Crown Colony of Labuan

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Crown Colony of Labuan
Pulau Labuan
British colony
God Save the Queen (1848–1936)
God Save the King (1936–1946)
Labuan, 1888.
Capital Victoria
Languages English, Malay and Chinese etc.
Government Crown colony
Monarch Queen Victoria (first)
George VI (last)
 •  1848–1852 James Brooke (first)
 •  1945–1946 Shenton Thomas (last)
Historical era British Empire
 •  Establishment of the crown colony 1848
 •  Transferred to North Borneo 1890
 •  British government rule 1904
 •  Incorporated into Straits Settlements 1 January 1907
 •  Japanese invasion 3 January 1942
 •  Allied liberation 10 June 1945
 •  Labuan to North Borneo Crown 15 July 1946
 •  1941 91.64 km2 (35.38 sq mi)
 •  1864 est. 2,000 
 •  1890 est. 5,853 
 •  1911 est. 6,545 
 •  1941 est. 8,963 
     Density 98/km2 (253/sq mi)
Currency North Borneo dollar (1890–1907)
Straits dollar (1907–1939)
Malayan dollar (1939–1946)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Bruneian Empire
North Borneo
Straits Settlements
North Borneo
Straits Settlements
Japanese occupation of British Borneo
Crown Colony of North Borneo
Today part of  Malaysia

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 other six smaller islands; Burung, Daat, Kuraman, Papan, Rusukan Kecil, and Rusukan Besar.

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

The starting of World War II with the arrival of Japanese forces however brought an end to the crown administration. Subsequently, Labuan became the main place where the Japanese commander in Borneo surrendered to the Allied forces, with the territory placed under a military administration before been merged to a new crown colony.


Foundation and establishment[edit]

The hoisting of British flag for the first time on the island on 24 December 1846 following its foundation as part of the British Empire territory.

Since 1841, when James Brooke had successfully establishing a solid presence in southwestern Borneo with the establishment of the Kingdom of Sarawak and began to assist in the suppression of piracy along the island coast, he has persistently promoting 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 surveyed the island.[3][4]

The British Foreign Office then appointed Brooke as a diplomat to Brunei in 1845 and asking him to co-operate with Bethune. At the same time, Lord Aberdeen who is 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 commission left Hong Kong to surveyed the island more. The crews found that it is the most suitable for inhabitants than any other island in the coast of Borneo especially with its coal deposits.[5] The British also sees 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]

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 are being taken directly from Singapore, the capital of the Straits Settlements.[15][16]

World War II and decline[edit]

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 in the island are burned and destroyed by the British to prevent it from fall to the Japanese.[18] The remaining Japanese forces then proceed to Mempakul in the western coast of neighbouring North Borneo to strengthening their main forces there.[19] Following the complete takeover as in the rest of the Borneo island, Labuan was ruled as part of the Empire of Japan and governed under the northern Borneo military unit of Japanese 37th Army with the island renamed to Maida 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 in the island with five others will be located in different parts of Borneo.[22][23] To achieve the plan, the Japanese bringing hundred thousand of Javanese forced labourers from Java to work for them.[24][25]

Australian troops comprising the members of 24th Brigade landing on Labuan on 10 June 1945.

The liberation of the whole Borneo island began on 10 June 1945 when the Allied forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and Liutenant-General Leslie Morshead landed at Labuan with a convoy of 100 ships.[26] The 9th Australian Division launched an attack, with its 24th Brigade landed 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 McArthur 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, General Masao Baba who is the commander of Japanese military in Borneo surrendered at the island Layang-layang beach on 9 September 1945 where 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 town of Victoria are damaged by Allied bombings but was rebuilt after the war with 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 North Borneo Crown on 15 July 1946.[13][31]


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 import a batch of Dublin policemen to clean the island and enforce health regulations during his term.[32] From 1880s, there is a wide disenchantment over the position of Labuan as a crown colony among British administrators after the failure of coal production,[33] causing the administration to be passed twice to North Borneo and the Straits Settlements.[34] From the last years of British rule, the authorities encouraged the involvement of indigenous natives in the island to participate in politics although it is still controlled based on the interest of British government.[35]


Since its discovery by the British, coal has been founded on the main island.[3] Other economic sources includes edible bird's nest, pearl, sago and camphor.[36] The British hope the island capital administration will grow into a city to rival Singapore and Hong Kong, but the dream was never reached especially when the coal production does not become fruitful that causing most investors to withdrew their investment.[33][37][38] As a replacement, coconut, rubber and sago production became the main source of Labuan economy.[13] Under the administration of North Borneo, its revenue was $20,000 in 1889 before increase to $56,000 in 1902. The imports in 1902 were $1,948,742, while exports reaching $1,198,945.[39]


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


The island has a population of about 2,000 in 1864,[36] 5,853 in 1890,[39] 6,545 in 1911,[15] and 8,963 in 1941.[31] The population are mainly the Malays (mostly Bruneian and Kedayan) and Chinese, with a remainder of European and Eurasian. The Europeans are mainly government officials and staff of companies, the Chinese are the chief traders with most of the industries in the island are in their hands while the Malays are mostly fishermen.[37][39]

Public service infrastructure[edit]

A telegraph line was established from Labuan to Sandakan on neighbouring North Borneo in 1894.[40] Postal service were also available throughout the administration, with a post office was operating in the island by 1864 and used a circular date stamp as postmark. The postage stamps of India and Hong Kong were used on some mail, but they were probably carried there by individuals, instead of 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.


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


Further reading[edit]