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Captain Francis Light





There is no doubt that without Captain Francis Light, Penang would have never existed. Captain Francis Light was born in Dallinghoo, Suffolk in 1740 to a young woman named Mary Light and a young man who preferred to remain anonymous. Many claimed that William Negus was indeed the Father of Captain Francis Light but it soon came to light that William Negus was just paid to look after Captain Francis Light at an early age.

Even though he was an illegitimate child, he received the best education and became a Royal Navy Midshipman from 1759 to 1763. In 1765, he moved on to be a private country trader that the British East India Company allowed to operate in its waters. After gaining as much experience as possible, Captain Francis Light discovered Penang’s possibility to become a safe habour between India and China. He knew this would worth a lot to the British East India Company. He did inform the British East India Company but his proposition was ignored. For ten years, he had his headquarters in Salang where he learnt how to speak, read and write in Malay and Thai.

After the war that ended in the Peace of 1783 with France & Spain where Britain struggled with France for naval superiority, Light’s suggestion became significant. In 1786, on behalf of the British East India Company, Light used charm and certain economy with the truth to convince The Sultan of Kedah to give Penang to Light in exchange for British protection from Siam and Burma. Upon gaining Penang, Light renamed it the Prince of Wales Island with George Town as its capital and Governor-General Sir John Macpherson as the administrator and Light as the superintendent. This is where Captain Francis Light’s legacy became more than just one city as this initiated the British expansion to the Malay States.

However, when the Sultan of Kedah realized that no protection was forthcoming, he tried to get the island back by force. After a humiliating military defeat in 1791, a peace treaty was made and in return for the island, the Sultan of Kedah would get 6000 silver dollars a year.

The island started off with a small population before 1786 but the number increased gradually. Light opened doors to settlers from all races, religions and countries to come to the island. Many Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Malays and even some Westerners went to the island. By the time Light passed away in 21 October 1794, Georgetown was a blossoming, multi-cultural island.