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Fort Cornwallis Penang

Fort Cornwallis

A stroll along the waterfront Esplanade in Penang features historical landmarks. Not to be missed is Fort Cornwallis.

Fort Cornwallis holds much historical significance. It is a bastion fort in Georgetown, Penang and the largest standing fort in Malaysia.

Where is Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis is bounded by Light Street to its south, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah to the east and to the north, and The Esplanade to the west.


Captain Francis Light, took possession of Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786. Where Light first landed on Penang Island in 1786 was the spot where Fort Cornwallis was originally built. 

The fort’s purpose back then, was to protect Penang from pirates and Kedah. 

If Captain Francis Light originally built the fort; how did it come to be known as Fort Cornwallis? The fort was named in honour of Charles Marquis Cornwallis, the then Governor-General of Bengal who had lost to George Washington in the 1781 Battle of Yorktown during the American Revolutionary War.

The fort was originally built using nibong (a Malay term meaning ‘palm trunk’) stockade with no permanent structures. In 1789, three years after the simple stockade was completed, Light began rebuilding the fort using bricks. The new design, which features a star-shaped fort, was similar with other British forts in India. Indian convict labourers were brought in for the construction of the brick fort. It was completed in 1793 at a cost of $67,000 (Spanish dollar).

Fort Cornwallis was repaired and rebuilt between 1804 and 1810. Fort Cornwallis was completed in 1810 at a cost of $80,000 (Penang dollar) – an enormous amount at the time.

Even though the fort was originally built for the British military, its function, historically, was more administrative than defensive. For example, the judge of the Supreme Court of Penang, Sir Edmond Stanley, an Anglo-Irish barrister, was first housed at Fort Cornwallis when the court opened on 31 May 1808. During the 1920s Sikh police of the Straits Settlements occupied the fort. During World War 2, the Japanese used the fort as a detention centre, as well as a site for military workshops and storehouses.

The fort was gazetted on 8 September 1977, under the Antiquities Act 168/1976, as an Ancient Monument and Historic site. In 1991, the management of Fort Cornwallis was privatised by the Penang state government in an effort to enhance its appeal as a prime tourist destination. Today, it has become one of Penang’s prime tourist attractions.

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