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Fort Cornwallis (Penang, Malaysia)

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Fort Cornwallis is located in Georgetown, Penang. It is the largest standing fort in Malaysia.

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      01.02.2011 19:38
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      A delightful old fort in the world heritage city of Georgetown Penang.

      Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown. Penang.

      Fort Cornwallis is the original site where Captain Francis Light landed in 1786. He initially built a wooden structure to act as a fortress but it was later rebuilt in stone using convict labor from India in the early 1800's. The surrounding area was quite inhospitable with very thick jungle and undergrowth and there is a story that said that in order for soldiers and locals to tame some of the jungle Light had a cannon filled with Spanish gold coins which was then fired into the jungle. The men used their machetes to cut down the fauna to reach the gold coins thereby clearing the jungle.

      The fort was built in the shape of a star right on the edge of a small headland in Georgetown. The ramparts facing out to sea and also inland was laden with canons some of which are still in place today there are approximately 17. One of the larger cannons which faces out to sea in a prominent point has been named Sri Rambai which was made in 1603 by the Dutch and given to the Sultan of Jahore. Local legend has it that any childless couple should lay flowers in the barrel of the great gun and shortly after the woman would conceive.

      Most of the cannons were seized by the British from Pirate ships and from other sources. Some of the cannons have gone missing over the years but four of the cannons are in the grounds of the Eastern and Oriental hotel. The cannons are dated Circa 1787 and have the Royal insignia of King George III. Hence the Capital of Penang is called Georgetown, named after him.

      The fort is named after Charles Marquis Cornwallis, a distinguished Governor General of India. The fort was erected to thwart potential French attacks which never actually happened. The Germans were interested in attacking Penang and establishing a base out in the Far East but again this never came about. The only time that it was occupied by invading troops was during the Second World War by the Japanese who established a base after the British had retreated to Singapore.

      Who was Francis light?

      Francis Light was the illegitimate son of a local woman Mary Light born in 1740 in the small village of Dallinghoo, Suffolk. He was taken in by a local gentleman William Negus who put him through the local grammar school at Melton. In 1759 Francis Light joined the Royal Navy and received a commission.

      After the war with the Dutch and French, Light was stood down from his commission. He eventually was given a commission with the British East India Company and he headed out East to protect the valuable spice routes and British interests in the East. The Sultan of Kedah was under constant threat of invasion by the Burmese, Siamese and the French were interested in Penang. The British offered protection in exchange for the right to stay put in Penang. However the Sultan back tracked on this agreement and in order for Light to maintain his fort and the occupation of Penang he had to make a payment to the Sultan of the sum of 6,000 Silver Spanish dollars per annum. For this it gave the right of the British to stay in Penang. There were 10 conditions signed at the treaty including the Sultan agreeing that no taxes should be paid for the spices landed there.

      Light married and had three daughters and two sons one of whom became Colonel William Light became the founder or the City of Adelaide in Australia. He died of Malaria in 1794 and is buried in the local Christian cemetery in Georgetown.
      Fort Cornwallis.

      You enter the fort over a small wooden drawbridge which brings you into a very large open area which has been transformed into an auditorium and arena where concerts and events are regularly held. Just in front of you once inside the fort is a statue of Captain Francis Light although his facial features are in fact based on those of his son.
      In one corner there is a small stone built chapel which is still intact although no longer in use. The white painted chapel is very small and to enter it you have to lower your head to get through the doorway. It is quite small inside and probably would only hold about 25 people inside at any time. It is fenced off with wrought iron railings.

      To the left of the chapel are barracks in which the soldiers were billeted. The fort is surrounded by a raised double rampart built of stone and filled with sand and grassed. It is here on the surrounding ramparts where the cannons are sited most looking out to sea although there are gun turrets surrounding the whole fort perimeter.

      In the northern corner of the fort is a very thick built building which housed the ammunition for the cannons. The walls of are very thick in order to protect the munitions from blowing up. The ramparts of the fort afford excellent views over the straits of Malacca looking over towards mainland Malaysia. Inside the fort there is a small gift shop and refreshment stall with some seating in spot shaded by trees.

      Fort Cornwallis is reputed to be the only fort left intact by the British out in the Far East. It is a very worthwhile monument to visit.

      I would recommend a visit to Fort Cornwallis. You should allow approximately one hour for your tour. It sets the scene for the historical birth of Georgetown and is quite useful in establishing the foundation, proliferation and historical development of the Island of Penang and as a very important strategic port for the spice trade.

      The fort is open from 08:30 to 19:00 hours every day.
      Cost of admission: - 2 Ringgits. (Approximately 50p)
      Address: - Padang Kota Lama,
      10200 Penang, Malaysia.

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