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Fort Cornwallis is a bastion fort in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, It was built by the British East India Company in the late 18th century. Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. The fort never engaged in combat during its operational history.
Captain Francis Light took possession of Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786 and established a British trading post. He built the star shaped fort, which was the first military and administrative base of the East India Company. It was a nibong palm trunk stockade with no permanent structures, covering an area of 417.6 square feet. The fort's purpose was to protect Penang from pirates and Kedah. It is named after the then Governor-General of Bengal, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, who had also been involved in the American War of Independence.
Fort Cornwallis entrance
Captain Francis Light died in 1794. In 1804, after the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, and during Colonel R.T. Farquhar’s term as Governor of Penang, Indian convict labourers rebuilt the fort using brick and stone. Fort Cornwallis was completed in 1810, at the cost of $80,000, during Norman Macalister’s term as Governor of Penang. A moat 9 metres wide by 2 metres deep once surrounded the fort but it was filled in the 1920s due to a malaria outbreak in the area.
Even though the fort was originally built for the British military, its function, historically, was more administrative than defensive. Its military status was downgraded in 1897 and it became a base for police and volunteer forces. Japanese troops occupied Fort Cornwallis in WWII, utilising it and the Esplanade for warehouses.
Gunpowder Magazine was used to store explosives
Inside the fort were barracks to house artillery regiments and officers, storerooms for armaments, gunpowder, gun carriages, clothing and foodstuffs, as well as kitchens, toilets and even a cell to house military prisoners. Access was via bridges leading to the two gateways seen today. Over each gateway was a building which served as officers’ quarters. The Gunpowder Magazine, constructed in 1814, was used to store explosives. Its pillbox-shaped design with thick wall was meant to minimise damage in the event of an explosion.
Majority Cannons mounted on the Fort Cornwallis’s ramparts were 9 and 18-pounders
The majority of cannons mounted on the fort’s ramparts were 9 and 18-pounders. Even when firing blanks they shook the walls and threatened the structure. For real defence against shipping in the days of muzzle-loaded cannons, 32-pounders were required. To this end, an additional defensive line was constructed outside of the two sea-facing sides of the fort, approximately where today’s road runs. By 1814 the fort’s arsenal comprised 110 cannons and 12 mortars over half of which were mounted on the outer defences.
Seri Rambai is the largest cannon at Fort Cornwallis
The largest cannon, known as Seri Rambai, was cast in 1603. The Dutch East India Company gave it to the Sultan of Johore in 1606. In 1613, the Acehnese took possession of Seri Rambai and carried it to Aceh. In 1795, the Achenese gave it to Kuala Selangor. The British seized Seri Rambai in 1871 as booty after a punitive raid on Kuala Selangor, and took the cannon to Penang. The government moved it to the fort in the 1950s.
Penang Harbour Lighthouse
A 21 metres 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 Fort Point Lighthouse, it was renamed Penang Harbour Lighthouse after renovation in 1914 and 1925. It was the only lighthouse in Malaysia that resembles a ship's mast. It is the only one in Peninsular Malaysia that not serving any navigational purpose.
By the early 1970s, Fort Cornwallis was declared a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. An extensive restoration programme was undertaken in 2000– 2001, including reconstruction of the demolished western wall.
Today, Fort Cornwallis is not only a historic icon of Penang’s history but a unique and precious architectural gem to the world. Tt has become one of Penang's prime tourist attractions.
Fort Cornwallis is open daily 09:00–22:00. Ticket with MyKad / MyKid / MM2H / i-Kad, adult RM10, children RM5. Ticket without MyKad / MyKid / MM2H / i-Kad, adult RM20, children RM10.
Trip Suggestion : 2 hours
Operating Hours : Daily 09:00–22:00
Admission Fee : Ticket with MyKad / MyKid / MM2H / i-Kad, adult RM10, children RM5. Ticket without MyKad / MyKid / MM2H / i-Kad, adult RM20, children RM10
Address : Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia