Agnes Keith House Sandakan Borneo

Agnes Keith House Sandakan Sabah
Agnes Keith House in Sandakan is one of the popular places worth a visit as it is located in town area. This famous landmark house called Newlands was a former British colonial quarters and was once lived in by Agnes Newton Keith, a well known American writer who penned the famous 'Land Below The Wind' in 1939. In her stay here from 1934 to 1952, Agnes Keith wrote two out of her seven books at this house in Sandakan, Borneo which is one of Sabah's popular tourist spot.

Agnes Keith House Sabah
Main entrance to the house 
The Agnes Keith House and Museum is currently being operated by Sabah Museums (Muzium Sabah) and has been fully restored to the original exact design with insights to life during the British North Borneo before, during and after the Second World War.

Agnes Keith House and Museum in Sandakan
Agnes Keith Home in Sandakan 
The double storey colonial wooden bungalow sits high up on the hilltop with amazing views of the Sandakan Bay on one side while the Sulu Sea is on the other side and with lush manicured gardens surrounding the house called Newlands by Agnes and Harry Keith. Nowadays, the view is blocked by the thick growth which accumulated over the years.

The old style wooden doors that doubled as windows
Living room of Agnes Keith House
The main living room 
Originally, the house was lived in by Agnes Keith and her family until 1942. After the war and when the Keiths returned, they found the house burnt down and they rebuilt the house from scratch with the same specifications as the old one. The then called the house Newlands until they left Sabah in 1952. The house was then restored back after 50 years by Sabah Museum and was officially opened to the public in 2004 as an important heritage house in Sandakan.

Just before you enter the house, you are asked to remove your shoes and upon entering, you will be amazed at the interior of the house. I felt that I had been transported back in time when I stepped in. Furniture and fittings were from the 40s and 50s while almost every part of the house was made from wood.

An old record player

Exploring the ground floor of the house, there were various memorabilia's from back in the day. From pots, photographs and this classic record player. If you bring children, remember to inform them that you cannot touch anything there.

Dining hall of Agnes Keith House
The main dining hall in the house on the ground floor

The dining hall of the house was extremely spacious while an old refrigerator sits in a corner, the kind you see in collectors stores too. A table setting for eight persons was laid out on the wooden table while old pictures of Agnes Keith and her family lined the walls. Checked curtains covered all windows and an old grandfather clock sat in between two antler trophies mounted on the wall. 

Portraits of Agnes, Harry and George Keith
Portraits of Agnes, Harry and George

As I made my way up to the first floor of Newlands, various portraits of Agnes Keith and her family are seen along the wooden staircase which is hard to avoid. For your added information, Agnes married Henry G. Keith (Harry) in 1934 and had two children, Jane Allison Keith and George Keith.

main study room of Agnes Keith
The main study room 

On the first floor lies the main study room with a fairly decent wooden desk sitting near the window. Wooden racks surround the study with a collection of pots, jars and other local souvenirs collected by the Keiths. More pictures of them are also seen on the walls here while an old telephone stands out on the main study table. 

Bedroom of Agnes Keith House
Master bedroom of Agnes and Harry Keith

Left of the staircase lies the master bedroom where Agnes and her husband Harry slept. This must have been the largest master bedroom I have ever seen. The sturdy wooden bed sits just off center in the room accompanied with two bedside tables and lamps while a average sized cupboard is on the left wall of the room. Curtains protect the sunlight at all windows of this beautiful room which is very minimalist in style and design. The wooden chairs remind me of the 60's retro designs while the lampshades clearly indicate the same era with the tasseled shades. 

Agnes's old wooden dresser 

Towards the corner of the room, you see an old wooden dressing table with a large oval mirror carefully placed to catch the light of the windows. This was indeed Agnes Keith's dresser which has been well preserved since then. Note you are not allowed to touch anything here. 

The bathroom, very simple

The attached bathroom was very simple with a very high ceiling. Shielded from the nearby rainforest only with two sets of windows. There was nothing really fancy about the bathroom except that it was basic with a bath tub and mosaic tiled floor. The toilet was from the early days with an old ceramic green colour. 

Agnes Keith Three Came Home
Three Came Home and original toys on display

On the other section of the top floor lies the information center where everything you need to know about Agnes Keith, Harry or even her children is available. In a glass casing lies a book titled 'Three Came Home' where Agnes Keith wrote this while in a prison camp and the book detailed the hardships and deprivations which the internees and POW's had undergone under the Japanese, and became a bestseller. In 1950, it was turned into movie, with Claudette Colbert playing the role of Agnes.

Books by Agnes Keith
Agnes Keith's books on display
In another glass casing, you see some of the books that Agnes Keith wrote while in Sandakan. In total, Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton Keith wrote seven books and they are:
  • Land Below the Wind - Little Brown and Company (1939, November)
  • Three Came Home - Little Brown and Company (1947, April)
  • White Man Returns - Little Brown and Company (1951)
  • Bare Feet in the Palace - Little Brown and Company (1955)
  • Children of Allah, between the Sea and the Sahara - Little Brown and Company (1966)
  • Beloved Exiles - Little Brown and Company (1972)
  • Before the Blossoms Fall: Life and Death in Japan - Atlantic Monthly-Little, Brown and Company (1975)
  • Agnes Newton Keith also had articles published in The Atlantic Monthly.
  • Agnes Newton Keith died at age 80 in Oak Bay, British Columbia. 
  • Harry died the same year.

