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10 things you might not know about Fort Alice, Sri Aman

Located in Sri Aman, Fort Alice is a building constructed entirely of belian timber overlooking the famous Batang Lupar River.

It was built after the victory of second White Rajah of Sarawak Charles Brooke over Iban warrior and chieftain, Rentap.

The historical building was abandoned for a few years until it was restored and reopened as the Sri Aman Heritage Museum on Apr 18, 2015.

Named after Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, Charles’s wife, the rectangular building is equipped with cannons, open courtyard, drawbridge and lookout tower.

Here are 10 things you might not know about For Alice and its colourful history:

1. The original structure was made from materials of another fort.

It is widely understood that the fort was originally built in 1864. However, most of its structure came from Fort James that was built in 1849 further upriver at Skrang.

In 1864, Fort James was dismantled and a good deal of the materials was transferred to Sri Aman where it was re-erected.

At first, people just referred it as Simanggang Fort, until Ranee Margaret came to Sarawak in 1870 and then it was named Fort Alice after her middle name.

2. The reasons why Fort James was dismantled and Fort Alice was built.

After Fort James was built at Skrang, the Brooke government thought that a town would in time develop around it.

However, they found that the site was unsuitable since it was at lowland and liable to flood.

Hence, they decided to move the fort to Simanggang where it was re-erected on a small hill.

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Plus the new location was located next to a river, an important factor for a fort site in the olden days.

Scenic view from the fort overlooking the Lupar River
3.Ranee Margaret’s unforgettable first visit to Fort Alice.

The late ranee had an unforgettable experience when she first visited Fort Alice. To welcome her, the local Ibans performed the ngajat dance in her honour.

But they used real heads as part of their performance. Margaret reportedly rushed to her room where she fainted and had to be excused for the rest of the evening.

4. James Brooke’s godson was Simanggang’s first resident, stationed at Fort Alice.

Known as Tuan Bongsu (because he was the youngest of Charles’ siblings), Henry Stuart Johnson was the first one to be in charge of Fort Alice from 1864 to 1869.

Then the first White Rajah’s godson James Brooke Cruikshank was appointed as the first Resident of Simanggang in 1869.

According to W.J. Chater in The Sarawak Gazette (January 31, 1965), Cruikshank created a great impression among the Ibans in the area when he was the resident.

After he was transferred to Sibu, many of the locals even tried to take their court cases to him there.

5. Vyner Brooke was first stationed at Fort Alice when he first started working in Sarawak.

Besides that, the fort was also where the third White Rajah Vyner Brooke first served as a cadet government officer.

He was just 17 when he first started working there under Demetrius James Sandford Bailey in 1891.

6. The disastrous Cholera Expedition started at Fort Alice.

Fort Alice was the starting point where the infamous Cholera Expedition happened in June, 1902.

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The punitive expedition down the Batang Lupar had one-fifth of the 10,000 recruited men to fight against Iban rebels died of Cholera.

The fort was refurbished in 2015 and turned into a heritage museum
7. The second White Rajah Charles Brooke actually wanted to be buried there.

It is said that Charles had a soft spot for Simanggang and used to send all his best officers there.

Chater wrote, “He directed it personally from 1854 to 1904 when he handed over its affairs to his son who later became the third Rajah. For this reason, there were no First Class Residents in the Second Division during the time of the second Rajah. On his rare visits to Simanggang in later years he loved nothing better than to sit on a bench on the hill near the fort and admire the scenery. ‘This’, he would say, ‘is the real Sarawak.’ He had, also always expressed a wish to be buried there as he died in England during first World War (1917) this which could not be fulfilled.”

8. Famous writer W. Somerset Maugham spent some times in Fort Alice way back in 1921.

Maugham stayed for a few days at Fort Alice in 1921 and it became his muse for some of the scenes in his short stories.

Rumours had it at the fort that those who were mentioned in Maugham’s stories pretended to be angry while those who were not mentioned were jealous.

When Maugham wanted to visit Sarawak for the second time in 1930, however, the Rajah politely declined his request telling him that it would not be convenient.

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9. The fort had many functions in the olden days.

In the fort’s early days, the building was used as the officer’s quarters, government offices, courthouse and police station all at the same time.

When new building started to be constructed, these departments started to move out from the fort leaving it empty.

Fort Alice
10. There was an old tradition at the fort which is now no longer exists and was forgotten for a time.

When it was still used as a police station and Resident’s quarters, there was an interesting old tradition being practised there.

Every day at 8 pm when the Resident would have his dinner, there would be an evening call. Then, the drawbridge or steps were drawn up for the night.

After the policeman on duty struck up the eight o’clock gong, he would call out in Iban:

“Oh Hai! Oh Hai! Oh Hai!
Jam diatu pukul lapan,
Tangga udah ditarit,
Pintu udah ditambit,
Orang ari ulu,
Orang ari ili, nadai tau niki kubu lagi.”

The English translation is,

“Oh Hai! Oh Hai! Oh Hai!
The time is now 8 o’clock,
The steps have been drawn up,
The door is closed,
People from upriver,
People from downriver,
Are not allowed to come up to the fort anymore.”

It would be interesting that this tradition is continued to today with a loudspeaker announcing this call every 8 pm from the museum.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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