chapter  6
16 Pages

‘The future lies in the past’: Re-inventing the former port city of George Town, Penang

The story of George Town is about the association between a port and the city. Such an association would normally diversify and transform a port from being ‘merely a node in the transport system’ (Kidwai 1989:24) into a port city. In the case of George Town, the port-city association is inevitably deeply rooted in the history of this colonial island port city and its hinterland, which should necessarily be interpreted in spatial, temporal and socio-economic terms. In this sense, Allen (1951:18) noted that the original settlement of George Town was established by the East India Company in 1786 on the island of Penang, and it was there that the port first grew as the centre for trade, warehousing and distribution. According to historical records, the initial trade was of an entrepot character and there had been a tradition of free-port facilities, which remained in Penang in the form of inalienable free rights along the shallow frontage, now known as Weld Quay (Allen 1951:18). With the advent of modern ocean ships towards the end of the nineteenth century, a demand arose for deepwater wharves on the island (Allen 1951:18). Allen (1951) reported that The Straits Settlement Government responded positively to the demand by building the Swettenham Pier in 1898 but because the newly built pier worked in direct competition with the free facilities of Weld Quay, the functions of the former were not fully utilized.