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Captain Francis Light (c.1740 – 21 October 1794) was the founder of the British colony of Penang (in modern-day Malaysia) and its capital city of George Town in 1786.

Captain Francis Light
Francis Light Statue - panoramio.jpg
The statue of Captain Sir Francis Light at Penang, Malaysia
Born1740 (1740)
Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England, Britain
Died21 October 1794(1794-10-21) (aged 53–54)[1]
OccupationColonial official
Known forModernising Penang
RelativesSon William Light, founder of Adelaide

He and Martina Rozells were the parents of William Light, founder of Adelaide in South Australia.

Early yearsEdit

Light was baptised in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England on 15 December 1740. His mother was given as Mary Light. Taken in by a relative, the nobleman William Negus, he attended Woodbridge Grammar School[2] from 1747.[3] Researchers initially believed Light to be the illegitimate son of William Negus, but according to author Noël Francis Light Purdon,[4] the six-times great-grandson of Francis Light, Negus received payment for looking after him and acting as his guardian throughout his education.[Note 1]

CareerEdit

Naval careerEdit

Light began his service in the Royal Navy as a surgeon's servant on HMS Mars in February 1754.[3] He started an apprenticeship in the Royal Navy in 1759 (aged 19) on HMS Captain, before being transferred after a few months to the newly-commissioned HMS Dragon.[5] He was a midshipman on HMS Arrogant in 1761[2] before ending his service with the navy in 1763.[3]

It was in the navy that he met James Scott, who would later play an important part in his life and business dealings.[6][7]

In the coloniesEdit

His movements between 1763 and 1765 are not recorded, but it seems that he managed to amass enough of a fortune to bequeath a considerable amount of property in a will to William Negus and three other men.[8]

Thalang, SiamEdit

In 1765 Light embarked the East India Company's ship Clive,[3] captained by John Allen,[9] bound for Madras and Bombay. In India, he secured command of a "country ship" belonging to Madras trading firm Jourdain, Sulivan & Desouza,[3] the Speedwell. Setting up a base in Thalang in Siam (also known as Salang and Jung/JunkCeylon, now Phuket province, in Thailand), he traded there, in Aceh (now an Indonesian province) and the Malay Peninsula, learning the local languages. Basing himself in Thalang, he met Martina Rozells, and together they set up a trading post in Kuala Kedah.[6] He soon gained an influential position with the Sultan of Kedah.[3]

For about ten years he had his headquarters in Thalang, where he revived a failed French trading post. While in Thalang he learned to speak and write several languages, including Malay and Thai, and became family friends with Than Phu Ying Chan and her husband, the Governor of Thalang. Later, in 1785, he warned the island administrators of an imminent Burmese attack. Light's warning enabled the islanders, led by Chan and her sister Mook, to prepare for Thalang's defence and subsequently repel the Burmese invasion.[10]

In 1785, after the death of the Governor of Thalang, his widow Pia Pimons and other relatives proposed that Light assume the position; however the King of Siam, Rama II, thwarted the proposal.[11]

PenangEdit

Light's interest in Penang had begun in 1771, when he proposed the idea of a British settlement in the neighbourhood of the Malay Peninsula to Warren Hastings, the East India Company's Governor of the Presidency of Fort William (Bengal). He suggested that the island of Penang might serve as a "convenient magazine for the Eastern trade" but at that time his idea gained no ground.[12]

In 1776–7, Light arranged a large shipment of firearms for the Siamese Kingdom of Thonburi, ruled by Taksin the Great.[13]

Whereas his previous suggestion had brought no result, following the war that ended in the Peace of 1783 with France and Spain during which Britain had struggled with France for naval superiority, Light's suggestion took on a new significance. In 1786, on behalf of the British East India Company, Light leased Penang Island from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah (who had succeeded Muhammad Jewa in 1778 as leader of Kedah Sultanate), for the price of 6,000 Spanish dollars per annum.[14]

Under the administration of Governor-general Sir John Macpherson, Light was entitled Superintendent and put in charge of the settlement, styled Dewa Raja by the Malays, on 1 July 1786; thus marking the beginning of British expansion into the Malay States, and into British colonisation in Southeast Asia.[6] The new colony was very sparsely populated at this time: it was described as "one vast jungle of nearly 107 square miles, with a population of only fifty-eight souls". Pirates had to be discouraged from landing, and forests were cleared. George Town (named after George III) was established, and when two EIC ships appeared on the coast, Light took the opportunity of inviting the ships and crews to attend the declaration of the new colony of Prince of Wales Island on 11 August 1786, being the eve of the Prince of Wales's birthday.[14]

