In the 16th century,
Portuguese traders from Goa, India sailed to the Far East in search of spices. It is said that a small rocky
isle on the northern coast of a main island became a landmark for traders to
stop and row in by boat to obtain fresh supplies of water from a nearby river.
The local Malays called these traders ferringi,
an Indian term for Europeans, especially Indian born Portuguese. That rocky
isle was then referred to as Batu Ferringi,
better known now as "Lover's Isle". The Portuguese called the main
island "Pulo Pinaom"
or Betel Nut Island. Probably areca nut palm trees were found abundantly then.
The palm tree is known as Pinang to the Malays or Penang to the English.
During the 17th
century the turtle-shaped island of Penang situated at the northern entry point to the Straits
of Malacca had provided a natural harbour during the monsoon months for Indian,
Arabian, Chinese, Dutch, Danish and French ships. Penang island also became a haven
for pirates who plundered ships that passed through the Straits of Malacca.
In the 18th century,
the spice and opium trade between the East and west had become extremely
lucrative. The Dutch dominated the Far East spice trade and the British too needed to establish
themselves in the region. Thus, in 1765 Francis Light was instructed by his
Company to establish better trade relations in this part of the world. During
this period Penang island belonged to Kedah. In 1771, the Sultan of Kedah
offered Captain Francis Light the island of Penang in return for British Protection from the constant
threats of the Siamese and Burmese armies. This treaty never materialised as
Francis Light's superiors refused to offer any aid.
In 1772 Captain
Francis Light left Kedah for Junk Ceylon (Phuket). By then he was knowledgeable of the peoples'
customs and the local language. This helped him to win their trust in him. In
1786, Francis Light acted as middleman in securing Pulau
Pinang from the new Sultan Abdullah of Kedah in return for a promise of British protection from
his various enemies. It is said that before the agreement was signed, Light
sailed in three vessels to the island with a small civilian and naval staff. He
landed in that part of Penang now known as the Esplanade on 17
On 11 August 1786, Light officially took
possession of the island for the Crown and the East India Company. He
christened it "the Prince of Wales Island", and the Union Jack was hoisted over the new
stockade. So, in all legal documents, Penang was known as Prince of Wales Island. The settlement in the eastern cape of the island was called Georgetown named after the King of England, George III.
In 1790, when Sultan
Abdullah heard that the British would not give protection, he formed an army to
get rid of the Dutch and English. He assembled his men at Prai
to retake the island of Penang but was defeated. Captain Francis Light had carried
out night raids on the enemy's fortress. In 1791, Sultan Abdullah signed a
treaty with the British handing over Penang Island to the British. Light promised to pay the Sultan
6,000 Spanish dollars annually. Today, almost two centuries later, the Penang State Government still pays RM 18,800.00 to the
Sultan of Kedah annually.
Captain Light's term
as the first Superintendent of the Prince of Wales Island came to an end in 1794. He died on 21
at the age of 54 probably due to malaria. He was buried at the Protestant
cemetery at the end of Northam Road (now known as Jalan Sultan
Ahmad Shah). He was survived by Martina Rozells, a
local Eurasian of Portuguese descent and son, William Light who later founded
the city of Adelaide, Australia.
Light's death, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Wellesley (Colonel Wellesley the then,
future Duke of Wellington) arrived in Penang to coordinate the defences of the island. It was in
1800 that Sir George Leith, then Lieutenant Governor
of the Prince of Wales
Island secured a strip of
land across the channel from the island. He named it Province Wellesley. This
control over its harbour and food supplies from the mainland. Till this day,
the State of Penang comprises two areas – Penang Island and Province Wellesley.
In 1804, Penang was elevated from a Settlement to a Presidency. In
1805, a new Governor, the honourable Philip Dundas
took over. His assistant secretary was Thomas Stamford Raffles, the future
founder of Singapore in 1819. In 1832, the Straits Settlements was formed comprising the states of Malacca, Singapore and Penang. Penang became its capital but in 1935 Singapore took over Penang as capital of the Straits Settlements.
The latter part of
the 19th century saw Penang enjoying a trade boom, as rich deposits of tin were found in the neighbouring state of Perak.
Initially famed for clove and nutmeg, Penang gradually turned to sugar and coconut as cash crops.
Pepper was imported from Acheh in Sumatra, in the Indonesian Archipelago, for re-export. With
British intervention in the Malay states, Penang became rich from the tin mines of Perak.
In time, Penang became an important immigration port for immigrants
from various parts of the world, especially those from South China and those from South India. As Britain's only strategic port of call in the Straits of
Malacca, Penang was soon linked by ship to Madras, Rangoon, Medan and Singapore. It served as an entreport
for southern Thailand, the north of peninsular Malaya, and also the northern region of Sumatra.
At the turn of the
20th century, Penang became a centre of export for rubber and tin. In 1905
the first hydroelectric scheme in Penang was completed, giving the island her first
electricity. Penang's first electric tramway appeared in 1906. By mid 20th century, other
modes of transport such as the jin-rickshaws introduced
by the Chinese, the bullock carts introduced by the Indian and the horse-carts
gradually disappeared from the Penang roads.
By the 1930s, more
than forty steamship lines connected Penang to the rest of the world, and there were already
"Flying Boat" services to London and Singapore. Penang had become an entertainment centre, with cabarets,
cinemas, amusement parks and gambling establishments. The popularity of the turm club led to the ruin of many rich families whose sons
were tempted to bet on slow horses and fast women. Then came
the depression. Penang's economy suffered due to the Wall Street Crash. Before the people of Penang could recover from the depression, the Second World
War broke out on 8 December 1941. The Japanese invaded Malaya. Penang was bombed and the British fled to Singapore. The year 1942 saw Penang living in fear. The days of the Japanese Kempettai were the days of horror, torture and executions.
On 4 September 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the British Forces.
This was followed by
years of struggle for power between the communists and the democratic forces of
Malaya and Britain. Malaya
gained independence in August 1957 and Penang became one of its 13 component states. Georgetown, which has the oldest municipal history in the
country, was awarded City status by royal charter on 1
The latter part of
the 20th century witnessed outstanding progress and development in commerce and
industry. Presently Penang is officially known as Negeri
Pulau Pinang. Those who have
enjoyed the beauty of the island gave Penang various names – An Asia in Miniature, An Island in
the Sun, The Garden of the East, The Pearl of the Orient and The Land of
Festivals. By whatever name she is called, Penang Island's cosmopolitan population of over one million come
from a variety of backgrounds and culture. Each of the races of Penang's multi-ethnic society has contributed to the rich
potpourri of cultures.
Capital: George Town
Government: state of
the Federation of Malaya (1948), Malaysia (1963)
Currency: Malaya Dollar (100 cent)
Penang in Wikipedia.
of Penang in Flags
of the World.
printer: Waterlow & Sons, London (1 and 4), Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co., New Malden
(2 and 3)
(1 and 4), 11:11˝ (2 and 3)
1 10 cents Hermes, globe, letter, airplane, boat,
train, text "UNIVERSAL / POSTAL UNION / 1874 1949"
(cat. Michel 23/SG 23/Yvert 18)
2 15 c hemispheres, airplane, steamer,
text "1874 / UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION / 1949"
(cat. Michel 24/SG 24/Yvert 19)
3 25 c Hermes scattering letters over
globe, text "UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION / 1874 / 1949"
(cat. Michel 25/SG 25/Yvert 20)
4 50 c UPU monument, Berne, text "UNIVERSAL / POSTAL / UNION / 1874 /
1949" and "UNION
(cat. Michel 26/SG 26/Yvert 21)
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last revised: 7 October 2008