The strange and rather sad history of the unfinished Kellie’s Castle comes from Malaya’s colonial past. Scotsman William Kellie Smith, a successful rubber Plantation owner, decided that he would have a suitably imposing home to entertain his wealthy friends. By 1904, at the age of 34, he was already a successful self-made man and had built a large “bungalow”, which we would probably call a country house, behind where the castle now stands. In 1909 he commissioned the design and construction of a four storey castle using high-quality materials and a workforce of 70 brought from India.
But the project was plagued by bad luck and in 1918 a serious and mysterious illness affected the Indian workforce and as a result of superstition among the workers Smith built a Hindu temple close by to appease the gods. In gratitude to Smith, a figure of him was placed among the Indian deities by the workers on the roof of the temple.
Among many innovations, the castle was designed to have a lift, which would have been the first in Malaya, and when later in 1926, Smith journeyed to Lisbon in Portugal to organise its purchase and shipment, he was taken ill suddenly with pneumonia and died there.
Smith’s poor widow Agnes vowed to have nothing more to do with the project and it was abandoned, and has stayed that way ever since. It is a testimony to the quality of the materials and construction however that the property is in such good condition today, in spite of never being finished or maintained for 80 years.
The castle itself is fascinating though and you will want to spend an hour or two exploring the many rooms, terraces and gardens. There are many unusual features. Narrow “secret” staircases for example lead from each of the first floor bedrooms directly to the garden. No one is quite sure if these were built to enable a hasty escape by the occupants.
As with many castles there are rumours of ghosts, secret passages and underground tunnels. Some say there is a tunnel between the castle and the Hindu temple. I saw no ghosts when I was there (in the daytime), the only occupants were some spiders and a couple of rats which darted into holes in the brick work as I approached. Who is to say however that William Kellie Smith’s ghost does not potter about in the hours of darkness keeping an eye on his great unfinished project.