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Martina Rozells

Very little is known about the mysterious Eurasian Martina Rozells, the companion of Captain Francis Light, who lived in Phuket more than 200 years ago.

A Eurasian of Siamese and Portuguese descent, Martina Rozells, is said to be have been born in Thaland, Phuket and later became an adopted child of the Sultan of Kedah in what is today Malaysia – just south of Satun province in Thailand.

According to a theory, Rozells was used by the sultan as a pawn in negotiations with Light. She ended up being attached to him instead.

Because of her Asian ethnicity, Light never married her due to the social stigma associated with a British officer having a conjugal relationship with a native.

She bore six children, two sons ( William and Francis Lanoon) and three daughters (Sarah, Mary and Ann) with Captain Light while remaining his common-law companion.

Due to her “half-caste” ethnicity, she was reportedly looked down upon by the British community of the period. After Light died in 1794, she struggled to claim the inheritance he had left her and their children against a few English conspirators who wanted it. Rozells fought a long battle in the courts and won the case in 1811. By then she had married John Timmers.

Upon his death his business partners swiftly transferred Light’s properties to their own names, including his estate Suffolk in Penang. Martina went to court seeking justice, but it eluded this unfortunate woman who was one part Portuguese, one part Siamese, and no part British. She was, after all, just someone’s common-law wife – a.k.a mistress – and in all likelihood, illiterate.

To keep her mouth shut, they gave her a pension, but she lost control of the stately Suffolk mansion in Penang. British East India Company would rather have this very important piece of real estate safe in British hands than to see justice served.

Why didn’t Francis Light marry Martina Rozells? Perhaps in the eyes of the British administrators, he didn’t. Among the Eurasians and the Thai community, he probably did, as he lived with her and had five children.

There were plenty of hurdles barring Light, an Anglican and an officer, from a matrimonial union with a Catholic woman. As there would have been religious prejudice in the late 18th century against those who were Catholic, Light would his own job and reputation on the line if he should reveal that he was married to Martina.

As a result, she had to be accepted – in the eyes of the British administrators, at least – as the woman the Light co-habited.

 

Sources

  • Asia Explorers

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