Friday, February 12, 2010

Penang Police

The first police force was established in Penang.

The Royal Malaysian Police was established when King George III awarded Penang a 'Charter of Justice’ in 1807 to form the police force and the Court of Justice. The Malaysian police is going to celebrate the 203 anniversary on 25-3-2010.

Early Penang
On August 11, 1786, Francis Light came to Penang and named the island as Prince of Wales Island. The population in Penang at that time was small and Malay fishermen made up most of the population. Three years later, the population increased to 10,000 peoples as more immigrants came to Penang. Francis Light found the need to set up a police force to safeguard the security in Penang. He pleaded his case to his superiors in India but it was not well received.

Later, his superiors promoted him to the rank of Superintendent and was instructed to work alone. The public order was handled by the East Indian Companies and its military arms.

The first prison in Penang was Fort Cornwallis. Francis Light landed in Penang in 1786, he first built the fort with nibong palm; 3 years later in 1789 he rebuilt the fort with the import convict labor. He built the fort with bricks with the same star shaped layout and size. The country's first gurdwara(sikh temple) was housed, for Sikh paramilitary personnel stationed in Penang. It was the military and administration base for the British East India Company. The first prison was there. The Fort Cornwallis was reported used until around 1811. The Sikh paramilitary personnel may be unofficially Penang first police(they are not actually but a military force of soldiers).

In 1787, several riots occurred in Penang. Several European sailors were involved and 2 Siamese were killed. Francis Light wrote a letter to the Governor of General East Indian Company, Sir Lord Cornwallis in India to form new laws and form a single police force in the island but the case was also rejected.

1792 Kapitan
However, with his wisdom, in 1792, Francis Light appointed a community leader, named "Capitan" for each race, Malay, Chinese and Chulia (people from South India). They act as a magistrate in small cases. Certain cases will be carried forward to the Superintendent. Each Capitan is in charge to govern some districts, facilitated with 5 "peons". These peons could be regarded as maiden police constables similar to today lower rank police officers.

Their tasks and responsibilities of the police at that time included a variety of administration control such as water supply, registration of births, fire prevention and jail duties. However, their primary designated job function is executor of the law.

However, the Europeans became increasingly arrogant as they were independent from the local laws. In 1793, when a European got involved in a murder case, Francis Light cannot act because he had no authority to act against the Europeans. He sent another appeal to the English East India Company Director to form an official single police force but to no avail. On October 21, 1794, he passed away and replaced by Major Forbes Ross Macdonald in 1796. Later, Col. Arthur Wellesley stopped at Penang during his journey to Manila. He noted the matters in connection with the safety of Penang and urged the Crown to appoint a magistrate.

1794 First Magistrate

Mr Manington arrived as the first magistrate in 1794, just after the death of Francis Light;

1800 First Judge

On April 19, 1800, Sir George Leith arrived in Penang to hold the new position as Lieutenant-General. Four months later, John Dicken was appointed as the first Judge or Hakim in Malay language.

1804 Governor appointed & 1805 Council Hall established

In early 1804, Sir William Farquhar arrived in Penang to replace Sir George Leith as the Lieutenant-General. However, the police force at the time was still weak. In the year 1805, all Penang administration was reshuffled again and the island status was enhanced. A Governor was appointed and Council Hall was established.

1807 - First Police Force was formed by Charter

On March 25, 1807, a "Charter" was accepted. Hereby Penang was able to form a Court Of Justice and form a better police force based on the Charter of Justice. The Malay called the police, "mata-mata". Mata is the Malay word with the meaning for eyes. May be the police at that time are the eyes for the colonial government. The early Chinese called police "po-le(taken directly from the English word, police)" or "ma-ta(as called by the Malay, but with one word)".

First Police Force & Police Station

Police force of Penang only formed in 1807 when King George III awarded Penang "Charter of Justice" to form police force and the Court of Justice.

