From a house that has seen it all, this American author wrote about the ghost that lived with them. 

“I don’t believe in ghosts. But every day, I see a tall gaunt woman telling her husband goodbye, taking her baby, and walking down the path alone, standing at the bottom of the path and looking back,”

White Man Returns, Agnes Keith

This is a quote from American author and journalist Agnes Keith’s novel, “White Man Returns” from 1951, a novel she wrote about returning to her beloved house after being imprisoned by Japanese during the war. 

Among the detailing of her everyday life in Malaysia and in that house, snippets of a darker corner of the house take shape. And often, the ghost that resides in the Newlands House is what remains to this day. Especially when the museum itself wants to focus on the dark tourism aspect of it all. 

The Land Below The Wind

Agnes Keith was living with her husband and her son in Sandakan in what we now know as Malaysia. She came to this place in 1934 and found a new place to call home. Being under the British Crown at the time, they lived in the colonial-styled architectured house with their servant. She was writing books like “Land Below The Wind” in 1939 about their life in the then called British North Borneo, which is was then called, with her husband working as a Conservator of Forest. 

The house: Newlands, the home of Agnes Newton Keith in Sandakan, Borneo from 2007.
Photo: Warren Apel

She loved their house and their home and was said to be very well liked by those around them. The house on the hill had a grand view of Sandakan Bay in the front and the Sulu sea from the back. But then the war came and it would be a long time until she would live in the house again. 

The Scar of the War

Like many Europeans on the island Agnes Keith and her family were put in internment camps when the Japanese invaded Borneo. The whole family survived though, and it is said that one of the Japanese camp commandants had read Agnes’s work and made sure to treat the family well. They stayed in the camp until the end of the war in 1945, but she was never the same again. 

“The story of war is always the story of hate; it makes no difference with whom one fights. The hate destroys you.”

Three Came Home, Agnes Keith

When they returned to Sandakan in 1947, they found their beloved house destroyed. They decided to rebuild nearby, and named the house for Newlands, although it is more known as Agnes Keith House today. But the haunting memories from the war seemed to also manifest in the house as well. Through her writing, she notes about the paranormal activity going on around her. 

They left North Borneo for good in 1952 when she moved to Canada and the house passed to someone else. But the legends about the hauntings didn’t stop with the highly imaginative writer.

The Woman by the bed

G.L Carlson took over the husband’s position as a forest conservator after the Keiths left for Canada. His wife, Rosemary also told stories about apparitions in the bedroom when her husband was away. She woke at dawn and heard the door to the room open and close several times. When she opened her eyes, there was someone there, staring at her. 

“There was a figure standing, leaning over, and looking down at me. The figure appeared to be a female with a white bandage around her head. She was pale faced. She was dressed in what looked like a white, short-sleeved T-shirt or blouse with a wide-shoulder-strapped, dark-coloured pinafore dress. (…) She was quite a short person of normal build, and I could not see the lower part of her body. At this stage, I must have passed out. When I came to, it was already dawn and I was alone.”  

– Rosemary Carlson

The Ghost Resident

Maids, visitors and security guards can tell the same story about a woman shoving up in the stairs or in the corner of the rooms in the house. Places where she doesn’t belong. Or perhaps she belongs there more than anyone else at this point? 

By now the Agnes Keith house has fallen into the hands of the Sabah Museum Department and restored to become a public museum, to keep the house intact as well as the lingering residents that may still be there. 



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