If William Kellie Smith had played golf and become addicted to it, Kellie’s Castle would not have stood there in Batu Gajah, Perak today.
The Open Championship or, as also known today as the British Open, started in 1860 in Scotland. Meaning that some 30 years later i.e. in 1890 golf was already a very popular sport in Scotland (and England).
But not for Smith, and not for lots of people in Scotland at the time. Life was hard: many were unemployed, many were in poverty. And people were escaping such a life by the shiploads. The British government even encouraged Scottish people to emigrate: “from 1815 to 1900, qualified emigrants received passage money or land grants in the destination country as an alternative to receiving poor relief…” And so William Kellie Smith’s father must have asked him to take up such an offer.
The 20-something Scottish lad probably had liked the game but had to ignore golf, forget golf, and instead one day in 1890 (or thereabout) he said goodbye to all his loved ones in his birthplace Moray Firth, boarded a ship and sailed to a new place called Malaya.
Malaya was the New World. It had been fully colonized, the natives and everybody else over there had submitted themselves to British rule and being ruled by British Residents, a local hotshot called Datuk Paduka Maharaja Lela had been hung to death for daring to go against the mighty British and even killing our resident J.W.W. Birch, the local rajah Raja Abdullah had been exiled far away.
Some months later Smith arrived in Malaya, proceeded to Perak and hang around the Batu Gajah/Kinta Valley area. At first he dabbled into a few businesses; made some profits along with some losses. But he only really struck it rich when Alma Baker, a New Zealander, made him his partner to build roads in Perak. From those profits Smith used the money to buy 1000 acres of jungle land in Batu Gajah area, where he went on to plant rubber trees on the land. Later he also ventured into tin mining, Kinta Valley’s main industry of the time.
Some time later he went back to Scotland to marry a girl, Agnes, then they returned to Malaya, a daughter came along soon after, and they named her Helen.
The original house that Smith built around 1909 was not so big. It was just enough for their small family. But when a son came along in 1915, they decided to expand their house. It would resemble a manor or a little castle back home. It would make Agnes, who never really liked Malaya, much happier, less home-sick.
Their plans were to complete their castle in 10 years’ time. But not everything you plan for would come your way. Some things are just not meant to be.
In 1926 Smith and Helen went back to Scotland to visit his wife and their son who had been back in Scotland for his schooling. On the way back to Malaya, he stopped over in Lisbon. There he got pneumonia, and there he died. He was 56 years old.
The manor was never completed. Agnes sold off the plantation and the heartbroken family never returned to Perak.
Kellie’s Castle was then left to rot away, totally ignored, overtaken by vines and trees and eventually covered and hidden by the jungle. Until almost 100 years later when it was brought to life again.
Oh yes, if William Kellie Smith had played golf…