We do no know where was the first police station; the police camp may be at Sepoy Lines Road,near the General Hospital with other military forces? or is it at Chowrasta line, Penang Road in 1811? Penang Prison was built in 1849.

The earlier record of central police station was at the current Immigration office building, built in 1890. Both buildings, Immigration office(police station) and state assembly building(police court) were part of the police complex. Today, the police station is reduced to a small building facing Beach Street with staff quarter behind it.

Note: Police justice, or Police magistrate, a judge of a police court(minor court to try person bought before it by police).

Prior to 1807,the police function to keep public order was handled by East Indian Company,and their military army.

1811 - Chowrusta Lines

The first convict prison was a place called Chowrusta Lines located at Penang Road(believed is located at today's Chowrasta Market). However as the convicts from India was increasing, the Chowusta Lines was found to be too small. Another larger jail was erected on the opposite side of the Chowusta Lines(believed to be today's Penang Police headquarter).

1824 The Anglo-Dutch Treaty

The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 resulted in British given up Bencoolen of Sumatra, but took over Malacca from Dutch. In 1825, the convicts from Bencoolen were transported and added to the existing convicts in Penang. The Jail in Penang Road was not able to cater for the need.

1826 Strait Settlement Police

British East India Company control of Singapore in 1819 changed the history of Malaya. Singapore Police was established on the same year, 1819. The island progressed rapidly and Malacca and Penang were left behind. The development also involved the police force. In 1826, the three British colonies in Malaya were united with Penang as the administration centre. In 1830, the Straits Settlements administrations were reduced to residents and were placed under the Bengal Resident when Robert Fullerton became the Resident. Each province is governed by a Deputy Resident.

1832- capital of Strait Settlement moved from Penang to Singapore

1832, the Straits Settlements were united,this time the administration was headed by a Governor. The administration centre changed to Singapore. The Deputy Residents were appointed as Resident Counselors.

In 1832, the capital of strait settlement moved from Penang to Singapore, all prison administration was under control from Singapore. In 1833, slavery was abolished. The fresh convicts were still sent from Penang to Malacca in 1840(This provided support that the Penang prison was not large for incoming convicts, the excess convicts were sent to Malacca, the new Penang prison was built after the 1840. After 1860, no more convict jail in Penang. Penang Prison was built in 1849.

1872 - Police Force Ordinance 1871 was implemented

The power exchange of Straits Settlements from India to the British Government in the year 1867, though important to the history of Malaya, did not affect the constitution of Straits Settlements Police Forces immediately. Four years later, Police Force Ordinance 1871 were amended. This ordinance was operative in 1872 and used until the arrival of the Japanese. With effect, all police forces in the Straits settlements were under the control of a chief police headquarted in Singapore. Penang and Malacca were led by a Superintendent who act as the Chief Police officer.

The police in Singapore,Penang and Malacca was under the Chief Police of Strait Settlement in Singapore. The first Police Chief of Strait Settlement was Colonel Samuel Dunlop,who later become Acting Lieutenant Governor of Penang from 1884-1885. Dunlop Road in Penang was named after him.

1872 Captain Speedy or Capt Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy(b 1836 - d 1911)
Captain Speedy, Superintendent of Police, Penang, arrived in Penang by the steam mailer T and resumed his duty relieving Captain Berger, of HM 10th Regiment, who proceed to Hong Kong by the same mail to rejoin his regiment. Mr R.W.Maxwell who had been Acting Assistant Superintendent of Police in Penang, will go to Singapore as Acting Superintendent of Police, Singapore(The Straits Times, 27 April 1872, Page 4). He resigned in 1873 to raise and command a body of Indian troops to restore order in Larut, a Malayan mining district, for the Mentri (Chief Minister) Ngah Ibrahim. In 1874 after Pangkor Treaty 1874, Capt Speedy was appointed assistant British resident of Larut and established and named Malaysia’s oldest town, ‘Thaipeng’, meaning ‘Heavenly Peace’. He remained there until 1877.

Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair (b 1828-d 1910)
Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair (b 1828-d 1910)was the first Comptroller of Indian Convicts from 1857 to 1873. Capt McNair wrote a book with the title “Prisoners their own warders” assisted by W.D.Bayliss, it was published in 1899. It provide a chapter on Penang. But no mention of Penang Jail in the book. Capt Mc Nair was credited for building of many public building in the strait settlement period. One of it was the Istana Singapore,the oldest part of the Empress Place Building , St Andrews Cathedral and Tao Nan School, all in Singapore. In 1872, he was appointed as the first head of JKR or Jabatan Kerja Raya or Public Work Department ( In 1875, he was appointed as Chief Commissioner for the Pacification of Larut in Perak. In 1881-1884, he was the acting resident councillor of Penang, but appointed Resident Councillor in 1884 but it was reported he resigned due to illness in the same year. The McNair Street in Penang was named after him.

Note: Major McNair and Colonel Samuel Dunlop were the member of British team in the Treaty of Pangkor 1874 ; and later both of them also in the Commission of Pacification of Larut in 1875. Captain Speedy was the Commander of Indian Troop for Ngah Ibrahim. The three people were historical figures at Pangkor Treaty in 1874.

So before 1872, police force in Penang was still not strong.

1890 - The central police station was built

The central police station was at the corner of Beach Street/Light Street. It was built in 1890. Both buildings, the central police station(the current Immigration office) and Police Court(the current state assembly building) were part of the police complex.

Light Street(po-le-khau)

Light street is also called po-le-khau(Police 口),which literally means entrance to the police court. The local Chinese called judge as po-le-chu in Hockkien dialect. Po-le is the polluted term for English word police, there was a police court at Light Street. In the early Penang, the military from East India Company is the only uniform unit which function as army as well as police. There was no separation of duty between army and police. They are called po-le or police by the local. Some of the top military leader like Capt Francis Light act as judge in the police court. The local used the term po-le-chu for judge,which literally mean the master or leader of the police. Light Street is called po-le-khau,literally means entrance to the police court, as there was a police court at the beginning of Light Street, the current state assembly building. The central police station was at the current Immigration office building(built in 1890). Both buildings, Immigration office and state assembly building were part of the police complex.

Note: Police justice, or Police magistrate, a judge of a police court(minor court to try person bought before it by police).

Malayan Union Police

By year end 1945 and early 1946, the British side tried to set up a constitution of "Malayan Union" that has been planned in London. Although there were violent oppositions for this plan considered as efforts exchange Malay states position to a country home, this plan discharged at 1 April 1946. In accordance with this development, on the same date name "Civil Affairs Police Force, Malay Peninsula" was converted to Malayan Union Police Force. Staff, policy and organisation it make follow-up from what were founded under CAPE(Civil Affair Police Force) found by HB Longworthy appointed as Police Chief and his deputy is DP MacNamara.

Independence Malaya 31-8-1957-Malayan police& Malaysian Police

A new police for the new nation known as Federation Of Malayan Police. Penang police become part of the new police force. Tan Sri Sir Claude Fenner (1958 - 1966) was the first Chief Police Officer. It was granted the Royal status on 24-7-1958 by DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Muhamad. The police force is known as "Royal Federation Of Malayan Police". Almost a year after Independence Day, on July 24, 1958, the King of Malaysia, Tuanku Abdul Rahman Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Muhamad, bestowed the title Royal to the Malayan Federations Police Force. In 1963, the Royal Federation of Malayan Police (RFMP), the North Borneo Armed Constabulary and the Sarawak Constabulary were merged to form the Royal Malaysian Police or PDRM(Polis DiRaja Malaysia).

