Crown Colony of Labuan

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Crown Colony of Labuan

Pulau Labuan
Coat of Labuan 1912-1946.svg
Anthem:  God Save the Queen (1848–1901)
God Save the King (1901–1946)
Map of Labuan (1888).jpg
Map of Labuan, 1888
Status British colony
Capital Victoria
Common languagesEnglish, Malay and Chinese etc.
GovernmentCrown colony
James Brooke (first)
Shenton Thomas (last)
Historical era British Empire
 Establishment of the crown colony
 Transferred to North Borneo
  British government rule
 Incorporated into Straits Settlements
1 January 1907
3 January 1942
10 June 1945
 Labuan to North Borneo Crown
15 July 1946
194191.64 km2 (35.38 sq mi)
Currency North Borneo dollar (1890–1907)
Straits dollar (1907–1939)
Malayan dollar (1939–1946)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Old Flag of Brunei.svg Bruneian Empire
Flag of North Borneo (1902-1946).svg North Borneo
Flag of the British Straits Settlements (1904-1925).svg Straits Settlements
North Borneo Flag of North Borneo (1902-1946).svg
Straits Settlements Flag of the British Straits Settlements (1925-1946).svg
Japanese occupation of British Borneo Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg
Crown Colony of North Borneo Flag of North Borneo (1948-1963).svg
Today part ofFlag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia
 Flag of Labuan.svg  Labuan

The Crown Colony of Labuan was a British Crown colony on the northwestern shore of the island of Borneo established in 1848 after the acquisition of the island of Labuan from the Sultanate of Brunei in 1846. Apart from the main island, Labuan consists of six smaller islands; Burung, Daat, Kuraman, Papan, Rusukan Kecil, and Rusukan Besar.

Crown colony, dependent territory or royal colony were dependent territories under the administration of United Kingdom overseas territories that were controlled by the British Government. As such they are examples of dependencies that are under colonial rule. All Crown colonies were renamed "British Dependent Territories" in 1981. Since 2002, Crown colonies have been known officially as British Overseas Territories.

Borneo island

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. At the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia, in relation to major Indonesian islands, it is located north of Java, west of Sulawesi, and east of Sumatra.

Labuan Federal Territory in Malaysia

Labuan, officially the Federal Territory of Labuan, is a federal territory of Malaysia. It is made up of the eponymous Labuan Island and six smaller islands, and is located off the coast of the state of Sabah in East Malaysia. Labuan's capital is Victoria and is best known as an offshore financial centre offering international financial and business services via Labuan IBFC since 1990 as well as being an offshore support hub for deepwater oil and gas activities in the region. It is also a tourist destination for people travelling through Sabah, nearby Bruneians and scuba divers. The name Labuan derives from the Malay word labuhan which means harbour. Labuan is often referred to as the pearl of Borneo.


Labuan was expected by the British to be a second Singapore, but it did not fulfill its promise especially after the failure of its coal production that did not become fruitful, causing investors to withdraw their money, leaving all machinery equipment and Chinese workers that had entered the colony previously. The Chinese workers then began involving themselves in other businesses with many becoming chief traders of the island's produce of edible bird's nest, pearl, sago and camphor, with the main successful production later being the coconut, rubber and sago.

Singapore in the Straits Settlements Period of Singapore History

Singapore in the Straits Settlements refers to a period in the history of Singapore from 1826 to 1942, during which Singapore was part of the Straits Settlements together with Penang and Malacca. From 1830 to 1867, the Straits Settlements was a residency, or subdivision, of the Presidency of Bengal, in British India.

Coal A combustible sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon

Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed when dead plant matter decays into peat and is converted into coal by the heat and pressure of deep burial over millions of years. Vast deposits of coal originates in former wetlands—called coal forests—that covered much of the Earth's tropical land areas during the late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) and Permian times.

Overseas Chinese are people of ethnic Chinese birth or descent who reside outside the territories of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Although a vast majority are Han Chinese, the group represents virtually all ethnic groups in China.

World War II brought the invasion of Japanese forces which abruptly ended British administration. Subsequently, Labuan became the place where the Japanese commander in Borneo surrendered to the Allied forces, with the territory placed under a military administration before merging into a new crown colony.

The Armed Forces of the Empire of Japan during that Empire's existence from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 through World War II until the signing of the Constitution of Japan (1868–1947) included the:

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.


