One of ten celebrated views of Penang by Robert Smith of the Bengal Engineers, who served in India between 1805 and 1830. Smith’s large finished pictures probably worked up in England from sketches made on the island during Smith’s two sojourns on the island, as Superintending Engineer and Executive Officer for Prince of Wales Island in 1814-15 and subsequently when charged with the completion of St George’s Church in 1817-19. Smith left Penang in 1819 and when on leave in England commissioned William Daniell to engrave his views, the set of ten aquatints published as Views of Prince of Wales Island on 1 January 1821. Wiliam Daniell also painted copies of Smith’s views, his canvases slightly larger (at approximately 70 x 100cm.) than Smith’s (at approximately 60 x 90cm.). The set of ten copies by Daniell are all in the Penang Museum, and were incorrectly attributed to Smith by Datuk Lim Chong Keat in his Penang Views 1770-1860 (Singapore, 1986, pls 36-45). Keat however did publish three other of Smith’s ten original pictures in the same book, the works all in the Penang Residency (op.cit., pls 46-8).
The first of the Straits Settlements, Penang was ceded to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah (in exchange for protection) in 1785, and was an important staging post and naval base for the British. The territory was named Prince of Wales Island by Captain Francis Light when he took formal possession of the island in 1786. Raffles worked as Deputy Secretary for the Governor of Penang in 1805-10, before going on to found Singapore in 1819. Penang, with Malacca and Singapore, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, governed from British India. Mount Erskine seen here in Smith’s painting was named for John James Erskine, Assistant Superintendant of Marine in Penang. Smith’s view, taken from the high slopes of the mountain, depicts the signalling station which served the shipping in North Channel, and below in the distance, George Town (named for George III), the bay on the left named after the island Pulau Tikus (Rat Island), and the mountains of the Malaysian mainland and the Prai River opposite.