Planters’ Graves at Kuantan Christian Cemetery


Kuantan Christian Cemetery is located next to Taman Gelora, a beach park close to the centre of Kuantan, the state capital of Pahang state.

Most of the graves here are of local Indian and Chinese Christians, together with a few westerners, including ten Federated Malay States policemen who were killed during the Malayan Emergency.

Two lonely tombstones in neighbouring plots which caught my attention belonged to planters, A.A.S. (Bill) Dobbie, who died in 1964 and Philip Noel Sansom who died in 1960.

Grave of AAS Bill Dobbie, Kuantan Christian Cemetery

Grave of Philip Noel Sansom, Kuantan Christian Cemetery

Who were these men whose only epitaphs were their occupations, without any of the ‘He will be dearly missed’ type inscriptions? I thought it would be interesting to see if I could out any information on them.

I drew a blank on the internet. They lived before the age of computers so there is no reason why their names should come up on a Google search unless they were famous for something.

Then I remembered reading a book a while back called Elephants, Tigers & Tappers in which the author, Michael Thorp, wrote about his life as a planter in the 1950’s and I recalled he was stationed somewhere near Kuantan and therefore probably knew Dobbie and Sansom. I wondered whether he mentioned them in his book.

Sure enough, he did. Here is the passage about his first encounter with them in 1957:

The Cotterills took me to the Kuantan Club where I was introduced to Bill Dobbie, a huge man with the puffy face of a boxer. He was the Manager of Jabor Valley Estate. Sitting with Bill Dobbie in the club was P.N. Sansom, an elderly retired planter who was thin and frail-looking, a man with a cough and a tin of Senior Service cigarettes always in his hand. As I discovered later, PN always wore a fresh pair of beautifully ironed khaki-coloured shorts. Because of the thinness of his legs, the shorts ballooned out at his knees. If you sat opposite him in the club, it soon became apparent that because of the heat he had dispensed with underwear. The phenomenon was what Bill Dobbie fondly referred to as an equipment review. All the men who frequented the club knew of this unintentional display and, out of respect and love for PN, they would always suggest that ladies did not occupy a seat opposite him.

That adds quite a bit of colour to our knowledge of Sansom! I guess he might have spent the War in a Japanese detention camp or been fighting somewhere overseas. By the time the War ended he would have been past the normal retirement age of 55. He presumably decided to stay on in Malaya after retirement and he managed to survive until age 72 despite being a heavy smoker with a bad chest.

Elsewhere in the book we are told that Bill Dobbie had been made a Datuk (a title similar to a knighthood) by the Sultans of both Pahang and Terengganu. He was also a JP and President of the Kuantan Club.  The Jabor Valley Estate which he managed is still going today but it has switched from rubber to palm oil. He was clearly a man of some standing locally. The book has a photo of his retirement party. It is undated but it could not have been long before his death as he was only 56 when he died.

There must be ten of thousands of ordinary colonials like Dobbie and Samson lying in graveyards across Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia. Their exploits are now largely forgotten but books like Elephants, Tigers & Tappers (and blogs like this one) help keep their memories alive far more effectively than a decaying tombstone. The book is not an enthralling read because on the whole planters led humdrum lives which revolved around their work and leisure pursuits but, against the backdrop of the exotic Orient, there was always some excitement to liven things up.

19 thoughts on “Planters’ Graves at Kuantan Christian Cemetery”

  1. Thankyou for this Blog. It is really fascinating.
    As a result of this one, I ordered the book…”Elephants, Tigers and Tappers”. Because I’ve been searching for more details of my father’s life in Kuantan, this is the 2nd time you have provided me with information. The book referred to my father John Rutty, on p.78, and describes his awful death. What is most interesting is that my sister and I were not aware that his grave was in Kuantan. I intend at some stage soon to come and find it.
    The only mistake the author made was that he was aNew Zealander….he was in fact, Australian.
    You may be interested in another book I found recently…published last year….called “The Last Post – Story of the Emergency &Commemorative events (1948-1960) published last year and written by Dato R. Thambipillay , a retired Superintendent of Police. It is a description of his time then in Malaya and a record of all the deaths and their graves. His address is
    4A Lengkok Kandy
    Lim Garden,
    30100 Ipoh
    Perak, Malaysia.
    I wrote to this address to get a copy of the book.

    1. Hi Judy,
      Thank you for your interesting comments. I’m glad you find my blog informative. I’ve just re-read the passage in Elephants, Tigers and Tappers regarding your father’s tragic death. Very sad indeed. If for any reason you find you are unable to visit Malaysia to see your father’s grave I would be willing to visit Tanjung Api cemetery again at some stage and send you a photo of the headstone, if I can find it.
      Thanks too for the recommendation for Dato Thambipillay’s book. I have heard of him before when I was writing about God’s Little Acre in Batu Gajah but I have not yet read his book. I shall try to get hold of a copy.

      1. Thankyou David for following up on this and answering my email/comment.
        There are several family members with whom I share this information and it has been a most welcome, if very sad, addition to the scant information we have about John Rutty.
        I do hope I can get to Kuantan sometime soon and see the grave and perhaps neaten it up if possible. Michael Thorp wrote me a very interesting note about how to get there etc.
        Thankyou for offering to find and photograph the headstone. I would so very much appreciate that and I am very touched and grateful for your offer. If you have time to find it, I would be thrilled. I treasure the photo you took of the plaque with his name on it in Sungei Lembing a few months ago!
        Kind Regards and thankyou again

    2. My mother and grandparents were in Kuantan when the Japs invaded. Family name was Savage. I shall ask my mother if your fathers name rings a bell.

