Beneath its simple and unadorned title – Sejarah Bergambar Seberang Perai (Province Wellesley, A Pictorial History) – this much-anticipated publication more than justifies the oft-used phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. History is subjective, and personal opinions and recollections reflect the changes that occur with the passage of time. Photographs, on the other hand, are truthful reminders of the past. From historical landmarks to workaday routines, one simple picture can trigger a long buried memory and tell you more about the history of a place than any written story. This publication is the first of its kind – at long last, Province Wellesley’s rich historical heritage has been ‘unearthed’ for appreciation and studies by future generations.
Overshadowed by its more popular neighbour, the strategic development of Province Wellesley took a backseat to that of George Town and Penang island after 1969. However, Province Wellesley continued to see the burgeoning of housing areas and industrial zones.
It is hoped that the over 200 images* shown in this book will stimulate greater interest in the historical research and cultural mapping of Province Wellesley. Its history should be understood as an integral part of the history of Penang state as well as in the context of the development of the northern states of Malaysia. In view of the rapid economic advances and demographic growth, Province Wellesley’s heritage, traditional settlements, townscapes and cultural landscapes need to be identified and preserved, before they are lost in the urbanisation currents of the 21st century.
The pictures have been arranged into the following categories: Artifacts and Inscriptions; Farming and Agriculture; Butterworth; Rivers and Bridges; F.M.S. Railway and Channel Crossing; Multicultural Communities; Bukit Mertajam; Transport and Development, and Maps.
A short history of Province Wellesley
The state of Penang is made up of Penang Island and Province Wellesley on the west coast of the Peninsula. Province Wellesley is about 20.9km (13 miles) at its widest and 52.3km (32.5 miles) at its longest. Its northern boundary with Kedah follows the Muda River whereas its southern boundary with Perak was originally aligned to the Krian River. The ancient archaeological finds in Province Wellesley as well as the former presence of orang asli, in particular the Semang, attest to the antiquity of human settlement in this part of the peninsula. Province Wellesley, like Penang Island, was part of the kingdom of Kedah. Penang Island was occupied by the British in 1786 pending a draft treaty between the Sultan of Kedah and the East India Company. In 1791, when Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah of Kedah was planning to oust the British from the island, he assembled a fleet of ships at the Prai River but was defeated through pre-emptive action by British gunboats. The Sultan of Kedah was thus forced to accept terms and a settlement for the lease of Penang Island, thereby legitimising British occupation. In order to prevent further threats from the mainland, the East India Company further acquired the lease for a strip of territory from Kedah in 1800. This territory was named Province Wellesley after Richard Wellesley, the first Marquess Wellesley, Governor of Madras and Governor General of Bengal (1797–1805).
*Some of the images for this book were shown at an exhibition entitled 100 Images of Province Wellesley during the previous Butterworth Fringe Festival in 2015.