Restoration work on Fort Margherita starts

HISTORIC: The 133-year-old Fort Margherita with James Brooke Wives Memorial Park in the foreground.

KUCHING: The 133-year-old Fort Margherita, which was built during the reign of Rajah Charles Brooke, will be restored to its former glory by October next year.

The federal government, through the National Heritage Department (NHD), has allocated RM2 million for the restoration work which would be carried out in collaboration with Sarawak Museum Department and a local firm Kreativ Muda Sdn Bhd.

Consultant and architect Mike Boon said this represented the first project by NHD in the state, and that work started last Oct 5.

“Once restoration is completed, it would be handed back to Sarawak Museum,” he said during a special ‘miring’ (appeasing) ceremony yesterday to relocate four human skulls kept in the Fort to the Sarawak Musem temporarily.

FACELIFT NEEDED: Boon pointing to the wall damaged by water and fungus over the years.

“This is more than just a project to restore an old building. Part of the funds will be used to raise public awareness on conservation through activities such as workshops,” he added.

“As such, we will document the restoration process using video and later put it up for public display.”

The documentation process would ultilise the Historical Architecture Building Survey (HABS) system, he said.

“There are three parts to the HABS. First is documentation of the historical evidence of the building before anything is done. Second is what happened during the process of restoration and conservation, while the last part will record the end product.”

Boon hoped that many mysteries surrounding the original appearance of the Fort would be unveiled during the second part of HABS.

To ensure quality and proper work, side conservator CL Tan, from Penang, had been employed to guide the contractor.

“He (Tan) has done quite a few projects with NHD, including buildings similar to this Fort. He knows the system very well, so we are in good hands,” Boon said.

“This sort of job does not come by very often, and we lack qualified people to get the job done accordingly. The experience we have was through working the Old Courthouse and the Square Tower.”

Boon pointed out that Fort Margherita was one of very few forts in the state built with bricks.

Most of them were constructed with ‘belian’ (hard) wood. The brick walls of Fort Margherita had been damaged by water, which led to salt attack. The crystalisation on the surfaces had weakened the plastering and bricks.

“This is a problem common to buildings constructed with red bricks. Thus, it is a good project to show how bricks can be conserved.”

Touching on the roof, Boon said studies conducted on that part of the building showed that it very likely consisted of sand lime mortar bed tiled with multiple layers of terracota tiles.

“However, more archeological work, especially research, will need to be carried out to find evidence of the structure.”

Fort Margherita was built in 1879 to protect Kuching from pirates.

Over the years, it had been used for different purposes, including as a lockup (there is an execution ground in the vicinity). The latest was as a Police Museum.

However, it closed to the public in 2007 when the Police Museum shipped out.

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