128yo Fort Charles repurposed into nursery, used to educate children on its history (Travelogue Day 8)

Fort Charles has been repurposed into a nursery school.

By D’Drift Team

BETONG, March 29: The 128-year-old Fort Charles in Kabong District, constructed of ‘belian’ wood and converted into a nursery, now serves as both a place of education for five young children and a window into the fort’s rich history, which the children’s teacher shares with them on a regular basis.

Erna Marlini Alwie, a 38-year-old teacher at the nursery who has been there for almost ten years, said that she regularly tells the stories related to Fort Charles to the children so that they may appreciate the historical significance of the building they are learning in.

The fort was designated as a nursery in 2007, following the ceremony officiated at by former Saratok MP Jelaing Mersat.

Fort Charles was designated as a nursery in 2007.

Searching for Fort Charles is like playing ‘Where’s Waldo?’

Earlier, we had to make some phone calls to find Fort Charles in Kabong because it is not marked on Google Maps. We were informed that Fort Charles was situated in front of an active construction site.

Yet when we arrived in Kabong, we spotted a structure that resembled Fort Charles and decided to turn into the junction. And it was indeed Fort Charles which was well-hidden under colourful compound walls, which featured a variety of drawings and the name of the nursery school, Tabika Perpaduan Kabong.

At the entrance of the fort, above the main door, was a vintage-looking sign which reads ‘1895 Fort Charles’.

Several rooms in the fort were used as the children’s learning and resting areas, while others remained empty.  It would perhaps be put into better use if the empty rooms could be used for displays on the history of Fort Charles and its artefacts, if any, or else the historical site, which is integral to the development of Kabong, could eventually be lost to time.

Fort Charles is well-hidden by the colourful compound walls of the nursery school.
The children’s learning space.
A section of Fort Charles that is not being used.

Rebuilt in 1895, Fort Charles’ structure still solid

The first Fort Charles, a wooden structure built on stilts in the town centre, was constructed in 1878 during the reign of the second White Rajah Charles Brooke.

It is believed that in 1893, the fort was destroyed by flood waters due to its location at the coast, along with the fishing villages of Kabong. The second Fort Charles, was subsequently built a little further inland in 1895, where it now stands.

The fort was primarily built for military purposes, but it also served as a district office, magistrates court, and police lock-up.  The Brooke’s ‘containment and management’ style of administration required the villagers to pay an annual tax of one dollar per household or end up in the lock-up under the building.

Fort Charles was rebuilt in 1895.

Old forts, new life

Although the Brookes no longer rule Sarawak, their presence and influence during the country’s formative years are still visible today.

The forts constructed by the Brooke family can be found all over Sarawak, and these structures are now recognised as important heritage or historical sites, drawing visitors from all over the world.

Yesterday, the D’Drift Team visited Fort Sylvia in Kapit and Fort Emma in Kanowit; today, we travelled to Fort Brooke in Julau, Fort Charles in Kabong, and Fort Lily in Betong.

It has been unfortunate that Fort Hose (which D’Drift Team visited on March 25), Fort Sylvia, Fort Emma, Fort Brooke, and Fort Lily are not yet open to the public due to ongoing restoration and renovation.  Like other fort-hunters, we can only admire them from the outside.

And we chose to see our “misfortune” positively.  Renovation and restoration will preserve the longstanding legacies and histories that live within their respective walls.  it will grant a new life to these forts, something that we and many Sarawakians are certainly glad to see.

Tomorrow will be a new day, and the D’Drift Team will continue our journey to track down more of Sarawak’s historical forts namely Fort Arundell in Lubok Antu and Fort Alice in Sri Aman. — DayakDaily

Fort Hose
Fort Sylvia
Fort Emma
Fort Brooke
Fort Lily