Martina Rozells – Penang’s first First Lady

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The text below – taken from pp. 27-28 of H.P. Clodd’s 1948 book, Malaya’s First British Pioneer. The Life of Francis Light (London: Luzac & Co) – quite thoroughly discusses Martina Rozells whom the founder of Penang “co-habited” with for at least 22 years before his death in 1794. With little known about her, a shroud of mystery had grown around her over time. We do know that she bore him two sons and three daughters, the most famous of the children being William, later the founder of Adelaide. Only two years after his death, Francis Light’s estates were “fast running into jungle to the certain loss of his Heirs and the Company”. His son-in-law, a General Welsh who married Sarah Light, would lament in 1818 that his wife’s siblings had “lived to see every inch of ground and even his [Light’s] houses alienated from them” (p. 138). Martina Rozells reportedly lived for several years on the land and in the bungalow bequeathed her by her common-law husband, and may have later married one John Timmer.

During the year 1772 Light allied himself with Martina Rozells, a lady regarding whose antecedents an element of romance has been attributed by some contemporary writers, who bestowed on her the rank of a princess of the royal house of Kedah, with the embellishment that the island of Penang was presented to her by the Sultan of that state as a dower. The story first appeared in print in a book published in London in 1788 by Elisha Trapaud, who stated that Light “had assisted the above Prince in quelling some troubles in his dominions, who in return bestowed upon him a princess of the blood in marriage, together with this island as a dower.


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