Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis.

Lowry visited the island on his 1927 voyage to the Far East. Lowry arrived on board the Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus on 9th June 1927 and departed the next day for Port Swettenham. Lowry returned on the homeward leg of his voyage from Port Swettenham arriving 25th August and leaving for Colombo on the 26th August 1927.

In the short story 'On Board West Hardaway', Lowry set scenes in the port centred around the death of the pigeon adopted by Norman, a crew member; "The West Hardaway reached the Straits Settlements and unloaded some of her cargo in Penang, leaning with a quiet gratitude against the wharf, sea-weary after her long journey." (Pg. 29).

Lowry refers to the island in his first novel Ultramarine based on the voyage; "I am on a ship, I am going to Japan - or aren't I?" then he lists all the places he is due to visit including Penang.(Pg. 18); "And I went ashore with Joe in Penang."(Pg. 58), "Why! I went ashore in Penang."(Pg. 58); "I played billiards in Penang with Joe Ward, in the Chinese quarter. (Pg. 58) and "I went ashore with Joe in Penang." (Pg. 73).

Penang Road Penang
Lowry also referred to the port in his later fiction including Chapter 6 of Under The Volcano'A curly-headed boy stood on the fo'c'sle head of the Philoctetes as she docked in Penang strumming his latest composition on the ukelele.' (Pg.167); and in the short story 'Elephant and Colosseum'; "Since but for his duty to Rosemary he would have transferred in those days to a sister ship at Penang."  (Pg. 170).

Campbell Street Penang
Stan Hugill describes the port of Penang as follows:

Not far from Singapore lies Penang, a port known to eastern traders since the days of the tea clipper. In modern times sailors ashore would visit the Fun and Frolic, a rather popular amusement park, after the style of the New World in Singapore. Here were Chinese theatres, bars, gambling and dance-halls with Eurasian and Chineses hostesses, and Malay 'ronggeng' sections - where a member of the crowd would endeavour to out-dance a Malay girl, usually a hopeless task. Prostitutes frequented these Malayan amusement parks in large numbers, but in Penang also there was a regular quarter in Campbell Street containing several Chinese bordels. One sailor-frequented pub was the Can-do, and others were the Prince of Wales Bar, the Hong Kong Bar, and Penang Bar. Sailortown Pg. 325

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