Saturday, November 06, 2004

History of Penang

To understand a country, I personally find it helpful to have at least an elementary knowledge of the country's history. This often helps to give insights as to how the country has became what it is presently.

Please allow me to compile information from two sources to give a brief of the history of Penang. I hope that this would help you better relate to my future posts about Penang.


"Pulau Pinang" is the Malay name for Penang. Literally translated, Pulau Pinang means "Island of the Betel Nut Tree".

During the 17th century the 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. 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. 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 1786, Captain Francis Light struck a deal with the Sultan of Kedah, and he acquired Penang Island from the Sultan on behalf of the East India Company, which in return promised Kedah protection against its powerful neighbours. 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 July 17, 1786. On August 11, 1786, Light officially took possession of the island for the Crown and the East India Company. He christianed 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.

In 1804, Penang was elevated from a Settlement to a Presidency. 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.

Penang remained under the British Colonial rule until 1957, when it gained independence under the Federation of Malaya. It was briefly occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. In 1963, it became part of Malaysia when Sabah and Sarawak came into the group.

Presently Penang is officially known as Negeri Pulau Pinang.

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