February 23, 2012

Views of British North Borneo - Review

I found this book which was published in 1899, about 112 years ago in London. It was digitized and can be read here. Its title Views of British North Borneo : with a brief History of the Colony and it was published only 17 years after the British North Borneo Charted Company (BNBCC) set foot in North Borneo. The book was published to show the progress of the BNBCC in North Borneo and also I think, to generate interest for the folks or businesses at home to come and invest in North Borneo. 

North Borneo was telegraphically linked to the America, England and Australia among others as early as 1899

Picture on the left is the court of directors of BNBCC. Seated from left to right :

1) Mr Harrington G. Forbes, Secretary
2) Sir Charles J. Jessel, Bart., Vice Chairman
3) Mr Richard B. Martin, M.P., Chairman
4) Mr William C. Cowie, Managing Director
5) Mr Edward Dent

Standing in the centre is Captain W. Raffles Flint and standing at the far right at the back is Mr A.T Wardrop. Among them are Dayak (or Dyak as they spelled it in the old days) Jubilee Police Contingent who were in England to take part in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration. 

Side note : Apparently, Captain W. Raffles Flint was well liked by his subordinates that when he retired and gone back to England, they wrote a letter of appreciation to him which was published in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser on 18 February 1914.

British presence in North Borneo started with the occupation of Labuan island by the British government in 1847. It was made into a naval base for the British navy in its campaign against piracy in this part of the world. In Owen Rutter's book British North Borneo : An Account of its History, Resources and Natives published in 1922, he described how piracy, slavery and headhunting activities in North Borneo had almost depopulate the country and this was further aggravated by the shortage of food when peaceful tribes abandoned all agricultural activity for fear of raiding parties. 

In 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Mr Charles Lee Moses, obtained a ten years cession [sic] of large territories from the Sultan of Brunei. Unfortunate for him, the United States government was not interested in North Borneo. Hence, the rights to these territories were transferred to the American Trading Company of Borneo(1) which was headed by Mr Joseph W. Torrey. 

Torrey Source : www.the-eastern-window.com
Torrey and associates attempted to set up a settlement in Kimanis which they called Ellena. Their enterprise failed because of disease, desertion and lack of financial backing. 

In 1872, "Labuan Trading Company" established itself in Sandakan. The partners of this company were Mr J.D. Ross, Mr Carl Schomburgk and Mr W.C. Cowie who would eventually become the Managing Director in BNBCC. 

Mr W.C. Cowie was a Scott and an adventurer. It was reported in the Straits Time dated 30 January 1902 that at one time, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the peninsula of Muara to him for service rendered. He was the White Rajah over the territory but he soon found himself bored with inaction and sold the territory to Rajah Brooke(2).  

In 1877, Torrey sold his rights to Baron Overbeck and Alfred and Edward Dent albeit that the lease had expired. Undaunted, the trio took over the lease and formed a syndicate to revive the lease. They successfully obtained in perpetuity 'certain' of the Sultan of Brunei's rights in North Borneo on 29 December 1877. 

And then on 22 January 1878, through Mr Cowie's influence over the Sultan of Sulu whom he had extensive dealing before, the Sultan of Sulu 'transferred' all his rights to Baron Overbeck. 

Mr W.C. Cowie, Mr A. Cook with the Sultan of Sulu
The entourage left Mr W.B. Pryer, Mr W. Pretyman and Mr H.L Leicester in North Borneo to take possession of their newly acquired country. Mr W.B Pryer chose Kudat as the seat of the government. Mr W.B Pryer is another interesting character worth reading. His widow wrote an interesting account of his exploits in A Decade in Borneo. Mr W.B Pryer managed to convince at least two headmen that by working with him, they could defend themselves against pirates and headhunting raiders. Initially they were weary of him but eventually they became his strongest allies. 

Alfred Dent went back to England and went about the business of getting backing for their enterprise. Early 1881, the British North Borneo Provisional Association Limited was formed to take over all rights and properties. To protect themselves against foreign interference, a petition was made to the Queen for a Royal Charter and this was given on 1 November 1881. Apparently the granting of the Charter did not come easily. It seems that public opinion in England then was against any colonization of people by a company and then perhaps there were segment of the society who were concerned about the humane treatment of indigenous people(3).    

The Charter was only granted when the government was concerned that should Alfred Dent went into financial difficulty, he might sell the rights to North Borneo to a foreign power which was highly undesirable. Hence, the British North Borneo Chartered Company was formed in May 1882. 

Commandant and Staff of British North Borneo Military Police
In the book, it said BNBCC would acquire more territories, Putatan River (1 May 1884); the Padas District (November 1884) including the important rivers of Kalias[sic] and Padas, Tawaran and Bangawan [sic] rivers being included in the same deed of cession; the Kawang River (21 February 1885) and the Mantanani Islands (10 April 1885). It said its first governor, Mr W.H Treacher, negotiated these concessions. However, in reality, some of the territories were taken by hostile takeover. True to the case with Padas district where it was administered by Pengiran Shahbandar Hassan before the arrival of BNBCC. BNBCC waged war against him and his followers of which neither party won. The conflict was finally settled via negotiation. 

Government offices in Sandakan

Barracks in Sandakan
First railway station in North Borneo at Bukau
Trees being felled to make way for railway
Railway sea terminus in Weston

Mat Salleh's sword which was surrendered to W.C. Cowie
Train carriage made locally
First Locomotive engine in North Borneo

(1) North Borneo - Wikipedia
(3) Borneo - The Straits Time

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