Bent Vermont Fountain

Location: Penang, Malaysia

This is a lost fountain destroyed by bombs during a World War II raid on Penang.

A cast iron drinking fountain to honour J.M.B. Vermont was ordered from the Walter Macfarlane & Co.’s catalog, funded by subscriptions. Bent Vermont was the proprietor of the Batu Kawan Estate in Province Wellesley (Seberang Perai), and was known as the Grand Old Man for his contribution towards the abundant supply of sugar in the 1880s and 1890s.

Original suggestions to position the fountain included the Railway Jetty and the China Street Ghaut (a flight of stone steps leading to the water’s edge.) The latter location was suggested so that it would be in direct view of people disembarking. However, it was a very busy thoroughfare; and it was proposed by the Municipal Engineer to place the fountain on the Esplanade at Light Street, near the pavement, where it would not hinder any games played on the Esplanade.

The canopied drinking fountain was erected in 1908 on an octagonal three tiered granite plinth. Pattern number 21 (18 feet high) was manufactured at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland. The canopy is supported by eight columns with griffin terminals which are positioned over capitals with foliage frieze above square bases.

The highly decorated fret detail arches were trimmed with rope mouldings. Cartouches contained within each lunette displayed cranes and offered shields for memorial. The medallion facing the street displayed an inscription that the memorial had been erected by a few friends in Penang to the memory of the Hon. James Montague Bent Vermont, C.M.G., M.L.C. who died on May 10, 1904. On each side arch faceplates provided a flat surface for an inscription using raised metal letters; often the useful monition, Keep the pavement dry. Civic virtues such as temperance were often extolled in inscriptions on drinking fountains.

Doves and flowers offer decorative relief on the circular, open filigree, ribbed dome. The internal capitals are floral ornament. The openwork iron canopy is surmounted with a vase and spiked obelisk finial.

Under the canopy stands font casting number 7. The 5 ft 8ins high font is a single decorative pedestal with four pilasters and descending salamander relief supporting a basin 2 ft 6 ins in diameter. The interior surface of the scalloped edge basin is engraved with decorative relief, and a sculptured vase is terminated by the figure of a crane. Four elaborate consoles support drinking cups on chains.

Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Griffins are symbolic of guardians of priceless possessions; salamanders display bravery and courage that cannot be extinguished by fire; and cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance.


  • Capital, the top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Cartouche, a structure or figure, often in the shape of an oval shield or oblong scroll, used as an architectural or graphic ornament or to bear a design or inscription.
  • Console, a decorative bracket support element
  • Cusped Arch, the point of intersection of lobed or scalloped forms
  • Filigree, fine ornamental work
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Fret, running or repeated ornament
  • Frieze, the horizontal part of a classical moulding just below the cornice, often decorated with carvings
  • Griffin, winged lion denotes vigilance and strength, guards treasure and priceless possessions
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Obelisk, a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Pilaster, a column form that is only ornamental and not supporting a structure
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests
  • Terminal, statue or ornament that stands on a pedestal

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