Count Your Blessings!

With love and passion, everyone can have a nice garden...Elaine Yim

Count Your Blessings!
Count The Garden By The Flowers, Never By The Leaves That Fall.
Count Your Life With Smiles And Not The Tears That Roll.
..... Author unknown.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

The Legacy of William Kellie Smith - Kellie's Castle Part 2

1. 2001 Photo

Here's the rags to riches tale of William Kellie Smith, a Scotsman with big dreams and vision.

The story of Kellie's Castle began during the Victorian Era under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).  That was the Golden Age of the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution which began in Great Britain in the 1830s-1840s, was already in full swing. The rich became very rich while the poor struggled to make a living. 

2. William Kellie Smith

William Smith was born on 1st March 1870 to a poor farm family near Dallas in Moray Firth, Scotland. He was the third of 5 children.  At the age of 20, William decided to go overseas to seek better opportunities in order to escape from the throes of poverty. He ended up in Batu Gajah town in the state of Perak, Malaysia (then Malaya). Batu Gajah was a booming town in the centre of Kinta Valley, which at that time was the biggest tin producing region in the world. During those days, the colonial government was very generous in giving land to enterprising young British men like William. 

William started worked with Charles Alma Baker, a colonial pioneer from New Zealand in surveying jobs and road construction. Later he opened his own firm, William Smith Civil Engineers, Architects and Contractors. Soon he became rich and managed to acquire 200 acres of land in Batu Gajah district for cultivation of crops such as coffee and rubber. He also obtained concessions for tin dredging.

In 1903, William had to go back to Scotland to be with his dying mother. After her death, William decided to take on her maiden name in her memory and thereafter, he was known as William Kellie Smith. On his return trip, he met his future wife, Agnes on board the ship heading back to Malaya. Agnes was the heiress of a successful Liverpool cotton family. She was going to Penang on her first trip to the Far East. They fell in love almost immediately and soon they were married. Their first child was a girl named Helen, born in 1904 followed by a son named Anthony born in 1915.

3. The Kellas House

William and Agnes lived on the grounds of William's estate in Batu Gajah. His estate was called "Kellas Estate" while the house was "Kellas House", named after his family's farm in Scotland, "Easter Kellas".

The original Kellas House was a wooden bungalow. Its extension, a brick mansion was added later. Their home was a Moorish style manor which bore some resemblance to his home in Scotland. The manor sat on a little knoll just by the bend of the Kinta River. From there, the couple could enjoy clear, unobstructed views of the Kellas Estate.

4. William has a collection of the latest motorcars

Soon Agnes was finding it difficult to live in Kellas House. The weather here was too hot for her as she was used to the cool temperate climate in England. She couldn't bear the heat of the tropics and she began to spend more time at the cooler hill stations such as Maxwell Hill in Taiping and Keledang Hill in Menglembu, Ipoh. She also missed her homeland very much. 

William wanted to build a castle for his beloved wife Agnes. To him, expressions of love in words, gestures and poetry was not enough. It had to be something more tangible and lasting, something massive and magnificent.

5. William is seated on the far right

William and Agnes were socialites who entertained often. A stately castle could become the social hub of wealthy colonial planters and administrators.

6. The ruins of Kellie's Castle - Tower Block

Work on the castle started soon after Helen was born. However, William was faced with a number of difficulties in finance and luck ran out. Its construction was stalled a few times. William had to sell off two thirds of his plantations when funding and projects were not forthcoming. World War I (1914-1918) interrupted the delivery of raw materials and blocked the inflow of funds. Then the Spanish Flu pandemic struck in 1918 killing many of his Indian estate workers, skilled masons, plasterers and tillers.

Soon it was time to enroll Anthony in boarding school and Agnes accompanied him and stayed on in England to look after him.

In the winter of 1928, William traveled to England to collect a lift he had commission for the castle. This lift would have been the first in Malaya. He brought along Helen to visit Agnes and Anthony. On the way back, while he was in Lisbon, Portugal to finalise the terms of his planting concession with the Portuguese government, he died of pneumonia on 11th December.

