Udini House: The Decaying Mansion of a Kedah Prince in Exile

loading Udini House in the late 1940s when it was requisitioned by the Royal Australian Air Force. Photo: Imperial War Museum

Portrait of Tengku Kudin at the Kedah State Museum. Photo: Enzo Sim

WITHIN THE COMPOUNDS of the Marine Police living quarters in the busy suburb of Gelugor lie the magnificent ruins of Udini House, which had once served as the official residence of Tengku Dhiauddin ibni almarhum Sultan Zainul Rashid, more widely known as Tengku Kudin, after he retired to a life in exile in Penang from 1884 to 1906.

The story of this enigmatic personality begins in 1821 when he was born in Penang into the royal family of Kedah. As the second-eldest son of Muhammad Jiwa Azlin Muadzam Shah II, the 19th Sultan of Kedah, he was given the title Raja Muda – or Crown Prince – shortly after he was born, making him the immediate heir to the throne.

As the heir, he received European-style education which was personally arranged by his father, who regarded it as the best way to broaden Tengku Kudin’s worldview to enable him to rule Kedah in the future.

When he was in his 20s, Tengku Kudin was given a prestigious governorship with the authority to rule a huge swath of the sultanate’s territory stretching from modern Perlis, which was known as Kayang in the early nineteenth century, across to the province of Setul in the southern territory of the Kingdom of Siam – modern-day Thailand – to which Kedah had a tributary relationship back then.1

Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor, father-in-law of Tengku Kudin. Photo: Leiden University Collection of Southeast Asian Images

Tengku Kudin (seated) posing for a group photo with his entourage. Photo: Leiden University Collection of Southeast Asian Images

His marriage in 1867 to Tengku Arfah, daughter of Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor, marked a turning point in his life – and in the course of history as well. A year after his marriage, he was granted the title of “Wakil Yamtuan”, or special envoy, by Sultan Abdul Samad, with special rights to govern the state affairs of the Selangor Sultanate’s territories. With the royal title in hand, Tengku Kudin rapidly gained personal political influence over the territories of Selangor and, as a result, amassed a sizeable entourage that was loyal to him.2

In 1866, just a year before Tengku Kudin married Tengku Arfah and exactly seven years after Sultan Abdul Samad ascended to the royal throne of Selangor, one of the grandsons of the late Sultan Muhammad Shah of Selangor, Raja Mahadi bin Raja Sulaiman, had launched a full-scale attack on the tin-mining town of Lukut. With his eye on Lukut’s tin resources and tax revenue from tin, his actions opened one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in the history of Selangor – the Klang War, which lasted till 1874.

With the support of his followers from the neighbouring town of KL and from as far away as Sumatra – including armies from Bangkahulu, Batu Bara, Mendahiling and Rawa – Raja Mahadi attempted to seize Lukut from Raja Abdullah bin Raja Jaafar, the prince of the Kingdom of Riau.

Battle for Tin

Lukut was once a quiet town administered by the Selangor Sultanate. Once tin was discovered there, however, several Malay rulers and royal officials set their sights on taking over the town. Among the competitors was a prince from Riau – Raja Jumaat. It was he who eventually emerged victorious and was granted controlling rights over mining activities in Lukut by Sultan Muhammad Shah in appreciation of his kindness in clearing the financial debts of the Sultan. His political influence was further elevated by his marriage to the Selangor royal princess, Tengku Senai, an occurrence arranged by Sultan Muhammad Shah himself.

The ruins of the once-magnificent Udini House as seen from the remaining pillars, columns and archways that stood the test of time. Photo: Enzo Sim

At the time of the Klang War, the administration of Lukut was placed under Raja Abdullah, who was the brother of Raja Jumaat. Raja Mahadi’s superior forces pressured Raja Abdullah to retreat to neighbouring Malacca and his son, Raja Ismail, was left to hold the fort. When Raja Ismail was finally defeated, he too fled to Malacca to join his father. The victorious Raja Mahadi then seized Lukut and established a settlement at Pengkalan Batu.

Raja Mahadi, who had by now amassed an enormous amount of tax revenue from mining activities, refused to allocate 500 dollars of the total revenue every month to Sultan Abdul Samad, who had previously received that sum from Raja Abdullah on a monthly basis.

This prompted Sultan Abdul Samad, who had previously refused to intervene in the war, to send in Tengku Kudin, his new son-in-law, to settle the dispute in Lukut. On being named Wakil Yamtuan, Tengku Kudin was given Langkat, a piece of territory in Selangor, to be used as his power base. This drew fierce opposition from Raja Mahadi and Tengku Alang, one of Sultan Abdul Samad’s sons. Faced with this new situation, Tengku Kudin quickly sided with Raja Abdullah and Raja Ismail by vowing to recapture the town of Lukut.3

Tengku Kudin quickly returned to Kedah to gather troops for an attack on Lukut. However, while Tengku Kudin was still in Kedah in August 1869, Raja Ismail laid siege to the fortress of Raja Mahadi in Lukut and Pengkalan Batu using a force of well over 100 soldiers who marched all the way from Malacca with him, sparking off the Second Klang War.

