Day 11 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife through Asia and beyond. Join us as we explore history and culture. And after thirty years in Asia, we are now back in the UK. What next?

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 11 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020

Today we visit Kota Kuala Kedah, and well, if you watch the video, you will see us trying to see if Mahathir is home.


We went off to Kota Kuala Kedah, which basically means the fort at the Kedah estuary. It is a fortress that dates from the 17th Century. There is not a lot to the fort nowadays, but they have a rather nice museum that tells the story of the place.

If you watch Malaysian movies about the heroic warrior past, and I am sure you must have been, you will see the gateway in the photo above being smashed open by hordes of angry Siamese, Bugis, Achenese, or whoever, bent upon pillage and plunder.

From a British point of view the interesting thing about this fort is that here, Captain Light helped the Sultan fight off Bugis marauders. The end result was that Penang was offered up as a trading post for the East India Company, in the expectation that the British were now the Sultan's Best Friends Forever. It did not quite work out that way as the Company reneged on all its promises.

One line that I hear a lot about the British Empire is that the British used a policy of "Divide and Conquer". Given how endlessly hopeless the British were and still are at formulating any coherent foreign policy, it is hard to imagine they had any strategy at all. The behaviour of the East India Company over Penang illustrates typical British policy, i.e. no policy! The East India Company did not want Penang. They thought it worthless and still found themselves in control of it. They then continually bitched at the lack of profit in it, and most certainly wanted nothing to do with Captain Light's promise of help for the Sultan.

Back in England the government was busy trying to get the company under its control after a series of scandals, ranging from the famine in Bengal to the Tea Acts that sparked off the American revolution. MP's not in their pay, were particularly scathing of the company.
And despite the company bribing and cajoling MPs to let it continue having a free rein, in 1786, the year Penang's George Town was founded, the Government managed to establish that East India Company territory was under the sovereignty of Britain and not some private fiefdom of the company. Even so, tell that to the guys on the ground who went pretty much their own way.

In 1787 Brindsley Sheridan, the playwright who was then an MP, gave a five and a half hour speech saying, apparently to a rapt house, how the British name and character had been dishonoured by the "malversation and crimes of the servants of the East India Company." Mind, he was saying this particularly about Warren Hastings, governor general of India, who was actually trying to rein in the Company's dodgier activities.

And for that matter Captain Light appears to have been an honourable character, unfortunately working for a bunch of untrustworthy dunderheads. Not that he hung around long enough to really turn things around in Penang, as he succumbed to malaria like a number of other governors did. It seems they only lasted three or four years in the job before their health broke. There were an awful lot of "acting" governors. I assume nobody really wanted the job. Though a certain Mr Raffles would have liked the job, but got stuck in the backside of Sumatra. He had his revenge on the British government by plotting with Farquahar, who'd recently lost his job as nabob of Melaka, and conspiring with Temenggong Abdul Rahman to set up a British trading post in Singapore. All of which really pissed off everyone and he ended up bankrupt, prosecuted by the company, and dying an early death of some tropical complication, like two of his children and one of his wives. Back in the UK, the vicar at the church where they buried him, refused to allow his grave to be marked with a placque because of his anti-slavery campaigns! The vicar apparently, had a financial interest in the slave trade.

Bearing all such nonsense in mind, I would suggest that the Empire was entirely opportunistic and that the habits of Sultans and warrior Kings afforded plenty of division without much help from the British. Anyway, here's the video of our visit to the fort, as well as a rather nice shot of a car wash in action… I know! But it's a vlog. It's the journey as it comes and stuff just happens…

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