Agnes Keith House Servants Quarters
Old colonial house servants quarters
Extension of the old style wooden houses at the back 

My conclusion to this visit: It is very interesting to learn and know about who Agnes Keith was and the house has all the answers. Who she was, why she came here and what happened. A visit here would take you about one to two hours maximum and after your visit here, you can head over to the English Tea House and Restaurant in Sandakan for some tea and scones which is just around the corner.

How to get to Agnes Keith House and Museum: 

This is part of the Sandakan Heritage Trail and you can walk from Sandakan main town as it is a 20 minute walk there. Taxis are available at a minimal cost.

What to bring: Bring a poncho or umbrella in case it rains as the walkways are not covered when walking to the house.

Note: No photography or video is allowed inside the house but you can take pictures from outside the house. The only other way is via written permission.

Tickets/Entrance Fees for Agnes Keith House and Museum:
  • Adults: RM15 (US$5)
  • Children (Below 12 yrs) FREE
  • MyKad Holders: RM2.00
  • MyKad Holders above 55 years
Opening Hours for Agnes Keith House and Museum:
  • 7 days a week 9am to 5pm
Jalan Istana,

Telephone: 60 88 225033 / 253199 / 60 89 222679
Fax: 60 88 240230

For more information, you can visit the Sabah Tourism website for Agnes Keith House and Museum and for detailed information, check Agnes Keith on Wikipedia

* Remember to practice Responsible Tourism wherever you are.

Map to Agnes Keith House in Sandakan Sabah

There are many places to visit around here but most of them are pretty much Eco-friendly and Nature related so if you are planning to visit this part of Borneo, make sure you check out my other posting called 10 Things to do in Sandakan, Sabah. I wish to thank Sabah Tourism for making this visit possible and also to my personal guide Old Man Ben who filled me in with much facts during my visit to Agnes Keith House in Sandakan.
Agnes Keith House Sandakan Borneo Agnes Keith House Sandakan Borneo Reviewed by David Jr on Saturday, January 09, 2010 Rating: 5


Borneo Falcon said...

I saw this house in a documentary in TV before. Nice to know it can be reached by just walking from the town

superwilson said...

Amazing stuff, will plan a trip to Sabah this year, if possible. After my Argentina trip and our Bali trip. :)

shloke said...

Hi David!

This is a nice detailed write-up! I LOVE your factual research in this article. The house looks squeaky clean and 'grand'. I believe this house has traditional settings with basic amenities. The polished flooring caught my attention - it created a false modern day interior :)

I guess the bathroom reflects the original setting of this house - especially the mosaic tiles and bathtub.

Anyway, kudo to Sabah Tourism for a job well done in keeping this heritage building ALIVE. But, I think the entrance fee (RM15) is way too expensive. No photography? Sorry...


Yan said...

Hi, David,

Very nicely written articles here! Incidentally, I have also written about Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, Sepilok Wildlife! You might like my Korean story just posted!

Mei Teng said...

I visited this place last year when I was in Sandakan. You took photos of the place? I wasn't allowed to take photos of the interior of the house.

David Jr said...

Borneo Falcon, wow, I didn't know Agnes Keith was featured on TV. Glad to know that the Sandakan Heritage is being promoted. Was it a local program?

Wilson, Sabah is simply Awesome! So much to see and do there and yes, Bali this year. I'm so looking forward to it.

Mylo, thank you. Yes the floor was immaculately taken care of now that you reminded me. Super polished and shiny too. I guess taking off your shoes does have an effect. Anyway, the RM15 is for non-Malaysians. And strangely they do not allow photography inside.

Yan, thank you very much and I also read about your RDC-Sepilok postings. Very nice.

Mei, Yes I sure did but I had the approval of the person in charge there. I had to wait 20 minutes for him to come and see what I wanted to do and after meeting him, he allowed me with the supervision of one of the staff there.

the petersons said...

Hey David,
Thanks for joining us on bloggers in Asia. Love your blog and I love Asia. Let's follow each other! My blog is about my family in China.

Luray va accommodations said...

It is really impressive museum and Sabah place are also very nice. Heard the seafood is nice as well. I like the ambient of the place in the photos you posted. I love the nature. I am sure I will visit Sandakan now. Not many places can pull off an English Tea House. Thanks for the great info!

Best Regards,

David Jr said...

Petersons, thank you so much and I will do so.

Luray, to my surprise, I was in fact amazed on how well they preserved the house. Very well done too. Yes, when you do visit, let me know so I can see pictures.


eunice said...

Hi David!

This historic house is still so well maintained!

So you always go Sabah?

Hey quickly post ur Singapore photos! lol

shloke said...

Ooops...missed that part about MyKad holder. RM2 for Malaysians. OK.. that's cheap and affordable :)


Carmen said...

wow, nice place...

eventhough i have been to Sabah but i only went to Kota Kinabalu..

guess i shall make a second visit to Sandakan now..

thanks for the info david.. aprreciate it much...

