Sunday, June 28, 2009
Sometime ago, flashes of Kellie's Castle and other heritage sites used to pop up during my Astro viewings on TV. It piqued my curiosity. Here's a 'castle in the sky'( on a ridge),abandoned, uncompleted and of a bygone era right here in Malaysia. I've walked into many stately castles on my overeas travel. Surely, this castle warrants a look-see, at least.
Things don't just happen ,so it was planned that on the way back to KL from Damai Laut Resort, there would be a stopover with my folks. So we made a detour to Batu Gajah.
I liked what I saw at first glance. So, that's the famed castle - on top of a hill and a river sweeps by with a bridge to cross over. An imposing sight!
Kellie's Castle was built by a Scottish planter, William Smith-Kellie in 1915. As a youg adventurer, he came to Malaysia, then Malaya to seek his fortunes. He befriended an estate owner, Alma Baker. Fortune smiled on Smith and with his wealth, he started to plant rubber trees and dabbled in the tin mining industry. Soon he was the proud owner of the Kinta Kellas estate and the Kinta Dredging Company.
Around 1909/1910, Smith built his first mansion. He returned home to marry his Scottish sweetheart, Agnes. 5 years later when their son, heir apparent was born, Smith expanded on his mansion. He started building Kellie's castle which he planned to call Kellas House, after his hometown in Scotland.
It was to surpass his country house. Smith brought in 70 workers from Madras including the bricks and marble for the stately abode. It was to be linked to the first by a covered passageway. 2 tunnels were designed to run under the river. The design too incorporated Islamic influences in the dome shaped windows and stately columns. Smith planned 14 rooms , including a wine cellar. Amazingly a 6 storey tower was to have the first elevator ever in Malaya ! Added to these grandiose plans were a indoor tennis court and a rooftop courtyard for parties. Smith had wanted a moat to complete the mansion . Truly, it was more of a castle than a country house. Such news made it to The London Financial Newspaper on 15 Sept 1911.
But tragedy struck. A mysterious disease broke out and killed many of Smith's workers. The superstitious Smith was told that a temple must be built to appease the gods. He duly obliged and transferred the workers to build the Hindu temple.
Fate dealt another blow. A second tragedy struck. Few stories are told of his death. The oft quoted story says Smith died suddenly of pneumonia in Lisbon. He was said to be on his way to take delivery of the elevator that he ordered for his mansion.
Agnes could not imagine a solitary life in Malaya. Heartbroken, she sold the estate to a British company, Harrisons and Crosfield and returned to Scotland. So, ended a colonial planter's dreams.
We wandered around the empty rooms - bedrooms, large linen storage room,living room, kitchen etc. If only walls could speak...
I thought how grand the castle would have been if it had seen its glory. I climbed to the rooftop and lingered for a little. What a view!
Now its up to us to preserve Kellie's Castle. No undergrowth or jungle need creep up to it anymore. Nor it be left derelict. It is too fascinating and important in the local history to be left abandoned. Due thanks to the Department of Museum and Antiquities which stepped in to restore to the condition it was when work was abruptly halted in 1926.
The castle and the grounds are well-maintained. It was good to see tourists coming to have a glimpse into the history of a bygone era. To get to know a man who had big dreams and wanted to live like a king.
Rumours swirl about ghost sightings of Smith. It was broad daylight when we were there. I certainly didn't have any eerie feelings nor do I believe in ghosts.
So what piqued my curiosity is satisfied. Long live Kellie's Castle! May the soul of William Smith - Kellie rest in peace.