Penang Jail or Penang Gaol(1849)

Located at Gaol Road or Jalan Penjara, occupied at triangular site bordered by Dato Kramat Road/Jalan Utama; and the side and entrance with Gaol Road. This is a civil jail, but some convicts without command or lines were accepted into it.

Early Police Station in Penang
The first police station - Fort Cornwallis

In 1881, there was one contingent of Sikh Police stationed in the compound of Fort Cornwallis, Penang.

Brick Kiln Road Police Station, 1800
Location unknown, is it near Magazine Depot?

Hutton Lane Police Station 1880

The historic Hutton Lane Police Station built in 1880 . This Police Station is among the earliest police stations built in Penang after the Charter of Justice was introduced in Penang on 25 March 1807. It was also the duty of the Police Force to put out fires then. The police station is no longer there, anyone knew the location?

Carnarvon Street Police station

The police station, with prison. There may be the first prison in Penang attached to police station; which had been demolished. The Penang police station in Penang Road also have prison facility,which was convict prison. Prison was divided into two types, convict prison and local civil prison. 1860 was the year where there was no more penal convict prison. It was reported that there was a local jail in Acheen Street(as per map 1803), I believed that the local prison mentioned was the Carnarvon Street police station's prison. The police station may be built between 1841-1849, prior to 1849 when Penang Prison was built. The prison may had demolished in the 70s. The police station however still remained.

Light Street Police Station, 1883
Location not known, is it the location of the high court?

Beach Street Police Station 1890

The current Immigration office building(built in 1890) was the central police station in 1890. Both buildings, Immigration office and state assembly building( formerly Police Court) were part of the police complex. Today, the police station is reduced only to a small building facing Beach Street with staff quarter behind it. It is just beside Standard Chartered Bank.

Patani Road Police Station - the headquarter of Strait Settlement Police(1927)

In 1927, the headquarters of the Straits Settlements Police was built in Patani Road, Penang. It was located at the corner lot of Patani Road and Dato Kramat Road. A building was also allocated to the Police Sikh contingent personnel to be used as a Gurdwara Sahib.

Pitt Street police station 1929

An old police station was at the end lot of shop house row, near Kuan Yin Temple. The police station had closed. The year of the establishment of the police station was not known.

Penang State Police Headquarter, Penang Road 1937

The Police Headquarters along Penang Road is an Art Deco style building built just before the Second World War in 1937. It was formerly the detective headquarter, Chinese mansion, and out door pharmacy. The front portion and part of section at Phee Choon Street were damaged by the bombing during the WW2(Japanese Occupation), and was subsequently repaired. The Police Headquarters covers a whole block bordered by Penang Road, Dickens Streets, Transfer Road and Phee Choon Road.

This police station also have prison facility for penal coolies, which was initially at the place where the Chowrasta Market was located. It later was moved to current premise.

The Royal Malaysia Police Force today is the primary policing authority of the Malaysian government. It is empowered by law to fulfill the police mission, which is specified under sec. 3 (3) of the Police Act 1967, as follows:

“ The Force, shall subject to the provisions of this Act be employed in and throughout the Federation (including the territorial waters thereof) for the maintenance of law and order, the preservation of the peace and security of the Federation, the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension and prosecution of offenders and the collection of security intelligence”.

Related articles

1. History of the Royal Malaysian Police,
2. Penang, Malaysia: Digging Into Our History
3. My earlier blog article on Friday, May 15, 2009; Penang Prison(槟城四坎店监狱)
4. Royal Malaysian Police,


  1. Is there a record of who served in the police force in Penang before WW1? I am helping with some family history research.

    Graeme Laird

  2. Is there a record of the British and Irish who served on the police force in Penang before WW1. I am helping research an ancestor of a Malaysian friend of mine.

  3. Do you know the history of the Dato Keramat Police Station located at the junction of Jalan Dato Keramat and Jalan Perak? Is the station built before the Patani Road Police Station? Or is it built earlier during the British colony is 1800s? 1900s?