My main reason for visiting Minto (see last post) was to see Fatlips Castle, a picturesque pele tower perched on top of the Minto Crags which can be seen from miles away.
The original pele tower was built as a stronghold for the Turnbull Border Reiver clan of Bedrule (a village about a mile from Minto) in the early 16th century before being burnt to the ground by the Earl of Hertford during a raid on the Scottish Borders in 1545.
The castle was rebuilt in 1857 by the Elliots of Minto and modified into its current form in 1897 by Sir Robert Lorimer for the 4th Earl of Minto. It was used as a shooting lodge and a private museum until the late 1960s, following which it fell into disrepair and was heavily vandalised. The exterior was refurbished in 2013 with funding from Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council, the Minto Estate and private donations.
Why Was It called Fatlips?
The origin of the curious name is uncertain but a plaque at the site puts forward three possible theories:
One of the Turnbulls had thick lips.
There was a goat nicknamed Fatlips which warned of the approaching English by bleating loudly.
Gentlemen were traditionally allowed to kiss one of the ladies on entering.
How to Get to Fatlips Castle
The location is marked on this map:
You can park on the roadside or at the start of the wooded track shown on the map, then start walking.
Minto Crags are of volcanic origin and they rise abruptly above the surrounding countryside so the path to the top, which is clearly signposted, is steep. It takes half an hour or so to reach the castle. It’s an easy enough walk but you are sure to be puffing a bit by the time you get there.
The path is likely to be muddy so suitable footwear is required. There is a patch of stinging nettles near the top so long trousers are recommended.
You will be rewarded with excellent views of the Teviot valley and the scenic Borders landscape.
The metal grille door to the castle was firmly bolted when I visited the other day but I believe it is possible, during normal non-Covid days, to obtain a key from the Thos. B. Oliver Garage in Denholm for £10, of which £5 is refunded on return of the key.
I first heard about the Minto Stone when I visited Malang in East Java in 2016.
It is a 1,100 year old stone slab, two metres tall and weighing close to four tons known to Indonesians as the Prasasti Sanggurah, or Sanggurah Inscription. It is inscribed in ancient Javan, or Kawi, and apparently designates the local village as an administrative area and bestows certain rights on the local ruler. The most interesting part is a curse, a lengthy description of the dire and gruesome fate awaiting anyone who dares to remove the stone from its place. From the rough translation that I have seen it seems the punishments include disembowelment, being eaten by tigers, bitten by snakes, struck by lightning, torn by giants, drowning, cast to the four winds and reincarnation as a madman.
Despite these warnings the stone was removed 200 years ago from its original position on the outskirts of Malang and is now in the garden of a cottage in Roxburghshire, Scotland. How did it end up there and did anyone suffer from the curse?
From Malang to Minto
Britain occupied Java for a five year period from 1811 under the leadership of Sir Stamford Raffles as Governor of Java. Raffles commissioned the able Colonel Colin Mackenzie, a military engineer and surveyor, to carry out a geographical, economic, historical and cultural survey of the island of Java – no small task.
In the course of his survey he came across a number of artefacts including the Prasanti Sanggurah. With the consent and assistance from the local regent he uprooted the stone and transported it by cart to Surabaya. Raffles then shipped it to Calcutta as a gift for his boss and supporter Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India.
Minto was pleased with the stele and said “I shall be very much tempted to mount this Javan rock upon our Minto craigs, that it may tell eastern tales of us, long after our heads lie under other stones.”
In the end the stone didn’t quite make it to the top of Minto craigs but it was shipped to Scotland and was installed in the garden of a house on the nearby Minto Estate where it has remained for 200 years.
Lord Minto himself never got to see it in Scotland because he died soon after retirement from India. The local regent in Malang who allowed the stone to be removed also died unnaturally. As for Raffles, he suffered a lot of bad luck in his life including the death of four of his children from tropical disease and he retired in disgrace and was pursued for debt by his employers the East India Company (though his reputation has since been restored). Maybe there was something in the curse after all.
Back to Malang?
In view of the Minto Stone’s antiquity and historical importance, Indonesia would very much like to have it back and their Government entered into negotiations to have it returned in 2003.
The International Institute for Asian Studies newsletter dated Summer 2016 reported that the current Lord Minto supported the idea of the stone’s repatriation, implying that it had not yet taken place. I cannot find any confirmation on the internet that it has since been repatriated so presumably it is still in Minto.
Since I was passing near Minto village the other day I stopped to look around. I did not find the stone or cottage shown in the above photos. Presumably it is on private property on the Minto Estate.
Minto is a pretty planned village with a Gothic church built in 1831. The whole village was moved in 1827-1831 as the old location was spoiling the 2nd Earl’s view from his mansion.
The war memorial. A plaque lists seven casualties from World War One and one from the Iraq War (2005). Although the soldier is dressed in a private’s uniform, the face is said to have been modelled on Lt. Esmond Elliot, son of the Earl of Minto, who was one of the seven casualties listed.
I expect the Minto Stone will be returned to Indonesia at some stage, if it hasn’t been already. Perhaps an additional inscription should be added to commemorate its 200 year stay in the Scottish Borders.
