‘A Perfect Malay’
: James Scott, East Indies Country Trader

  • Jan-Maree Herivel

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis examines the contribution of James Scott, British country trader in the late eighteenth century, who alongside Francis Light played a major role in the establishment of a British settlement on Penang.Country traders, who worked independently of the East India Company, were valuable intermediaries in Southeast Asian regional trade,forging political and commercial relationships with local rulers, and gathering vital intelligence which they passed to the East India Company.

    To date, little biographical information has been recorded on James Scott’s life, family or activities. His maritime service with the Royal Navy and East India Company provided Scott with the skills, knowledge and contacts he exploited as a country trader in the East Indies. Penang’s historiography has largely ignored Scott’s contribution to the identification, establishment and growth of its early settlement. Scott’s pre-eminent position on the island was bolstered by Scott clan members who lived and worked in the region or served as members of the East India Company. The Scott family’s links with the region continued with extended family members actively involved in mercantile activities and the consolidation of British power in the region.

    Scott’s role in Penang’s historiography, which has focussed on his close friendship with Francis Light and tempestuous relationship with Penang’s administration after Light’s death, has generated a pervading belief Scott behaved fraudulently as executor of Francis Light’s estate. Examination ivof Light’s will, the dispersal of his estate and exploration of Light’s common law wife Martina Rozell’s remarriage, do not support this assertion.

    Despite his monopolistic position on the island, at the time of his death Scott’s estate was bankrupt, triggering one of the most extensive land sales in Penang’s history. The thesis seeks to facilitate a re-evalution of Scott’s contribution to Penang’s founding and early growth, firmly placing him in its historical narrative.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSteven Farram (Supervisor)

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