or a school that was founded from excess funds collected to
celebrate the golden anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria, it was rather
surprising that for the first seven years of the V.I.'s existence no image of
the longest reigning British sovereign ever gazed upon her young subjects in a
school bearing her name.
In 1900, Mr. Bennett Shaw, the V.I.'s first headmaster,
went home to England on ten months' leave and when he returned from Europe
in December he informed the boys that Her Majesty Queen Victoria was graciously
pleased to present to the Victoria Institution a photogravure portrait of herself.
The portrait, which stood on an easel under cover of the Union Jack, was then
unveiled in front of the school and with three lusty cheers for Her Majesty the
impressive ceremony was brought to a close.
That portrait was lost during the Second World War.
In 1949, appropriately on Empire Day - May 24, the birthday
of Queen Victoria - Sir Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner, paid a visit
to the V.I. After inspecting a Guard of Honour mounted by the V.I. scouts, Sir
Henry proceeded with the Headmaster, Mr. E.M.F. Payne, to the School Hall where
representatives of the VIOBA were presented to him. He read out the Empire Day
message from Earl Gowrie and then unveiled a new portrait - an engraving - of
Queen Victoria, which was a gift from Queen Mary, the Queen Mother, herself.
The High Commissioner described the portrait as a symbol of the traditions of
the School. He had, he said, submitted to Her Majesty an expression of deep
gratitude of all connected with the V.I. for "this token of continued remembrance",
which, he hoped, would serve to guide the present and future generations of
Victorians in the paths which the Old Boys had followed.
For the next two years this portrait hung at the back of the V.I.
stage. Then in 1951, a new portrait - an oil painting - of Queen Victoria was
commissioned for the school by Sir Henry. The artist was one Mohammed Hoessein Enas,
a Javanese who had lived in Malaya since 1948 and had painted portraits of several
Sultans, Mentris Besar and members of Malay royalty. Hoessein Enas (later Dato')
was then an unknown but was to gain rapid fame in the fifties and sixties in the
Malaysian art world for his distinct portraiture art in the style of the old Dutch
Sir Henry had been wanting a bigger portrait for the V.I.
to replace his 1949 gift. After viewing some of Hoessein Enas' works, the British
High Commissioner had asked the artist to first do a pastel sketch based on the
engraving. When this was approved, Hoessein Enas set to work copying the 1949
portrait in oil. The new picture, some eight times the size of the original, was
finished in a fortnight. The gilt frame was ordered from a shop in Kota Bharu
where Hoessein Enas was residing at that time.
In late September, 1951, Hoessein Enas took the portrait to King's
House, the residence of the High Commissioner, for Sir Henry's approval.
Then fate stepped in.
On October 6, Sir Henry and his wife drove off for a holiday
in the cool air of Fraser's Hill. The Malayan Emergency was then at its height
with terrorist attacks occurring frequently in various parts of the country. As
Sir Henry's car, travelling in a armed convoy, wound its way uphill between Kuala
Kubu and the Gap, it was ambushed by a terrorist unit firing down from the thick
jungle fringing the road. The convoy came to a halt as the firing intensified.
Apparently hoping to draw fire from Lady Gurney in their unarmoured Rolls Royce,
Sir Henry opened his car door, sprinted out and was immediately felled by a hail
A month later, in November 1951, with memories of the assassination
still etched in everybody's minds, a solemn school assembly was held in the V.I. Hall.
There, the completed oil painting of Queen Victoria in a sparkling gilt frame - Sir
Henry Gurney's gift to the School - became a posthumous gift officially unveiled by
Mrs. P. Hogan, wife of the Acting British High Commissioner. (The redoubtable General
Templer would only arrive in February 1952 to take over as the new High Commissioner.)
For many years this portrait gazed imposingly from the back
of the School stage at school assemblies. In 1963 the Old Queen was hung prominently
at the front of the curtain when the VIOBA held a dinner in the school hall to
celebrate the School's seventieth birthday. Not long after that, the portrait was
removed from tthe back of the stage. It now hangs over the main door inside the
The Oil Portrait
Today, few looking up at the painting are aware of the poignant
story behind its conception - an oil portrait commissioned by the highest British
officer of the land almost fifty years ago to honour a Queen who had ruled until
exactly fifty years before that; an immigrant Javanese artist who copied, enlarged
and embellished the image from a miniature engraving and who would later become one
of the country's most revered artists; and a brutal assassination in a hill resort
that denied the giver the pleasure of personally delivering it.