25 Feb 2013: Special announcement “Penang, The Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830” October 27, 2014 – Posted in: Newsletters

In Areca Book’s newest title, Penang, The Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830, author Marcus Langdon proves that little islands can be just as worthy of historical interpretation as major empires. Written in an easily accessible style, the book tells the story of how the tiny settlement of Pulau Pinang came to be an administrative seat of one of the most powerful trading companies in the world. In this initial volume of a three-part series, Langdon frames this interesting portion of Penang’s past through the tales of its nineteenth century ships, administrators and mansions, making them come alive for both researchers and laypersons alike. As Britain’s East India Company grew in size in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it soon began designating selected ports along the trade routes as self-governing administrative centres, or “Presidencies”. Settled by the company in 1640, Madras later became the first of these presidencies, followed by Bombay and Calcutta. But the company, which traded frequently between Britain and China, soon found itself in need of a transit port en route east of India. Penang, with its strategic position and lush hinterland, proved to be the place. As a result, the island was settled in 1786, and for strategic reasons elevated to the Fourth Presidency in 1805.

The histories of both island and Empire are intricately intertwined with the events that led to Penang’s rise as the Fourth Presidency. The designation of Presidency resulted in new levels of authority, funds and forces, increasing the pace of migration, modernization, building and infrastructure, and dictating the transformation of the region. Although the status was revoked twenty-five years after it was granted, this important era of Penang’s past left an indelible mark on the region, and a legacy that can still be felt and seen today.

With Langdon’s work, the story of early nineteenth century trade and imperialism in Asia comes into sharp focus. Langdon, having worked on the topic for over a decade, proves to be a gifted researcher in his handling of primary sources and rare archival records. This first volume, Ships, Men and Mansions, provides insights into an era of Malaysian  history that has received scant attention to date. Inclusive of first-hand correspondence between the pioneers who lived and shaped the history of the island, as well as rare photographs and illustrations of the era, no matter of concord or conflict is left undocumented.

Please click here for more information on our newest title, or to purchase.


Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India contains over 150 images, illustrations and maps, several of which have not been previously published. 519 pages in length, the book is a definitive guide to this era of Penang’s history.

CLICK HERE to read excerpts from the book
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“It did not take me long to realize that the often conflicting details I had read in the few published works [of research] did not always correspond with what I was finding in these archives… and this mysterious word ‘presidency’ kept appearing…” excerpt from the author’s preface


“Marcus Langdon has become today the preeminent global expert on the British archival materials relating to Penang … The quality of this first volume assures us that … [it] will constitute the most detailed history of early Penang ever to be published and will long remain a landmark in Penang historiography” Excerpt from the foreword, by Geoff Wade, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

“This monograph is extremely valuable. Marcus Langdon’s scrupulous use of relatively inaccessible, handwritten primary documents, undertaken with the passion of a committed researcher, is not likely to be replicated.” Loh Wei Leng, formerly University of Malaya


Born in England but transplanted to Australia early in life, Marcus Langdon is acknowledged as the leading authority on Penang’s early history under the East India Company. He has published in scholarly journals and his research findings have been widely cited by heritage advocates, architects, conservationists and local historians. He currently lives in Penang.

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