880 to 1884.
“After the murder of J.W.W Birch, the British established an administrative centre in Pengkalan Pegoh, but it only lasted for a year before moving to Kota Bharu in 1880.
“Kota Bharu’s significance at that time was that the British controlled mining activities in Kinta, especially in Gopeng. That’s why the first and best road was built from Kota Bharu to Gopeng,” he said during a recent interview.
Interestingly, the tombstone of the grave was found to be similar to J.W.W. Birch’s grave in Kampung Gajah.
Furthermore, during the heyday of the small town, many British officials and Europeans resided in the area due to the thriving tin mining industry.
However, according to Nor Hisham, the situation has completely changed, and it is disheartening to see that there has been little development in Kota Bharu. It can be considered a ghost town.
“Previously, we had no evidence, only the train station remained. With the discovery of this grave, we can prove that Kota Bharu was important to the British at that time,” he added.
When further discussing the importance of preserving the aforementioned grave, he emphasized that it is not about glorifying the presence of British colonizers but rather preserving historical evidence.
“We do not intend to glorify the colonizers, but it is local heritage. Kota Bharu was once a significant settlement and a large town. There are many oral stories, particularly from the 1950s, including those depicted in Datuk Lat’s comics.
“This matter has been reported to the Department of Heritage for them to visit the site, but we have not received any response yet.
“Nevertheless, we hope that something can be done to preserve the site and potentially turn it into a tourist attraction in the future,” he added.