David, Edward, Eduardo & Nelly


It’s strange how random facts and occurrences can sometimes link together in a string of weird coincidences.

Over Christmas my daughter was showing me a mobile app. called Twinning by Popsugar which compares your photo with famous celebrities and tells you which ones you most resemble. Apparently I bear a 35% similarity to David Niven. It’s obviously a rubbish app. since I don’t look anything like that suave and debonair British actor who died in 1983.

David Niven in Paper Tiger

David Niven starred in a 1975 film called Paper Tiger which was partially filmed in Malaysia.


While in Penang last month I stayed at the Royale Chulan Hotel at Weld Quay which occupies the beautifully refurbished former godown and Penang office of Boustead & Co, a trading, shipping and insurance business established by an Englishman, Edward Boustead, in 1828.

Edward Boustead (1800-1888)

Edward Boustead’s great-grandson was David Niven, though there’s not much family resemblance judging by this photo.

David Niven starred in at least two films about the Philippines, The Real Glory and The Extraordinary Seamen. While filming he would no doubt have learnt about the national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal. During his travels in Europe, Rizal had a relationship with a woman called Nelly Boustead.

Nelly Boustead, sweetheart of José Rizal

Nelly was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Filipino called Eduardo Boustead who was the son of the above mentioned Edward Boustead and his Filipina partner with whom he lived as a family when visiting his Manila office. Edward also had an English wife and children and when Edward died, Eduardo travelled to London to claim his considerable inheritance, much to the dismay of his English step-family who were unaware of his existence. Since Eduardo was unable to prove his legitimacy, most of the estate passed to the English family but Eduardo was still comfortably off and he moved to France.


So it would seem that Nelly Boustead was a distant relation of David Niven. Using Nelly’s face on the Popsugar app might it show a resemblance to David Niven? Apparently not. It says she is a 76% match to Prince Edward! Does the British royal family have Filipino ancestors we don’t know about?

Before you rush to try out Twinning by Popsugar there have been reports that they have been leaking users’ photos without permission, so be warned.

Kudat Town

Continuing on from my last post, the closest settlement of any size to the Tip of Borneo is Kudat, a town of modest charms.

Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town
Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town

Difficult to imagine, but this place was once the capital of North Borneo, indeed the first capital, established in 1881. K.G. Tregonning, in his book Under Chartered Company Rule writes of Kudat:

Great hopes were held of it … These high hopes did not eventuate…A small town grew there, but it was always a sleepy hollow and in 1883 (the capital) moved to bustling Sandakan.

Sleepy hollow is probably still a fair description. There are signs of life around the fish and vegetable market but otherwise this town remains pretty sleep-inducing (but maybe I’m being unfair).

Kudat Clocktower
Kudat Clocktower

One of the reasons why Kudat and the surrounding area never took off under British North Borneo (Chartered) Company (BNBCC) rule was due to a lack of workers. The indigenous Rungus people were far too smart to take on the back-breaking hard labour that the British had in mind. BNBCC tried importing Hakka workers from southern China and offered them free passage, tools and plots of land. This was partly successful and many went on to establish coconut and other plantations but others preferred to open shops.

Chinese Temple in Kudat
Chinese Temple in Kudat

Less well-remembered these days were attempts by the British to bring in Filipino workers and, in 1892, Philippine national hero Jose Rizal visited Sandakan to discuss establishing a Filipino rice-growing colony in Borneo of some 5,000 families. Due to opposition from the Spanish authorities in Manila and other reasons this proposal never came to fruition.

Jollibee Logo on Malaysian Fishing Boat
This Jollibee logo on a Malaysian fishing boat in Kudat is evidence of Filipino influence.

Rizal’s scheme might have failed but today Filipinos are in Sabah in vast numbers – between 800,000 and 1.4 million depending on whom you listen to. Many of these are undocumented (illegal) migrants who arrived by short boat trips from the southernmost Philippine islands which are only a stone’s throw away.

Aerial view of one of Sabah's many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants.
Aerial view of one of Sabah’s many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants. This one is in Kudat town.

Many of these illegals have settled in water villages (ramshackle huts on stilts above the sea) which cling to the coasts of Sabah like iron filings to a magnet.

I digress. What other attractions are there in Kudat which I can tell you about?

