|If you should
ever stroll along the stretch of Jalan Istana in Sandakan, the
much-talked about Agnes Keith House is hard to miss. With its sprawling
green lawns and colonial-style wooden walls, the residence has since
been restored by the Sabah Museum, in collaboration with the Federal
Department of Museums and Antiquities.
This British colonial government quarters, called Newlands, was once occupied by famous American writer, Agnes Newton Keith, who penned Land Below The Wind in 1939. Two books followed her first success, namely Three Came Home (1946) and White Man Returns (1951). With the exception of the second book, Land Below the Wind and White Man Returns were written in the house on the hill where she had the best views of Sandakan Bay at the front and the Sulu Sea at the back.
Newlands was rebuilt some time in 1946/47 and was the first government permanent timber dwelling to be built after the Second World War. It was built upon the ruined foundations of the original house that was destroyed during the war.
The house became home to Agnes and her family, Henry (also referred to as Harry) George Keith, who was the Conservator of Forests and their son, George. When the Keiths left Sabah in 1952, the house was occupied by subsequent Conservators of Forests, forestry officers, volunteers and other staff. Though the Keiths never retuned to Sabah, the house was always referred to as Agnes Keith's House by visitors who never stopped coming to see it.
Today the house has been restored and turned into a heritage house, providing interesting insights to life during British North Borneo. It is furnished with a reproduction of colonial furniture and antiques. A gallery on the first floor tells the story of this remarkable woman, her books and her family. A Keith time-line starts in 1873 and ends in 2004 tracing the past to the present Keiths.
"The new house is beautiful. Round trippers on world boats would come up to see it, carrying their cameras and calling, Why look!" (Agnes Keith, White Man Returns, 1951, p.87)