Unsolved Murder & A Mysterious Fire: The Dark Story Behind An Abandoned Mansion In Penang
Hidden on an oil palm estate in Nibong Tebal, Penang lies a huge, neglected colonial mansion with a dark history
The grand mansion was once known as the Caledonia House, or more popularly today as the '99-door mansion'.
It is located on the Byram Estate and has been left to rot for decades.
Here are several spine-chilling, interesting facts about the mansion and why it has probably been neglected for so long:
1. The Caledonia House, said to have been built in 1916, was owned by a wealthy British family – the Ramsdens
At the time, the Ramsden family had moved to Malaysia and reportedly set up a sugar cane plantation. However, when sugar cane prices dropped during the 1880s, they turned it into a rubber estate instead.
During the 1960s, things changed and it was converted into what is now an oil palm plantation.
2. One of the family members, John St Maur Ramsden, was mysteriously murdered at the mansion in 1948 and the bungalow was later abandoned
He served as the managing director of the Penang Rubber Estates Group and was said to have been shot twice on the front balcony of the mansion.
Rumours claim that he was killed by a competitor, while his family believes he was murdered by Communist guerrillas. As documented on this blog, US historian Lynn Hollen Lees shared that a couple of suspects were arrested and put on trial, but the case remains unsolved.
His grave lies in the Western Road cemetery in George Town, Penang.
3. The bungalow earned its name as the 99-door mansion because of its many doors in each room
The mansion has around 10 rooms with five to six doors in each one, along with many more at its balcony, dance hall, and other parts of the house.
It is believed that the place may have been designed to be used as an administrative building, headquarters, or an R&R where managers could relax instead of a family home, as there appears to be no living room, dining room, or even a front door.
Rumour has it that when the house was abandoned after the 1960s, a bomoh (witch doctor) practised his dark arts there and opened the '100th door' to contact the dead. Although, as rumours go, there's no concrete proof of this.
On 26 July 2020, the mansion mysteriously caught fire, damaging about 70% of the building. Firemen were dispatched to put it out and it was under investigation. But until today, it is uncertain how the bungalow could have caught fire.
4. There's an airplane strip in the front of the house
According to Lees, the Ramsden family had owned at least 51,000 acres of land in Malaya at the time.
In fact, they owned so much land that managers could fly between estates in small private airplanes and there was even a small airplane runway in front of the mansion!
5. In recent years, people have sought to turn the Caledonia House into a heritage building
According to The Edge, the estate's caretaker told The Star that the owner rarely visits so they locked up the fence at the entrance, to prevent outsiders from further damaging the property.
The report shows that the 54-acre land, including the mansion, was bought over in the 1970s by a businessman in Perak. However, the present owner is uncontactable.
"We have listed the building as a heritage building but since it is on private land, the owner has to agree to it," Jawi assemblyman Jason H'ng Mooi Lye revealed to The Star, as reported by The Edge.
You can take a virtual tour of the 99-door mansion on Google Street View – if you dare – and see if you can spot two men! :P
You can't go down the main staircase, but there's another staircase on the side which you can take to view the lower level of the mansion.
Click on the photo below to head there: