Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse

By on March 5, 2009 in History, Islands with 9 Comments

A marvellous view awaits at the top!

Excitement coursed through my veins, as my small feet lumbered nimbly up the steely white stairs.

The ascending air was getting chilly, and the bright sunshine glared brightly as I treaded gingerly.

I was making my way, alone, up the eighty-odd steps of the famed Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse, situated on the northeast side of George Town, Penang.

Trying my best to not look downwards I held tightly onto the railings. A camera balanced menacingly around my neck, I whispered a silent prayer.

Recently declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7 July, 2008, much interest has sparked in Georgetown’s uniquely historical heritage.

The historical Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse, built in 1882 has a colourful history. It has contributed much to the safety of Penang during it’s early days.

Prefabricated in England, it served as an important focal point for Penang folks, and was built at the height of the state’s trading success, back in the 1880’s. The white steel framework tower of the lighthouse is said to be a rarity of its type.

Its pilot light can be seen from a distance of 16 nautical miles. Acting as a beacon to ships of the lighthouse also warned British residents living in Penang hill of imminent danger.

At the time it was built, it was known as the Fort Point Lighthouse. It also underwent renovations in 1914 and 1928. Its name changed yet again to Penang Harbour Lighthouse before its current name, Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse.

The name was chosen due to its proximity, and location in the grounds of the fort built by Sir Francis Light, Fort Cornwallis.

Walking steadily up the steps, I could see a clear view of Fort Cornwallis down below. The wide open waters of the Straits of Malacca, was to my right.

The Fort Cornwallis lighthouse is one of three Penang lighthouses. The others are Muka Head (1883) and Pulau Rimau (1885).

These lighthouses are part of the Malaysia Lighthouse (Straits Settlement Lighthouse).

There is also the former lighthouse keeper’s quarter, turned into a small museum. It is filled with optics used for light during the early days of Penang, as well as a Lister engine constructed in World War 1. It is said to have been used as a generator. There is also a massive buoy outside.

The lighthouse is still in operation and visitors get to view the nearby clock tower, Fort Cornwallis and take some excellent pictures from above.

The view is stunning, and despite the breezy wind, it is worth the few minutes struggle to the top.

Entrance is free, so feel free to take a look around. Be warned. Climbing up the steely steps is definitely not for the faint hearted!

Further enquiries contact:

Jabatan Laut Semenanjung Malaysia

Peti Surat 12

42007 Pelabuhan Kelang

Tel: 603- 3169 5100

Fax: 603- 31685020

Website: http://

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