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