Logan's Lasting Legacy



This article first appeared in our January 2010 issue.
In celebration of our 10th anniversary, we put together for you in this issue some of our most memorable articles.

Although Penang has long been a trading, educational and industrial hub, what makes its cosmopolitanism unique was the fact that it was at the fringe of Big Power influence. The frontier atmosphere fostered a strong sense of independence and its distance from power fostered a distrust of government. This was the case even in the middle of the 19th century, as seen in the legacy of James Logan.

You may not notice it driving past the recently refurbished Penang High Courts on Light Street. But look closely and you will spot the memorial dedicated to James Richardson Logan standing tall as if presiding over the hallowed halls of justice. While many may think the name has a familiar ring (there is after all a Logan Road in Penang), James Logan has long been categorised as just another colonial name of little consequence from the past.

However, Logan should not be forgotten. His accomplishments had much to do with making Penang what it is today. There are concrete reasons why his memorial stands outside Penang's majestic court houses. It is an appropriate tribute to his achievements. He was not only a celebrated and much respected colonial-era lawyer but also a dedicated newspaper editor, a celebrated geologist and champion of native rights.

Justice seeker

Logan came from humble beginnings. Born in 1819 to a farmer, he later trained to become a barrister in Edinburgh before doing a short stint planting indigo plants in Bengal. He moved to Penang island in 1839, at the age of 20. Here, he was admitted to the bar as an advocate in 1841. His elder brother Abraham soon followed him to Penang where they both practised as lawyers. The two worked closely for the next 30 years not only as advocates of the law but also as newspaper editors, writers and champions of social and constitutional reform.


Photo: Nic Lee.

James followed Abraham to Singapore for a short time but soon returned to Penang where he continued in the legal profession. It was here that he became a Justice of the Peace and was called on to be, among other things, a legal spokesman for both the European and local communities when it came to official restrictions. He became an advocate for the natives, who held him in high regard as he often championed the rights of the underdog and stood up for the locals in light of British restrictions.

Observant traveller

James Logan was also an avid writer who, together with Abraham, bought over the Pinang Gazette. As editor of a newspaper that soon became an influential voice for the local community, he would often publish powerful pieces against the EIC. Logan used the Gazette to champion policies that would protect commerce in the Malay states and to support free trade.

Perhaps the most significant publication that Logan contributed to Penang and, indeed, the region was the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, better known as Logan's Journal. He was as much a celebrated geologist as an appreciated barrister, and was in fact a fellow of the Geological Society of London. With his journal, Logan provided the Straits Settlements with a scientific periodical.

The Malay peninsula as well as the surrounding areas were largely unexplored by Europeans at the time. An indefatigable traveller, Logan wrote articles on geology, general exploration, aboriginal peoples, ethnology and even piracy. His contributions to the geological and geographical world included his coining of the name “Indonesia”.


James Richardson Logan's memorial can be found outside the Dewan Sri Pinang opposite the Penang High Courts on Light Street. Photo: Nic Lee.

Twelve volumes of the journal were published, and each contained information that Logan collected from a host of subject experts, including fellow lawyers, doctors, naval and military officers, the clergy and even planters who came from all over the world, and prominent Chinese merchants. Logan would travel far and wide gathering facts. Such was his enthusiasm for travelling in the name of scientific exploration that it often took a toll on his health. He contracted malaria on one of his trips and died at the age of so on Oct 20, 1867.

He often stood up to the dominant East India Company (EIC) and in one case even defended a local Indian sirih planter against it. He took the case to the press (through his newspaper the Pinang Gazette) and brought it before a tribunal of public opinion. He was also a great defender of Chinese communities and even petitioned for prominent secret societies to be recognised as organisations. He became an advocate for religious tolerance between the communities and thus became a favourite barrister amongst the wealthy Straits Chinese and Indian Muslims.

Prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude

Logan's memorial expounds the four cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude which stand testament to the principles by which the man tried to live by. He was a pioneer in supporting religious tolerance and political reform, and used his influence as a member of the legal profession to fight for the lesser man by using the mass media to raise pertinent issues for open discussion. Penang's history might have been very different if not for Logan. At the Pinang Gazette, the two Logan brothers were among the first to campaign against EIC rule in the Straits Settlements. So successful were they that a historic transfer of power from the company to the colonial office took place in 1867 whereby the Straits Settlements became a crown colony. Transfer Road was named in commemoration of the event.

Logan was also one of the few colonial settlers who called for cultural understanding of the local communities. He often openly asked that Europeans be more accepting of Chinese customs and ancient traditions and his reports in the Pinang Gazette won Penang praise in European circles for being a religiously tolerant and friendly society. In Logan's Journal, details of all Asian cultures, from Tibetan tribes to Malay cooking customs were explored. His contributions helped shape the island's history, socially and scientifically. To him, Penang society had much that he admired, and he sought to understand its cultural richness.

To continue his legacy would be to continue to acknowledge the virtues by which he lived.

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