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Coat of arms of the City of George Town, Penang

Coat of arms of the George Town Municipal Council. It was granted in 1953, just three years prior to the elevation of the municipal council into a City Council by a royal charter from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The George Town Municipal Council was the predecessor of the current Penang Island City Council. Established in 1857, it was also the first local council in British Malaya. The council was responsible for the administration of George Town, which then encompassed a much smaller area.

The council replaced the original committee of assessors, which had been founded in 1800. Since 1906, it was based in the City Hall, which continues to serve as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council to this day.

In 1957, after a century of administering George Town, the Municipal Council was upgraded into the George Town City Council through a royal charter by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Thus, George Town became the first city in the new Federation of Malaya, which gained independence from the British Empire later that year.

History

In 1800, a committee of assessors was established in George Town, making it the earliest form of local authority in British Malaya. However, the committee, which was formed by the more prominent residents of the new settlement, had limited powers; its main purpose was to fix individual assessment. The committee also had no legal recognition until 1827.

Penang Harbour HMS Magpie 1884 George Town map

An 1884 map of George Town.

After the shifting of the Straits Settlements capital from George Town to Singapore in 1832, the administration of both the Prince of Wales Island (as Penang Island was then named) and Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) laid in the hands of the Resident Councillor, whose duty was to execute the decisions made by the Singapore-based Governor. While the incorporation of George Town into the Straits Settlements brought about an increase in trade and population, concerns and problems regarding the local administration of George Town continued to arise. For instance, up to that point, there was no legal system for the levying of taxes required for the running of the town.

Problems with administration, coupled with mismanagement at the hands of the British East India Company which controlled the Prince of Wales Island as an outlying part of British India, led to the formation of the George Town Municipal Council in 1857. It was the first such local council to be established within British Malaya.

The council consisted of five Municipal Commissioners - three of whom were elected. It was given greater powers over the taxation of buildings and vehicles, as well as being responsible for the provision of basic necessities such as water, roads and drainage systems.

The municipal council was also the first in British Malaya to have elected officials. However, this distinction was lost in 1913 when the Municipal elections were abolished. The council was then rearranged; it now consisted of seven Municipal Commissioners including the President. All seven were appointed by the Governor of the Straits Settlements on the advice of the Resident Councillor who remained “tactful in choosing able men who reflected the views of the community or interests and who were popularly recognised as inevitable choices”. It was only in 1951 that municipal elections were reinstated; by then, the council had grown to 13 Municipal Commissioners.
Penang City Hall, George Town, Penang

Completed in 1906, the City Hall now houses the Penang Island City Council.

Initially, the Municipal Council was based inside the Town Hall. In 1906, the Baroque-style City Hall was completed. Since then, it served as the headquarters of the Municipal Council, and subsequently, the George Town City Council.

The municipal council continued to serve the expanding town over the next 100 years, and was responsible for the reconstruction of George Town after the end of World War 2. By 1957, George Town, which was originally bounded by Light Street, Beach Street, Pitt Street and Chulia Street in the 1800s, covered an area of 150km2 up to Green Lane, Scotland Road, Western Road, Gottlieb Road and Jalan Bagan Jermal.

George town city status

A newspaper report regarding George Town's application for city status.

In 1957, through a royal charter conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Municipal Council was upgraded into the George Town City Council, thereby granting George Town city status. It was the first city within the Federation of Malaya, and the second within the Malay Peninsula after Singapore, which was granted city status in 1951.

Successors

References

  1. Penang, Past and Present, 1786-1963: A Historical Account of the City of George Town Since 1786. George Town City Council, Penang.
  2. http://penangmonthly.com/a-history-of-local-elections-in-penang-part-i-democracy-comes-early/
  3. http://penangmonthly.com/a-history-of-local-elections-in-penang-part-ii-a-legacy-to-protect-3/
  4. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/george-town.htm

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