A castle built upon kellie's dream

05 August 2015

The humidity must have weighed heavily in the air, and the heat stifling, as William Kellie Smith from Kellas, Scotland, arrived in Malaya more than a century ago.

He was just 20 years old -- and the fate of fortune  was in his favour. The business partnership Smith had had with estate owner Charles Alma Baker was fortuitous, to say the least.

By the time he was 30, Smith was already a very rich man by today's standards.

He journeyed home to marry his darling Agnes and brought her back to Malaya.

By  this time, he was 45. Smith  soon became the proud father of a boy and a girl named Anthony and Helen.

Then he had a dream.

He wanted to build a castle in a place where he then called home -- Batu Gajah.

Smith could  well afford to make his dream a reality because he was already the owner of the Kinta Kellas Estate and the Kinta Kellas Tin Dredging Company.

He wanted to call his castle the Kellas House, named after his hometown in Scotland.

Kellas House  was to have three tunnels, an elevator (unheard of at that time), two tunnels under an adjacent river, an indoor tennis court and a rooftop courtyard for social gatherings.

It was  certainly an ambitious project of aristocratic proportions.

Smith planned to make his  castle  the entertainment centre for the rich British planters who governed  over the Malayan estates.

The castle project started in 1915. However, when World War I ended in 1917, the Spanish Flu broke out in Europe and affected half a billion people worldwide.

The final death toll was between 20 and 50 million people.

The Spanish Flu soon reached Malaya and  subsequently claimed a large number of the 70 workers from India who laboured on Smith's castle.

The outcome was a huge financial loss for Smith.

It simply took the wind out of the Scottish planter's sails and severely punished his businesses.

The castle project came to grief in 1926 with the death of Smith in Lisbon, Portugal,  where he was sourcing for materials for the castle's elevator.

He died of pneumonia at the age of 56.  Agnes then sold the castle to a British company, Harrison and Crosfields, before returning to Scotland.

Late last year, my family and I made a road trip down to Batu Gajah, near my hometown of Ipoh.

I had deliberately avoided visiting the castle (by now known as Kellie's Castle) because I wasn't particularly interested in an ancient, incomplete building built out of discoloured bricks and piles of rocks.

Despite being a homegrown Malaysian, I still have an intense dislike for mosquitoes and leeches.

I was somehow erroneously informed that there were plenty of  these creatures in and around Kellie's Castle.

Then there was that favourite spooky tale of sighting an apparition if "your luck is low" as some elders put it.

It seems that sometimes, maybe, on a moonlit night if you happen to be roaming the castle grounds, you may catch a glimpse of a man dressed like a character straight out of Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice, at a distance.

You may see him and wonder about his identity and he may just see through you.

Then you will definitely have something to tell your grandchildren, or write home about.

Kellie's Castle loomed into view from a distance of 300m,  and I was unprepared for what I saw -- it looked spectacular.

It was the first time that I had seen the famed castle.

It seemed that while I  dithered for decades whether to pay homage to Batu Gajah's landmark, an organisation called Aqfast Enterprise had given the castle a makeover.

From afar, the castle looked pristine. The gardens in and around  the castle have been carefully attended to by landscape experts.

A cafeteria, souvenir shop, mini theatre, an information counter and restrooms for visitors' convenience have also been added to the castle.

These amenities and facilities  are located at a separate building.

Visitors have to cross a small bridge over the river from this building into the castle grounds.

One of first things a visitor sees as he walks  on the grassy knoll that leads to the main entrance of the castle is the cluster of small ventilation pillars.

These vents were built in 1908 for an underground room deep beneath the castle.

The view from the muddy river that winds around the castle offers a panoramic look of the landscape encompassing the tropical jungle beyond the castle, and the evenly spaced out coconut trees that lined the river banks.

A careful and studied walkabout within the castle and up  its four- storey tower is an excellent lesson in architecture.

It reveals the eco-friendly marriage between man and Mother Nature.


The exterior Greco-Roman walls and Moorish arches bear testimony to the different brick colours which had been painstakingly laid more than a century ago.

These brick and mortar walls have held  the castle firmly together through the ravages of time.

The castle also has a wine chiller room with wine racks, a small chapel (the Smiths were Catholics), a bar, spiral stairways, an emergency room (or panic room), a majestic hall, guest rooms, servants' quarters, storerooms and a tunnel that has been sealed for posterity and security together with its dark secrets.

From the windows of the upper floors of the building, the views are breathtaking.

The wonders of the tropics are stupendous and they must have been even more spectacular when Smith cast his eyes across the land where he had made his fortune.

As if to lend an air of mystery to the rumours about Kellie's Castle, there is a laminated picture of a "special corridor" that apparently had been the site where the ghost of Smith still wanders.

In a separate room, some people had sworn that they had seen a six-year-old girl from a bygone age walking about.

It seemed that the apparition is that of Smith's daughter.

Kellie's Castle, if it had been completed, would have easily qualified as one of Malaysia's architectural wonders.

It would have also earned a first for the United Kingdom as being probably the only Scottish castle built and still  existing intact in the Far East.

Today, Kellie's Castle is a tourist attraction in Perak where there are more local visitors than foreign tourists.

Its origins, tragic tale and unverified spooky sightings have created an ambience of  the colonial era befitting its reputation.

The castle has probably achieved the status that Smith had sought for his family name, but it just didn't  go down the path that he had intended.

Source: New Straits Times  
Originally published on: February 15 2013

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