It was in the 16th century that the Portuguese first discovered the island of Penang. They named her Pulo Pinaom, probably because of the abundance of 'pinang' or betel nut palm on the island. Sailors used her as a last stopover to replenish their supplies of fruit and fresh water before embarking on their long ocean voyages. In the 17th century, the island became a popular hideout for pirates who initiated raids on passing ships from her hidden harbours.
During the 18th century, the British power was quite dominant in Asia, and it is from this part of the world that the tale begins of the founding of the British settlement in Penang...
1765: Francis Light, under the instruction from his company, Jourdain, Sullivan & de Souza, leaves on the 'Speedwell' for Sumatra and the Malayan Peninsula, in order to establish better trade links with the region. He would, two decades later, establish the first British settlement in this region, on the island of Penang.
1786: Following negotiations with the Sultan of Kedah, Francis Light officially takes possession of the island and names it 'Prince of Wales Island'. He also establishes 'Georgetown', named after the King of England, George III. Today, the island is known as Penang or Pulau Pinang, which means 'Island of the Betelnut.'
1800: Sir George Leith, Penang's first Lieutenant-Governor, secures Britain's first territory on the Malayan Peninsula. He names it 'Province Wellesley' after the Governor of India, Richard Marquis of Wellesley.
1832: The Straits Settlement is formed, comprising of Malacca, Singapore and Penang, which becomes the capital.
1835: The capital of the Straits Settlement is moved from Penang to Singapore.
1867: The Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore become British Crown Colonies.
1905: The first hydroelectric scheme in Penang is completed, giving the island her first electricity.
1910: With the increasing popularity of motorcars, the rising demand for rubber from the West brings vast riches to Penang, turning it once again into a major port.
1941: (World War II) On 8th December, the Japanese invasion of Malaya begins. The Malayan Peninsula is taken in just three weeks. Penang is bombed, and the British flee the island to the 'impregnable fortress', Singapore.
1945: the Japanese formally surrender on 4th September, and the people of Penang give a truly royal welcome to the arriving allied liberators.
Penang Island, or commonly known as the Pearl of The Orient, has since developed into a contemporary metropolis with modern amenities and simple small town friendliness, offering the best of both worlds.
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