Fort Cornwallis, Penang: The fort that never fired a shot

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 28th, 2011. Updated on October 5th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Malaysia.
Cannon at Fort Cornwallis Penang

Cannon feature heavily at Fort Cornwallis in Penang, Malaysia

A second visit to the unique Fort Cornwallis in Penang, Malaysia

I never had time to write about Fort Cornwallis the last time I was in Penang. So taking advantage of my one night half day stop over, I couldn’t think of a better time to write about it.

If, for nothing else, its uniqueness in the world.

The history of Fort Cornwallis

Built in 1786 from Palm trees by Captain Sir Francis Light, British, it was rebuilt with brick in 1804-1810 by Colonel R.T. Farquhar using convicts from India.  Fort Cornwallis was named after the Governor-General of Bengal, India.

The Fort was built as a classic Star Fort, and you can still see this fine example of military architecture with ease. It is also the largest intact standing fort in Malaysia today. An old moat still surrounds the outer walls, but it’s much shallower than its original 9m due to being filled in during a Malaria epidemic in the 1920’s.

Enteranceway to Fort Cornwallis

Entrance way to Fort Cornwallis – fee 3 ringgit

Fort Cornwallis was originally built to ward off pirates from the island of Penang, Malaysia. Kedah, a Malaysian state that originally occupied Penang. And, the French during the Napoleonic wars.

You’d think with all this going on the fort would have seen a lot of “action”. But, the truth is:

Fort Cornwallis never fired a single shot of aggression, nor defense, in its history.

My visit to Fort Cornwallis

I was expecting a dry unkempt place, or a place infused with play toys similar to the open air war museum in Penang I’d previously visited. I got a little of both. But, at least they are trying, and dig a little deeper and you’ll see someone, at sometime; put a lot of work into the fort.

Greeted by people dressed in “traditional” grab, I shuddered away with a map and some leaflets to make my own way around with Keith, a British traveler I’d met on the train. Both of us a little jaded by typical tourist “must sees”.

First impressions were, well … it’s quite grassy! Yes, the inside is not stone, nor gravel, but in fact grass mounds with some buildings running around the outer walls.

Old Chapel inside Fort Cornwallis, Penang, Malaysia

The old Chapel inside the fort, not much inside, but beside it is are a row of buildings with photographs depicting the history of the fort

Pictures from the past

Inside many of the buildings are old black & white photos sealed behind plastic sheeting. They depict life as it was back then. Each building has a, sometimes, working air conditioner. If you have a liking to this side of history, you’ll have seen all this before. If not, it still might not be too interesting.

But, they do try to tell some stories about people’s lives there, which is a nice touch. Something missing in many museums today. A story can bring people into history a lot farther than mere facts and figures.

Cannon are the highlight of fort Cornwallis

Perched up around the outer ramparts are many old cannon. And surely if you have a “thing” for cannons, then you’ll love this part. Many are still in good shape. With engravings still clearly visible.

Overall conclusion on Fort Cornwallis?

Even though I love history, particularly relatively hidden history. I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the place. If I was a cannon person, I probably would though.

Cannon from 1798 on display at fort Cornwallis

It’s good to see history like this old Cannon from 1798 on display at Fort Cornwallis

Those things being said, it’s good to see the restoration work that went on at the fort. And, it’s a credit to the people involved that they took their time with it. Even if the main motivation was tourism income.

But, I wonder if this attraction is making them any money? At 3 ringgit for an entrance ticket I hope so. More out of fear it might turn into some sort of theme park in the future than anything else.

Half day in Penang done, time to move on

I’ve seen most of Penang from my previous stay here, and truth being told, my main motivation was the tandoori chicken! That and the fact that taking a train to Penang from Bangkok was cheaper than flying. So why not!

One of the things I must capitalize on in my journey is to take advantage of time. Sometimes there’s no point in rushing. Even when I think I am not rushing, I am.

I must get to a place before lunch, or I must get from A to B directly.

No more of that for a while. If you subscribe to my newsletter / updates, then you’ll know I have a few months to wait around. And, while I know where I am going, I am determined to take this “opportunity” and spend time not pushing myself too much.

Which is precisely what I am trying to accomplish on this trip from Bangkok. I could have stayed on the train, but in turn I would have missed out on all this. However, even as I write this, I know I should have spent more than just one more night in Penang!

All that said, as I waited for the ferry, a bright pink sunrise greeted me. Making even the industrial background look nice.

Pink sunrise in Penang, Malaysia

Pink sunrise in Penang, Malaysia … possibly worth the overnight stay alone!

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Coming Soon:

More than one night in Kuala Lumpur … we are not there yet!

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10 Great responses to Fort Cornwallis, Penang: The fort that never fired a shot

  1. craftskin says:

    Hey I hope you enjoy your time here in Malaysia! And I hope you’d stay long enough to experience the “Bazaar Ramadhan” that is happening only one month in a year! It’s an eating feast all-month long!

  2. Leslie says:

    I like your caveat that you are not a “cannon person.” Does such a type of tourist exist? lol. Looks like a rather tame attraction!

  3. Auds says:

    Tasik Chini 100km from Kuantan is beautiful if you have time to visit. I was there many years ago. Then it was a little known place, peaceful, tranquil, beautiful. A bit of fishing, riding in a sampan amongst Lotus plants….. Loooveeeeely!!!

  4. Ivy says:

    My, oh me, what a beautiful pink landscape. Still following ;)

  5. hayadith says:

    hey..welcome back!. Fasting month is coming for muslims..So, enjoy the food freely..hehehe

  6. Dragos says:

    I run into your blog by chance, but it looks very interesting. so I am starting to follow it. A lot of interesting information about various places and I am glad you liked the food in my native country, Romania :-)
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  7. Ryan says:

    It looks like a truly amazing place, at least the locals are now finding a use and making money from the British weapons that were no doubt used against the people of Penang back in the Empire building days of the hated British Empire.

  8. Anna's World says:

    A beautiful sunrise! You really do push Penang as being a great place! Has anyone anything negative to say about it? Just wondering.

  9. Palawan Martin says:

    Ah last time i visited Penang, i walked past that place 5 mins after arriving on the ferry from Butterworth, i will go there this weekend and check out the tandoori . I was a bit put off by the garish graphics last time