The Twelve Roofs Mansion

[Note: One SJ wants to know more about Bubungan Duabelas. I thought I will dig up this old article which I wrote for Brunei Times in August last year, slightly more than a year ago. This was published for the Sunday Edition, 5th August 2007. SJ, I hope you now know more about Bubungan Duabelas.]

THE Brunei postal authorities recently released a set of stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of "Bubungan Duabelas", the House of Twelve Roofs.

This wooden house, situated about a mile south of Bandar Seri Begawan just before the first bend of the Brunei River, is off Jalan Residency. The road is named after the house as that is what the house used to be called "The Residency" — home of the British Resident in Brunei Darussalam.

The house is older than the road and that it can claim to be the oldest building in Brunei Darussalam while the original road of Jalan Residency can claim to be the first proper road in Brunei.

Interestingly the new stamps of $1, $0.60 and $0.30 do not depict all the photographs of Bubungan Duabelas. The $1 stamp showed the photo of an older building built in 1890, now demolished, of a British Consul Agent's house.

That particular house was built on water over the Brunei River, at the foot of the hill where Bubungan Duabelas is currently located. In the leaflet enclosed in the First Day Cover envelope commemorating the issues of the stamps, there was no explanation with regard to this particular photograph in the $1 stamp. Those who do not know it would assume that that building was an older Bubungan Duabelas.

The site of Bubungan Duabelas goes all the way back to the mid 19th century and dates from the two treaties that Brunei and Great Britain signed in 1846 and 1847.

In 1855, Spenser St John (later to be knighted) was appointed Great Britain's Consul General in Brunei in replacement of Sir James Brooke. By November that year, he had decided to stay in Brunei and wanted to request a piece of land for the consulate from Sultan Abdul Momin. By 1856, he had managed to get that land and built a temporary "leaf house". In 1858 he replaced that house with a permanent building costing £1,800.

However, when Sir Spenser St John was transferred to Haiti, the house fell into disrepair. There was no replacement for him and the British covered Brunei via the Governor of Labuan until 1867 when the next Governor decided to repair the house for his stay whenever he visited Brunei.

By 1876, the house had fallen into disrepair again and by the time it was rediscovered in 1907, the house had become a jungle-eaten ruin.

In 1874, Inche Mohamed, a Malacca-born British citizen, was appointed as the Consul Agent. In 1883, the Sultan had awarded an additional smaller piece of land nearer the river where Inche Mohamed built an official residence. This is the house depicted in the newly issued $1 stamp.

This house became the new consulate. It was later used by McArthur when he became the British Resident in 1906 and used as a temporary office and a courthouse. The house survived until the late 1930s but was finally demolished around 1940.

McArthur first arrived in Brunei in 1904 and in the earlier days stayed at the house belonging to the Island Trading Syndicate which ran the cutch factory. During his stay, McArthur's report had a decisive effect on Great Britain's policy towards Brunei. He also commented on the land given to Sir Spenser St John on which, he said, the ruins of his house were still visible.

In December 1905, His Majesty Sultan Hashim and the British signed an addition to the 1888 agreement, called the 1906 agreement, which allowed for a British Resident to be placed in Brunei and said the Brunei Government also agreed that "His Highness would receive a British officer, to be styled Resident, and will provide a suitable Residence for him".

In 1906, McArthur, now appointed British Resident, decided to build a new consulate which was completed by July 1907. He reported that this new consulate was built on the exact same spot as the former Sir Spenser St John's house and it was most likely that the ruins of the old house were levelled and compacted into the foundation of the new house.

This house cost around £8,000.

According to photographic evidence, it seemed that the current "Bubungan Duabelas" has not changed very much since it was first built by McArthur. The outward similarity, however, concealed a number of internal renovations made by the various occupants throughout the years.

In 1922, during the first visit to Brunei by a member of the British Royal Family, the Prince of Wales, the great uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, stayed there.

This house always had the facilities of a modern house. By 1909, a water pipe was connected from Sungai Lampai. The telegraph was introduced in 1921. An electrical power generator was already in place by 1927. The first telephone line was installed from the Residency in 1909.

The path from the town to the Residency was made into the first road for wheeled vehicles in Brunei and was completed by 1925.

The first vehicle was imported into Brunei before that road was completed and by the end of 1924, there were 4 cars in Brunei.

On December 31, 1941, Lt General Kawanguchi of the Japanese Army invaded Brunei and used the "Residency" as his headquarters. Surprisingly, during the Allied Forces bombing of Brunei during the mid 1940s which included the destruction of the Brunei Town Mosque (Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal), the Residency was spared.

The Residency was repaired after the war and in 1959, the Duke of Edinburgh stayed there. In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II held an investiture there.

By 1971, the Residency was known as the High Commissioner's Residence and not as the "Residency". The British High Commissioners stayed there until 1984 when Brunei gained its full independence.

The building was handed over to the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports. It became "Bubungan Duabelas" and was used as a cultural centre.

In 1998, the Government signed a joint project agreement with UK to turn "Bubungan Duabelas" into a permanent and dynamic exhibition centre in commemoration of the relationship between Brunei and UK.

It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II when she was here in 1998. The exhibition covers the history of the building and its use over the years up to 1984. It also focused on the tremendous progress that Brunei has made in the economic and social fields since 1984, including its expanding and dynamic role in international and regional affairs.


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