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.

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With the conservation efforts, better facilities like a proper car park, souvenir and refreshment kiosks, proper signs and info boards telling the history of the castle are available. Of course this means that we had to pay an entrance fee (MYR10 for foreigners).

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.

A small bridge over the river is the entry way into the castle from the carpark. But actually this is the back of the estate. The original front entrance is on the other side of the castle.
The tower that was supposed to house Malaysia’s first working elevator.
The yellow ruins are the remains of William and Agnes’ brick bungalow which they lived.
Conservation efforts have made it safer to climb the tower with the addition of safety railings.
The view from the top of the tower. There is a lack of safety barriers so you have to watch your step up here..
The location of Kellie’s Castle is quite picturesque as it sits on a small knoll, with a river flowing by it. This is the carpark where we parked our car and the visitors’ center.
Looking at the front of the estate, the small gate in the distance was actually the front entrance to the estate. The ruins of the bungalow are just below.
The uncompleted roof has been covered over with waterproofing. However, the safety railings here are just poles with ropes connecting them and not really safe for children.
The fascinating details of mixed cultural designs. William was kind of a genius to think of this.
The ground floor corridor with it’s Moorish accented archways.

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…

The second floor balcony which is said to be haunted by the ghost of William who never lived to see his castle completed.
A view of the garden from one of the windows on the second floor.
The Moorish design is repeated everywhere in the castle’s doorways and windows.
One of the rooms in the castle.
View from another window.

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.

One of the secret passages in a guest room. This narrow doorway would probably be hidden behind a false wall, wardrobe or bookcase. The stairs lead to the outside of the castle.
Another secret stairs in a passage between the children’s bedrooms. It also served as an escape route to the castle’s outside.
A decorated room on the ground floor which tries to envision how William would have decorated his living room. These are based on photos of the old bungalow. It seemed that William had a very wild taste in mixing styles from the Orient, Persia and Europe. This is evident in the design of the castle.
A part of the castle that has not been conserved is the stables and guardhouse which stand in ruins.

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.

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4 thoughts on “An Unlikely Castle

  1. This is so surprising ~ and now makes me want to go visit 🙂 Great photos and introduction, I like the history and it is something special and different. Cheers to a great post.

    1. Yes, this place certainly has an interesting past. It was a fascinating story for me while looking for information on it and making my visit even more relatable to its history.

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