Tuesday 25 August 2015

A Sultan’s wooden palace – and a mystery gun!

I’m still in Northern Malaysia and today I saw not only one of the most unique – and beautiful – buildings I’ve ever seen but found also what looked like an old naval gun that ended up far from the sea!

Istana Kenangan - the "Remembrance Palace"
 The Malaysian federal structure is a remarkable one. A constitutional monarchy, the head of government is the prime minister but the head of state, who has significant powers, is the King, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The method of appointment of the king is uniquehe is formally elected by, and from, the nine Sultans of the Malay states (of there are thirteen in total) which have hereditary royal rulers. The appointment is for five years, after which a new king is selected.

The present Sultan of Perak succeeded his father earlier this year. The 59-year old  Sultan Nazrin was educated in Malaysia, at Worcester College, Oxford and both a Masters and a PhD degree from Harvard. His wife is a chemical engineer. The Sultan’s palace at Kuala Kangsar was built in the 1930s is an imposing and dignified stone structure. It is however another palace close by – considerably smaller and initially intended to provide temporary accommodation while the new palace was being built, which is even more interesting.

The Istana Kenangan – literally “Remembrance Palace” was constructed in 1926 and was the Sultan’s official residence up to 1933 when the new, permanent, palace was completed. It was used thereafter to host receptions and accommodate palace guests. It is two storeys high with the top floor consisting of the bedchamber, family bedrooms and a dining hall. The ground floor was once used as the official royal office but is now open. 

Detail of walls - hardwood structural members and fretwork edging, woven bamboo panels
Not a single nail was used in the construction. The structural members are of  hardwood, and so is the fretted edging at the bottom of the top floor. Perhaps most impressive of all is the woven bamboo matting  which fills in the spaces between the pillars (I hope the photographs will give some impression). It must have been a cool and airy structure in the days before air-conditioning, a superb example of traditional design responding to climatic challenge. The palace is standing up well to the challenges of age and weather (and Malaysia is a wet country, as attested to frequent very heavy showers at present!) but parts are now under attack by termites and renovations are in progress.

Any suggestions as to what it is? A British 3-inch Quick Firer?
Given my interest in naval history I was pleasantly surprised to find what looks like a small naval gun on a pillar-mounting in the garden of the Istana Kenangan. I could find no details of its origin and my guess is that it may be a British 3-inch Quick Firer of pre-1914 vintage, though I stand to be corrected. The four holes for the bolts to hold on the missing shield can be seen clearly in the photographs. Can anybody identify what sort of weapon this is? Even more interesting is how it got there – I suspect that its later use was as a ceremonial weapon for gun-salutes etc. but one wonders what its service history could have been. If only it could talk!

There was much more to see in Kuala Kangsar but time prevents me covering other sights. What a fascinating and rewarding day! 


  1. Pity you didnt get an image of the proof marks.
    The Brits are quite meticulous about when and where thier ordinance was built.

    1. I would have done but this part of teh garden was roped off due to restoration work in progress. Better luck needed if I'm there again1