Butterworth, Penang

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Other transcription(s)
 • Malay Bagan
 • Chinese 北海
 • Tamil பட்டர்வொர்த்
Skyline of Butterworth
Skyline of Butterworth
Official seal of Butterworth
Butterworth is located in Penang
Butterworth is located in Peninsular Malaysia
Coordinates: 5°23′38.4354″N 100°21′59.1372″E / 5.394009833°N 100.366427000°E / 5.394009833; 100.366427000Coordinates: 5°23′38.4354″N 100°21′59.1372″E / 5.394009833°N 100.366427000°E / 5.394009833; 100.366427000
Country  Malaysia
State  Penang
District North Seberang Perai
 • Local Government Seberang Perai Municipal Council
 • President of Seberang Perai Rozali Mohamud
 • Bagan Dalam State Assemblyman Tanasekharan Autherapady (DAP)
 • Bagan Member of Parliament Lim Guan Eng (DAP)
Elevation 8 m (26 ft)
Population (2010[1])
 • Total 71,643
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code 120xx to 134xx
Area code(s) +604
Website mpsp.gov.my

Butterworth is a major town in North Seberang Perai, Penang, Malaysia. It is the largest town within Seberang Perai, the mainland half of the State of Penang.[2] Butterworth is located approximately 3 km (1.9 mi) east of George Town, the capital city of Penang, across the Penang Strait. As of 2010, Butterworth had a total of 71,643 residents.[1]

Known unofficially in Malay as Bagan, Butterworth was named after British colonial official William John Butterworth, who served as the Governor of the Straits Settlements in the mid-19th century. The town came into being as a landing place across the Penang Strait from George Town. While the British East India Company initially obtained Seberang Perai (then named Province Wellesley) for agricultural purposes, Butterworth has also witnessed massive industrialisation during the latter half of the 20th century.[3][4]

Since its founding, Butterworth has been acting as the main transportation hub within the state of Penang. It is linked to George Town primarily via Rapid Ferry. The Port of Penang operates its core operations in Butterworth, handling over 1.44 million TEUs of cargo as of 2016, making it one of the busiest seaports in Malaysia.[5] In addition, the Butterworth railway station, situated adjacent to the town's ferry terminal, is a major Malayan Railway station, with train services operated by both the Malayan Railway (along the west coast states of Peninsular Malaysia and into Singapore) and the State Railway of Thailand.

Moreover, Butterworth is home to RMAF Butterworth, a major Royal Malaysian Air Force base. Built by the British, it had also served the Royal Australian Air Force during the Indonesian Confrontation, and is now used as part of a joint air defence system for both Malaysia and Singapore under the Five Power Defence Arrangements.[6]


Historical Affiliations Period
Kedah Sultanate 1136–1821
Siam 1821–1831
British East India Company 1831–1867
Straits Settlements Straits Settlements 1831–1941; 1945–1946
Empire of Japan Empire of Japan 1941–1945
Malayan Union Malayan Union 1946–1948
Federation of Malaya Federation of Malaya 1948–1963
Malaysia Malaysia 1963–Present

Originally, a small riverine settlement by the name of Bagan stood at the site where Butterworth is now located. The name Bagan referred to the wooden piers and jetties that jut out of the coast and along the Perai River.

Butterworth was developed much later by the British. When the settlement was founded in the mid-19th century, it was named after the then Governor of the Straits Settlements, William John Butterworth, who served between 1843 and 1855. Butterworth was intended to be Province Wellesley's answer to the booming George Town on Penang Island across the Penang Strait.

Furthermore, Butterworth was established as a major transportation hub, where cross-strait ferry, shipping, train and road networks all have their terminus, thus facilitating the movement of goods and people across the Penang Strait. The construction of the Butterworth railway station in the late 19th century allowed for the transportation of tin ore from Taiping to Butterworth, where the tin would then be loaded onto steam ships docked at Butterworth's wharves. Conversely, railway passengers from George Town were transferred to the railway ferry which took them to the train.

