History detective, historian, investigative writer & specialist tour guide

The Grave of Thomas Robert Barnard

In November 2011, Lynette Silver and Tham Yau Kong journeyed to Lahad Datu, a coastal town on Darvel Bay, in south-eastern Sabah, to follow up a report that Allied WW2 veterans were possibly buried in the old Christian cemetery there. They located the cemetery, on the hill immediately behind the old town, only to find that it was completely overgrown by rampant vines and jungle growth, and that almost all the headstones on the European graves had been smashed, making any identification impossible. The one exception was the grave of Thomas Robert Barnard. Although almost buried by the encroaching vegetation, the headstone was intact, but impossible to read as the marble was coated with a thick layer of green algae. On cleaning it, the search team was astounded to find that, as late as 1954, Filipino pirates were still raiding Sabah’s east coast and that Thomas Robert Barnard, a young Forestry District Officer based at Lahad Datu, had been killed during a raid on the coastal town of Semporna, to the south.

Barnard’s overgrown grave, after the algae was removed

Recognising that here was a slice of Sabah’s history in danger of being swallowed up by the jungle, Lynette contacted Datuk Sam Mannan,  Director of Sabah Forestry.  He and his staff  knew that Barnard had been killed by pirates, but no one realised that the cemetery was not being maintained, and that the historic graves were rapidly deteriorating. Action was swift, and within weeks a team of forestry workers had cleared and tidied up Barnard’s grave and the surrounding area, which is to be maintained on a regular basis. Below is the full story of Barnard’s death, and the events leading up to it, which were published in the Department’s Annual Report several years ago.

The grave, after the clean up