Foundation and establishment

The hoisting of British flag for the first time on Labuan on 24 December 1846 following its foundation as a Crown colony Ceremony of Hoisting the British Flag on the island of Labuan, N. W. Coast of Borneo.jpg
The hoisting of British flag for the first time on Labuan on 24 December 1846 following its foundation as a Crown colony

Since 1841, when James Brooke had successfully established a solid presence in northwestern Borneo with the establishment of the Raj of Sarawak and began to assist in the suppression of piracy along the island coast, he had persistently promoted the island of Labuan to the British government. [1] Brooke urged the British to establish a naval station, colony or protectorate along the northern coast to prevent other European powers from doing so which being responded by the Admiralty with the arrival of Admiral Drinkwater Bethune to look for a site for a naval station and specifically to investigate Labuan in November 1844, [2] along with Admiral Edward Belcher with his HMS Samarang (1822) to survey the island. [3] [4]

James Brooke Rajah of Sarawak

Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, KCB, was a British soldier and adventurer who founded the Raj of Sarawak in Borneo. He ruled as the first White Rajah of Sarawak from 1841 until his death in 1868.

Raj of Sarawak 1841–1946 kingdom on northern Borneo

The Raj of Sarawak, also State of Sarawak, was an independent state, and later a British protectorate, located in the northwestern part of the island of Borneo. It was established as an independent state from a series of land concessions acquired by an Englishman, James Brooke, from the Sultanate of Brunei. Sarawak received recognition as an independent state from the United States in 1850, and from the United Kingdom in 1864.

Piracy Act of robbery or criminal violence at sea

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties. Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. The earliest documented instances of piracy were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Narrow channels which funnel shipping into predictable routes have long created opportunities for piracy, as well as for privateering and commerce raiding. Historic examples include the waters of Gibraltar, the Strait of Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel, whose geographic structures facilitated pirate attacks. A land-based parallel is the ambushing of travelers by bandits and brigands in highways and mountain passes. Privateering uses similar methods to piracy, but the captain acts under orders of the state authorizing the capture of merchant ships belonging to an enemy nation, making it a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors.

The British Foreign Office then appointed Brooke as a diplomat to Brunei in 1845 and asked him to co-operate with Bethune. At the same time, Lord Aberdeen who was the British Foreign Minister at the time sent a letter to the Sultan of Brunei requesting the Sultan to not enter any treaties with other foreign powers while the island was under consideration as a British base. [2] On 24 February 1845, Admiral Bethune with his HMS Driver and several other political commissions left Hong Kong to survey the island more. The crews found that it was the most suitable for inhabitants than any other island in the coast of Borneo especially with its coal deposits. [5] The British also saw the potential the island could be the next Singapore. [6] Brooke acquired the island for Britain through the Treaty of Labuan with the Sultan of Brunei, Omar Ali Saifuddin II on 18 December 1846. [7]

Bruneian Empire Malay sultanate, centred in Brunei on the northern coast of Borneo island in Southeast Asia from 1368 to 1888

The Bruneian Empire or Empire of Brunei, also known as Sultanate of Brunei, was a Malay sultanate, centred in Brunei on the northern coast of Borneo island in Southeast Asia. Bruneian rulers converted to Islam around the 15th century, when it grew substantially since the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese, extending throughout coastal areas of Borneo and the Philippines, before it declined in the 17th century.

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen British politician

George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen,, styled Lord Haddo from 1791 to 1801, was a British statesman, diplomat and Scottish landowner, successively a Tory, Conservative and Peelite politician and specialist in foreign affairs. He served as Prime Minister from 1852 until 1855 in a coalition between the Whigs and Peelites, with Radical and Irish support. The Aberdeen ministry was filled with powerful and talented politicians, whom Aberdeen was largely unable to control and direct. Despite his trying to avoid this happening, it took Britain into the Crimean War, and fell when its conduct became unpopular, after which Aberdeen retired from politics.

British Hong Kong Crown colony and British dependent territory in East Asia between 1841 and 1997

British Hong Kong was Hong Kong when it was governed as a colony and British Dependent Territory of the United Kingdom. Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 and was briefly occupied by Japan from 1941 to 1945 before surrendering the territory back to British forces, resuming British rule from 1945 to 1997. The colonial period began with the occupation of Hong Kong Island in 1841 during the First Opium War. The island was ceded by Qing dynasty in the aftermath of the war in 1842 and established as a Crown colony in 1843. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.