As with the rest of Penang, Butterworth was occupied by the Japanese between December 1941 and September 1945. During the early days of the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force units stationed at RAF Butterworth struggled to counter Japanese air raids over Penang and took heavy casualties. These Allied units had to withdraw southwards by 15 December, while RAF Butterworth was seized by the Imperial Japanese 25th Army on 20 December.[7]

After Malaya's independence in 1957, as part of an effort to advocate import substitution industries in the 1960s, the Penang state government under the Alliance led by Wong Pow Nee developed Mak Mandin as the first industrial estate in Penang.[8] In the 1970s, industrial estates were also established in Perai to the south of Butterworth.[4] Also, the Port of Penang shifted its cargo and container services from George Town to Butterworth in 1974, substantially boosting the town's economy.[9]

In 1953, the Butterworth Town Board was upgraded to a town council with elected councillors. Nine years later, the Butterworth Town Council was amalgamated with the Seberang Perai North Rural District Council.[8] In 1974, the Penang state government under the leadership of Lim Chong Eu merged the local councils in Seberang Perai into a management board, which was subsequently transformed into the Seberang Perai Municipal Council in 1976.[8]

Besides being the seat of the local council, Butterworth also played host to many government offices and facilities, including the district police headquarters, a hospital and the district land office. As a result, the town's boundaries were enlarged and the population grew from 3,900 in 1911 to about 43,000 in 1957. By 1980, there were 77,000 people living in Butterworth.

However, since then, many of these government offices have been moved to Kepala Batas, the district hospital to Seberang Jaya, and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council headquarters to Bukit Mertajam.[8] As a result of the relocation of administrative and commercial centres to the nearby towns and suburbs, Butterworth is a town suffering from decentralisation.

On 31 July 1988, the passenger platform of the Sultan Abdul Hamid Ferry Terminal collapsed, injuring more than 1,600 persons and killing 32. This tragedy was due to the excessive crowding of worshippers heading to two separate religious festivities, which is the Kwan Yin Goddess festival in George Town and St. Anne's Feast in Bukit Mertajam. In 2001, a fire destroyed a three-storey bus station cum shopping centre near the ferry terminal.[8]

More recently, the RM2 billion Penang Sentral project was proposed and is currently underway at the present site of the ferry terminal, bus terminal and railway station. Intended to serve as the modern transportation hub for the state of Penang, the first phase of the project, which includes the main 10-storey building housing ticketing counters for bus, rail and ferry services, is scheduled for completion by 2017.[10]


Butterworth sits in the southernmost tip of the North Seberang Perai District. The town is bounded by the Perai River to its south and east, and faces the Penang Strait, which separates Penang Island and Seberang Perai, along its western coastline.

The western coastline of Butterworth that faces Penang Island is lined with sandy beaches, while the northern banks of the Perai River is covered with mangrove swamps.[4][11][12][13]

To the south of Butterworth proper is the industrial town of Perai, where a huge concentration of factories, oil refineries and assembly plants have been set up due to its proximity to the Perai Wharves. Seberang Jaya, a new residential township, lies to the east of Butterworth, while the agricultural town of Kepala Batas is located to the north of Butterworth.



Ethnic composition of Butterworth (2010)[1]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras

According to the 2010 Census conducted by Malaysia's Department of Statistics, Butterworth had a population of 71,643.[1] More than half of Butterworth's population consisted of ethnic Chinese, whilst the Malays and Indians formed significant minorities within the town.

Local attractions


Tow Boo Kong Temple in Butterworth
  • Padang MPSP

Also known as the Seberang Perai Municipal Council field, this public open space in Butterworth town centre is a popular venue for major events such as the National Day parade and the festive open houses organised by the Penang state government. Also located in this field is Dewan Dato' Haji Ahmad Badawi.

  • Pantai Bersih

This sandy beach is located in Bagan Ajam. It is a popular picnic spot among locals.

