Penang: Britain’s First Settlement in Malaya
George Woodcock gives an account of an Imperial enterprise in south-east Asia.
Like many of the famous cities of the Asian seaboard, Penang was a creation of British trading enterprise. Until Francis Light landed there in 1786 to establish the rule of the East India Company, it was inhabited by a few Malays who lived upon the products of the dense island jungle which shut out the shimmering view across the strait to the blue mountains of Kedah that modern visitors retain as their most appealing memory of Penang.
Light’s settlement on this Malayan island was to have great and long-lasting consequences. It was the first British beach-head in Malaya, and it presaged the end of Dutch influence on the peninsula. In later years, the importance of Singapore was to exceed that of Penang, and the fame of its founder, Stamford Raffles, to dim that of Francis Light. But, if Light had not first established himself on Penang, it is unlikely that Singapore would have been founded a generation later to become the great crossroads of Asian trade.