Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

I never know about Agnes Keith (her real name: Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton) until I was brought to her house in Sandakan. Agnes Keith was an American author best known for her book entitled Three Came Home which tells of her time in Japanese Prisoner-of-war camp and civilian internee camps in North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak before, during and after Second World War. (source:

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

Agnes Keith House is part of Sandakan Heritage Trail. You should not miss this place if you visit Sandakan town. It opens everyday  from 9am to 5pm.

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

There is no barrier or gate at the entrance but a hut. I'm not sure what is the use of the hut or if it built at that time.

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

The 2 storey house was named as Newlands by the Keiths when they rebuilt it in 1946-1947 which destroyed after the war. After nearly 50 years of gradual deterioration, first under tenants and then as an empty shell, the house was restored by Sabah Museum in collaboration with the Federal Department of Museums and Antiquities in 2001. The house is a rare survival of post-war colonial wooden architecture. (source:

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House 
The floor and most of the furniture were made with woods. I guess the Keiths like wooden furniture when they lived here.

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House 
I did some search on Agnes Keith and found she was an interesting person lived in those time. I definitely would not miss out her famous book written "Three Came Home" if I found it in book store.

Three Came Home title page lo

Three Came Home was published in April 1947. The frontispiece and title page were designed by Agnes. It was on the New York Times non-fiction bestsellers list for 15 weeks, six straight weeks at no. 4. (source:

Look clearly, there was not any illustration of Jean inside. What being untold might be true. Jean is only a step daughter of Agnes. She might be born by AhMa (Yin) who worked as nursemaid for Keith family as described .(source:

Excerption from the book:

A young Englishman who had been a friend of my brother’s and mine since childhood came home on leave from British North Borneo, where he was engaged in Government Service …
We had not seen each other for ten years … we made up our minds to be married …
Three Came Home, p. 8.
She described how she met Harry and get married.

This story I wrote in the smallest possible handwriting, on the backs of labels, on old Chinese papers that our tobacco came in, on the margins of old newspapers … and when I could get it, on Colonel Suga’s paper. I stuffed George’s toys with these notes, I sewed a layer of them in his sleeping mat, I stuffed his pillows, and I put them in tins which I buried under the barracks.
The Japanese searched my things frequently, turning inside out my suitcases, reading my papers upside down … In time I lost everything with writing on it: documents, passport, wedding lines, bank receipts — everything except my notes.
Three Came Home, p. xv.
The hard time she had during Japanese occupation in Borneo was also mentioned in the book.

In 2010, Jean Alison Knapper (daughter of Agnes Keith, 90 years old now born on August 30, 1927 in Sandakan) was seen to grace the anniversary event of Agnes Keith House. (source:

This is what recorded when the last time Keith family moved from the house:

In January 1952 Agnes and Harry left Sandakan, where they had lived for more than twenty years in all — Harry 1924-34 and the two 1934-41 and 1946-51. Harry retired from colonial service and took a job with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in Manila, Philippines.* A similar posting took them to Tripoli, Libya, where they lived for ten years (1955-65). (source:

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

The bedroom of the Keiths is just so simple. Contrary to Chinese style which always put the bed on the wall, the Keiths put it in the middle of the room.

Sandakan Heritage Trail: Agnes Keith House

Agnes Keith House is opened to public for visit since 2004. There is a gallery on first floor tells the story of this remarkable woman, her books and family. A Keith time-line starts in 1873 and ends in 2004 tracing the past to the present Keith generation. I highly recommend all my readers to pay a visit if you would like to know more about this brilliant woman in the past :) Till here my brief sharing, will update more about Sandakan again next post. Have a wonderful day!

Admission Fees
Malaysian Guests - RM2.00
Non-Malaysian Guests RM15.00

Malaysians only:
Students in uniform - Free
Disabled Guests - Free
Senior Guests - Free
Taxi Drivers - Free

Agnes Keith House
Jalan Istana
90709 Sandakan


  1. Lovely English-like house in middle of the jungle. I would love to visit the house if I am in Sandakan. I also not so sure of the hut's purpose but from the English drama/movie, the hut is like a welcoming entrance (gate) and usually built over a river.

  2. It looks like my home back in the kampung. What a lovely place to visit, Emily. I love the history attached to it.

  3. This place is gorgeous. Kisses Emily :)


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