Kellie’s Castle – the vaunted & the haunted

Asians are so superstitious about ghosts, they’d go to see a place only for the spooky stories. And Kellie’s Castle in Ipoh ticks all boxes – it’s grandiose structure, the stories of romance and heartbreak, the mystery and of course the ghost stories.

For almost a century, Kellie’s Castle was consumed by jungle, forgotten that such a grand structure can actually be missing in blind sight. Then the story of one man’s dream came to light but even then, so much is shrouded in mystery.

In Malaya, Kellie’s Castle was known as Agnes’ Palace. The Taj Mahal like fairytale has its roots in William Kellie borrowing money from his wife, Agnes – the true owner of the castle – a sum of $300,00 Straits Dollars to buy 1,500 acres of Kellas Estate and surrendering half the holdings in her name.

The highly hierarchical British society and the East India Company that William Kellie dealt with on a daily basis, required dexterous manoeuvring to be a part of the bureaucrats’ inner circle for authorising deeds and deals. Kellie, an ambitious Scotsman, often fell out of favour with these bureaucrats for his ineffective management of projects.

William Kellie was determined to prove the bureaucrats wrong and decided on building a castle that would be grander than the British Residency in Taiping; that would have the first hydraulic lift to take his guests up for rooftop soirées, play tennis at the indoor court and a pool where he would have wanted his children to frolic. It was to be a social playground which Kellie hoped will get him the acceptance he so desperately desired.

View from above – the custard yellow building was the original home of Kellie.
The original home of the Kellies has Portuguese sensibilities
Rooftop soirées were planned for here
Borrowing the flag poles from the Scottish castles back home
The lift shaft that would bring guest up to the roof and also service other floors – the first of its kind in Asia if it was completed.

The architecture of Kellie’s Castle was heavily influenced by the Indo Saracenic style, which was very much the prevalent style of architecture during WWI. Kellie was fascinated by the Hindu religion and the Indian architecture and combined Mughal arches with Gothic crosses.

The horseshoe arches on the windows must have been to bring Kellie good luck
These Mughal era arches borrow from Islamic architecture of domes
Horseshoe arches and Mughal dome arches create a unique appeal only Kellie could have thought of
Stairwells to turrets and also to secret chambers indicate how suspicious Kellie was and had planned many getaways in case of danger
The Burmese teak is hardy and unblemished 200 years on even after the jungle had swallowed the castle up

With WW1 raging in Europe, the castle’s construction met with some bumps along the way. In 1918, the Spanish Influenza led to the deaths of many of his builders who he had brought from India, causing further delays.

In 1926, Kellie visited England to bring his daughter Helen, son Anthony and his wife Agnes back. He stopped by in Lisbon to finalise the terms of his plantation deal and also pick up the hydraulic lift. However in the hotel, he caught pneumonia and passed away at the age of 56.

Agnes and her children never returned to Malaya. She sold her estate and the castle to Harrisons & Crosfield, a Liverpool-based company trading in tea and coffee. Agnes herself came from a wealthy Liverpool cotton family and had many elite connections.

Harrisons & Crosfield had no intentions to complete the castle and it was left to rot away, consumed by the neighbouring jungle over the decades.

The riches of William Kellie which he brought from India, Europe, Burma and Ceylon

Agnes remained in England, living in luxury close to Harrods until her death. Anthony was killed in WWII. The tragic end to the story has fascinated the locals who have seen apparitions of Kellie in the corridors.

The ghostly cloister balcony where many have said to have felt Kellie’s spirit roam at night especially along the corridors, guarding his beloved mansion.
The view of the castle from the courtyard
The lavish soirées on the lawns which Kellie wanted to take to the rooftop
The view of the estate from the balcony
The wall in the master bedroom features elegant Neo-classical friezes designed to frame works of art.
The architecture of the castle ensured cross-ventilation while offering views of the vista. The vistas now are of palm oil plantations that are Malaysia’s cash crop.
The castle was right next to Kinta River and was in the past called Kinta Kelas.
The recreated living room in Kellie’s Castle
An alternate view of the living room
The wine cellar would have held some 3000 bottles. It also has a secret passageway in case of emergency or unprecedented attack.

In 2003, when the neighbouring road was widened workers inadvertently unearthed a section of the tunnel. This tunnel may have connected to the nearby Hindu temple which Kellie’s workers had asked him to build following the devastating Spanish Flu.

Two other tunnels were discovered while the whereabouts of the 4th one remains obscure. Some eyewitnesses also recount seeing a black car in one of the tunnels in 1960s.

Mariamman Temple that Kellie built to ask for forgiveness after Spanish Flu took the lives of many of his workers. When the temple was consecrated, the illness ended.
And this is William Kellie. Born on on 1 March 1870 on a small farm near Dallas in Moray Firth, Scotland, he was from a poor farming family who were adversely affected by the Industrial Revolution and struggled to make ends meet. In 1891, 21 year old Kellie decided to seek his fortunes overseas and ended up in Malaya. In 1903, William had to leave for Scotland to be with his dying mother. On his return, he met a woman named Agnes on the ship headed for Penang. Agnes was traveling to the East for the first time and they must have fallen in love there and then because they were married almost immediately. William decided to take on his mother’s maiden name Kellie and was then known as William Kellie Smith.

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