Suffolk House was built on a vast pepper estate owned by Captain Francis Light (1740-1794), founder of the British port settlement of Penang. He lived here with the woman he loved, Martina Rozells. Martina was of mixed Portuguese and Siamese descent and was reputed to be the adopted daughter of the Sultan of Kedah.
Though it is uncertain whether Francis and Martina were ever married, he bequeathed her “the pepper gardens with my Garden house plantation and all the Land by me cleared in that part of this island called Suffolk” The executors of Light’s will however betrayed her and transferred it to themselves.
in 1805 the estate was sold to William Edward Phillips (1769-1850), one of the early Governors and it was probably Phillips who built Suffolk House in the form we see today. In 1818 Sir Stamford Raffles was a guest at Suffolk House and it is highly likely that it was here that he first discussed the founding of Singapore. Over the years, the house was altered many times, evolving from a colonnaded Anglo-Indian mansion to a tile-roofed bungalow and eventually a school before falling into ruin.
Old paintings show that the garden was like an English park. A list of the plants that originally grew here was discovered some years ago and these are being replanted. They were all plants native to Penang so form a priceless record of the islands botanical heritage.