In a history of nearly eight thousand years the Malayan Peninsula has seen, successively, the passing of nomadic tribes from Central Asia, the rise and fall of a Malay Buddhist Empire, the conquests of the Portuguese and the Dutch, and, later, the more peaceful acquisition of the British. At a time when the English Channel was a line of chalk hills, the ancestors of the Australian aborigines moved down the Peninsula on their way South from Siberia; four thousand years later came the forbears of the present Malays as they spread through Indo-China, Malaya, Sumatra and to the seas beyond.
In the first century, Indians from the Conomardel Coast came to barter their fabrics and iron implements for camphor and gold dust. Many of the Indians settled and inter-married with the aborigines. They founded several prosperous towns, of which Langkasuka (in N. Kedah) eventually became the capital of Sri Vijaya, an Indo-Malay kingdom whose colonies were spread over Malaya and Sumatra.
The second half of the fourteenth century saw the rise of the Malay kingdom of Malacca, whose influence grew rapidly until it controlled the whole of the Peninsula, bringing with it the religion of Islam, to which the Malays of Malacca had been converted by the early Indian settlers. In 1511 Alfonso D’Albuquerque captured Malacca for the Portuguese, who held it until 1641 when they were ousted by the Dutch. The Settlement eventually became British by treaty in 1824. The original ruler of Malacca, dispossessed by the Portuguese, fled South and founded the kingdom of Riau-Johore, which covered most of the East Coast. But Riau-Johore was short-lived and soon split into the independent States which are known to-day as Johore, Pahang and Trengganu.
From Celeres in the eighteenth century came the Bugis, a fierce and warlike tribe who quickly overran Johore and Selangor, but finally settled and married into the noble Malay families. In 1786 Francis Light took possession of Penang on behalf of the East India Company, who paid the Sultan of Kedah ten thousand dollars a year for the lease of Penang and Province Wellesley. Penang grew rapidly in size and importance; it became a flourishing part and attracted a large and varied population. But as a port it was doomed by its inferiority to Singapore, where in 1819 Thomas Stamford Raffles negotiated with the Sultan of Johore for trading concessions.