Agnes Keith House or " Newlands" , Sandakan.
Monday, February 27, 2012 // 1 comment(s)

During my recent trip to Sandakan , we decided to head to English Tea House for tea to spend quality time with the family after all the temple visiting ( more about it to come later ). While we were there we decided to walk ourselves for a visit to the Agnes Keith House as it was already our countless trip there and we have not visited this place still.

If you're wondering who is Agnes Keith, her full name is actually Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton Keith (July 4, 1901 – March 30, 1982) and she was an American author best known for her three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo (now Sabah) before, during, and after the 2nd World War.  One of her book, Three Came Home, tells of her time in Japanese POW and civilian internee camps in North Borneo and Sarawak which then made into a film in 1950. She published seven books in all. 

  1. Land Below the Wind (1939, November)
  2. Three Came Home (1947, April)
  3. White Man Returns (1951)
  4. Bare Feet in the Palace (1955)
  5. Children of Allah, between the Sea and the Sahara (1966)
  6. Beloved Exiles (1972)
  7. Before the Blossoms Fall: Life and Death in Japan (1975)

If you're interested in her books, the first 3 books are available for sale at the Sandakan airport, or even at the nearby souvenir shop of the English Tea House.

In 1934, she married Henry G. Keith, known as Harry. Keith, was an Englishman working as Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture for the government of North Borneo under the Chartered Company, and was also Honorary Curator of the Sandakan (State) Museum. He had worked in Borneo since 1925, and was based in Sandakan. Agnes spent an idyllic five years at Sandakan, sometimes accompanying her husband on trips into the interior of the country. Harry persuaded her to write about her experiences and enter it in the 1939 Atlantic Monthly Non-fiction Prize contest. 

It all began when Harry was ordered back to Borneo when war was declared on 3rd September 1939 from Canada. Almost a year later their first child, Henry George Newton Keith, known as George, was born in Sandakan on 5 April 1940. 

The Japanese invading forces landed in Sandakan on 19 January 1942. For the first few months of occupation, the Keiths were allowed to stay in their own home. On 12 May Agnes and George were imprisoned on Pulau Berhala near Sandakan, in a building that had once been the Government Quarantine Station, along with other Western women and children. Harry was imprisoned nearby. After eight months Agnes and George were sent to Kuching, Sarawak by a small steamer on 12 January 1943 and arrived on January 20 and imprisoned in Batu Lintang, Kuching. Harry later arrived at the camp and the camp was finally liberated on 11 September 1945 by the 9th Australian Army Division under the command of brigadier T.C. Eastick. All three members of the Keith family had survived their internment. In later years, Agnes and Harry had one other child a daughter, Jean Allison Keith, born on August 30, 1947, in Sandakan.
During the war times, although punishable by death if discovered, many inmates of the camp, both civilian and POW, kept diaries and notes about their imprisonment and thus all the information was used in her books and some pictures or old notes can now be found in this historical site. I found it rather interesting that they showed all kinds of equipments and furnitures used by the Keith's family in their house such as the fridge that mentioned they are the ones who introduced the first ice cream to the natives in Sabah, the doll that she made for her child during war to keep and hide all of her notes about their imprisonment which later was turned into famous books of hers, the settings of her house displays was kept like how it was before.

After the war the Keiths returned to Sandakan to find the house destroyed thus they built a new house in 1946-47 on the original footprint and in a similar style to the original. They named this house Newlands and lived there until they left Sabah in 1952. After nearly 50 years of gradual deterioration, first under tenants and then as an empty shell, the house was restored by Sabah Museum in collaboration with the Federal Department of Museums and Antiquities in 2001. The house is a rare survival of post-war colonial wooden architecture that was opened to the public in 2004 and is a popular tourist attraction. It contains displays on Agnes and Harry Keith as well as information about colonial life in Sandakan in the first half of the twentieth century, and is commonly referred to as the Agnes Keith House.

In this house you're also expected to see many old interesting historical images and there was also a theater room inside the house. One very interesting thing can be found in the bedroom of this house would be a book about Agnes's claiming she had seen something ( a presence of a local native woman ) around the house and one of the image shows that it was in the room when she was just awake and another one was at the staircase of her house. Too bad we're not allow to take any pictures when touring inside the house so be sure to have a lookout when you're actually there.

Apart from that, the Keith's was said to have planted a lot of Orchids back in those days around their house gardens and there were varieties of them. Nowadays, what's left are just those few that are still available in front of their house. 

 Outside the house

This place is definately worth a visit if you're interested and would like to understand more about the whole story of the Keiths family. English Tea House Restaurant is located just right beside the Agnes Keith House.

Source: Wikipedia

Agnes Keith House
Jalan Istana,
90000 Sandakan, Sabah.

Operation hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily

Admission fees:
  • MyKad holders: RM 2
  • MyKad holder above 55 years (Senior Citizens) : FREE
  • Children below 12 years: FREE
  • Others: RM 15

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Blogger FiSh. ohFISHiee said on February 27, 2012 at 9:45:00 PM GMT+8  

the pictures look nostalgic there :) must be a good place for photography

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