Admiral Rodney Mundy visited Brunei with his ship HMS Iris (1840) to keep the Sultan in line until the British government made a final decision to take the island and he took Pengiran Mumin to witness the island's accession to the British Crown on 24 December 1846. [8] [9] Brooke supervised the transferring process and by 1848, the island was made a crown colony and free port with him appointed as the first Governor. [10] [11] [12] From 1890, Labuan came to be administered by the North Borneo Chartered Company before been reverted to British government rule in 1904. [13] [14] By 30 October 1906, the British government proposed to extend the boundaries of the Straits Settlements to include Labuan. The proposal took effect from 1 January 1907, with the administration area being taken directly from Singapore, the capital of the Straits Settlements. [15] [16]

Rodney Mundy British naval officer

Admiral of the Fleet Sir (George) Rodney Mundy, was a Royal Navy officer. As a commander, he persuaded the Dutch to surrender Antwerp during the Belgian Revolution and then acted as a mediator during negotiations between the Dutch and the Belgians to end hostilities. As a captain, he was deployed to the East Indies Station and was asked to keep the Sultan of Brunei in line until the British Government made a final decision on whether to take the island of Labuan: he took the Sultan's son-in-law, Pengiran Mumin, to witness the island's accession to the British Crown in December 1846. He was then deployed to the seas of Finland, where he secured Björkö Sound in operations against Russia during the Crimean War.

HMS <i>Iris</i> (1840)

HMS Iris was a 26-gun sixth-rate frigate launched on 14 July 1840 from Devonport Dockyard. She spent some time with the West Africa Squadron suppressing the slave trade and later with the East Indies Station was involved in operations in Borneo. Iris was the first flagship of the Australia Station between 1859 and 1861 during which time she participated in the First Taranaki War. In 1864 she was extensively modified to allow her to ferry transatlantic telegraph cable to the cable-laying ship Great Eastern. She was decommissioned and sold off in 1869.

Abdul Momin 24Th Sultan of Brunei

Abdul Momin was the 24th Sultan of Brunei from 1852 until his death on 29 May 1885. He was the son-in-law of the previous Sultan, Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

World War II and decline

Additional Japanese forces landing on the coast of Labuan on 14 January 1942

As part of the World War II, the Japanese navy anchored at Labuan on 3 January 1942 without being met by any strong resistance. [17] Most treasury notes on the island had been burned and destroyed by the British to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands. [18] The remaining Japanese forces then proceeded to Mempakul in the western coast of neighbouring North Borneo to strengthen their main forces there. [19] Following the complete takeover of the rest of Borneo island, Labuan was ruled as part of the Empire of Japan and garrisoned by units of the Japanese 37th Army, which controlled northern Borneo. The island was renamed Maeda Island(前田島,Maeda-shima) after Marquis Toshinari Maeda, the first commander of Japanese forces in northern Borneo. [20] [21] The Japanese planned to construct two airfields on the island with eleven others to be located in different parts of Borneo. [22] [23] [24] To achieve this, the Japanese brought approximately one hundred thousand Javanese forced labourers from Java to work for them. [23] [25]

Australian troops comprising the 24th Brigade landing on Labuan on 10 June 1945 Australian troops landing on Labuan, 1945.JPG
Australian troops comprising the 24th Brigade landing on Labuan on 10 June 1945

The liberation of the whole of Borneo began on 10 June 1945 when the Allied forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead landed at Labuan with a convoy of 100 ships. [26] The 9th Australian Division launched an attack, with its 24th Brigade landing two battalions at the island southeast protrudance and the north side of Victoria Harbour on Brown Beach while being supported by massive air and sea bombardments. [27] [28] The landings was witnessed by MacArthur on board the USS Boise (CL-47) when he decided to proceed further south from the southern Philippines to Labuan. [29] Following the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945, Lieutenant General Masao Baba who was the last commander of the Japanese army in northern Borneo surrendered at the island's Layang-layang beach on 9 September 1945. He was then brought to the 9th Division headquarters on the island to sign the surrender document in front of the commander of the 9th Division, Major General George Wootten. [30] The official surrender ceremony was held on the next day on 10 September at Surrender Point. [31] The town of Victoria had been damaged by Allied bombings but was rebuilt after the war. The island assumed its former name and was under British Military Administration (BMA) along with the rest of the British territories in Borneo before joining the Crown Colony of North Borneo on 15 July 1946. [13] [32]