    1. Hi William. my father is buried there too. I hope to visit next year. I would like to know who the official contact person is for the cemetery in Kuantan and see if there is a map etc. Perhaps you know, who or how to find out. I am in Victoria, Australia. Thanks to Thrifty Traveller, I know that I need to find the grave in that cemetery and I would like repair or replace a headstone for my father.

  2. Good afternoon
    I read with interest your above responses. My grandfather is the Bill Dobbie buried in this cemetery. I only found it recently (2015) through my request to the Masonic Lodge in Pahang.
    I am facinated with his life and the great men who lay here. I am currently a teacher here in Malaysia and hope to visit his resting place again where I will restore his gravestone. I would love to hear from Judy and you….cheers Doreen Stewart

    1. Hi Doreen, very interesting to learn of your recent discovery of your grandfather’s grave. As mentioned in the blog, Bill Dobbie would have been very well known in these parts. Perhaps, like Judy, you could contact the author Michael Thorp to see if has more stories he could share with you. It sounds as though you have already visited Kuantan Cemetery and you know where the grave is located but I’ll send you my email address in case you need to contact me directly. Cheers

      1. hello i am the sister of Doreen Stewart , i am Fiona her younger sister … i absolutely happy we found our grandfather Bill Dobbie i would love to bring him home to Australia to be near our mother who is ill …. it has saddened me to know where my grandfather is laying. i know mum loves him very much there were times when
        she had spoke of him .. my mother is a strong woman to be bought to this country from her own country where
        she had no family. mum had to stay here . her husband had reurned to malaysia when he had decied to remarry and his younger son was three and my sister doreen second oldest was eleven ….there is quite a amazing story i would love to write , or tell the story of mums life when she was young hiding in tunnels getting rolled in carpet from the japanese .. to the distance of both her parents where to see that saddness in her ..
        if we could just bring our grandfather home to be near her to ber layed to rest.

    2. Hi Doreen,
      I am Sathy Vel Naidu , the Honorary Secretary of Kuantan Club. Mr Dobbie is considered as the longest served President of Kuantan Club. We recently had an extraordinary general meeting to name the clubs meeting room after him.
      We plan to unveil it by the end of this year. I would like to gather more information/pictures if any regarding this great man. Please contact me if you can share any info or plan to visit Kuantan. Herewith my details:-
      S.Sathy Vel Naidu
      Honorary Secretary
      Kuantan Club

      Mobile No: 6-0139800333

    3. I was the Police Officer in charge of the Jabor Valley Police Station. Your grandfather’s bungalow was a short distance from the station. I am surprised that your Grandfather died in Malaya. I thought he retired in mid-fifties. I remember taking him to Kuantan in an APC (armoured personnel carrier). There had been reports that an ambush was probable if he travelled by car.

  3. I was delighted to read your blog on Bill Dobbie. Just on a whim I made a search as I had been talking to my daughter of him. Little did I think that I would find such an excellent reference.
    I was an assistant sub-managing one of the two divisions of Jabor Valley Estate. This was 1957 to 1959.
    I have many memories of Kuantan Club and the Somerset Maughan characters who were always to be found there. Mention of Cotterell and Sansom bring memories flooding back.
    I arrived at Kuantan Airport , having made the five week sea journey to Klang. I was just 21 years of age. Bill Dobbie met me and took me straight the the club. What a start. We were there for over twelve hours straight!
    Bill was certainly a character larger than life.

    1. Hi Simon,

      I’m glad this blog brought back memories of your days as a young man in Kuantan.
      A twelve hour session at the Kuantan Club would have required some stamina!
      Those must have been interesting times.


    2. Hi Simon…my grandfather is Bill Dobbie. I was working in Malsysia as a teacher and knew my grandfather was a planter and passed away and was buried somewhere in Kuantan. He was a Mason and i contacted them. What a great suprise to find out so much info about him. I visited his grave..i left Malaysia with many wonderful memories of him. My father was a planter also…Michael Stewart…you may know him.

      1. Dear Doreen,
        I was both delighted and excited to receive your mail. To be reconnected to the world of Jabor Valley and Bill Dobbie is a real thrill.

        If you would like me to write, then please send me your address. Mine is :

  4. I am the proud grand daughter of Bill DOBBIE . My mother and Aunty were born in Burma where my grandfather had met my grandmother during the war.
    My mother was bought to Australia by her first husband who was a planter in Malaysia for many years.
    My mother had never seen her father when she left Burma and after 30 years of being here in Australia we finally had arranged her tiny five foot nothing mother with my aunty Adelaide to see my mother again .
    It was sad but beautiful.
    Grandfather had another family
    To whom we never had met .. he was loved by my mother .
    All we knew was he was Scottish and with the masonic Lodge . A big fellow.
    My mother is not well but has always wanted to know where her father (grand father) was buried . My mother has wished as she is not well to be returned to her home Burma which leaves me and my siblings as that is all we have left to give her her wished of going back home to her mother country.
    I remember when I met my quiet smiling Buddhist grand mother she said in her language to my mother she is like your father . ! My mother in her eyes I could see herself thinking .
    I was to thinking she was bought here to this country 30+ not even and her husband returned to Kuala Lumpur to marry another woman not returning to his wife. She was a beautiful mother that always had food and clean clothes for us 9 children and very routines and clean .
    I can only imagine how she did it on her own . . With a story of how her father was a lovely man and spoke of a story here and there .
    I’m 51 and my mother is now in her 80’s seeing the last of her days

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