Sabah, Malaysian Borneo » City Info » History

Early Settlements

According to archaeological findings, Sabah is said to be inhabited by humans from about 28,000 years ago. Prior to the 16th century, the area of Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei were controlled by the Kingdom of Brunei who in turn was controlled by the empires of Sri Vijayan of Sumatra and then later on by Majapahit of Java.

However during the 15th century, Parameswara who was the king of Majapahit Empire, took over Mallaca and spread its wings over the trade of Brunei. As the port started trading with other Asian and Arab countries, it flourished economically and along with paved the way for Islam. Islam was accepted by one and all and the Brunei Sultans were no exception. After the Sultanate of Malacca's rule ended during the mid 16th century, after the advent of the Portuguese, it was left upon the Sultans to spread Islam. They extended their rule as far as Luzon and Sulu and to south and west of Borneo.

Arrival of Europeans

It was in the year of 1761, when Alexander Dalrymple, an officer with East India Company, posted at Madras (now Chennai), settled and had a agreement with the Sultan of Sulu to set up a trading post in Borneo. Alexander chose the site of Balembangan Island, and in 1763 he renamed it as ‘Felicia’. But due to bad supervision and piracy, the trading post turned out to be a big fiasco. Later on, in 1803, Governor General of India, Lord Arthur Wellesley tried to revive the post and reassign it as a military station, but his plans failed and finally the idea was aborted in 1805.

Due to this failure, British rulers diverted their attention to other Malayan regions such as Labuan. But it took almost 40 years to revive their interest in North Borneo and specifically in Labuan. This time, in 1844, James Brook approached the Sultan of Brunei to use Labuan as a coaling base, to prohibit piracy and increase trade.

On 18th December 1846, the Sultan handed over Labuan and its neighbouring islands over to the British for an infinite period and John Brooke was crowned the Governor General of Labuan. But the administration of Labuan under the rule of Brooke failed and in general no British ruler could govern it for an extended period of time. After passing through the hands of British North Borneo Chartered Company and traits Settlements, it ultimately became a part of Malaysia on 16th April 1984.

North Borneo under the rule of BNBCC

After a succession of failures, the British became disinterested in Borneo and it was in the year 1881 when North Borneo came under the administration of a commercial company, British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC). The building blocks of BNBCC were laid when the agreement between the Sultan of Brunei and the American Consul of Brunei took place. North Borneo was sold on a 10-year lease to Claude Lee Moses who in turn sold it to an American Trading company owned by J.W. Torrey, T.B.Harris, and some Chinese merchants. Kimanis was chosen as the base by Torrey and he renamed it ‘Ellena’. But the transaction didn’t last long due to the non-availability of financial backing. The settlement was then sold by Torrey to Baron Von Overbeck, Austrian Consul in Hong Kong. He renewed the 10-year lease from Tumonggong of Brunei. He found his financial backing in the form of the Dent brothers to whom he later transferred the rights of North Borneo. In 1881, Alfred Dent formed the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd, which was later renamed as British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC) when it received its Royal Charter.

North Borneo became a British protectorate and they peacefully ruled it until the advent of Second World War. 60 years had passed by, under the British rule and the peace of Sabah was shattered when the Japanese invaded it on 1st January 1942, until it was liberated by A.I.F in 1945. Later on, after the Second World War, in 1946, North Borneo came under the administration of British Military and civil government.

Due to the destruction caused by the war, BNBCC could not afford to re-establish their colony and Sabah came under the British crown. The bombings were so shattering, that the capital was shifted to Jesselton. Under the rule of the British Crown, reconstruction and development of the city started taking place.

Independence of Malaysia

On 31st August 1957, Malaysia achieved independence after 446 of imposing rule under the British. 11 states of the Malay Peninsula came together to form the Federation of Malaysia. In 1963, the colonies of Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore which were under the rule of the British Crown came under the rule of Malaysia. The Sultan of Brunei initially showed interest in merging his country with Malaysia, but later withdrew. However, in 1965, Singapore retreated from the Federation and was proclaimed as an independent country.