This is about a place I visited, the Agnes Keith House. I think one should read this before paying visit to this place to have a better understanding of who Agnes is and the storyline. Below are my summaries that I had compiled.
The author: Agnes Keith.
Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton Keith ( 4 July 1901 – 30 March 1982) was an American author who wrote about her life experiences. During her stay in North Borneo (now Sabah), she wrote three books The Land Below Wind, Three Came Home and White Man Returns. The first and third book was written in her house better known as the Newlands (now Agnes Keith House). The second book was written during her imprisonment as prisoner of wars (POW) under Japanese occupation in several locations. The Three Came Home book threw her into fame and it was later made into a film in 1950.
The husband: Henry George Keith.
Agnes married to Henry George Keith (known as Harry) in 1943. Harry, an Englishmen had been a friend of Agnes brother, Al. Agnes first met her husband when she was eight years old in California. Since then, they had not meet each other for about 10 years after Harry gone to work for the Government of North Borneo. Harry was the Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture under the Chartered Company and was also Honorary Curator of the Sandakan (State) Museum. He had been working in Borneo since 1925 and was based in Sandakan.
While Harry was on leave in 1934, he re-met Agnes and married her just 3 days later. Both of them went back to Borneo three months after their marriage.
The post war house: Newlands
Upon arrival in Sandakan (1934), Agnes moved into Harry’s bachelor bungalow before being relocated to a government building on a hilltop of which they lived there until they were interned (1942).
After the war, the Keiths returned to Sandakan and rebuilt their house (1946-1947) on the original footprint and similar style to the original. The house was named the Newlands of which the Keiths lived there until they left Sabah (1952). The house had been occupied by many tenants since then mostly by government officers.
After nearly fifty years of gradual deterioration, the Sabah Museum in collaboration with the Federal Department of Museums and Antiquities decided to restore the house (2001). The house (now more to a museum) was opened to the public in 2004 as a popular tourist attraction.
The Agnes Keith House
When war was declared (3 September 1939), the Keiths were on leave in Canada. Harry was immediately ordered back to Borneo. Agnes's first child, Henry George Newton Keith (known as George) was born in Sandakan on 5 April 1940.
The Japanese landed in Sandakan on 19 January 1942. During the first few months of occupation, the Keiths were allowed to stay in their own home. However, on 12 May 1942, Agnes and George were imprisoned on Berhala Island (Pulau Berhala) near Sandakan whereas Harry was imprisoned nearby. Agnes and George spent eight months there before they were deported on 12 January 1943 and arrived to Batu Lintang, Kuching in Sarawak on 20 January 1943. Harry later arrived at the same camp.
The camp was liberated on 11 September 1945 by the 9th Australian Army Division under the command of Brigadier T. C. Eastick. All three members of the Keiths had survived their internment.
After the liberation and a short period in Labuan Island for rest and recuperation, the Keiths returned to Victoria, British Columbia, where Harry had a small country house since his bachelor days.
In February 1946, Harry was asked to return to Borneo by the new Colonial Administration which had taken over from the Chartered Company. He was to be in charge of food production. He left to Borneo while Agnes and George remained in Victoria. During the period, Agnes worked for her second book, Three Came Home which later was made into a film.
Agnes and George finally returned to Sandakan in 1947, a full year after Harry. In 1951, Agnes’s third book titled White Man Returns was published describing the time the family were reunited till December 1950.
It was unclear when Agnes's and Harry's daughter, Jean Allison Keith was born. In White Man Returns, Agnes had dedicated the book ‘To my children George and Jean’.
Departure from Sabah.
The Keiths family had left Sabah in 1952 and had never returned. They had been to various countries and all these were noted in Agnes following four series of books completing the altogether 7 books.
The presence Agnes Keith House.
It has now turned to become a museum portraying pictures, documents and portraits of the Keiths family. One can see the full setting of the house such as living room, dining hall, bedroom, stairs and etc. It is air conditioned house aka museum.
The mysterious ‘haunted’ house.
Written in Agnes’s book as well as the information board inside the ‘museum’, she claimed she had seen something amiss outside the compound of her hilltop house. If you happen to visit her house, don’t forget to search for an information board regarding these stories. I am not sure whether it is related or not, one is not allowed to take any photograph inside the house.
The Land Below the Wind.
The Sabah state motto was said to be originated from her first book title.
The 7 published books by Agnes Newton Keith:
- Land Below the Wind (1939, November)
- Three Came Home (1947, April)
- White Man Returns (1951)
- Bare Feet in the Palace (1955)
- Children of Allah, between the Sea and the Sahara (1966)
- Beloved Exiles (1972)
- Before the Blossoms Fall: Life and Death in Japan (1975)
It is worth visiting this place and understand the whole story of the Keiths family. There is one English Tea House @ Restaurant with beautiful settings just beside the Agnes Keith House.
Agnes Keith House
90000 Sandakan, Sabah.
Operation hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily
- MyKad holders: RM 2
- MyKad holder above 55 years: FREE
- Children below 12 years: FREE
- Students with student's card:
- Others: RM 15