Located about half an hour’s drive from Ipoh town, in the Batu Gajah district, is Kellie’s Castle – a grand looking but incomplete mansion that sits on a small hill, next to a creek called the Raya River. Built by Scottish plantation owner William Kellie Smith in 1915, the project was supposed to be a gift for his wife or a home for his son, according to differing accounts. But before it could be completed, William died, and his grief-stricken wife Agnes sold the property and left for home. For many years, the castle remained abandoned and in ruins.. until it was turned into the tourist attraction we know of today.
It has been many, MANY years since my last visit – I think my first and only trip here was when I was 13. It doesn’t look to have changed much, but I have to say the grounds/facilities are pretty well kept. The grass was mown nicely, and there were some gazebos for resting and shade. The creek itself was muddy and yellow, as typical of many rivers in Malaysia.
To enter the castle, a fee of RM5 for Malaysians and RM10 for foreigners is applicable. Tried to sleuth my way into getting a cheaper rate for N but they demanded an IC so lol. At the front was a big ol’ Kellie’s Castle sign which made for great pictures.
View from the bridge.
History lesson 101: Smith was a civil engineer who arrived in Malaya (now Malaysia) at the tender age of 20 in 1890. He made his fortune as a plantation owner, buying 1,000 acres of jungle land in Kinta district, where he started planting rubber trees and dabbled in tin mining. The estate became known as Kinta Kellas, after his home in Kellas, Scotland. Having made his fortune, he returned home to marry his sweetheart Agnes and brought her to Malaya in 1903. They had a daughter named Helen the year after.
With the success of the business and with his family by his side, Smith built his first mansion, the Kellas House. This was where the Smith family lived. (All that remains of it now are ruins, although the house’s original yellow colouring can still be seen). The reason for the dilapidated state is because the Japs dropped bombs on it in WWII. Why the other structure remained intact is beyond me. Like, hey a big castle in the middle of nowhere, let’s bomb it! But wait, let’s bomb the smaller one instead lol.
Sorry, rambling again.
All was well – but the couple were still missing something Smith wanted badly – a son, and an heir to his estate. 11 years after Helen, Anthony finally came. That was when Smith started planning for a grand and opulent place of stay, in 1915.
Smith wanted a place that would be the talk of people everywhere, and due to his love for architecture, he combined the best of East and West, bringing in 70 workers from Madras, India and importing tiles and marble from both Scotland and India. The envisioned result would be a mansion that had Scottish, Moorish and Tamilvanan Indian architecture. It would boast a 6-storey tower, Malaya’s first elevator, an indoor tennis court and rooftop courtyard.
Unfinished hallways, still in their raw brick form.
Tragedy struck in the 1920s, as workers were infected with the Spanish flu. The workers requested to build a Hindu shrine dedicated to Mariamman, which Smith agreed to. The shrine, which is about one kilometre away from the castle, can still be found to this day. Didn’t manage to visit, but you can see a portrait of Smith hanging inside the temple decorated with a tilak and flower garlands, as well as a miniature figure of Smith in in his traditional attire holding a rifle among the various Hindu deities on the roof.
Inside: Beautiful Moorish architecture – narrow doorways with a dome-shaped transom (a window above a door). The mansion spans across several floors, but the ones for the family were mostly on the second floor and were quite ‘complete’ (not sure if originally done that way or from refurbishment efforts). Helen’s room was next to Anthony’s, painted white and with decorated niches for paintings or artwork, as well as wooden flooring.
View from second floor, Helen’s room.
Second floor corridor. Also reportedly haunted by Smith’s ghost. Maybe he has unfinished business lawl gawd I’m going to get haunted for this. The ghost of the little girl Helen, although she returned to England after her father’s passing, is said to also haunt the grounds. There are unconfirmed stories about the Japanese using this as an execution ground during their invasion of Malaya, but these were never confirmed, and I doubt it – I think it’s just tales people spun up to make the place more spooky/scary, befitting its former ruined state.
Climbing further up via very small and narrow staircases, we came to the open area which was supposed to be an indoor tennis court/roof courtyard. The space doesn’t have any guard railings so visitors shouldn’t get too excited while taking selfies! The tower (pictured, above) had space for one guest room on each floor.
Smith was, for some reason, quite paranoid about safety. There are several tunnels and secret passageways around the castle, some linking the rooms together or leading outside as an escape route.
Elevator that was supposed to run from the top to the ground floor.
So why wasn’t Kellie’s castle completed?
On a trip to Lisbon, Smith contracted and died from pneumonia, and his wife decided to move back to Scotland. Smith was also, allegedly, becoming somewhat of a laughing stock among his peers due to the castle (as it was said that most of the funding came from his rich heiress wife, with some dubbing it Agnes’ castle instead of Kellie’s) and he wanted to show them up by creating a grand masterpiece. His grandoise ambitions, coupled with strained finances due to several failed ventures, led people to dub it Kellie’s Folly rather than Kellie’s Castle. In the end, it was sold to a British company called Harrisons and Crosfield, who left the building to rot for decades.
Guest room on 3rd floor overlooking the river and hills beyond.
Despite its rather sad history, Kellie’s Castle has very beautiful and unique architecture and is perfect for photo shoots (there were a few wedding photoshoots happening during our visit). A nice detour if you’re ever visiting Ipoh!
Entry fee: RM5 (Malaysian – with IC) + RM10 (foreigners)
Best way to go – by car. It’s a bit far out from the city so buses are infrequent. From Ipoh, head in the direction of Batu Gajah and onto a road called Jalan Gopeng. Signs should point you to the building, which is easily visible from the main road.
A good article on how to get there here.