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Before Raffles, before Rajah Brooke, there was Francis Light, the 18th-century trailblazer in the Malay Archipelago
The 18th-century Straits of Malacca is in crisis, beleaguered by the Dutch, the Bugis, and the clash between Siam and Burma. Enter Francis Light, devious manipulator of the status quo, joined by a cast of real historical figures from the courts of Siam and Kedah and from the East India Company, including Sultan Muhammed Jiwa, King Tak Sin, Warren Hastings and Martinha Rozells, a young Eurasian woman of noble birth.
From humble origins in Suffolk, England, Light struggles against the social prejudices of his day. His subsequent adventures as a naval officer and country ship captain take him from India to Sumatra, the Straits of Malacca to Siam, through shipwreck, sea battles, pirate raids and tropical disease. But Light’s most difficult challenge is his ultimate dream: to establish a British port in the Indies on behalf of the East India Company.
Dragon, the first volume of Penang Chronicles, charts Francis Light’s colourful adventures in the decades before the settlement of Penang island, the Honourable Company’s first possession on the Malay Peninsula.
In the same series …
Francis Light, the enigmatic Martinha, and the island of Penang
The eponymous pearl, Martinha Rozells, embodies the rich and diverse heritage of the Straits in the 18th century. Her husband, Captain Light, is the dragon in search of his elusive pearl: a British settlement on the Straits of Malacca. Through their eyes we experience the rich culture of the region and its tumultuous politics. From the courts of Siam and Kedah, to capture by the French and Dutch, from the salons of Calcutta through gun-running in the Straits, Pearl takes us on an astonishing journey culminating in Captain Light questioning where his allegiances lie if he is to outmanoeuvre the Sultan of Kedah and raise the British flag on Penang.
A possession must be held: the struggle for Penang
A paradise on earth. Penang – the Pearl of the Orient – has fulfilled its promise, becoming the most vibrant port in the Indies in a few short years. But paradise comes at a price for Francis Light and his family. Penang’s meteoric rise from deserted island to thriving port attracts unwanted attention from both the Dutch and the French, while the Sultan of Kedah rages at the treachery of the British. As the 18th century draws to a close, Penang must fortify and prepare for war, and Light’s partner, Martinha Rozells, learns to negotiate the murky waters of colonial prejudice for the sake of her family.
Vol.4: Legacy (Not yet published)
As a new century dawns, Light’s family is scattered, its inheritance in jeopardy
Francis Light’s family faces an uncertain future. As Penang heads inexorably towards colonial rule, Martinha struggles to claim her rightful inheritance, encountering corruption, prejudice and heartbreak in equal measure. Scattered across the world, her children are forced to negotiate the British establishment alone as best they can with little but their father’s name and reputation to sustain them. From Britain to the Peninsular War, from the social pretensions of Bengal to the court of the Pasha of Egypt, from the new city of Adelaide in Australia to Java and Singapore in the company of Raffles, the next generation makes its way, its roots firmly planted in the beautiful island of their home.
Praise for Penang Chronicles
‘Deeply researched and beautifully written, Dragon convincingly evokes the East of the period.’
Nigel Barley, author of In the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles
‘Enthralling. Gan brings a forgotten hero back to rumbustious life.’
John Keay, author of The Honourable Company: a History of the English East India Company
‘Rose Gan’s trilogy takes the reader on a masterfully compelling eighteenth-century birth-to-death journey alongside Francis Light. Vividly imagined scenarios interwoven with the threads of history are guaranteed to keep the reader fully engaged. Dragon, Pearl and Emporium set the benchmark for historical fiction of the region.’
Marcus Langdon, author of Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India 1805–1830
‘At last, a novel which engages a crucial and fascinating period of British merchant imperialism and Southeast Asian history. Penang, meeting place of Malays, Bugis and Siamese, here too are freebooting English and a more staid company in Calcutta. Here are mixed marriages, innumerable cross currents with the Dutch in Java and Sumatra, Chinese and Tamil traders, Achenese sultans and a Burma too close for comfort. And in the middle of it all is Francis Light, founder of modern Penang, a man of his times and of history. Britons today are woefully ignorant of the legacy of maritime Southeast Asia in which they played such a key role. This novel is a good start to re-engagement with this region, a meeting place of races, religions and cultures.’
