The history of Fort Cornwallis goes back two centuries to when Captain Sir Francis Light of the British East India Company first landed on the island in 1786.


In order to protect the base from any foreign military forces and pirates, the Captain decided to build a fort, named after the-then Governer General in Bengal. The fort is a preserved historical landmark within the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. The fort never engaged in combat during its operational history.

It is named after the then Governor-General of Bengal, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, who had also been involved in the American War of Independance. The building in the southwest bastion is almost certainly not the chapel, but the main magazine; the massive roof and the surrounding buttresses are typical of magazine buildings of the period. The building is the earliest roofed structure surviving in Penang from the colonial era.

A 21 m (69 ft) skeletal steel lighthouse was erected in the northeast corner of the fort in 1882. It is the second oldest lighthouse in Malaysia, after the Cape Rachado Lighthouse at Tanjung Tuan Malacca. Originally named Fort Point Lighthouse, it was renamed Penang Harbour Lighthouse after renovation in 1914 and 1925. The State Tourism Development Committee chairman claimed in 2006 that it was the only lighthouse in Malaysia that resembles a ship’s mast, and the only one in Peninsular Malaysia not serving any navigational purpose.