A Brief History of Gereja Presbyterian Holy Light and Dato James Meldrum
Gereja Presbyterian Holy Light was established in AD 1886. It is the oldest Chinese-speaking church in Malaysia.
Reverend John Cook, a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of English, pioneered this church in JB. He was 32 years old when he came to Johor Bahru, which was a small town with 15,000 inhabitants. He retired and returned to England in December 1924. He died on 13 July 1926.�
During his term of service in JB, Reverend John Cook was much assisted by a Scottish businessman, James Meldrum, who was the son-in-law of Reverend Keasberry, a tutor to HRH Sultan Abu Bakar. With the help of James Meldrum, who was then a successful businessman, HRH Sultan Abu Bakar bestowed 3 acres of land (Land Grant No.222, dated the 10th day of Shaaban A.H. 1301, corresponding to the 5th day of June, 1884) which is now located at 11, Jalan Gertak Merah, 80000 JB for the purpose of Christian worship and the propagation of the gospel. The Meldrum family has always been active members of the Gereja Presbyterian Holy Light.�
At that time, James Meldrum operated the largest sawmill in JB which was located near the old immigration department. He was awarded the highest Datuk (S.P.M.J) by the Sultan in contribution of his service to the state. The old Taman Merdeka and Jalan Meldrum especially was named in honour of him. Dato James Meldrum passed away on 11 April 1904 and his wife, Datin Meldrum on 10 August 1908. They and subsequently their daughter and son-in-law were buried on Bukit Meldrum. In the years that followed, the Town Board of Johor Bahru (T.B.J.B) was required to send men regularly to maintain the cemetery. In 1971, due to subsequent construction of the customs complex, the relics of 13 members of the Meldrum family were relocated to a new burial ground at Kebun Teh provided by the state government. A monument was erected in their memory in 1979. This Christian cemetery has been maintained by the Holy Light Church for the burial of its members since. Unfortunately, most part of the 5-acre burial ground has now been occupied by illegal squatters.
Dato Meldrum generously provided for free, from his sawmill, all the timber needed to construct the Holy Light Church. He also supplied timber for the construction of the Istana. In recognition for his contribution, the road adjacent to his sawmill was named Jalan Sawmill even till today.
Dato Meldrum was also credited with the construction of Malaysia’s first rail system — the wooden rail system connecting Johor Bahru and Singapore in 1874. He was the engineer of this project.�
Even though the Holy Light Church was started by the British missionaries, its primary objective was for the benefit of the Chinese-speaking community in JB. The British missionaries, trained in fluent Chinese, especially the Teochew dialect which they picked up while serving in China, started the first Chinese-speaking service in 1886. This is on record the oldest Chinese-speaking church in Malaysia. Reverend John Cook did conduct a small English service catering for the benefit of the Meldrums and other expatriates living in JB. With the demise of Dato James Meldrum and the return of Reverend John Cook to England in 1924, the expatriate English service ceased. When the causeway (built with a lock system – a small canal and walls at each end and a rolling bridge which could be raised to allow small vessels to pass through) was opened on 28 June 1924, most expatriates in JB took the opportunity to attend the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church in Singapore, which has a largely expatriate congregation. The Holy Light Church continues to serve the Chinese-speaking community in Johor Bahru.