  • Penang Bird Park

Situated in Seberang Jaya, it boasts a collection of over 300 species of birds with enormous walk-in aviaries and is the first and largest bird park of its kind in Malaysia. Popular among bird enthusiasts, the park was built in a garden landscaping concept with natural ponds and a vast collection of flora and several other wildlife including mousedeer, giant alaipaima fish, phytons and monitor lizards.[14]

It is a beautiful 1.85 km-long cable stayed bridge which connects Butterworth and Perai across the Prai River, which forms part of the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR). Its distinctive feature are the twin 40m-tall concrete pylon which resembles the Penang Bridge. A flea market in Taman Selat where antique goods such as old coins, watches, iron are sold. Local food stalls and boutiques are also located there.[15]

  • Taman Tugu Demokrasi

Recently, a speaker's corner, known as Taman Tugu Demokrasi is opened to the public by the Penang state government in Taman Cantik, Mak Mandin to enable the members of the public to express their thoughts and feelings on state affairs. The 0.6-hectar park consists of a children's playground, exercising equipment and a gazebo for relaxing.[16]

  • Tow Boo Kong Temple

Also known as Nine Emperor Gods Temple, the large Taoist temple complex was completed in 2000 with a flamboyant entrance arch completed in 2008. The temple is located in Jalan Raja Uda consists of a Front Prayer Hall, Sacred Prayer Hall, inner courtyard and the Dou Mu Prayer Hall. The annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival is being held there for nine days in the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.[17]

  • Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest (Hutan Pelajaran Air Hitam Dalam)

A protected freshwater marshland in Sungai Dua managed by the Penang State Forestry Department which offers a myriad of flora and fauna. Visitors walk on boardwalks, suspension bridges through the forest and view from the observation towers and gazebos while enjoying the natural surroundings.[18]

Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple is a Hindu temple in Bagan Luar. It is in fact the biggest and probably oldest Hindu temple in Butterworth. Maha Mariamman Devasthanam, a temple dedicated to the mother deity Amman, is the temple for the Hindu community that dwells along Jalan Jeti Lama. The area within the vicinity is a Hindu settlement called Kampung Benggali. Today, there is still a substantial Hindu population living in the area, and businesses such as the Sri Ananda Bharvan Banana Leaf Restaurant is a reflection of the Hindu presence. The Hindus are mostly associated with the Butterworth port. They either worked directly there, or provided supporting trades such as opening sundry shop and food outlets.


Butterworth's location by the Penang Strait and its close proximity to George Town on Penang Island has made the town the major transportation hub within the state of Penang, and by extension, the Northern Corridor Economic Region that also encompasses the states of Kedah, Perlis and Perak.

In addition to the Port of Penang, which operates vital services out of Butterworth, the town is connected to George Town by Rapid Ferry. Residents of Butterworth can alternatively travel to George Town via the Penang Bridge, which starts in the town of Perai to the south of Butterworth.

To facilitate the transportation of goods and people to the harbours of Butterworth, the Butterworth railway station was built in the late 19th century and has since become the major train station within northern Malaysia, with services to Bangkok and Singapore.


View of the Port of Penang and George Town in the background.
A People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer, PLANS Changchun, in Butterworth. George Town can be seen to the far left.[19]

In 1974, the Port of Penang moved its cargo and container operations from George Town on Penang Island to Butterworth.[9] Currently the most important harbour within northern Malaysia and one of the largest in the country, the Port of Penang now operates four facilities within Butterworth.[20]

  • North Butterworth Container Terminal
  • Butterworth Wharves
  • Vegetable oil tanker pier
  • Bagan Dalam Dockyard

The Port of Penang handled 1.44 million TEUs of container in 2016, the third largest amount in Malaysia.[5] The Port's strategic location enabled it to service not just northern Malaysia, but also southern Thailand.

Rapid Ferry is a shuttle ferry service that links Butterworth with George Town.[21] The oldest ferry service in Malaysia commenced operations in 1894, and to this day, serves as a convenient mode of transportation across the Penang Strait for the residents of Butterworth.[22] At present, six ferries ply the Penang Strait between the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal in Butterworth and George Town daily.[23]


The Butterworth railway station is one of the major train stations in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Butterworth railway station is one of the major stations along the Malayan Railway's west coast route. As such, connections are available to other cities along the western states of Peninsular Malaysia, including Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Johor Bahru, as well as on to Woodlands in northern Singapore.

Aside from the regular Malayan Railway services along the western states of Peninsular Malaysia, the Butterworth railway station is also the terminus of the State Railway of Thailand's Southern Line (via Padang Besar) and the International Express from Bangkok. Notably, the train station is one of the main stops of the Eastern and Oriental Express service between Bangkok and Singapore as well.

