Penang, also known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, was one of the first areas to be acquired by the British. In 1786, British officer Sir Francis Light persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to cede the island to the British East India Company. In return, among other conditions, he offered the Sultan British military protection from the Siamese who had a territorial interest in Kedah. The island’s strategic location as a naval base in the East Indies, and as a centre of trade and port-of-call between China and India in the eighteenth century, were the key factors behind the acquisition.
Penang was named Prince of Wales Island after reigning British monarch, George III and the new capital called Georgetown. Later in 1800, the Sultan of Kedah surrendered another large tract of land, this time on the mainland adjacent to the island. This was named Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) after the British Governor of India at that time.
The pioneer settlement flourished and the population swelled from 1 000 to 12 000 within two decades. In 1805, Penang was upgraded to the status of a Presidency and it became part of the Straits Settlements 1832. The British had ruled Penang for 100 years by the time it became part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.