Alfred Russel Wallace visited Sumatra only once and stayed a relatively short time, from November 1861 to January 1862, which is perhaps surprising given that the island is massive (more than double the area of Great Britain) with, at that time, vast swathes of barely explored rain forest.
This is how he described his journey to Palembang:
“The mail steamer from Batavia to Singapore took me to Muntok (or as on English maps, “Minto”), the chief town and port of Banca. Here I stayed a day or two, until I could obtain a boat to take me across the straits, and all the river to Palembang.”
The tin mining island of Bangka was for a time annexed by the British and it was Stamford Raffles, in a blatant act of sycophancy, who renamed Muntok after his East India Company boss Lord Minto, Governor General of India. When the Dutch resumed control of Bangka the name Minto was quietly dropped.
On his voyage, Wallace would have passed by the island of Billiton (now Belitung), another former tin mining centre whose name lives on in the giant mining company BHP Billiton.
“A good-sized open sailing-boat took me across to the mouth of the Palembang river where, at a fishing village, a rowing-boat was hired to take me up to Palembang–a distance of nearly a hundred miles by water.”
That’s a long way in a rowing boat!
“The city is a large one, extending for three or four miles along a fine curve of the river, which is as wide as the Thames at Greenwich. The stream is, however, much narrowed by the houses which project into it upon piles.”
“Palembang is built on a patch of elevated ground, a few miles in extent, on the north bank of the river. At a spot about three miles from the town this turns into a little hill, the top of which is held sacred by the natives, shaded by some fine trees,and inhabited by a colony of squirrels which have become half-tame.”
Wallace found little to collect in the vicinity of Palembang and went further inland for 50 miles or more to the south west on the road towards Bencoolen. He spent time near the villages of Lorok, Moera-dua (Muara Dua), Lobo Raman (Lubuk Raman) in search of specimens.
I decided not to try to replicate Wallace’s journey to these villages since I thought it would be irksome for little reward. Instead I flew on to Bencoolen (Bengkulu) which I’ll write about in a later blog.However you can read the account of someone who did make the journey to Lobo Raman in 2012 here:
While staying in the interior Wallace found time to write a letter to Charles Darwin expressing his frustration with the poor collecting conditions:
Sumatra, 100 miles E. of Bencoolen
Here I have had to come 100 miles inland (by Palembang) and even here in the very centre of E. Sumatra the forest is only in patches and it is the height of the rains so I get nothing – a longicorn is a rarity and I suppose I shall not get as many species in 2 months as I have in 4 days in a good place. I am however getting some sweet little Lycaenidae (gossamer winged butterflies) which is the only thing that keeps my spirits up.
While in Lorok he obtained a parroquet:
“The only bird new to me which I obtained at Lorok was the fine long- tailed parroquet (Palaeornis longicauda)”
“During a month’s collecting, I added only three or four new species to my list of birds.In butterflies I was rather more successful, obtaining several fine species quite new to me, and a considerable number of very rare and beautiful insects. The first is the handsome Papilio memnon, a splendid butterfly of a deep black colour, dotted over with lines and groups of scales of a clear ashy blue.”
He was amazed by the leaf butterfly:
“In its position of repose it so closely resembled a dead leaf attached to a twig as almost certainly to deceive the eye even when gazing full upon it. I captured several specimens on the wing, and was able fully to understand the way in which this wonderful resemblance is produced.”
Wallace described the decorative Sumatran village houses.
“The houses are raised about six feet on posts, the best being entirely built of planks, others of bamboo. The former are always more or less ornamented with carving and have high-pitched roofs and overhanging eaves. The gable ends and all the chief posts and beams are sometimes covered with exceedingly tasteful carved work, and this is still more the case in the district of Menangkabo, further west.”
I didn’t see any of this type of building in Palembang but here is one I photographed in Bukit Tinggi near Padang in 2013.
“In all these Sumatran villages I found considerable difficulty in getting anything to eat…. fruit was reduced to one of the poorest kinds of banana. The natives (during the wet season at least) live exclusively on rice. A pot of rice cooked very dry and eaten with salt and red peppers, twice a day, forms their entire food during a large part of the year.”
“A very curious ape, the Siamang, was also rather abundant. I purchased a small one, which had been caught by the natives and tied up so tightly as to hurt it. It was rather savage at first, and tried to bite; but when we had released it and given it two poles under the verandah to hang upon, securing it by a short cord, running along the pole with a ring so that it could move easily, it became more contented, and would swing itself about with great rapidity. It ate almost any kind of fruit and rice, and I was in hopes to have brought it to England, but it died just before I started. It took a dislike to me at first, which I tried to get over by feeding it constantly myself. One day, however, it bit me so sharply while giving it food, that I lost patience and gave it rather a severe beating, which I regretted afterwards, as from that time it disliked me more than ever.”
“Another curious animal, which I had met with in Singapore and in Borneo, but which was more abundant here, is the Galeopithecus, or flying lemur. This creature has a broad membrane extending all around its body to the extremities of the toes, and to the point of the rather long tail. This enables it to pass obliquely through the air from one tree to another.”
I would have to conclude that Palembang is not the best place to go in search of Wallace. There is little sense of him in this built-up city with few green spaces but there are a few tourist attractions in Palembang and I will write about these in my next post.