Traces of the English in Indonesia: Fort Marlborough, Bengkulu

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Fort Marlborough
Fort Marlborough’s rows of cannons. (Source: Nurvita Indarini)

Bengkulu, IO – The austere, intimidating stronghold stands tall, with a stark beauty of its own, in a corner of Bengkulu City, despite its 300 years of age. This is Fort Marlborough, dumb witness to the presence of English colonialists in the Land of the Rafflesia. From the Fort’s high vantage point, visitors can take their fill of the vast blue of the Indian Ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see. It all gives you a sense of perspective and a break from reality outside of your daily routines. For history lovers, it’s a must. For those not too keen on history, you can still get lovely and romantic photos of the contrast between manmade and natural edifices through the ages. 

Strategic Defense Spot through the Ages 

The Fort is named after the famous English general John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough. England’s East India Company (“EIC”) needed five years (1714-1719) to construct the fortress, under the auspices of Governor Joseph Collet. In those days, Bengkulu was a center of EIC trading activities in Southeast Asia. Therefore, the Governor felt a need to construct a proper fort to secure English interests in the region. 

Read: Fort Rotterdam The tale of old building on a coastal city

Bengkulu has always been famous as a spice producer. Naturally, most of its people trade spices and fish with other regions. All that changed in the 16th century with the coming of EIC: they would capture and punish any Bengkulu resident who dared to sell spices without their permission – especially pepper. Fort Marlborough was EIC’s defense and trade center. This was where they warehoused their stock of spices and their weapons, as they monitored the spice trade and passenger traffic around the Sunda Strait. To ensure their personal safety, English colonial officials were housed in the Fort as well.