The Mystery of Caledonian House, Penang’s “99 Mansions”

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Penang is dotted with colonial-era buildings. None, however, are shrouded in as much mystery as Caledonia House, an abandoned manor in the heart of a palm oil plantation in Nibong Tebal.

This imposing mansion – replete with columns, symmetrical balusters, and porticos – was built in the 1840s for the Ramsden family, one of Britain’s wealthiest.

The clan, renowned sugar tycoons in Port Wellesley (now Seberang Perai), first set up the estate as a sugar plantation before turning it into a rubber estate in the early 20th century.

The original spiral staircase remains intact. Image: Instagram @amorgan_uk

This double-story bungalow with a dance hall, balcony, and ten rooms – each with five or six doors – earned it the moniker “The 99-Door Mansion”.

Business flourished until World War II when the manor was used as the headquarters of the Japanese army during their occupation of Malaya.

John St. Maur Ramsden, the baronet’s eldest son who owned it, returned to the home after the war, but three years later, things started taking a dark turn.

The staircase where Ramsden was shot. Image: Instagram @sueannkong

In June 1948, Ramsden was shot twice in the back of his head as he walked up the grand staircase of Caledonia House.

Suggested motives ranged from political violence during the postwar period to suspects such as Ramsden’s local assistant and jealous competitors.

A series of arrests and court trials transpired, but the murder remains unsolved to this day.

After Ramsden’s death, ownership of the plantation changed hands with local business people. By the 1960s, oil palm replaced rubber, but for unknown reasons, the house was left abandoned.

Rumors swirled around the dilapidated house, from reports of tortured screams to stories of a bomoh (witch doctor) who had opened the manor’s “100th door” into the supernatural world.

The time-ravaged exterior of Caledonia House. Image: Instagram @serina_sands

Today, the house – which mysteriously caught on fire in July 2020 – still stands with much of the original structure in place.

Time has ravaged the manor, with grime-covered walls, overgrown weeds, algae, and branches clawing at its facade.

Calls have been made to restore Caledonia House, but much like the manor, the whereabouts of the current owner seem to be a mystery.


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