Early Penang and The Unnamed and Undated Uniface 1 Pice (1 Cent) (1786) coins.
By Saran Singh AMN, AMP, PNM
18th December , 2013. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
By 1785, the State of Kedah, was under possible threat of attack from Burma (Myanmar) and Siam (Thailand). The Ruler of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Makarram Shah (1773 – 1798) asked for British protection through Francis Light of the British East India and the Governor-General of India. In return, he agreed to lease out the Island of Penang (Pulau Pinang) for defensive protection and an annual payment of Spanish Dollars Thirty Thousand.
On 2nd July 1786, the offer of leasing the Island of Penang was accepted by the Governor-General of India at Calcutta. However, the question of the quantum of defense aid and compensation to be paid annually was referred to the Court of Directors of the British East India Company in London.
Francis Light was appointed captain and given the command of the ship “Eliza” as well as appointed Superintendent of Penang. 30,000 Rupees was approved for the expedition to Penang which consistent of 100 Native Marines, 30 Lascars, 15 Artillery Men, 5 British Officers and 2 escort ships (“Prince Henry” and “Speedwell”).
Captain Francis Light met Sultan Abdullah of Kedah on 9th July, 1786 who was not pleased with the vague nature of the Agreement. However, Francis Light convinced the Sultan to tentatively allow him to occupy the Island of Penang. Light also agreed to give half the profits of the sale of tin, opium and rattan to Sultan Abdullah as a temporary measure until an official reply came from London. Finally, a provisional agreement was signed by captain Francis Light and Sultan Abdullah of Kedah on 9th July, 1786.
Francis Light left Kuala Kedah on 14th July, 1786 and arrived at Pulau Tikus on 15th July, 1786. On the 17th July, 1786, marines landed at Penaga Point, Penang Island which was a virtual jungle at that time. To clear the jungle was going to be a formidable and time consuming task. Francis light though of a easy solution. He loaded his ships cannons with the unnamed Uniface 1 Pice (1 cent) undated coins and shot the coins into the jungle. The marines who had accompanied him on the expedition, including some Chinese and Indian adventurers and fisherman, were all provided with machettes (parang) and told to clear the jungle and keep any coins they found for themselves. Needless to say, there was a rush by those present to look for the coins. In the process, part of the jungle was cleared within a few days.
This cleared area was later named Light Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street. A fortified wooden stockade was built in 1786 which was named Fort Cornwallis after the Governor General of India, Lord Charles Cornwallis. On 10th August 1786, the East Company vessels “Vansittart” and “Valentine” arrived with goods for the establishment of the new settlement in Penang.
On 11th August 1786, Captain Francis Light by a Proclamation formally took possession of the Island of Penang, which was renamed Prince of Wales Island as this date was his birthday (The Prince of Wales later became King George the IV). This first British settlement was named Georgetown after the King of England, George III. This new British settlement of Prince of Wales Island flourish and became an important trading area. In years to come, this place became famous and was known as Pearl of the Orient, partly due to its exotic beauty and pristine beaches.
The unnamed and undated Uniface 1 Pice (1 Cent) (1786) coins were struck at the Calcutta Mint at short notice in readiness for Captain Francis Lights expedition to the state of Kedah to occupy Penang Island. As the name of the Island was not decided at this time, no name was engraved on the coins, and neither was the year date. The obverse had the bale mark of the United East India Company (VEIC) within a double plain line circle. The diameter of this coin was 29mm and weight was 220-240grains, 14.25-15.56 grams.
The subsequent coins of the Prince of Wales Island were inscribed in Arabic “Jezirah Perrinsa ab Wailis” (Island Prince of Wales).
Unnamed and Undated Uniface 1 Pice (1 cent) (1786)
Prince of Wales Island 1 Pice (1 Cent) (1787)
Status of Captain Francis Light
First Superintendent of Penang
11.8.1786 – 21.10.1794(Photo: Penang Museum)
Charles, Lord Cornwallis
Governor General of India 1786-1793
after whom Ford Cornwallis is named
(Photo: National Archives, Malaysia)
Captain Francis Light at the Flagstaff on Prince of Wales Island (Pulau Pinang), proclaiming the instructions of Governor-General of India on 11th August, 1786.
(Photo: National Archives Malaysia)
Fort Cornwallis , Prince of Wales Island (Pulau Pinang) circa 1850’s.
(Photo: Museum Negara, Kuala Lumpur collection)
In June 1788, Captain Francis Light informed Sultan Abdullah of Kedah, that the Governor General of India, Lord Cornwallis, was unable to assist Kedah against its enemies, the Siamese. Further , the compensation offered was reduced to 10,000 Spanish Dollars for a period of 10 years, after which Penang was to become East India Company Territory. Further, Captain Francis Light had also failed to pay the half share of all profits to Sultan Abdullah. This offer by the British was totally unacceptable to Sultan Abdullah. Finally, in April 1791, Sultan Abdullah assembled a fleet to attach Pulau Pinang. Unfortunately , Captain Francis Light who had been forewarned, attached and defeated the Kedah fleet at Perai on 12th April, 1791. On 20th April, 1791, Sultan Abdullah reluctantly signed an agreement to allow the British East India Company to occupy Pulau Pinang in return for an annual payment of 6000 Spanish Dollars. He also had to agree not to allow any other foreign power , like the Dutch and the French, to set up a settlement in Pulau Pinang (Prince of Wales Island)
Coins for Prince of Wales Island (Pulau Pinang) continued to be issued by the British East India Company with various dates , until 1828. However, these are not within the scope of this article.
Unrecorded Oral History
In July 1786, Captain Francis Light ordered his gunners to load his cannons with the Unnamed and Undated 1 Pice (1 Cent) (1786) coins and fire them into the jungle at Penaga Point, Prince of Wales Island (Pulau Pinang). Some of the Chinese and Indian adventurers/enterprising fortune seekers from the State of Kedah as well as local fishermen who were present, were provided with machetes (parangs) and axes and told to look for the coins and in the process clear the jungle. Any coins found were to be treated as finders keepers. Within a few days , a clearing was made at this spot which today lies in a prime area. This interesting story was passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation by the early residents of Penang. This piece of hereto unrecorded history was related to the author of this article by the late Mr. Sim Ewe Eong, President and Founder Member of the Malaysia Numismatic Society, in the late 1970’s. The late Mr. Sim was a Baba Chinese whose family roots were from Penang. He was also an ardent collector of the coinage of Prince of Wales Island (Penang). This story here is recorded here for posterity before it is forgotten and passes into oblivion.
a. “The Encyclopaedia of the Coins of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei 1400 – 1986” by Saran Singh AMN, FRNS First Edition (1986). Chapter 10, Pages 253 – 281.
b. “Old Penang” by Donald Davies (Donald Moore, Singapore 1956)
c. “The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations Part 2 – Asian Territories” by Major Fred Pridmore, P.1-P.33 (Spink & Son Ltd, London 1965)
d. “Old Penang” by Donald Davies (Donald Moore, Singapore 1956)