Scary tales and unexplained occurrences in a girl’s boarding school

One night, the girl nearest to the stairs woke up when she felt someone tugging her blanket. She looked down and saw the figure of a man. She screamed, and everyone else woke up and also screamed.

by Georgette Tan

KUCHING: There is not one schoolgirl in town who has not heard of the haunted school toilet or do not have other scary stories to tell.

Even in the early days of Kuching, the girls of St Mary’s Boarding House had unexplained things happening around the place but none more terrifying than when they had a midnight visitor.

It was 1959 and Fanny Chu was 16. She and a group of girls shared a bedroom where the access came up through the floor.


Fanny Chu

Fanny Chu

Naturally, the least desired place to sleep was anywhere near the stairs.

“One night, the girl nearest to the stairs woke up when she felt someone tugging her blanket. She looked down and saw the figure of a man. She screamed, and everyone else woke up and also screamed,” Chu told thesundaypost.

The screams brought then Bishop Nigel Cornwall running over from the Bishop House, but the strange man had already disappeared into the night.

Recent rumours of the oily man or ‘orang minyak’ prowling Kuching for victims did not help them go back to sleep.

For the rest of the night, the girls huddled together in the furthest corner of their bedroom, with something heavy placed atop the trap-door of their room access to discourage a return visit.

The school had grills installed on the doors and windows the next day.

Chu and her contemporaries will get to reminisce over this and many other things during the upcoming Thomian and Marian Boarders Reunion on Nov 17 at the Sarawak Club.

The committee spent several months planning and reaching out to their fellow ex-boarders on coming together for a reunion this year, possibly their one and only.

They are expecting around 200 fellow boarders from any era of the Boarding House’s 40-year history.

While the boys at St Thomas’s Boarding House worked on their life skills and relished any opportunity for a glimpse of their female peers, the girls did chores that were not very different from what they might do at home.

“Do you know what we had to iron our clothes with?” said Chu.

“Irons with burning charcoal inside. We had to fan it to keep it burning, and if we fanned it too hard, ashes will go flying. To put it out or reduce the heat, we had to sprinkle water into it. That iron was heavy!”

This, along with other chores, was part of learning how to be independent while away from home.

Chu, who came from Miri to stay at St Mary’s Boarding House, said that discipline was high and the house mistress was strict with them.

“On top of our school work, we all get allocated certain areas in the boarding house to clean every Saturday,” she said, adding that nobody enjoyed getting toilet duty.

MOTHERLY ADVICE: A matron THemna Cook sits down with the girls for a pep tlk before their Senior Cambridge examination in the 1950s.

MOTHERLY ADVICE: A matron Themna Cook sits down with the girls for a pep talk before their Senior Cambridge examination in the 1950s.

Their days were much like what the boys of St Thomas’s Boarding House experience – school, laundry, chores, play time, icy cold baths.

While fellow committee members from St Thomas laughed over memories of their mandatory ‘everything off’ communal shower time (or face the rotan of the house master), the girls got to keep their sarongs on.

“Our bathrooms were very close to the shops and we sometimes get Peeping Toms!” Chu said.

She also recalled how the boarding house was the highest building in Kuching at the time, with the best view of ships coming in.

“During celebrations, the temple would have loud music late into the night and we couldn’t sleep.”

Speaking of things that go bump in the night, Chu had another story.

A matron, Betty Johnson, served at the boarding house for two years. In her short time there, she started the Cathedral Kindergarten in 1958.

After falling ill, she returned home to Australia, where she died in January 1959. The boarding house’s new kitchen was built in her memory.

“About a week after the new kitchen were done, the lights came on by itself at midnight,” Chu said.

“We think Miss Johnson came to see her kitchen.”

Apart from the reunion dinner, the organising committee will be holding a number of other activities.

Andrew Goh (0168660282) will be leading a round of golf on Nov 14. Those interested must register by Nov 12.

On Nov 15, there will be a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village and Santubong Village. The next day, there will be a visit to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

Those interested will have to confirm their participation with Edward Mansel (013- 8097747, [email protected]) by Nov 10.

The committee will also be on hand to help any former boarders outside Kuching with arranging accommodation for their stay.

Anyone with photos from their time in either St Thomas’s or St Mary’s Boarding Houses can email a scan to any committee member so they can compile it for the dinner.

The fee for the reunion is RM100 per person.

For details, call Willie Chong at 014-6869689 or email to [email protected], Edward Mansel (013-8097747, [email protected]), Fanny Chu (016-8680285, [email protected]), Samson Juan (019-8272763), Andrew Goh (0168660282), Albert Blassan (011-29936861), Christopher Chua (013-8188868) and Thomas Leong CC (012-8783598).

If you are based in rural Sarawak, contact Ambrose Dampa (019-8398265). If you are based outside of Malaysia, get in touch with your nearest reunion representative in Vancouver, Canada (George Liew, [email protected]) or Perth, Australia (Francis Chow Kat Ying, [email protected]).


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