The Sultan, however, was bound under the Southeast Asian mandala political model in fealty to the King of Siam. Light had exceeded his authority with a promise of military aid should the Burmese or Siamese invade,[15] despite the fact that Sultan Abdullah asked him not to land until the military aid had been confirmed in London. Thus, when the Sultan's land was invaded and no aid was forthcoming, the Sultan attempted to take back the island as a refuge in 1790.[16][Note 2][17]

The multicultural colony of Penang became extraordinarily successful from its inception and Light served as Superintendent of the settlement until his death in October 1794, apart from between 21 Nov 1789 and 9 Feb 1790, when John Glass acted in his place.[17][18] By 1789 there were about 10,000 inhabitants, and by 1795, 20,000.[19]

 
Family tree of the Capel family descendants of Light

Accounts of his actions seem to indicate that he was a fair-minded and honourable man. In 1790, he asked for a higher salary, in order to allow him to live without having to engage in trade (by which he may have enriched himself, but possibly compromise his role). This led to his business partnership with James Scott being dissolved.[20][7] In 1794, he recommended that a proper system of justice should be instituted in Penang, as it should not be within the powers of the Superintendent to dispense "arbitrary judgement".[21]

Death and legacyEdit

 
Tomb of Francis Light in Penang's Protestant Cemetery

Light died from malaria on 21 October 1794[1][Note 3] and was buried at the Old Protestant cemetery at Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah) in George Town.[23] He remembered his friends James Scott, William Fairlie and Thomas Pegou in his will.[24]

A bronze statue, sculpted by F.J. Wilcoxson and cast at Burton's Foundry in Thames Ditton, bears Francis Light's name name but was actually modelled on the features of his son William, there being no portrait of Francis to use. Erected in 1936 to celebrate 150 years since George Town was founded, it stands at Fort Cornwallis in George Town.[6]

Light Street, within the UNESCO World Heritage Site in George Town, is named after him. Convent Light Street, Penang's oldest girls' school, founded in 1852, is located along the street.[6]

He was respected by his British peers as a fair and honourable man and admired for his achievements, which included keeping the Siamese and Dutch at bay. He was a skilled negotiator and cared for the welfare of the people both in his colony and old friends in Thalang, sending rice when the island was hit by famine. He spoke the local languages and partially assumed the local dress, earning the love of the residents of Penang.[25]

FamilyEdit

Martina RozellsEdit

Light had three daughters and two sons with Martina (sometimes spelt Martinha) Rozells (possibly born Thong Di),[26] whose origins and status are the subject of debate. She has been variously recorded as being of Portuguese or French extraction on one side, and of Siamese or Malay on the other. She was also rumoured to have been a princess,[27] possibly given to Light as a reward, or the island as her dowry, although other sources state that the princess was sent to enlist Light's aid on behalf of the Sultan.[28][29] Two contemporaries of Light, historian William Marsden (who says that she was the daughter of the Sultan of Kedah), and Captain Elisha Trapaud (who describes the wedding of Light to a princess of the Sultan's family, bestowed upon him as a mark of the prince's gratitude) seem to confirm the story that she was of noble blood. However, John Crawford, later First Resident of Singapore,[30] said in 1820 that Martina was not a princess, but a Portuguese woman from Siam,[31] and Steuart points out that there is no evidence that Trapaud knew Light when the couple began living together.[32] Other contemporary accounts name her as the daughter of the 19th Sultan of Kedah (Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin II), by a lower-ranking wife of mixed Thai-Portuguese ancestry. She may have adopted her mother's name to emphasise her ancestry and "high birth". She was probably one of many Portuguese Eurasian Catholics who had fled religious persecution in southern Siam and to Kedah.[33]

There were a number of Rozells registered at George Town in 1788. There was also a Martinha (no surname) shown as being of Siam, with a son William, of Kedah. Steuart posits that Martina was the same person as the "Nonya" who took part in the earliest negotiations with the Sultan in 1770-1. This would support the idea that she was not a princess, but nevertheless had strong connections with both Siam and Kedah and therefore a useful person to employ in negotiations between the Sultan and the British at Aceh.[32]

