Banglo Segu: If these walls could talk
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
LOCATED ON TOP OF A small hill at Park Lane, Kuching, opposite the WWII air raid shelter, it’s easy to miss the white wooden house concealed by large, overhanging tree branches.
Spacious and airy, the wooden house known as Banglo Segu is widely believed to be built by the third and last White Rajah, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke as a holiday cottage. Later, the bungalow was occupied by Tom Harrisson during his time serving as the Sarawak museum curator until the early 1970s.
According to an article from New Straits Times in 1990 by James Ritchie, the bungalow was originally built facing Sungei Segu in the Pengkalan Empat area near Kampong Benuk, Penrissen.
It was built for the Rajah by the late Tan Sri William Tan, a former Speaker of the State Assembly in 1930 before it was physically moved from its original site and reassembled at Park Lane in 1936.
While it is widely believed that the bungalow served as Vyner’s holiday cottage, during a talk about the historical residence with Dr. John Walker, a senior lecturer in the International and Political Studies Programme at the University of New South Wales Canberra, he pointed out one interesting but lesser known detail about the bungalow; that it was used by the third Rajah as his love nest where he conducted affairs with his mistresses.
Walker, who has carried out broad research on Sarawak’s early history and written ‘Power and Prowess: The origins of Brooke kingship in Sarawak’, his fascination with Sarawak and the Brookes started when he was a child looking through his father’s coin collection.
Walker’s father had served in the army with the Australian Occupational Forces and had been in Sarawak at the end of WWII.
“I used to play with the coins and I will ask, ‘Daddy, what is this?’ and he would tell me ‘That’s the coin from the first White Rajah,’ and I would ask him ‘What is the White Rajah’ and so my father would tell me the stories of the White Rajah,” he explained.
The apple does not fall far from the tree
According to Walker, the Brookes had a tradition of keeping holiday cottages with the first Rajah James Brooke building one in Peninjau while Charles built his on Mount Matang. He also mentioned that all three Rajahs enjoyed their private lives.
The first Rajah was rumoured to have affection for young men including Rajah Muda Hashim’s younger brother, Pengiran Badruddin and 16-year-old Charles Grant, who was said to have a promising career in the navy at the age of 15 while the second Rajah, prior to his marriage to Margaret Brooke, had lived with (and may have married) a local woman known as Dayang Mastiah with whom he had a son named Esca. Walker added that he was noted to have had affairs with several Iban women and had at least one child.
Vyner’s love nest?
Compared to his great-uncle and father, Vyner allegedly took to seducing the wives of his European officials and that he used to conduct his illicit love affairs at Banglo Segu.
Described as a great womanizer by his wife, Sylvia Brett, also known as Ranee Slyvia, she described his ‘outside love’ as his ‘little foolishness’.
Walker quoted Sylvia: ‘I knew them all. I would look at the outlook of the innocent face of the government officer’s wives and remember what he had told me about them and about himself. In a way, it gave me a feeling of power, despite them all, he belonged to me.’
Sylvia claimed to know all of Vyner’s mistresses and that he would pass her their love letters to read where according to Walker, Sylvia claimed her husband pretended he wanted her to see how uninitiated and inexperienced his lovers were… but she thought otherwise.
‘Some of them really loved him and he knew it and that wicked man wanted me to know it too.’
She recalled how his mistresses came in all shape and sizes. ‘There was one I remembered who had a mania for turning somersaults, presumably in order to show off her beautiful legs.’
Of all his mistresses, she had only asked him to discard one whom she described as ‘a gold digger, a thundering bore, and a nymphomania’.
Sylvia also recalled one of Vyner’s mistresses whom he would meet in the church yard in Sarawak.
Sylvia Brooke’s troubled childhood
Sylvia sought to excuse Vyner trysts by confessing she was a frigid woman who did not enjoy sex.
According to Walker, the reason why she classified herself a frigid woman stemmed from her troubled childhood. Born in 1885, she had made two attempts at suicide, the first by eating rotten sardines, and the second by lying naked in the snow when she was only 12 years old.
In an autobiography ‘Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters’ by Philip Eade, Sylvia’s father was described as a paedophile who molested his son, his son’s friends and his daughter (Sylvia’s sister). Sylvia herself was constantly ignored by her father.
Her troubled childhood may explain why Sylvia was rather laid back if not amused by her husband’s extramarital trysts.
“So, she has reason perhaps to called herself as a ‘frigid woman’,” said Walker
But then again, perhaps the reason why Sylvia remained by her husband’s side and tolerated his ‘little foolishness’ was so that her eldest daughter, Leonora, could succeed the throne as it was her dearest wish.
Shortly after the birth of her third daughter, Dayang Nancy Valerie, Sylvia was told she could not have any more children and her hopes of having a son to ascend the throne crumbled.
Since the throne had to be passed to a male heir in accordance to local traditions and laws, Sylvia apparently took every opportunity to blacken the name of the next heir apparent, Vyner’s nephew, Anthony Brooke.
It was no secret that she did not like Anthony that much.
Home away from home
Looking away from Banglo Segu’s scandalous past, it is hard not to admire the house for the beautiful paintings hanging on the ceiling and walls of the structure’s wide open veranda.
Other notable figures who used to reside at Banglo Segu were Tom Harrisson and his wife Barbara where, due to Tom’s close ties with the Orang Ulu, he would always allow others to stay there, leading many to adopt the house as their home away from home.
Among those who used to live there was a Kenyah artist from Baram – Tusau Padan – who was responsible for the paintings depicting Orang Ulu motifs and designs on the ceiling and walls of Banglo Segu along with other Orang Ulu artists in the 1950s.
From 1977 to 1986, the bungalow was then inhabited by a former soil conservation officer with the Sarawak Department of Agriculture Dr. Timothy Hatch, who was also present during the talk organised by Friends of Sarawak Museum.
Once a love nest, and then a second home, Banglo Segu is an important Sarawakian asset contributing to so much history not only of Sarawak itself but also of those who used to live there, making it worth preserving.
The bungalow now serves as an accommodation for visiting scholars and guests of the Sarawak Museum Department.