Postcards from Penang – a walk through the Georgetown Heritage zone

I’ve already shown you some street art, but now let’s take a walk through the heritage zone…

Fort Cornwallis

The first stop on our heritage walking tour is Fort Cornwallis. This was built by Francis Light, the guy who came to Penang hoping to steal the trade market from the Dutch for the British East India Company. And a lucrative market it was – spice, rubber, opium. In 1786 he arranged the lease of the island from the Sultan of Kedah. In the process, he founded Penang as a British colony. As an aside, lease payments to Kedah to the tune of RM10,000 still persist today. That was one well-worded contract.

There’s a statue of Francis Light in the grounds of the fort, although apparently, it bears the features of his son…go figure. Also, it used to have a sword, now it doesn’t.

Anyways, there have been programs over the years to have this place demolished only for it to get a last-minute reprieve. The Japanese occupied the fort during WW2 and during the 1950s the final plan to demolish it was overturned. Having said that, there’s really not a lot left here to look at.

The cannon is, however, interesting. It has the stamp of the Dutch East India Company from back in the 1600s and was at some point given to the Sultan of Johore. It disappeared for a while when the ship it was on was sunk by pirates but was resurrected in 1880 when a prince made a curse on it by tying a piece of string around his finger and commanding it to rise to the surface – which of course, it did. If only everything was so easy.

Whether it’s the truth or not it makes for an excellent story. Naturally, the whole rise to the surface thing has morphed into a fertility legend – as these things do – and if an infertile woman places flowers on the cannon the legend is she will be able to conceive. As I said, it makes for a good story.

The Clan Jetties

Essentially the clan jetties were used for the loading and unloading of goods and the mooring of boats. Over the years they became villages on stilts settled by clans of Chinese families connected by family or region – not always with peaceful consequences.

Lim Jetty
Chew Jetty
Cheah Kongsi

The clan houses in Georgetown deserve more than a paragraph here. More than lodging houses or quasi “embassies” for newly arrived members of the family or from the village/region in China, these were essentially run as organised crime outfits – with some seriously colourful and violent outcomes. They have, though, been through what can only be described as a very successful rebranding exercise.

Anyways, I’ll tell you more about them another time. For now, though, this one in Armenian Street belonged to one of the most influential of them all. If you only visit one clan house in Georgetown, it should be this one – even if it’s just to admire the intricacy of the decorations.

Armenian Street

Do you remember I told you about the Sarkie brothers who built the Eastern & Oriental? If not, the post is here. They were Armenian and this part of town is named for the Armenian immigrants to Georgetown. As an aside, there’s also an Armenian Street in Georgetown, Channai, in India. It’s named for the same reason. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Come here for the street art – and the ice creams…

Next time… The Green and Blue Mansions…






Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

12 thoughts

  1. Hi Jo – So much interesting history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant colours. Plus who can resist street art and ice creams? Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Another great history lesson and how gorgeous are the colours! Shame I didn’t know about that cannon many years ago when I was trying to start a family! Got there in the end but that cannon might have sped the process up! LOL #TeamLovinLife

  3. Okay, I’m kinda ashamed to admit I thought you’d recently gone to Hong Kong and Singapore, though realise Penang is in Malaysia. D’oh.

    I’d have to look at a map to remember but I’ve only been into one area of Malaysia accessible from Singapore via a day trip. It was 1997, so a while ago now but I’m fairly sure I should remember more about the visit than I do. (I was volunteering in Cambodia at the time and a friend and I went to Singapore during the Khmer New Year long weekend. All I can remember is how expensive wine was; Raffles; and the fact there was grass!

    1. I laughed at your first comment. I reckon where you went to was Jahore Bahru – it’s just over the causeway. We did a day trip from Singapore too on that first trip all those years ago. And wine is still ludicrously expensive.

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