Pulau Pinang was among the earliest states that was occupied by the British other than Singapore. As was the case in Singapore, the British had also established the Penang Botanical Gardens in 1884 which was intended to undertake agricultural and forestry research and to train staff and planters.
Nonetheless, apart from the mentioned purposes we could also discern the underlying motive which was for the British to embark on an agricultural experimentation at the Botanical Garden to identify a suitable type of crop to be cultivated by the natives for commercial purposes as well as reaping profits from its colony.
The first Penang Botanical Gardens Enforcer was Mr. Charles Curtis from 1885 until 1903, who was then succeeded by Mr. W. Fox until 1910. Under the administration of Mr. Curtis, he had initiated the planting of trees around George Town and this initiative was continued by his successor. From 1 March 1910 until 1 January 1912, the gardens area was taken over by the Municipal Council of Penang for the purpose of constructing a reservoir that could still be seen until now.
Penguasa Taman Botanikal Pulau Pinang yang pertama ialah Encik Charles Curtis iaitu dari tahun 1885 sehingga 1903 yang kemudiannya digantikan oleh Encik W.Fox sehingga tahun 1910. Semasa di bawah pentadbiran Encik Curtis, beliau telah mengusahakan penanaman pokok-pokok di sekitar George Town dan usaha ini diteruskan oleh penggantinya itu. Pada 1 Mac 1910 sehingga 1 Januari 1912, kawasan taman ini telah diambil alih oleh pihak Perbandaran Pulau Pinang bagi tujuan membina takungan air yang masih boleh dilihat sehingga kini.
Between the years 1912 and 1921, the garden was under the supervision of Encik Mohammad Haniff, a local, and due to insufficient manpower then, there was not much change that he could do to the garden.
The Botanical Gardens had undergone several major changes while under the supervision of Mr. F Filippance, in which the construction of pedestrian walkway and planting of trees on the roadside around the garden were undertaken. Mr. F. Filippance became the Assistant Enforcer of the Botanical Gardens of the Straits Settlement while also being the Penang Botanical Gardens Advisor in 1912.
In the year 1932 until 1942 Mr. J. C. Naven succeeded Mr. Flippance. During Mr. Naven's tenure, several rapid changes had taken place. In fact, in 1936 for instance, part of the Botanical Gardens were levelled. Other than that, pergolas were constructed while lily pools and water fountains were set up as a crowd-puller. Such changes were also said to be the curtain-raiser of gradual changes to the functions of the Botanical Gardens to become the gardens and recreational place for the public.
Part of the gardens was designed as formal gardens with decorative plants, small ponds, pedestrian walkways, shade trees, rest areas and others.
During World War II in 1942, the Botanical Gardens was used as a bunker and a shelter from Japanese air raid. The Botanical Gardens was then under the patronage of Encik Abdul Kadir, a local. When the Japanese had conquered Malaya in 1945, the Botanical Gardens was used by the Japanese as an areas for quarters, workshops and a torpedo storage place. Consequently, many trees and plantings were either felled or destroyed during the war.
When the war ended, the Penang Botanical Gardens was separated from the Singapore Botanical Gardens in 1946. Mr. F. S. Banfield was assigned to restore the Penang Botanical Gardens. He was later succeeded by Mr. H. Ritching. In 1956, Mr. Cheang Kok Choy, a local citizen was appointed as the Enforcer of the Botanical Gardens. He made some changes, including the introduction of a zoo area, which were only implemented in 1974. In addition, Mr. Cheang had also expanded the palm tree collection in the garden.
Even though the objective of the Penang Botanical Garden was for crop and forestry research for commercial purposes, it then evolved from its initial functions to become a garden for recreation and relaxation. This benefits the Botanical Gardens itself as it could not be exploited fully by the British as in other places.