Raja Mahadi’s fort remained under seige for two months before Tengku Kudin’s long-awaited 500-man reinforcements finally arrived to the aid of Raja Ismail in October that year, enabling them to finally break the defence lines of Raja Mahadi. Sultan Abdul Samad subsequently also sent 200 men from Langat to reinforce the forces of Tengku Kudin and Raja Ismail.4 Finally, after suffering relentless bombardment and the superior firearms of Tengku Kudin’s artillery units led by a French artillery general by the name of De Fontaine, the strongholds of Pengkalan Batu and Lukut as well as the region of Klang fell to Tengku Kudin.

While the fighting in Lukut may have ended, the struggle between the two factions raged on in other parts such as Bukit Kanching, and was further complicated by the involvement of Chinese secret societies, with the leader of the Hai San, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, siding with Raja Ismail while an opposing Chinese clan, the Ghee Hin, supported Raja Mahadi.5

The Klang War came to an end when the British finally intervened and placed J.G. Davidson as the Resident of Selangor in 1875. Tengku Kudin, who had become the Viceroy of Selangor the year before, managed to retain his power under British rule. However, the opposing factions of Selangor quickly painted a bad picture of him to the Sultan of Kedah by accusing him of siding with the British and intervening in the state affairs of Selangor by involving himself in the Klang War.

Infuriated by what he heard, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin III of Kedah, his brother, stripped him of his royal title and permanently banned him from returning to Kedah. Tengku Kudin had in fact, as early as 1876 decided to leave for Kedah, but chose to move to Penang when he heard of his exile.

The House

It was during this time that Tengku Kudin, who was temporarily living at a seaside bungalow beside Istana Kedah along Northam Road, started to build a mansion to serve as his permanent residence in Penang. This would become Udini House, located on an elevated hill in Gelugor, overlooking Province Wellesley.

His arrival in Penang aroused much attention from British officials who sympathised with his predicament. The foundation stone of the house was even laid personally by the Lieutenant-Governor of Penang, J.F. McNair, when construction began in August 1882. Tengku Kudin spent his life in exile in that mansion – from 1884 until he passed away in 1906.6

The significance of the house derives mostly from its extraordinary architectural style. As a royal family member with ancestral roots in Kedah, the construction of Udini House was based on the concept and architectural layout drafted by Tengku Kudin, who combined British colonial influences with traditional Malay architectural style.

Photo: Enzo Sim

The Western motifs were a nod to Tengku Kudin’s European education background – and his fondness for European culture as well. He incorporated architectural elements from the Italian Renaissance period, including aedicules; a grand staircase within the house; broken pediments particularly found in classical, neoclassical and baroque architectures throughout Europe; classical columns in the interior of the house; European arches decorated with wooden teak doors with ventilating shutters; as well as quoins, which are basically masonry blocks placed at every corner of the exterior walls.

At the same time, traditional Malay local architecture, which was much more suitable for the hot tropical weather, was adopted for the interior of the house. It enabled good and cooling ventilation inside the house, while natural light could shine in through the wooden shutter windows.

A magnificent European garden was also designed for Tengku Kudin, including a stable as well as an aviary and a deer park. There is also, intriguingly, an underground tunnel that leads directly from the house towards the open beach. The house was later purchased by Tengku Baharuddin bin Tengku Meh, who was Raja of Setul when it was still a part of Kedah, as a holiday home. When he acquired it in 1910, he added new structures to it, including a new wing, servants’ quarters and a bigger aviary.

The house was then rented out to the law firm, Presgrave and Matthews, from 1930 to December 1941. During the Japanese Occupation, it acted as the headquarters of the Japanese Navy in Penang. It was later taken over by the British Military Administration and the Royal Australian Air Force after the end of the war, before the government acquired it in 1953 with a public housing plan that never came through. Finally, the Marine Police moved into its compounds.7

The house has since fallen into disrepair. While its fate may remain uncertain today, the memory of its enigmatic founder, Tengku Kudin, lives on.

1 Mohammad Isa Othman (1990). Politik Tradisional Kedah 1681-1942. Dewan Bahasa Pustaka. ISBN 9836215832.
2 "Perlantikan semula Tengku Kudin sebagai wakil Yamtuan Negeri Selangor". National Archives of Malaysia. 13 November 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
3 J.M. Gullick (1983). "Chapter 4: The Selangor Civil War (1867-1873)". The Story of Kuala Lumpur, 1857-1939. Eastern Universities Press (M). pp. 17–23.
4 "Tengku Kudin menawan Kuala Selangor". National Archives of Malaysia. 16 June 2008. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016.
5 "Raja Mahadi Fort (Kota Raja Mahadi)". Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia. 2000. Archived from the original on 16 November 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2009.
6 "Tengku Kudin meninggal dunia". National Archives of Malaysia. 14 October 2008. Archived from the original on 18 March 2016.
7 “Udini House, Gelugor” Penang Heritage Trust, 18 Apr. 2019, http://www.pht.org.my/udini-house-gelugor/.  

Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of Southeast Asia. His passion has brought him to different Southeast Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.

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