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.