Town centre, Kudat
Town centre, Kudat

There is a golf club said to be oldest in Borneo, there’s a clock tower, a fish market and the Esplanade where seafood restaurants attract the locals in the evening.

View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade
View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade

On the outskirts of town is the airport, built on the old airfield which was constructed by the Japanese during WWII using forced labour from Java and locally. The airfield was heavily bombed by the Americans towards the end of the war.

Kudat Airport
A sleepy airport for a sleepy town. It is served by MAS Wings flights from Kota Kinabalu.

About 11km north of Kudat town is Bak Bak beach. It is not great for sand but has some interesting rock formations to explore.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach, Kudat

Kudat Town is nice and peaceful and the people are friendly but if I were to return to this corner of Malaysia again I would concentrate on the Tip of Borneo and Simpang Mengayau beach.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach on a weekday.

Rednaxela Terrace – Hong Kong

My favourite street name in Hong Kong has to be Rednaxela Terrace, just off the the Central-Mid Levels Escalator above Caine Road.

Rednaxela Terrace

The most plausible explanation for this peculiar name   is that the street was supposed to have been Alexander Terrace but the Chinese sign-painter placed the letters from right to left, which was how Chinese read at that time.  The mistake could easily have been corrected but somehow the name stuck.

Jose RizalJosé Rizal, the Philippine’s revered national hero, lived at number 2, Rednaxela Terrace together with some family members for about six months from 1891-1892, while he worked as an opthalmologist at 5, D’Aguilar Street. Austin Coates, in his excellent biography on Rizal describes the area as follows:

A small house, which they furnished and decorated themselves, situated some 300 feet above sea level on the steepest part of the Peak in an area occupied mainly by Portuguese families, originally from Macao, who were the backbone of Hong Kong’s middle class.

This area would have looked a lot different from today and this is the type of view which Rizal might have enjoyed.

View from Caine Road during Rizal's time.

Dr. Lourenco MarquesHis next door neighbour was a prominent Portuguese, Dr. Lourenço Pereira Marques. They became good friends. Marques was at the time a prison medical officer at the nearby Victoria Gaol. Victoria Gaol around 1895 showing laundry yard.

(Amazingly (for Hong Kong), this prison remained in service until 2005 and has now been declared a protected monument.)

Marques was over-qualified for this job but there was little prospect of promotion because in those days, Hong Kong Portuguese were unfairly confined to the lower rungs of the civil service even though Marques himself was a British citizen.

From 1894 he was involved in the fight against bubonic plague which killed 8,600 people in Hong Kong over the next seven years with a 95% fatality rate for those infected.

Jardim Luis de CamoesMarques’ mother, Maria Ana Josefa Pereira owned an estate in Macau which included the Jardim Luis de Camòes, one of my favourite spots in the territory.

A street in Macau was named after Rizal’s friend, Rua Do Dr. Lourenço Pereira Marques which runs along the western harbour of the Macau peninsula. By the way the old name for Maputo in Mozambique, Lourenco Marques, is nothing to do with this individual but was named after a much earlier namesake, a Portuguese trader who first explored the area in 1544.

Rednaxela Terrace in 2011Marques was not particularly happy with his situation in Hong Kong and was interested to migrate. Indeed over the 120 or so years since his time, many of the Portuguese/Macanese population of Hong Kong moved on to new lives in places like Canada, Australia and Portugal.

Perhaps they should have retained their properties in Hong Kong. Number 1, Rednaxela Terrace is now an apartment block and a single compact 1800 sq. ft. flat with 3 small bedrooms is today on the market for a whopping HK$40,000,000 (US$5million).

Sun Yat-sen, President of the Republic of ChinaDuring Rizal’s short residence in Hong Kong another Asian national hero and revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen, the future first President of China,  was also in Hong Kong as a student at the Hong Kong College of Medicine. They do not appear to have met despite the fact that Marques was one of Sun Yat-sen’s lecturers.

When I was last in Hong Kong I visited the Sun Yat Museum which is at Kom Tong Hall, a former grand residence belonging to local businessman, Ho Kom Tong. The location is at the corner of Castle Road and Caine Road and is just a short walk from Rednaxela Terrace. It’s a small world in Hong Kong!

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Museum