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.

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15 Responses to Planters’ Graves at Kuantan Christian Cemetery

  1. Judy Wilkinson says:

    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.

    • 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.

      • Judy Wilkinson says:

        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

    • Dee Hinton says:

      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.

  2. You’re welcome Judy. I’ll try to get across to Kuantan in the next couple of months and I’ll keep you posted.

  3. Judy, further to my earlier comment, I have today revisited Kuantan and I am sending you an email regarding your father’s grave. Please check your inbox.

  4. william says:

    my father is buried there , I hope to pay my respects there soon as its been over 30 years

    • Judy Wilkinson says:

      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.

  5. Doreen Stewart says:

    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

    • 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

    • Sathy Vel Naidu says:

      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

  6. Simon Pearson says:

    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.

    • 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.


    • Doreen Stewart says:

      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.

      • Simon Pearson says:

        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 :

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