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The government offices of the British administration of the island Labuan Government Offices.jpg
The government offices of the British administration of the island

Following the acquisition of Labuan, it was made a crown colony and governed by a Governor. Governor John Hennessy imported a group of Dublin policemen to clean up the island and enforce health regulations during his term. [33] From 1880s, there had been a wide disenchantment over the position of Labuan as a crown colony among British administrators after the failure of coal production, [34] causing the administration to be passed twice to North Borneo and the Straits Settlements. [35] From the last years of British rule, the authorities encouraged the involvement of indigenous natives in the island to participate in politics although it was still controlled based on the interests of the British government. [36]


Since its discovery by the British, coal has been founded on the main island. [3] Other economic resources include edible bird's nest, pearl, sago and camphor. [37] The British hoped that the island's capital would grow into a city to rival Singapore and Hong Kong, but the dream was never realised. In particular the decline of coal production caused most investors to withdrew their investment. [34] [38] [39] As a replacement, coconut, rubber and sago production became the main resources of the Labuan economy. [13] Under the administration of North Borneo, its revenue was $20,000 in 1889, increasing to $56,000 in 1902. Imports in 1902 were $1,948,742, while exports reached $1,198,945. [40]


2 cents Labuan postage stamp featuring Queen Victoria, c. 1885 Stamp Labuan 1885 2c.jpg
2 cents Labuan postage stamp featuring Queen Victoria, c.1885


The island had a population of about 2,000 in 1864, [37] 5,853 in 1890, [40] 6,545 in 1911, [15] and 8,963 in 1941. [32] The population is mainly Malays (mostly Bruneian and Kedayan) and Chinese, with a remainder of European and Eurasian. The Europeans were mainly government officials and staff of companies, the Chinese were the chief traders with most of the industries in the island in their hands, while the Malays were mostly fishermen. [38] [40]

Public service infrastructure

A telegraph line was established from Labuan to Sandakan on neighbouring North Borneo in 1894. [41] Postal services were also available throughout the administration, with a post office operating on the island by 1864 and used a circular date stamp as a postmark. The postage stamps of India and Hong Kong were used on some mail, but they were probably carried there by individuals rather than being on sale in Labuan. Mail was routed through Singapore. From 1867, Labuan officially used the postage stamps of the Straits Settlements but began issuing its own in May 1879. [42] [43]


  1. Saunders 2013, p. 75.
  2. 1 2 Wright 1988, p. 12.
  3. 1 2 Wise 1846, p. 70.
  4. anon 1846, p. 365.
  5. Stephens 1845, p. 4.
  6. Evening Mail 1848, p. 3.
  7. Yunos 2008.
  8. anon 1847, pp. 1.
  9. Saunders 2013, p. 78.
  10. anon 1848, p. 4.
  11. Wright 1988, p. 13.
  12. Abbottd 2016, p. 192.
  13. 1 2 3 Olson & Shadle 1996, p. 645.
  14. Welman 2017, p. 162.
  15. 1 2 Hong Kong Daily Press Office 1912, p. 1510.
  16. Keltie 2016, p. 188.
  17. Rottman 2002, p. 206.
  18. Hall 1958, p. 255.
  19. Grehan & Mace 2015, p. 227.
  20. Evans 1990, p. 30.
  21. Tarling 2001, p. 193.
  22. FitzGerald 1980, p. 88.
  23. 1 2 Kratoska 2013, p. 117.
  24. Chandran 2017.
  25. Ooi 2013, p. 1867.
  26. Pfennigwerth 2009, p. 146.
  27. Rottman 2002, p. 262.
  28. Horner 2014, p. 55.
  29. Gailey 2011, p. 343.
  30. Labuan Corporation (1) 2017.
  31. Labuan Corporation (2) 2017.
  32. 1 2 Steinberg 2016, p. 225.
  33. Lack 1965, p. 470.
  34. 1 2 Wright 1988, p. 91.
  35. Wright 1988, p. 100.
  36. Anak Robin & Puyok 2015, p. 16.
  37. 1 2 Geography of British Colonies 1864, p. 31.
  38. 1 2 Clark 1924, p. 194.
  39. London and China Telegraph 1868, p. 557.
  40. 1 2 3 Hong Kong Daily Press Office 1904, p. 792.
  41. Baker 1962, p. 134.
  42. Armstrong 1920, pp. 35.
  43. Hall 1958, p. 68.

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Further reading