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Cornwallis Fort

Named after Marquis Charles Cornwallis, Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. The star-shaped bastion is one of the oldest structures in Penang, situated at the core of its capital George Town close to the local esplanade and the Penang Clock Tower. Its 3-meters (10 ft) tall outer walls with an enclosed park within are the only structures that have survived to this day. Overlooking the sea, Fort Cornwallis gives us a glimpse into the life of Malaysia-based British governors and civil servants in the colonial era of the early 1800s.

History of Cormwallis Fort

Built in 1786, Fort Cornwallis was intended as a defensive stronghold against pirates, Kedah forces and even the French during the Napoleonic Wars. However, although it was initially built for the Royal artillery troops, it served an administrative function rather than an actively defensive one.

Covering an area of 417 square meters (4490 square feet), the bastion stands on the site where in 1786 Captain Francis Light first set foot on the then virtually-uninhabited Penang. The Captain took possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah and then established a free port to lure trade from Britain’s Dutch rivals. (more in the Histoy section)

The Fort As We See It Today

A bronze statue of Captain Francis Light stands near Fort Cornwallis’ main entrance. Inside the fort there are prison cells, barracks, munitions storage areas, the harbour light once used to signal incoming ships, and the original flagstaff. In the southwest corner of the fort we can find Penang’s first chapel built in 1799. One can also see several old bronze cannons inside the fort, including Seri Rambai, cast in 1603 and commonly believed to symbolize fertility. Locals often leave offerings of flowers and joss sticks at its base. In 1606, the Dutch East India Company gave the cannon to the Sultan of Johore. In 1613, the Acehnese took possession of Seri Rambai and carried it to Aceh, only to be presented by the Achenese to Kuala Selangor in 1795. The British seized Seri Rambai in 1871 after a punitive raid on Kuala Selangor and took the cannon to Penang. The government moved it to the fort in the 1950s.

The 21-meters (69 feet) tall skeletal steel lighthouse was erected in the northeast corner of the fort in 1882. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Malaysia after the Cape Rachado Lighthouse at Tanjung Tuan, Malacca. Originally named the Fort Point Lighthouse, it was renamed the Penang Harbour Lighthouse after renovation works that took place in 1914 and 1925. In 2006, the Chairman of the State Tourism Development Committee claimed that it was the only lighthouse in Malaysia that resembles a mast of a naval vessel, and the only one in Peninsular Malaysia not serving any navigational purpose.

Tourist Information

The fort is open for visiting from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. all days of the week. Penang’s capital city George Town, whose historical core part has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is well connected with the rest of the country and the rest of the world by air, water and roadways.