The once Government House
Located behind the old airport is the Botanical Garden which was formerly the site of the Government House, locally known as "Bumbung 12". Built in 1852, the house was a long and low structure with an interesting roof design. Today only the water storage tank remains, along with a small grave of a much-loved foxhound named 'Jim'.
The Botanical Garden is a recreational park with old trees and beautiful landscaping. And what fascinating tales they are!
Tales of the Government House
It was believed that Hugh Low, Colonial Secretary for many years and persistently passed over for governorship, did much of the early work on the Garden. Many of the older trees were planted by him. The house was completely destroyed during the War.
Two grave gardens were found on the grounds of the Government House which are believed to be the oldest on the island. One of them which is very overgrown, has graves dating back to 1847. These graves were transferred from Ramsey Point along the beach, where repeating tides resulted in the erosion of old naval grave sites. One of the two graves relocated was that of Commander James A. Gordan of HMS Wolf, He was present at the handing over of Labuan to the British on 24th December 1846 and who assisted in the construction of the grounds. Like so many at that time, he fell ill and died at the early age of 28 on board his ship, which was anchored offshore.
The other grave is that of Sergeant Adam C. Sutherland of the Royal Marines, who died in a fight with Balanin pirates in May of the same year.
There is another interesting grave located on a ridge in front of what was the Government House and it belongs to a foxhound named Jim, and pet of M.S. MacArthur, first Resident of the Straits Settlement administration which lasted from 1906 until the outbreak of the Second World War. The date of Jim's grave reads 20th June 1908.
Life on the grounds must have been quite eventful. One evening on returning home, the then Lieutenant-Governor Commander A.S. Hamilton smelt burning coming from the direction of the house. Thinking it was on fire, he hurried the rest of the way. On reaching, he was confronted by the spectacle of a row of Dayaks smoking heads on tripods right on the lawn of Government House! They were probably Murut heads taken when the Dayak police took action against Muruts for killing four of their men. The Dayaks on the lawn were most unhappy with the subsequent confiscation of the heads. This they were granted provided they smoked their heads someplace else!
The ghost of a lady is also thought to be a resident in the grounds, perhaps that of Hugh Low's wife or some other decapitated person. After the initial sighting, it was never seen again.
The ransacking of graves by head hunters looking for an easy and convenient source of heads was a great problem for the early settlers on Labuan. Hugh Low actually dug fifteen graves the night his wife died. He buried her in one of them himself and then filled in all the others to thwart potential headhunting. People even arranged to be buried at sea to prevent this happening to them.