Monday, October 19, 2020

Francis Light (1740–1794)

Captain Francis Light is known as the founder of the British Settlement of Penang.

Francis Light was a Suffolk man and he baptized on 15th December, 1740. Educated at Seckford’s Grammar School, Woodbridge, Suffolk, he passed through life as a mid-shipman, country-trader, gun-runner and private trader, eventually becoming “Superintendent of Prince of Wales Island” in 1786.

Francis Light was a British naval officer who was responsible for acquiring Penang (Pinang) Island in the Strait of Malacca as a British naval base. Light served in the Royal Navy from 1759 until 1763.

In 1771, Captain Light entered the list of empire builders by having some communications with Warren Hastings regarding a proposal for a British settlement in the neighborhood of the Malay Peninsula, the need of which has not escaped the keen eye of the Governor-General of India.

In command of a merchant ship, he went in 1771 to the northern Malay state of Kedah, where he won the confidence of the sultan, Mohammed. About that time England, at war with France, was looking for a suitable naval outpost along the Malay Peninsula.

From 1771, he was involved in various proposals to cede land belonging to Kedah to the British. Light conducted the negotiations with Mohammed’s son, Sultan Abdullah of Kedah, who was threatened by the powerful states of Siam (Thailand) and Myanmar (Burma). Abdullah agreed to English occupation in exchange for support against other Southeast Asian powers.

In 1786 Light was able to report to the Bengal Government that he had persuaded the Sultan to cede the Island of Penang (Pulau Penang) to the East India Company. The Sultan of Kedah will receive material remuneration (monetary compensation) from the British for his Majesty’s readiness to surrender Penang Island as a British base in the Straits of Malacca. The offer was accepted and in June 1786 Light was appointed first Superintendent of the new British colony.

Penang was annexed on Aug. 11, 1786, but the British allowed Siam to take over control of Kedah early in the 19th century. Light governed the settlement, which was declared a free port. Penang Island became developed after it was made a freeport by the British.

He died in office on 21st December, 1794.
Francis Light (1740–1794)

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