Caves in Borneo

Research today has focussed on the time Annie Brassey visited Borneo. In particular of the caves where bird’s nests are collected for making bird’s nest soup. I had been under the impression that a visit to one of these had been responsible for Lady Brassey contracting malaria. My journey passes through Malaysia and Indonesia and I am trying to establish the possibility of locating and visiting such a cave.

Entrance to Madai Caves‘The Last Voyage’ documents time spent in Singapore before sailing around the coast of Borneo. This included stopping at Brunei, Sarawak and Elopura (now known as Sandakan).

“I had been very anxious to go to the black bird’s-nest caves of Gomanton, but was assured by everybody that the difficulties would be found insurmountable. All agreed that it was absolutely necessary to await the return and the report of Messrs. Walker and Wilson, who had gone to Gomanton to survey the road…A shorter expedition has been therefore proposed, and it is arranged that we shall cross the bay and look at the bilian-wood cutting…The distant views of Sandakan are very fine, as is also the aspect of the north bluff of the island of Balhalla, where the best white birds’-nests in the world are found, and are collected at terrible risk to life and limb…we found Messrs. Walker and Wilson, now on their way back from the caves, of which they gave an interesting description. They seemed, however, to be firmly impressed with the idea that it would be impossible for us to visit them, the difficulties of the expedition being far too great for anyone unaccustomed to Borneo jungle-life. They had been obliged to swim rivers, wade through mud up to their arms, sleep in damp caves, and endure other hardships not very conducive to health in a malarious district.” (The Last Voyage, Brassey, pp178-180).

Up for a challenge, I am nonetheless reluctant to be swimming rivers, wading through mud up to my arms and sleeping in damp caves. However, it is looking as though visiting the caves of what is now referred to as Gomantong Caves in the Sabah region of Malaysia, may be a little easier today. From preliminary research it seems that these are a more practical destination than the Madai caves on the North East coast of Borneo. There are a number of sketches which illustrate this part of Annie’s journeys, the one below shows Annie’s journey, the one above features the entrance to the caves.

It might make a difference if I received this kind of treatment…

Bird's nest Caves at Madai

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  1. Pingback: Borneo & birds nests – In Conversation with Annie | Bexhill to Bexhill

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