Fort Cornwallis - named after the Governor-General in Bengal, Charles Cornwallis – is one of the most interesting historical landmarks in George Town, located close to the Esplanade, next to the Victoria Memorial Clock.
The fort's walls, roughly 10 feet high, are laid out in star-like formation. A stroll along the perimeters takes roughly 10 minutes. Inside the fort, one can still see some of the original structures built over a century ago, including a chapel, prison cells, which were once used as barracks, a munitions storage area, a harbour light once used to signal incoming ships, the original flagstaff and several old bronze canons, one of which is a Dutch canon called the Seri Rambai, dated 1603. An interesting note about the Seri Rambai - some locals believe that this particular canon can have a positive effect on a woman's fertility.
Today, this privately managed historical site is popular among visitors, equipped with a tourist information kiosk, cafe, an open-air amphitheatre, a history gallery, a souvenir centre as well as guides who can take you around the fort grounds and provide you with a glimpse of the fort's history.
One of the earliest structures in Pulau Pinang, Fort Cornwallis was erected in 1786, not long after he acquired Pulau Pinang for the East India Company, from the Sultan of Kedah. The site where the fort was built is actually the first place where Light disembarked from his ship in 1768. Fort Cornwallis was originally built of nibong palms, but was replaced in 1804 with a sturdier stone and brick structure.
Although built for defense by design, throughout its existence, Fort Cornwallis served more as an administrative centre for the British, having survived without much threat of enemy attacks. Fort Cornwallis was once surrounded with a moat roughly 9m wide and 2m deep. Along the perimeters of the fort's wall, several canon bays were strategically placed overlooking the harbour in the north and the port activities along the eastern waterfront. In the 1920's due to a malaria outbreak in the area, the moat surrounding Fort Cornwallis was filled in.
The chapel located on the south-west corner of the fort is the first chapel ever built on Penang island and was used by the British and Europeans living there. The first-ever recorded service, however was in 1799 when John Timmers wedded Martina Rozells, the widow of Francis Light.