The Project Gutenberg eBook
( Chapter VII of " British Borneo " by W. H. Treacher )
The mode of acquisition of British North Borneo has been referred to in former pages; it was by cession for annual money payments to the Sultans of Brunai and of Sulu, who had conflicting claims to be the paramount power in the northern portion of Borneo. The actual fact was that neither of them exercised any real government or authority over by far the greater portion, the inhabitants of the coast on the various rivers following any Brunai, Illanun, Bajau, or Sulu Chief who had sufficient force of character to bring himself to the front. The pagan tribes of the interior owned allegiance to neither Sultan, and were left to govern themselves, the Muhammadan coast people considering them fair game for plunder and oppression whenever opportunity occurred, and using all their endeavours to prevent Chinese and other foreign traders from reaching them, acting themselves as middlemen, buying (bartering) at very cheap rates from the aborigines and selling for the best price they could obtain to the foreigner.
I believe I am right in saying that the idea of forming a Company, something after the manner of the East India Company, to take over and govern North Borneo, originated in the following manner. In 1865 Mr. Moses, the unpaid Consul for the United Sates in Brunai, to whom reference has been made before, acquired with his friends from the Sultan of Brunai some concessions of territory with the right to govern and collect revenues, their idea being to introduce Chinese and establish a Colony. This they attempted to carry out on a small scale in the Kimanis River, on the West Coast, but not having sufficient capital the scheme collapsed, but the concession was retained. Mr. Moses subsequently lost his life at sea, and a Colonel Torrey became the chief representative of the American syndicate. He was engaged in business in China, where he met Baron von Overbeck, a merchant of Hongkong and Austrian Consul-General, and interested him in the scheme. In 1875 the Baron visited Borneo in company with the Colonel, interviewed the Sultan of Brunai, and made enquiries as to the validity of the concessions, with apparently satisfactory results, Mr. Alfred Dent was also a China merchant well known in Shanghai, and he in turn was interested in the idea by Baron Overbeck. Thinking there might be something in the scheme, he provided the required capital, chartered a steamer, theAmerica, and authorised Baron Overbeck to proceed to Brunai to endeavour, with Colonel Torrey's assistance, to induce the Sultan and his Ministers to transfer the American cessions to himself and the Baron, or rather to cancel the previous ones and make out new ones in their favour and that of their heirs, associates, successors and assigns for so long as they should choose or desire to hold them. Baron von Overbeck was accompanied by Colonel Torrey and a staff of three Europeans, and, on settling some arrears due by the American Company, succeeded in accomplishing the objects of his mission, after protracted and tedious negotiations, and obtained a "chop" from the Sultan nominating and appointing him supreme ruler, "with the title of Maharaja of Sabah (North Borneo) and Raja of Gaya and Sandakan, with power of life and death over the inhabitants, with all the absolute rights of property vested in the Sultan over the soil of the country, and the right to dispose of the same, as well as of the rights over the productions of the country, whether mineral, vegetable, or animal, with the rights of making laws, coining money, creating an army and navy, levying customs rates on home and foreign trade and shipping, and other dues and taxes on the inhabitants as to him might seem good or expedient, together with all other powers and rights usually exercised by and belonging to sovereign rulers, and which the Sultan thereby delegated to him of his own free will; and the Sultan called upon all foreign nations, with whom he had formed friendly treaties and alliances, to acknowledge the said Maharaja as the Sultan himself in the said territories and to respect his authority therein; and in the case of the death or retirement from the said office of the said Maharaja, then his duly appointed successor in the office of Supreme Ruler and Governor-in-Chief of the Company's territories in Borneo should likewise succeed to the office and title of Maharaja of Sabah and Raja of Gaya and Sandakan, and all the powers above enumerated be vested in him." I am quoting from the preamble to the Royal Charter. Some explanation of the term "Sabah" as applied to the territory—a term which appears in the Prayer Book version of the 72nd Psalm, verse 10, "The kings of Arabia and Sabah shall bring gifts"—seems called for, but I regret to say I have not been able to obtain a satisfactory one from the Brunai people, who use it in connection only with a small portion of the West Coast of Borneo, North of the Brunai river. Perhaps the following note, which I take from Mr. W. E. Maxwell's "Manual of the Malay Language," may have some slight bearing on the point:—"Sawa, Jawa, Saba, Jaba, Zaba, etc., has evidently in all times been the capital local name in Indonesia. The whole archipelago was pressed into an island of that name by the Hindus and Romans. Even in the time of Marco Polo we have only a Java Major and a Java Minor. The Bugis apply the name of Jawa, jawaka (comp. the Polynesian Sawaiki, Ceramese Sawai) to the Moluccas. One of the principal divisions of Battaland in Sumatra is called Tanah Jawa.Ptolemy has both Jaba and Saba."—"Logan, Journ. Ind. Arch., iv, 338." In the Brunai use of the term, there is always some idea of a Northerly direction; for instance, I have heard a Brunai man who was passing from the South to the Northern side of his river, say he was going Saba. When the Company's Government was first inaugurated, the territory was, in official documents, mentioned as Sabah, a name which is still current amongst the natives, to whom the now officially accepted designation of North Borneo is meaningless and difficult of pronunciation.