Philip Bowring, author of Empire of the Winds
‘Rose Gan, in this fascinating and well-researched novel, skilfully provides the reader with a colourful illustration to the early life and times of Light and those historically connected to him. The author cleverly unveils Light’s rise to the rank of captain and his travels to this part of the world while meeting the people who would set the stage for his lustrous future.’
Dennis De Witt, author of History of the Dutch in Malaysia
‘As a veteran journalist who read History at university – and one who has remained fascinated with Captain Francis Light ever since – I find Dragon truly enjoyable. Ms Gan has carried out extensive research in creating the world of this novel. It’s definitely a first of its kind!’
Wong Chun Wai, Star Media Group, Malaysia
‘After exploring the intra-Asian country trade in Dragon and the rich cultural complexity of the East Indies in Pearl, Emporium tackles the sensitive subjects of prejudice, the British illusory superiority and even the rarely acknowledged east African slave trade. Whilst it cannot be denied that the British, in the guise of the misnamed Honourable Company, played an important part in the development of such far off corners of the world, their stubborn ignorance of the age-old politics of the region speaks volumes. The attitudes and behaviours of their British-born womenfolk provide a stark contrast to the resourcefulness of those with local roots. Emporium provides a readable lesson in the politics of the Peninsula that remains important for us to understand today.’
Sue Paul, author of Jeopardy of Every Wind: the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey
‘Dragon is a richly imagined yet historically faithful account of the early career of Francis Light, the founder of modern Penang. We follow his journey from his clever revenge on a bully during his schooldays in Suffolk to his heroic service with the Royal Navy, from his apprenticeship as country trader with a Madras agency to his delicate negotiations with the Sultan of Queddah, which will set him on the path leading to the founding of Pulau Penang as the first British settlement in the East Indies. Along the way Light has to weather storm and shipwreck, survive betrayal by company officials, balance palace intrigues and interpret the signals of ambitious royal wives and widows – all the while navigating the cross currents of British, Dutch, Malay, Siamese and Bugis interests in the region, with only his wits, moral compass and ambition to guide him. A marvelous cast of characters populates this well-researched work of historical fiction, with just the right blend of the real and the imaginary.’
John D. Greenwood, author of the Singapore Saga series
‘An engaging and lively tale about the earliest years of the East India Company settlement of Penang. In Emporium, Gan weaves her narrative skilfully into the historic backdrop – bringing alive key figures and events and offering an enjoyable way to access the momentous moments and big personalities of those early years.’
Andrew Barber, author of Colonial Penang 1786-1957
‘Swashbuckler or swindler, trader or statesman, the mere mention of the name Captain Francis Light in the state of Penang is bound to draw an array of clashing reactions. Known for establishing the isle as a British settlement back in 1786 under the name Prince of Wales Island, Light has been quietly acknowledged with opening the door to the eventual colonisation of what would later be Malaya. From his schooling days in Seckford’s School to a premature departure for a life at sea, Gan explores the twists and turns of what Light’s early life could have been in this historical fiction narrative.’
Andrea Filmer, The Star, Malaysia
‘When you think of British explorers from centuries gone by, you tend to think of the likes of Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Henry Hudson and Captain James Cook, to name but a few. But what about Suffolk’s very own Captain Francis Light? From humble beginnings in Dallinghoo and Woodbridge, to more prestigious times spent in the Far East, Light lived quite the life.’
Danielle Lett, East Anglian Daily Times, UK
About the author
British by birth, Rose Gan first arrived in Kuala Lumpur in 1978 and has been living and working between both UK and South East Asia ever since. Married to a Malaysian, and formerly a teacher of History and Latin in UK and Malaysia, Rose was also Vice Chair for Museums of the Indonesian Heritage Society, a guide and docent in Museum National Indonesia, Jakarta, and Muzium Negara and the Textile Museum in KL. In addition to lecturing to cultural associations, Rose has been actively involved with museum publications in Malaysia and Indonesia, both as a writer and editor.
Category Fiction / Historical