Perched on a hill overlooking the city of Sandakan is the beautifully restored former home of American author Agnes Keith. She wrote three autobiographical accounts of life in Sabah (North Borneo) pre, during and post World War II.
One tells of her time as a prisoner of war and was made into the film Three Came Home. Her husband, Henry (Harry) Keith, was the appointed Conservator of Forests and later promoted to Director of Agriculture for the government of North Borneo, and is credited with starting the process of large-scale conservation in Sabah. Rafflesia keithii, a species of the giant flower, is named in his honour.
Their original home on the site was destroyed during the war. Post-war the couple rebuilt in the original style and called the house “Newlands”. The two-storey villa is a fine example of colonial wooden architecture and has been turned into a museum filled with artefacts from the couple’s life. Literary fans will love the evocative passages from Agnes Keith’s books matched to the rooms in the mansion: “Like a ship beached by a high tide, our bed stands in the middle of our bedroom floor. All the other pieces of furniture have washed away from it to the outer edges of the room, where they will not intercept any breeze. We made our bed and we certainly like to lie in it. Six-foot-six both ways it is, made of Borneo heavy timber.” — From Land Below the Wind
Copies of Keith’s books can be bought in the gift shop. Photography is not permitted inside the house. Agnes Keith House is a 15-minute walk from the city centre up the One Hundred Steps, and can be visited on the self-guided Sandakan Heritage Trail. Fans of history and architecture will find the museum interesting. To complete your colonial experience, stop by for tea and scones and a game of croquet at the charming English Tea House next door.
How to get there
A taxi from town is 10 ringgit.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 24th October, 2016.