The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita 

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Sarawak is one state in Malaysia which does not hide its history. If you are at all interested in how the British ruled the world (and who isn’t?), then Kuching is the place to visit. Inside Fort Margherita (shown above) is the Brooke Gallery which is an excellent museum detailing the lives of the White Rajas here in Sarawak. But first, you have to find the fort…..

Fort Margherita lays across the Sarawak River from the city centre, so you pop on a little ferry (a perahu tambang) to take you across for the princely sum of RM1 (that’s next to nothing by the way).

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The red ferries advertise the Mira Cake House which is famous for its layer cakes. These are sold in the tourist areas all over Kuching.

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When you alight from the ferry, there is no sign to indicate the direction of the fort, so we used Google Maps which took us the very long way around. We walked for more than 40 min in the heat, on roads with no pavements, and on highway islands. We eventually found some official looking buildings with a guard house, so I decided to ask if we were going the right way? We knew we were near but needed some reassurance. The guard took pity on us and offered to drive us to the fort. And this is why we love Malaysia! 

So, if you land anywhere near the Mira Cake House, then turn left (not right) and follow the signs to the fort. You will walk uphill through derilict buildings, then turn left onto the tarmacked road, and left again into the fort area. It should only take about 10 minutes. The photo below shows you the route to take from the river front.

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Back in the mid-nineteenth century, a young James Brooke arrived in Sarawak from England, keen to make his fame and fortune as achieved recently by his hero Sir Stamford Raffles. By virtue of bluff and being in the right place at the right time, he ended up being granted a piece of land at the western end of Sarawak where he became the first of the White Rajas of Sarawak. Just imagine if you were in his position and had to present a set of rules by which to rule. What would you do?  Well, below is a copy of James’ regulations and a portrait of the man himself.

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James Brooke expanded his empire which was later ruled by his nephew Charles. It was Charles who perhaps had the biggest impact in Sarawak, having been brought up there and having spent a lot of time with the local tribesmen. It is a memorial to Charles Brooke that is centre stage in Kuching. He was succeeded by his son Viner until Japanese occupation in World War II. And this is where history becomes even more interesting! As you walk along the river front, there are plaques in the pavement telling the history of Sarawak.

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After the war, Sarawak was made a British Crown Colony. There were demonstrations against being colonised because the locals wanted the Brookes dynasty back! They did not want to be ruled by the British. They admired and liked being ruled by the White Rajas. Finally, the now British colony of Sarawak was placed within the Malaysian Federation where it remains today.

The Brooke Gallery presents all this histroy in a straightforward manner, with plenty of old drawings and photos to give you an idea of life under the White Rajas. It is well worth a visit, especially in a few months time when they will have a coffee bar! But before you leave Fort Margherita, don’t forget to go up to the top of the fort for a unique view of Kuching and the fort itself.

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© Helen Gray 2021