Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ol' Grand Fort Lily (1885) Betong

The son of a civilian employee of the East India Company, Brooke was born in Secore, outside Benares, in India. After an injury in Burma ended his military career, he took to the sea with his own ship, the Royalist. He set sail for the Orient in 1838.

Five months later, after stopping off in South America and Africa, the Royalist entered Singapore in May 1839. A friend reportedly remarked that "Brooke has as much idea of business as a cow has of a clean ship." However, he learned much about commerce and colonial administration during his two month-stay in Singapore, and Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, would prove to be a major role model for Brooke.

Like Raffles, Brooke opposed slavery, and established a system of free and fair trade rare to the region at the time. "All men, whether Malay, Chinese or Dyak, were free to trade or work as they pleased and to enjoy their gain," writes Steven Runciman in his book, "The White Rajahs."
Rajah James Brooke's rule was not without trouble. There were constant battles with pirates and rebel tribes, and an uprising by the Chinese in the 1850s. Brooke protected his realm with a series of fortifications along the river, many of which survive to this day. They include Fort Emma, built of local timber and bamboo in 1859, Fort Alice, with its distinctive turrets, built in 1862, and, the oldest, Fort Lilly, built in 1855.

The dazzling white Fort Margherita was completed in 1879. This became the home of the famed Sarawak Rangers, a police force formed in 1862 by Brooke's nephew and successor, the heralded Rajah Charles Brooke. Fittingly, the old fort is now a museum of police history and weaponry.
From the walls of Fort Margherita, sentries would shout, "All's well," and the hourly call would carry to Istana Palace, built by Rajah Charles Brooke in 1870. Even to this day the palace is the residence of Sarawak's head of state.

Walk the streets of Kuching and you will find similar historical references at every turn: gothic features here, a Victorian-style police station over there. Across the street from the frilly Pavilion is the odd Round Tower, which was built in the 1880s, but for a purpose that continues to baffle historians. Many speculate that the absence of windows on the first story, and the tower suggest it was intended to be a fort.

-excerpt from


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