Completed in 1879, the three-tiered, off-white tower that is Fort Margherita was commissioned by the most important man in all of Kuching: Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. Named after his wife, Ranne Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, the fortress was meant to guard the rapidly growing town of Kuching from an attack by fearsome river pirates. For an entire century, three generations of Brooke family members formed the “Brooke Dynasty” of Sarawak, native Englishmen who privately ruled as “White Rajahs” over what was once a vassal state of Brunei. During their 100-year rule the White Rajahs constructed many buildings in an architectural style akin to that of 19th century England, Fort Margherita being no exception.
Though the fort saw no major military action, executions of prisoners were carried out in the fortress courtyard up until the Japanese occupation of Sarawak during World War II. At one point a police museum occupied a portion of the fortress grounds, although it has been a number of years since the artifacts and displays were removed.
Though there isn’t much action that still takes place at Fort Margherita, it nonetheless is an important part of Kuching history and a monument to the heritage of Brooke Dynasty rule. To reach Fort Margherita visitors must pay a nominal fee to cross the Sarawak River by sampan boat and then continue down an unmarked footpath before reaching the fortress grounds. Though the fortress has recently fallen into disrepair, it’s still worth the journey simply to climb the spiral staircase of the watchtower for a panoramic view of one of the more curious territories in the history of modern Malaysia.