You probably know that castles are usually found in Europe and in some parts of Asia like Japan and Korea, but have you ever heard of a castle in South East Asia, and of all places in Malaysia? What’s more, this particular castle has all the stereotypical trappings of old castles like secret passages and tunnels, and ghostly hauntings.
So if you are curious, read on; for here is a sad tale of unfulfilled dreams.
Outside of Ipoh in the north of peninsular Malaysia lies Kellie’s Castle. We’d known about this place since years ago and even visited it once before when it became famous for being used as a film set for the 1999 movie “Anna and the King” starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yuen Fatt. Back then this place was a dilapidated ruin overgrown with tall grass. After almost 2 decades we decided to visit Kellie’s Castle again as the state government had conserved the place as a heritage site.
Getting to Kellie’s Castle requires that you have your own transportation as it lies off the highway and in the middle of palm plantations and jungle. Otherwise you probably have to rely on Uber or Grab, that’s if they are willing to go out there to pick you. Here is the castle’s address if you are planning to go there: 31000 Batu Gajah, Perak, Malaysia.
If you read the wiki page and info boards at the castle, the history of the castle goes like this:
A Scottish guy named William Kellie-Smith came to Malaya in 1890 as a civil engineer. He worked for a survey company which had won concessions from the state government to clear 9,000 hectares of forest in Batu Gajah, Perak. Having made substantial profits from this venture, he used the money to buy 1,000 hectares of land, started a rubber plantation on it, and also invested in tin mining. After making his fortune, in 1903 he returned back to Scotland to see his dying mother. After the death of his mother, he returned to Malaya and met his future wife, Agnes, on board the ship. They fell in love almost immediately and were soon married (This almost sounds like the plot of Titanic). They had a daughter, Helen in 1094 and a son, Anthony in 1915.
William and Agnes lived on his estate in Batu Gajah in a wooden bungalow. A brick extension was added later and the ruins can be seen today. Being socialites, William wanted to build a castle to enhance his family’s status. He designed the castle to have Scottish, Moorish and Tamilvanan features which we can see today. It was to have a 6 story tower with an elevator (the first in Malaya), an indoor tennis court and a rooftop courtyard for entertaining guests. More than 70 craftsmen from India were brought over to work on the castle, including the bricks and marble for the castle.
Work on the castle started immediately after Anthony was born. But William ran into financial troubles soon after, as well as, a lot of bad luck. World War I broke out in 1914-1918 which blocked the flow of materials and money for construction. Soon after, the Spanish Flu pandemic struck Malaya and killed off almost all of his workers who were building the castle. His Indian workers asked him to build a temple to honor the deity Mariamman and stop the sickness, which William readily agreed. In gratitude the workers built a statue of a white man in colonial clothes on top of the temple to represent William. This is a rare honor since Indian temples only feature Hindu gods and deities on their walls and roofs.
By the time his son Anthony was old enough to go to boarding school, Agnes accompanied Anthony to England and stayed on to look after him. In 1928 William travelled back to England to with Helen to visit Agnes and Anthony. On the way back to Malaya, he stopped in Lisbon, Portugal to collect the elevator that he had commissioned for the castle. However, while in Lisbon, William contracted pneumonia and died at the age of 56. Agnes was heartbroken and never went back to Malaya. She sold off her interest in the estate and castle to a British company, Harrisons & Crosfield. However, the company considered the castle a waste of money and never completed it. It was left to waste and reclaimed by the jungle. The wooden bungalow was destroyed by Japanese bombing during World War II and only the ruins of the brick house and uncompleted castle are left.
Agnes lived out her life in London in a well appointed apartment near Harrods. Her son, Anthony became a pilot but was killed in World War II. Anthony did have a son who carried on the family name. Surprisingly, there is no information on what happened to Helen.
About the castle being haunted. the locals have long called this the ‘Ghost House’. In fact when I told my relatives here in Ipoh I wanted to visit Kellie’s Castle, their first remark was “Eh, why you want to go that haunted house?” There have been many stories of William’s ghost roaming the castle and people claiming to have seen him. So if you are there and you experience a sudden coldness, your hairs on your arm standing, don’t look behind you…
I did mention earlier about secret passages and tunnels. In many of the rooms you can see narrow doorways inside which lead to hidden stairwells. These served as escape paths for guests. William seem to be very concerned about the safety of his guests and family. Remember the Indian temple that William helped build? There is a secret tunnel that runs from the castle to the temple 1.5km away. So far 2 secret tunnels have been found under the castle, and for some reason they are not opened to the public.
So would you like to visit this haunted castle in the middle of the Malaysian jungle? Who knows what secrets you might unearth here. If you do visit, I recommend that you do it in the morning. We arrived here at 11am and half an hour later tourists were arriving by the busloads. Instead of ghosts, we had an army of tourists climbing all over the castle. I read that they also conduct night tours and this might be best time to see the castle in all it’s spookiness.