Ben said...

David, Happy New Year to you & family! Gonna read your posts on the Sandakan trip is backward order as I've been cutting offline for sometime. Good write-up on Agnes Keith House!!!

David Jr said...

Eunice, they were very well maintained from my observation and yes, I do travel often to Sabah when time permits. Anyway, I will be going again next week :)

Mylo, RM2 is a steal if you ask me.

Carmen, thank you. Yes, next trip, try Sabah East Coast as there is much to see and do there. Watch for my following articles on Sandakan too.

Ben, wow - You've been away for a long long time. Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words.


Ps. I was away in Koh Lipe, Thialand since last week hence the absence here.

JIPP said...

Oh wow. You are lucky you were allowed to take photos inside Agnes Keith's house. I've never been there even though I've been residing in Sdkn for 3 years now. I even have The Land Below The Wind book with me but I'm still struggling to finish it. :-)

David Jr said...

Jipp - Wow, time you went and paid a visit. There's much to read up and learn about them.


Anonymous said...

I am not a reader at all! but I found 3CameHome at a thrift store and read it in 3 days! i've ordered WhiteManreturns. I'm also sharing her story with everyone and passing the book around! Thankyou for this page so I could see her beautiful son and husband! Wow,I needed those faces! And also to see how they lived before captivity. Thankyou! -Dawn R

David Jr said...

Hello Dawn, thank you so much and I am very happy that you found my article and pictures useful. I hope you will continue to share it with your friends. Also, I hope you make it to Sabah one day to visit the actual home of Agnes Keith.


Mike Hartnell said...

Great blog, and fantastic photos. One thing though - Jean Allison isn't Agnes's daughter. She was born to Harry and a local lady in Sandakan before Agnes had even married Harry or come out to North Borneo/Sabah. Agnes treated Jean as a daughter but there is no blood relationship. That's why Agnes doesn't mention Jean once in Three Came Home.

David Jr said...

Hello Mike, thank you for your comment and wow, there's something I did not know about and a huge thanks for highlighting this here. I am sure many people do not know about this fact.


Mike Hartnell said...

Yep if you do the math on her birth date it doesn't work. Either 1928 or 1930 are too early as Agnes re-met her childhood friend Harry in 1934 when he was on leave in the US and married him there shortly after. She then came out to North Borneo/Sabah for the first time. Jean says she was born in Sandakan so she's not a daughter of Agnes by another man.

Professor Danny Wong Tze Ken says in his book Historical Sabah Community and Society "Even the husband of the celebrated author Agnes Keith is known to have had a local girl before he married Agnes.....Most, if not all, of these relationships (between bachelor European men and local women) ended the moment the officer returned from leave with a European wife, as in the cases of Keith and Dunlop" Also Jean looks nothing like Agnes. But kudos to Agnes for treating her as her own kid.

CL said...

There are so few real photos of Agnes and her children. Can you post any? Also, what happened to George after the war? Is he still alive?

David Jr said...

Hi CL, from what I saw in Dec 2014 after I revisited the home, there are actually more photos of her and her family in the house on display. However, there is a no photography inside the house. So I believe, the archives in there hold quite a lot.

As for Grorge, there seems to be no record of him after his return here in 1950 with his mother. I did some digging, but nothing came up on the internet too.

Richard said...

I went to school in Victoria B.C. with George in 1950-51. I believe he was a boarder at the school. Anyway I remember him well and he told stories about his time as a prisoner. One thing I noted was that he had Asian features and I always wondered why. I met his parents and did not see any in them. Unconfirmed information that I received years ago was that George had joined the U.S. Marines and may have seen two tours of Viet Nam. This is totally unconfirmed heresay but I would like to know if this is facet and if he is still alive.

Richard said...

Since my last post I have received reliable information regarding George Keith. George joined the U.S. Marines in 1965 and was also married that year in San Francisco. In 1993 he was living in Petaluma CA and sadly died there on December 26th, 2001.

Anonymous said...

Kathy said... Richard's comments are fascinating. Have you read Agnes Keith's 1972 book "Beloved Exiles"? It is described as "semi-autobiographical" and tells about Sarah, an American woman married to a British gov't officer in Sandakan in the 1930's (the only American among all the British there). Her husband has a little son born of a Japanese-Chinese mistress before Sarah ever arrived there, then goes on to describe their relationships, their internment by the Japanese and her fascinating relationship with the Japanese commandant (who in the book becomes her lover, and for whom she grieves when he commits suicide at the end of the war). Are there any photos of Colonel Suga (the commandant), whom Ms. Keith credited with saving her husband's life in March 1944?
She would have been over 40 and the colonel nearly 60 when this was going on, but in Beloved Exiles she is 30 and he is probably around 40-45 as he has young children, whereas in real life his children were grown.
From your information in this blog, it seems that Beloved Exiles was spot-on with the facts, albeit discreet in changing names and minor details.
I look forward very much to seeing your take on all this.
Did George ever talk about the Colonel at school?

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