I HAVE written a series of articles about Alice, the fort. The first few accounts were full of lamentation over the sorry condition she was in: enveloped by green creepers, exposed to the elements, the belian planks stolen – it looked as if the building would tumble down any time a strong wind struck it.
Some people reacted to my posts. Some had sentimental memories of Simanggang’s crowning glory, others were gloomy. Fort Alice was beyond repair, and if repaired, would cost a fortune, at least RM5 million. Why chuck that kind of money into the river? Better spend it on something worthwhile, not on a vestige of Brooke Rule in modern Malaysia.
A lot of money was obviously needed for the restoration and at the time it was not easy to come by. It was more a lack of political will rather than that of money.
In my opinion, money spent on repairs and preservation is good investment. If the reconditioned site is properly managed, it’ll be a successful tourism product. But the tourism dollar is not the only thing worth thinking about because tangible heritage of a country once lost is lost forever. Several forts in the Batang Lupar have disappeared: Nanga Skrang, Lingga, Putusan, Kabong, exist in name only. No amount of money can bring them back; so why don’t we preserve what is left of the heritage? Brooke heritage it may be, but we are part of that heritage, like it or not.
Like the tidal bore, beginning with some force at the beginning, only to see its momentum slackened as it moved further upriver; so it was with my pleadings with some people: the lack of political will disappointed me.
I moved to other historical land marks while maintaining my membership of the Friends of the Museum where the undercurrent still moved upriver.
A lot of water had flowed under the bridge before someone informed me that the government had got a few shillings to spare for the repairs of the fort.
And they did it.
The old fort has been repaired, retaining as much as possible the materials salvaged from the building itself and sourcing whatever exhibits still available to convert Alice into a museum.
In case the authorities need more information on Alice, in particular, and Simanggang in general, there’s plenty to be found at the British Museum, the Church of England’s libraries such as Rhodes House Library, or even the colonial museum at Leyden in the Netherlands. Private individuals might still keep in the attics some important documents or objects of interest about Simanggang. Let’s hope they will be persuaded to loan them for display in the museum. I’m sure that the authorities know better what to do than I can do.
On Saturday, Oct 3, 2020, I had the chance to see Alice again in her new clothes. No longer the forlorn old lady but one with a spirit to survive. You should see her yourself to believe.
During its heyday of the fort, built in 1864, the movable ladder was the only step leading up to the public entrance to the various departments such as the Treasury, the door/head tax collector, the Police station, the court room and the detention cell, and the offices of the administrative officers like Mr Frank Maxwell and Mr Bailey, or the table where the Tuan Muda, Charles Johnson, and the Rajah James himself would sit to hear petitions, whenever he was in town.
Similar to the concept of one-stop counter of UTC, minus the court room and a detention cell, this method of delivering government services was in practice in Simanggang during the Brooke Raj (1841-1941).
The Rajah’s gun?
History buffs fond of weapons of war in Brooke’s Sarawak can see the guns carried by the government officials on their expeditions to stop the Sea Dayaks (Iban) from headhunting. Among the guns is a short one with a wide mouth. Could this be the blunder-buss?
The bookshelf contains a few books. That section of the display interests me most. I don’t know if they are books written during the period (1850s) because no one is allowed to touch any to read or see the names of the authors and the publishers or to take pictures of them. Browsing would not be advisable because the books may crumble when touched. But, if so, why are they not properly encased in a strong glass? It would be useful to list out the titles, names of the authors and publishers for any visitor to take note. The visitor may be able to buy an edition of any of those books online. Book worms like Edgar Ong would buy them all up.
The first thing I noticed on the lawn of the fort was a crocodile – thankfully a dead one. What was it doing there? To advertise the ‘crocodile bounty’ that used to be paid for hunted reptiles, so many pennies per foot of length?
I was curious if the retractable ladder was still there. Joshua, my grandson, saw it. Pulled up securely. While in active service, sharp at 8 o’clock in the evening, the watchman declared the closing of office hours with the following resounding chant:
Ooh ha! Ooh ha! Ooh ha!
Jam diatu pukul lapan
Tangga udah di tarit
Pintu udah di tambit
Orang ari ulu, orang ari ili
Enda ulih niki kubu agi!
(Ooh ha, Ooh ha, Ooh ha
The clock has struck eight
The steps have been pulled up
The door has been fastened
People from upriver or downriver
Can’t come up to the fort any more).
Alice, in her present role, is open to the public. Check with the locals about the time of the tidal bore passing by the fort and the opening hours of the fort/museum itself.
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