Saturday, April 15, 2006

Penang Lawyer - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sherlock Holmes

Penang lawyers were mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and short stories involving his alter ego, Sherlock Holmes. Penang lawyers, yes, but not those who dress up in fancy gowns, have funny hair-dos and appear in the courts.

Instead the Penang lawyer mentioned in the third sentence of the opening chapter of "The Hound of the Baskerville" referred to a ' a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous headed, of the sort which is known as a Penang lawyer.' In the short story "Silver Blazes" the Penang lawyer is described as a "clublike walking stick".

Apparently Penang lawyer as a "walking stick" is a quite well-known product from this part of the world in 19th century Great described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a gentleman's walking stick. He would most likely had one too, I supposed.

The Penang lawyer is made from the stem of a small (it cannot grow any bigger) palm known as Licuala acutifida, Griffith. The walking sticks are prepared by scrapping the skin of the stem by glass, they are then straightened by fire and given a polishing. It is also called Licuala spinosa (according to Kew Garden website on Licuala palms).

Source: Photo courtesy University of Florida-IFAS (found in

The term Penang lawyer came about most likely because of the way the English pronunced Malay words......Penang lawyer is "Pinang liar" in Malay or wild pinang as opposed to the cultivated ones......

There is another story why this clublike walking stick is called Penang lawyer....."a heavy walking stick, supposed to be so called from its usefulness in settling disputes in Penang"........probably during the early days of the settlement....when everything had to be referred to the office of the Indian East Company in Madras, India......a long way off by sail boat......

The third story of how the name came about is because these stick were originally made by convicts exiled to Penang from India....and these convicts were nicknamed "lawyers" the named stucked...

Trivia....trivia and more trivia

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