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Borneo in the sixties: letters from Sarawak

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 337

Scope and Contents

Letters written by Elizabeth O'Kelly in Borneo and photographs from her time on the island. The document is a photocopy of the original 1965 typescript. There are 27 letters, written from Kuching and Tarat, dating from 29 March 1962 to 16 February 1965. They are concerned principally with the background to the establishment of the Sarawak Federation of Women's Institutes, but also cover people and places of Borneo, the advent of Independence, the situation in Indonesia, the rebellion in Brunei and Miss O'Kelly's visit to India and Nepal in 1963.
At the end of the ringbinder are reproductions of nine photographs, the first two of which were taken by K.F. Wong: 1. River scene in Borneo; 2. In the Ulu; 3. Kuching. Chinese shop houses lining the water front of the Sarawak river; 4. Kuching. The Padang from the cathedral steps; 5. An early waterpoint. The water being piped down by gravity feed from a nearby stream; 6. Land Dayak women trying out a new padi huller; 7. SWFI members leaving a longhouse after a meeting; 8. Delegates to the first Regional Conference, in 1964, from India, Sikkim, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, visiting a Malay fishing village; 9. Malay members attending a literacy class.
There are accompanying notes, supplied by Miss O'Kelly, describing her career, assignments as a freelance consultant and publications.


  • Creation: 2004


Conditions Governing Access

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Biographical / Historical

Elizabeth O'Kelly was born in Manchester on 19 May 1915. She attended Withington Girls School, and was a student at the Royal Manchester College of Music at the outbreak of the Second World War. From 1941 she served in the Women's Royal Navy Service, including eighteen months in Ceylon. She was demobilised with the rank of Second Officer in 1946. After the war she spent one year in Community Development and Social Work at Primrose Hill College, Birmingham, before becoming Assistant Secretary at Yorkshire Rural Community Council. In 1950 Miss O'Kelly joined the Colonial Service as a Woman Education Officer. She was accredited to the Nigerian Civil Service, but was seconded to what was then known as the British Trusteeship Territory of the Southern Cameroons, where she was Principal Rural Development Officer. She was awarded the M.B.E. in 1959, and made a Queen Mother of the Nsaw people by the Fon of Nsaw. She was pensioned off in 1961, and in 1962 was appointed Advisor to the Government of Sarawak on Women's Affairs by the U.K. Overseas Development Administration. She worked with rural women in Sarawak until the end of her contract in 1965, and was awarded the Order of the Star of Sarawak (A.B.S.) in 1964. In 1967 she was sent by the World Council of Churches in Geneva to South Vietnam to take over as Acting Director of the Asian Christian Service, an organisation staffed largely by Asian personnel, seeking to aid refugees. Miss O'Kelly retired to England in 1969, and became General Secretary of the Associated Country Women of the World, the world co-ordinating body of the Women's Institutes movement. She published 'Aid and self help' in 1973, and worked as a freelance consultant with special reference to the use of appropriate technologies to improve the lives of Third World rural women.


1 file(s) (1 ringbinder) : paper

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Elizabeth O'Kelly, March 2004.

Related Materials

The R.C.S. Manuscripts Collection includes 'Eleven exciting years' (RCMS 141), letters, photographs and other material relating to Miss O'Kelly's time in the Cameroons.


This collection level description was created by RAS.


O'Kelly, Elizabeth, b 1915, colonial officer

Includes index.
2004-04-05 16:22:14+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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