If they were legally married, Light did not declare it. However, it was against East India Company rules to marry a Catholic and, as Martina was Catholic, Light may have tried to avoid dismissal by never declaring his marriage. He did leave her his considerable property. Either way, they cohabited for at least 22 years before his death.[27]

Light's business partners, James Scott[7] and William Fairlie, were the executors of Light's will, and some versions of events have suggested that these two cheated Rozells out of some of her inheritance, namely their family residence and land, the Suffolk Estate. She did however inherit a bungalow in Penang. The EIC paid Rozells a pension, but she did not get justice with regard to her property in the British courts. Although she was regarded as Light's wife among the Eurasians and Thai community, she was not regarded as his official wife by the British.[27]

Rozells married a John Timmer at a ceremony at the chapel in Fort Cornwallis in 1799.[27]

Family life, offspringEdit

Light and his family lived in the first home built on the Suffolk Estate, four 4 miles (6.4 km) west of George Town. Their home was described as a "simple Anglo-Indian Garden House style of timber and attap construction", built within his pepper estate.[citation needed] (After Light's estate was settled in 1805, William Edward Phillips built a grand Georgian-styled mansion called Suffolk Park.)

His eldest son, Colonel William Light, was the first Surveyor General of the Colony of South Australia; William is famous for choosing the site of the colony's capital, Adelaide, and designing the layout of the streets and parks in the Adelaide city centre, North Adelaide and the Adelaide Park Lands.

The other son, Francis Lanoon Light II, was born in Penang in 1791, married a Javanese woman, Charlotte Aboni, with whom he had a daughter and two sons. He died in 1823.[34] His descendants are the Capel family in Malaysia.[35]

Their daughters were named Sarah, Mary and Ann (aka "Lukey"). They all married in Calcutta. Sarah married General James Welsh, an EIC officer in the Madras Army. Mary married a wealthy indigo plantation owner, George Boyd,[36] and Ann married a physician, Charles Hunter.[37]

By 1818, Welsh observed that his wife and her siblings had seen all of their mother's property disappear.[27]

In the artsEdit

In October 2019, co-commissioned by Adelaide's OzAsia festival and Penang's George Town Festival, a play was created and staged by Malaysian duo TerryandTheCuz, named Light. Rather than presenting a straight historical narrative, the play explores the personal circumstances first of Light and his pivotal role in Penang's modern history, and then of his son William in Adelaide. The roles of the women in their lives are interrogated, as well as the various colonial, trade and personal ambitions of the British government, the East India Company and individuals in their lives. It shows how their lives were influenced by global politics, in particular the rise of the British Empire in the Eastern hemisphere. The life of Martina Rozells is also brought to life.[38]

See alsoEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ Purdon was/is reportedly authoring a book on the Light Family. See also here and notes about a talk he gave.
  2. ^ Shah's reigns incorrectly recorded as 1773 in this source - should be 1778.
  3. ^ One source mentions 25 October.[22]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Bastin, John; Stubbs Brown, M. (May 1959). "Historical Sketch of Penang in 1794". Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 32 (1 (185)): 21–22. Retrieved 29 October 2019. Light died on 21 October 1794, and was succeeded as Superintendent of Penang by Phillip Mannington...succeeded by Thomas Pegou as Acting-Superintendent on 30 November 1795 (footnote 31) See page-url.
  2. ^ a b Steurt 1901, p. 4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Light, Francis (The Light Letters)". AIM25. Part of The Malay Documents now held by School of Oriental and African Studies. Retrieved 25 October 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ "Contributors". Transnational Literature. 2 (1): 4. November 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  5. ^ Clodd, Harold Parker) (1948), Malaya's first British pioneer: the life of Francis Light, Luzac, p. 1, ISBN 978-0-375-42750-3
  6. ^ a b c d e Khoo, Salma Nasution (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang (4th ed.). Areca Books. p. 88, 112. ISBN 9789839886009. Full text at archive.org.
  7. ^ a b c Harfield, A. G. (1984). British & Indian Armies in the East Indies, 1685–1935. Picton. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-902633-95-7. By 1779 [Scott] was on Junk Ceylon Island and became a firm friend of Francis Light. They agreed that once Scott was established on Pulo Pinang that Light would administer the island and accept the inevitable loss that the Company salary involved, and Scott would trade and make enough for both. Tregonnning records that he did this and continued to prosper even after the death of Francis Light... He died on 19 September 1808 and was buried in Northam Road Cemetery.
  8. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 5-6.
  9. ^ "British Merchant east indiaman 'Clive' (1762)". Three Decks. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  10. ^ Simmonds 1965, p. 217-222.
  11. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 9.
  12. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 7.
  13. ^ Wade, Geoff (2014). Asian Expansions: The Historical Experiences of Polity Expansion in Asia. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia. Routledge. p. 175. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  14. ^ a b Steurt 1901, p. 13-25.
  15. ^ Bindloss, Joe; Brash, Celeste (2008). Kuala Lumpur, Melaka & Penang. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781741044850.
  16. ^ Ooi, Keat Gin, ed. (2004). "Penang (1786)". Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor. ABC-CLIO. p. 1048. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Malay States (Penang)". World Statesmen. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  18. ^ Bastin, John; Stubbs Brown, M. (May 1959). "Historical Sketch of Penang in 1794". Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 32 (1 (185)): 21. Retrieved 29 October 2019. Glass was captain of the garrison at Penang, but, in fact, a "country" trader, and a close friend of Francis Light. He was one of the ships' captains present at the raising of the British flag on Penang on 11 August 1796. See E.Trapaud, A Short Account..., p.17". page-url
  19. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 24.
  20. ^ Steurt 1901, pp. 28-29.
  21. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 32.
  22. ^ Harfield, A. G. (1982). "Fort Cornwallis, Pulo Pinang. (With notes on two 19th Century Military artists)". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 60 (242 (Summer 1982)): 80. Retrieved 29 October 2019. The date on his tombstone in the Northam Road cemetery says he died on 21 October 1794, but Tregonning records in his book that an official despatch sent by Philip Mannington, Light's successor, shows Francis Light as having died on 25 October 1794" page-url Tregonning's The Founding of Penang (1786-1826) perhaps?
  23. ^ Mok, Opalyn (6 November 2014). "Historical cemetery where Francis Light is buried to be given a facelift". Malay Mail. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  24. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 34.
  25. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 37-38.
  26. ^ Martina she is referred in one source as Martinha Thong Di but took her mother’s name of Rozells.
  27. ^ a b c d e "The light of his life Francis Light's contributions are fondly remembered but not those of his wife". Star Online. Article quotes Clodd (1948) and historians Ooi Kee Beng and Marcus Langdon. 6 April 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)
  28. ^ Leslie James, (2005) On The Trail of Francis Light, Founder of Modern Penang
  29. ^ Crawfurd, John (August 2006) [First published 1830]. "Chapter I — Arrival at Penang.". Journal of an Embassy from the Governor-general of India to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China. Volume 1 (2nd ed.). London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley. p. 22. OCLC 03452414. Retrieved 10 February 2014. The history of this little establishment is very shortly told... There is no foundation whatever for the idle story which has gained currency, of Mr. Light's having received Penang as a dowry with a daughter of the King of Queda. It was made over to the East India Company, in consideration of a yearly payment of 6000 Spanish dollars.
  30. ^ Firaci, Biagio (10 June 2014). "Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and the British Colonization of Singapore among Penang, Melaka and Bencoonen". Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  31. ^ Steurt 1901, pp. 26-27.
  32. ^ a b Simmonds 1965, p. 216.
  33. ^ De Souza, Poppy (4 April 2016). "I was a Siamese Princess: Reconstructing colonial (her)stories". Poppy de Souza. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  34. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 31.
  35. ^ Kim, Choong Kwee (25 December 2004). "Special Xmas for Capel clan". Star Online. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  36. ^ It must have been her wedding that her brother William attended.
  37. ^ Steurt 1901, p. 35.
  38. ^ Jefferson, Dee (19 October 2019). "Malaysian-Australian play about Adelaide's founding father William Light premieres at OzAsia Festival". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 23 October 2019.

Cited sourcesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • The SOAS Archives hold the official papers and correspondence of Captain Francis Light as per this entry. "MS 40320Letters (in Malay), to Captain Francis Light R.N, first Superintendentof Prince of Wales Island [Penang] 1786-1791, with various Malay rulers and dignitaries. Also documents of the same period relating to Bencoolen [Benkulen] and the West Sumatra Presidency, approximately 1,200 letters, bound in 11 volumes. Detailed catalogue in preparation."

OnlineEdit