Dear Koyoh and Gurongit, it pays to know your history so you don’t burst a vein every time some folks say
belongs to them. Many people repeat stuff they’ve heard, about
something they know nothing about. With that in mind, I suggest you check the
facts and don’t take everything I’m saying here as the truth although I’ll tell
you as closely as possible what I’ve learnt about Sabah
of the 1800s.
This was a period, long past long ago, when pirates prowled along the coasts and headhunters roamed the countryside. It was long before the word ‘
Sabah’ magically evoked images of black
gold and dollar signs, and ages before the natives discarded their loin-cloths
for made-in-Thailand underwear.
|An old map of Brunei|
Sabah (North Borneo) was still under
then. Do you know that Brunei Brunei used to be a huge part of Borneo? The Brunei Sultanate stretched all the way from
present day Sarawak to the tip of Borneo. Apparently,
from the very beginning we, the natives, have been the source of income for
various sultans and pengirans of . These overlords or their
proxies collected poll-taxes from the people residing in their jajahan and tulin— which were really river valleys. That was why they were
also known simply as sungei. Brunei
Then the white men came…
The Americans were never really interested in
Sabah. However, they did offer protection to
—from pirates and invaders?—in return for friendship and commerce. Brunei declined
the offer because the Sultan was optimistic of obtaining British protection.
Various diplomatic missions were dispatched by the Americans to the Far East
including Brunei Borneo in the early 1800s.This was
mainly for commercial interests, not colonial expansion.
offered protection in exchange for friendship and commerce. Brunei , optimistic of obtaining
British protection, declined the offer. Brunei
obtained commercial privileges and right to establish a consulate in . Brunei
established a consulate in
with Claude Lee Moses as Consul. Brunei
Moses was more interested in making money for himself. He saw that the Sultan hoped to use
presence in Brunei as a counter-weight
against Sarawak expansion. (The Sultan had
given Sarawak to James Brooke in 1846 for the latter’s role in curbing piracy…
and now James Brooke wanted Sabah too!)
|Borneo (Google Image)|
With the dwindling empire/sultanate, the Sultan and his pengirans were getting less rich due to loss of income because there were fewer subjects from whom to collect poll-taxes. Moses shrewdly persuaded the Sultan to lease him large concessions in
Sabah for yearly rents.
Sultan Abdul Mumin leased the land from the
to the for $4500 annual rent. The Pengiran
Temenggong signed another agreement to lease Benoni, Kimanis, Paitan, Sugut,
Bongaya, Labuk, Paitan River ,
Kinabatangan, Cagayan and Muming for $4000 annual rent for ten years but could
be renewed. Sandakan
also leased areas which were not under its jurisdiction but were supposed to be
under Sulu rule. Why? More about this later…) Brunei
Moses was now ‘lord and master’ of huge tracts of land in
Sabah leased from the Sultan. Was he going to develop the
land? No. This was before the rubber era of the next century. Was he going to
collect taxes on the inhabitants of his concessions? No! Moses quickly left for HK and was able to
sell his concessions to two Americans—Joseph William Torrey and Thomas Bradley
Harris, and a Chinese named Wo Hang.
|Harris and Torrey (Google Image)|
Torrey formed the America Trading Company of Borneo (ATC) to develop the land he had acquired.
Sultan Abdul Mumin signed a document on 24 November 1865 appointing Torrey as Rajah of Ambong and Maroodoo with the powers of life and death over the inhabitants; the right of making laws, coining money, creating an army—together with the powers and rights usually exercised by and belonging to sovereign rulers. So, Torrey was made a white rajah just like James Brooke in
With 12 Americans and 60 Chinese, the ATC opened a settlement in Kimanis. The new settlement was given a pretty name: Ellena. The plan was to develop commercial agriculture planting sugar cane, tobacco and rice. Unfortunately, the company had to be abandoned at the end of 1866 due to a number of reasons. Thomas Harris died after suffering a high fever. There was shortage of capital; there was sickness among the settlers and there was labour unrest.
|Thomas B. Harris's tombstone at Kimanis|
Torrey returned to HK to look for someone who'd be interested to buy his property. Among those who expressed interest in this far-flung wilderness was
Apparently, Italy Sabah was perfect for a penal
outpost where convicts could be sent to exile! Didn’t happen, by the way. (Can
you imagine Romeos and Juliets labouring in the paddy fields and living in
little water villages?)
1875: Finally, after almost ten years of looking for a buyer, an Austrian named Gustavus Baron Von Overbeck, offered Torrey $15,000 for the concessions if the Sultan of Brunei would renew the leases. The Sultan refused! So, Overbeck, having been turned down by
turned to Dent Brothers ( )
for financial support. London
|Alfred Dent (Google Image)|
1877: Alfred Dent saw great potential in the Sabah venture so in March 1877 they formed the Overbeck-Dent Association (ODA) to obtain the
Sabah leases with the intention of selling them for a
Dec 29, 1877: Sultan of Brunei leased his Sabah estates to Overbeck and Dent for an annual payment of $16,000—except for some tulin/private lands from
Kimanis Bay in the west to the
in the east. ODA appointed William Pryer as the first Resident of NB. He was to
be based in Kinabatangan River ,
was to eradicate piracy and establish an administrative centre for NB. Sandakan
|Photo credit: J. Kessey|
A few weeks after the Sultan of Brunei had leased his lands to ODA, the Sultan of Sulu also sold his share of NB to Overbeck.
1883: Pangalat, Putatan, Kawang and
Islands were leased by to the
1884: The Sultan of Brunei signed over the Padas and
and Tuaran, Bongawan for additional sums. Klias Rivers
Jan 22, 1878: The Sultan of Sulu on the island of Maibu ( having been ousted from Jolo by the Spanish) relinquished his claim on all his territories in return for $5000 [five thousand dollars] a year, the same land the British was already paying $12,000 per year to Brunei.
1898: By 1898 the British NBCC owned the rights to every square centimeter of land in
Now, Koyoh and Gurongit, which part of
did some clown claim belong to them?
(p.s. Homework! Find out when the leases were transferred from ODA to the NBCC.)
North Borneo Herald