|Captain Francis Light|
The statue of Captain Sir Francis Light at Penang, Malaysia
Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England, Britain
|Died||25 October 1794 (aged 53)
|Known for||Founding Penang|
Light was baptised in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, England on 15 December 1740. His mother was given as Mary Light, though his father preferred to remain anonymous. He was taken in by a relative, the nobleman William Negus, and educated in elementary school with the Negus children, but was apprenticed early to a Naval Surgeon. It was initially thought that Light was the illegitimate son of William Negus, but according to Noël Francis Light Purdon, the 6-times great-grandson of Francis Light, Negus was paid to look after him and be his guardian throughout his schooling.
For about ten years he had his headquarters in Salang, Siam, near Phuket, reviving a failed French trading post. While living there he learned to speak and write several languages, including Malay and Siamese. In 1785, he warned the Thais on Phuket Island of an imminent Burmese attack. Light's warning enabled the islanders to prepare for Phuket's defence and subsequently repel the Burmese invasion.
On behalf of the British East India Company, he leased the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah, where many others had failed by promising military aid to Sultan Abdullah from Kedah. In addition, he was supposedly given a Princess of Kedah as a reward. (Other sources state that the Princess was sent to covet Light's aid on behalf of the Sultan).
The multicultural colony of Penang became extraordinarily successful from its inception and Light served as the Superintendent of the colony until his death.
Light died from malaria on 21 October 1794 and was buried at the Penang Protestant cemetery on Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah) in George Town. A statue, which bears his name but has the facial features of his son William, stands at Fort Cornwallis in George Town.
Light had four daughters and two sons with Martina Rozells, who was said to be of Portuguese and Siamese lineage. Martina is occasionally referred to in the literature as the Princess of Kedah, as above. If they were legally married, he did not declare it. However, it was against East India Company rules to marry a Catholic and, as Martina was Catholic, Light may have tried to avoid dismissal by never declaring his marriage. He did leave her his considerable property.
Their son, Colonel William Light, was the first Surveyor General of the Colony of South Australia; William is famous for choosing the site of the colony's capital, Adelaide, and designing the layout of the streets and parks in the Adelaide city centre, North Adelaide and the Adelaide Park Lands.
A street near the heritage district of George Town, Penang is named after him. Convent Light Street, one of Penang's oldest girls' schools, is located along the street.
- The date on his tombstone in the Northam Road cemetery says he died on 21 October 1794, but an official despatch sent by Philip Mannington, Light's successor, shows Francis Light as having died on "25 October 1794".
- Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Society for Army Historical Research (London, England), 1982; Item notes: v.60 no.244 1982; p. 80
- Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Malayan Branch, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1959; p. 22
- "British & Indian Armies in the East Indies, 1685–1935", A. G. Harfield, Picton Pub., 1984; ISBN 0-902633-95-3, ISBN 978-0-902633-95-7; p. 58
- Francis Light Grave, Penang | Malaysia AsiaExplorers
- Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East ..., Volume 2 edited by Keat Gin Ooi
- Leslie James, (2005) On The Trail of Francis Light, Founder of Modern Penang
- Kernial Singh Sandhu, (1969). Indians in Malaya-immigration and settlement, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
- Sinnappah, Anasanatnam, (1979). Indians in Malaysia and Singapore. Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur.
- A. Francis Steuart, (1901). A Short Sketch of the Lives of Francis and William Light. Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London.