Only minutes away by air from the bustling city-state of Kuala Lumpur is the island state of Penang – part of the bustling nation of Malaysia. Penang, and in particular Penang Island has long been the playground of Malaysians and tourists looking for a perfect getaway.
Penang Island also boasts a rich and colourful history.
The first people to stop off on the Island were Indian traders who used it as a water stop during their voyages in the sixteenth century. Soon the island became a safe stopover for Chinese, Arab, Indian and European traders who made use of the sheltered harbour as a safe haven during the monsoon season. The amount of ships using the island made the waters surrounding its fertile ground for the activities of pirates.
Due to the fact that the island is situated at the entrance to the strategic Straits of Malacca it was soon settled by representatives of the British East India company who used it as a base for trade and also as the location of a naval squadron where they would be able to control the increasing presence of French ships in the region. To this day the largest town on the island is named George Town, after the British Monarch King George III.
In early August of 1786 English Captain, ‘Francis Light’ took possession of the island and renamed it ‘Prince of Wales Island’ – a name that remained in use until 1867.
The island remained strategically important and was used as a waypoint for the increasingly lucrative opium trade between India and China.
By 1805 the importance of the island saw Sir Stamford Raffles assume the position of Deputy Secretary to the Governor of Penang – he later went on to found the colony of Singapore.
Today Penang remains a cultural melting pot with descendants of the original settlers of cultures across south-east Asia making up the population of this fascinating microcosm of the history of the region.
To learn more about Penang, visit the Penang Museum in person. It is located at Lebuh Farquhar, George Town.