Penang Sentral under construction as of March 2017

In recent years, the Penang Sentral project has been underway at a site adjacent to both the Butterworth railway station and Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal. Mooted as the main transportation hub in the state of Penang and as Penang's answer to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, Penang Sentral is intended to serve as the termini for ferry, bus and train services.[10] The first phase of the project is slated for completion in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Butterworth Outer Ring Road was completed in 2005 in order to reduce traffic congestion along the North–South Expressway east of the town, as well as facilitating traffic dispersion within Butterworth itself. In addition, Butterworth is accessible via the North–South Expressway's Sungai Dua Interchange (Exit 165), which leads to the Butterworth Outer Ring Road as well.


A Royal Malaysian Air Force base - RMAF Butterworth - is located to the north of Butterworth proper. Completed by the British in 1941 just prior to the Japanese invasion of Malaya, the airbase served both the Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force squadrons tasked with defending the airspace over Penang. However, the Japanese immediately gained air superiority, damaging the Butterworth air base in the process. The airbase was then captured by the Imperial Japanese 25th Army on 20 December 1941.[24]

During the post-war period, the Butterworth air base was put to use by the Royal Air Force, and subsequently, the Royal Australian Air Force, to combat the communist threat in Malaya at the time. The Australian squadrons based in Butterworth also saw action during the Indonesian Confrontation in the 1960s.

In 1988, the Butterworth airbase was handed over to the Royal Malaysian Air Force. Now renamed as RMAF Butterworth, the airbase also houses the headquarters of the Integrated Area Defence System that covers both Malaysia and Singapore under the Five Power Defence Arrangements.[6][25]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Key Summary Statistics For Local Authority Areas, Malaysia 2010" (PDF). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "Background". spu.penang.gov.my. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  3. ^ Haji Salleh, Muhammad (2015). Early History of Penang. Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia. ISBN 9789838616577. 
  4. ^ a b c "ButterworthGuide.com". butterworthguide.com.my. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  5. ^ a b "Stacking up MMC's ports against Westports". The Edge Markets. 2017-05-02. Retrieved 2017-12-21. 
  6. ^ a b Force, Air. "RMAF Base Butterworth - Royal Australian Air Force". www.airforce.gov.au. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  7. ^ Barber, Andrew (2010). Penang At War: A History of Penang During and Between the First and Second World Wars 1914-1945. AB&B. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Butterworth remains the Ugly Duckling". Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "The Mainland Awakens". Penang Monthly. 2016-09-01. Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  10. ^ a b "First phase of Penang Sentral to be ready this year". www.thesundaily.my. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  11. ^ "Teluk Air Tawar teeming with life - Features | The Star Online". www.thestar.com.my. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  12. ^ "Penang Butterworth Property for Sale or Rent | Condo & Commercial". www.theedgeproperty.com.my. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  13. ^ "myPenang - Gems of Seberang Perai Utara". mypenang.gov.my. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  14. ^ "Penang Bird Park". 
  15. ^ "Seberang Perai Utara Tourist Map" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "Speakers Corner in Mak Mandin is ready". [permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth". Archived from the original on 8 August 2012. 
  18. ^ "Seberang Perai Utara Tourist Map" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2015. 
  19. ^ "Chinese warships visit Penang - Community | The Star Online". www.thestar.com.my. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  20. ^ "General Info". Port of Penang. 
  21. ^ hermes (15 October 2016). "Penang's ferries in murky waters". The Straits Times. Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  22. ^ Cheah, Jin Seng (2013). Penang: 500 Early Postcards. Editions Didier Millet. ISBN 9789671061718. 
  23. ^ "Penang attractions painted on two ferries - Metro News | The Star Online". www.thestar.com.my. Retrieved 2017-09-22. 
  24. ^ PacificWrecks.com. "Pacific Wrecks". Retrieved 2017-02-07. 
  25. ^ Government;ou=Defence, c=AU;o=Australian. "Australian Government, Department of Defence News". www.defence.gov.au. Retrieved 2017-02-07. 

External links

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