Agnes and her children never returned to Malaya. Agnes was too heartbroken to continue living in this foreign land without her beloved William. She sold her interest in the Kellas Estate and the castle to Harissons & Crossfield.  The castle was left abandoned and untouched. Anthony was killed during World War II (1939-1945) at the age of 27. He left behind a son to continue the Kellie Smith lineage.

7. The back portion of Kellie's Castle

The is the familiar sight of William Kellie Smith's dream home as seen from the main road. It is actually the back portion. The front entrance is on the other side. Well, it certainly looked more like a castle than an English manor house.

To build his dream home, William brought in 70 skilled workers from Madras, India and imported raw materials like marble and tiles. The new block was to be linked to the existing one by a covered passageway. Two tunnels were constructed to run under the river. The architectural design incorporated Roman Moorish and Indo-Saracenic influences with dome shaped windows and stately columns. In the plans were a total of 14 rooms and an underground wine cellar. The 6 storey tower was to have the first elevator ever in Malaya. There would be an indoor tennis court and a rooftop courtyard for parties. News of the planned castle even made it to The London Financial Newspaper on 15 September 1911.

At present, Kellie’s Castle is probably the only Scottish Castle ever built that is still existing intact in the Far East.

8. Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, Ladang Kinta Batu Gajah

During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, William Kellie Smith built the Sri Mahamariamman Temple for his Hindu workers. After the temple was consecrated the sickness subsided. As a sign of gratitude for his kindness and genourisity, they crafted a statue of William and place it alongside other deities on the roof of the temple.

9. The statue of William Kellie Smith (in uniform)

Until today, you can still see his statue standing proudly atop the temple, guarding over his estate, 500 yards away from the castle. Normally only the statues of Hindu gods and deities are found in a Hindu temple. It is quite unusual that this temple also has the statue of an ordinary man.

10. Kellas House was partially destroyed during World War II

It is believed that this castle is haunted for some various reasons. Many of William's workers died during the Spanish Flu pandemic. There were rumours that during the Japanese occupation in Malaya (1942-1945) during World War II (1939-1945) many people were executed here. Some claimed to have seen ghostly apparitions of William Kellie Smith pacing the corridors and also of his daughter Helen in her bedroom. William died in Portugal and was buried in the British Cemetery. Perhaps his spirit was reckless because of the unfulfilled dream to build a castle for his wife Agnes. Meanwhile the saga of William Kellie Smith and his castle continues and remains an enigma till today.

What's next?
In my next post, I will take you through the tropical colonial gardens of Kellie's Castle after the government funded makeover by our award winning botanist.

The above details and black and white photos were obtained from the notice board displays at various locations of Kellie's Castle. The book by Ho Tak Ming (2005) - Generations The Story of Batu Gajah, Ipoh Malaysia : Perak Academy was quoted in the texts of the notices. The old photographs were provided to the management of Kellie's Castle by William Kellie Smith's granddaughter, Frances Boston Smith who visited the castle.


  1. Przykro, ze nie udało mu się skończyć pałacu dla swojej ukochanej żony. Z zaciekawienie czyłam post. Pozdrawiam.
    I'm sorry that he was unable to finish the palace for his beloved wife. With curiosity Joined post. Yours.

  2. ....a love story behind the castle. All the more for me to pay a visit ❤

  3. tQ for the story and all the nice & lovely pixz. Jackie Chan was there for his action movie. Felt a bit scary during my last visit after hearing all those stories.

  4. Fascinating post. If the descendants of colonists had stayed in Malaysia the country would be very multicultural today

  5. Such a big effort to write the whole history! Wow! Thumb up to you!

  6. I'm really enjoying these historical posts, Autumn Belle. How wonderful to have all the photos. And you've packed so much great information in here!

  7. What a fascinating history of this family and house...I am loving these posts!!

  8. Liking this series. Thanks for the virtual tour of the place. :)

  9. Thanks for the great post! I have been searching for the real stories behind the castle and here it is. I'll look for the book too.


Words are like the voice of the heart... Confucius

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