Sultanah Helen Ibrahim

Sultanah Helen Ibrahim

Sultanah Helen Ibrahim, also known as Helen Bartholomew, was the third wife of Sultan Sir Ibrahim Iskandar Al-Masyhur ibni Almarhum Sultan Sir Abu Bakar, the second sultan of modernized Johor, in Malaysia.

Her marriage to the Sultan of Johor was her second. Her first husband had died while serving as physician to Sultan Ibrahim. The Sultan was known to be an Anglophile and also one of the richest men in the world.

Early life

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in September 1889 and a Scottish by birth, she was the daughter of a master saw-maker from Stirlingshire. She was affectionately called Nellie by family members.

Her first marriage was to William Brockie Wilson, a Malayan-born Scot. He was a physician by training. Bartholomew first met Sultan Ibrahim when Wilson became the Sultan's physician. Helen had followed her husband all the way from Scotland to then British Malaya. When her husband died while in service, she returned to Britain but was soon to meet the Sultan once more.

Marriage to the Sultan

Sultan Ibrahim was a known Anglophile and loved to spend his time travelling around Europe, especially to the United Kingdom. The Sultan enrolled his sons, by his two Malay wives, to be educated in Britain.

It was during this time he renewed his acquaintance with the widow and asked her to keep an eye on his boys. Sultan Ibrahim visited Bartholomew and the boys from time to time and Bartholomew's relationship with the boys were very close.

Sultan Ibrahim and Bartholomew were married in a Surrey mosque in 1930 and Bartholomew then became known as Her Highness Sultanah Helen Ibrahim. In 1935, her picture with Sultan Ibrahim was put on a Johor postage stamp as a gift to her by the Sultan on their fifth wedding anniversary.

Their marriage lasted nearly ten years. However, it ended on good terms and there was no bad feelings between the two. This was evident by the Sultan, who continued to add to his ex-wife's spectacular jewel collection, reputedly giving her an emerald on her birthday and a diamond on their wedding anniversary, even after the divorce.

Bartholomew was once said to have the finest jewel and diamond collection in the world.


* [ Glasgow girl and the Sultan of Johore]

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