Built by the second Rajah, Sir Charles Brooke, in 1879, the design of this iconic landmark is based on an English castle. He named it after his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, Ranee of Sarawak.
Its construction was intended to convey the power and permanence of the government, as well as to enhance the capital Kuching. Its style reflected that of the Astana tower (1869) to the west and its sister fort, the Square Tower (1879), on the opposite bank of the Sarawak River.
Until the Japanese invasion in December 1941, a sentry paced the ramparts day and night, calling out ‘All’s Well’ at the stroke of each hour between 8pm and 5am. This call would be taken up by the sentry at the Astana, the sentry at the Court House, and finally by the sentry at the Treasury. Their voices carried far into the night, to ensure that they remained alert and to reassure the populace that all was indeed well.
RESTORATION OF THE FORT
Fort Margherita was reopened to the public in 2014 after an extensive 14-month restoration process under the Department of National Heritage, in collaboration with the Sarawak Museum Department and local conservation architect Mike Boon, chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Architects.
Its restoration was a process of discovery during which the original building and changes that had been made to it over the past century were revealed. Fort Margherita was one of the few forts in the state to be built of brick – most were constructed of belian (ironwood). Traditional skills were used in the restoration (water damage had weakened both plaster and brickwork) but modern waterproofing techniques were also applied (Kuching receives more rainfall than any city in Malaysia). A section of the original brickwork is on view within.
As well as the restoration of a historic building, the project has been used to raise public awareness of the need to conserve Sarawak’s built heritage.