Having settled with the Brunai authorities, Baron von Overbeck next proceeded to Sulu, and found the Sultan driven out of his capital, Sugh or Jolo, by the Spaniards, with whom he was still at war, and residing at Maibun, in the principal island of the Sulu Archipelago. After brief negotiations, the Sultan made to Baron von Overbeck and Mr.Alfred Dent a grant of his rights and powers over the territories and lands tributary to him on the mainland of the island of Borneo, from the Pandassan River on the North West Coast to the Sibuko River on the East, and further invested the Baron, or his duly appointed successor in the office of supreme ruler of the Company's territories in Borneo, with the high sounding titles of Datu Bandahara and Raja of Sandakan.
On a company being formed to work the concessions, Baron von Overbeck resigned these titles from the Brunai and Sulu Potentates and they have not since been made use of, and the Baron himself terminated his connection with the country.
The grant from the Sultan of Sulu bears date the 22nd January, 1878, and on the 22nd July of the same year he signed a treaty, or act of re-submission to Spain. The Spanish Government claimed that, by previous treaties with Sulu, the suzerainty of Spain over Sulu and its dependencies in Borneo had been recognised and that consequently the grant to Mr. Dent was void. The British Government did not, however, fall in with this view, and in the early part of 1879, being then Acting Consul-General in Borneo, I was despatched to Sulu and to different points in North Borneo to publish, on behalf of our Government, a protest against the claim of Spain to any portion of the country. In March, 1885, a protocol was signed by which, in return for the recognition by England and Germany of Spanish sovereignty throughout the Archipelago of Sulu, Spain renounced all claims of sovereignty over territories on the Continent of Borneo which had belonged to the Sultan of Sulu, including the islands of Balambangan, Banguey and Malawali, as well as all those comprised within a zone of three maritime leagues from the coast.
Holland also strenuously objected to the cessions and to their recognition, on the ground that the general tenor of the Treaty of London of 1824 shews that a mixed occupation by England and the Netherlands of any island in the Indian Archipelago ought to be avoided.
It is impossible to discover anything in the treaty which bears out this contention. Borneo itself is not mentioned by name in the document, and the following clauses are the only ones regulating the future establishment of new Settlements in the Eastern Seas by either Power:—"Article 6. It is agreed that orders shall be given by the two Governments to their Officers and Agents in the East not to form any new Settlements on any of the islands in the Eastern Seas, without previous authority from their respective Governments in Europe. Art. 12. His Britannic Majesty, however, engages, that no British Establishment shall be made on the Carimon islands or on the islands of Battam, Bintang, Lingin, or on any of the other islands South of the Straits of Singapore, nor any treaty concluded by British authority with the chiefs of those islands." Without doubt, if Holland in 1824 had been desirous of prohibiting any British Settlement in the island of Borneo, such prohibition would have been expressed in this treaty. True, perhaps half of this great island is situated South of the Straits of Singapore, but the island cannot therefore be correctly said to lie to the South of the Straits and, at any rate, such a business-like nation as the Dutch would have noticed a weak point here and have included Borneo in the list with Battam and the other islands enumerated. Such was the view taken by Mr. Gladstone'sCabinet, and Lord Granville informed the Dutch Minister in 1882 that the XIIth Article of the Treaty could not be taken to apply to Borneo, and "that as a a matter of international right they would have no ground to object even to the absolute annexation of North Borneo by Great Britain," and, moreover, as pointed out by his Lordship, the British had already a settlement in Borneo, namely the island of Labuan, ceded by the Sultan of Brunai in 1845 and confirmed by him in the Treaty of 1847. The case of RajaBrooke in Sarawak was also practically that of a British Settlement in Borneo.
Lord Granville closed the discussion by stating that the grant of the Charter does not in any way imply the assumption of sovereign rights in North Borneo, i.e., on the part of the British Government.
There the matter rested, but now that the Government is proposing to include British North Borneo, Brunai and Sarawak under a formal "British Protectorate," the Netherlands Government is again raising objections, which they must be perfectly aware are groundless. It will be noted that the Dutch do not lay any claim to North Borneo themselves, having always recognized it as pertaining, with the Sulu Archipelago, to the Spanish Crown. It is only to the presence of the British Government in North Borneo that any objection is raised. In a "Resolution" of the Minister of State, Governor-General of Netherlands India, dated 28th February, 1846, occurs the following:—"The parts of Borneo on which the Netherlands does not exercise any influence are:—
a. The States of the Sultan of Brunai or Borneo Proper;
* * * * *
b. The State of the Sultan of the Sulu Islands, having for boundaries on the West, the River Kimanis, the North and North-East Coasts as far as 3° N.L., where it is bounded by the River Atas, forming the extreme frontier towards the North with the State of Berow dependant on the Netherlands.
c. All the islands of the Northern Coasts of Borneo."
Knowing this, Mr. Alfred Dent put the limit of his cession from Sulu at the Sibuku River, the South bank of which is in N. Lat. 4° 5'; but towards the end of 1879, that is, longafter the date of the cession, the Dutch hoisted their flag at Batu Tinagat in N. Lat. 4° 19', thereby claiming the Sibuko and other rivers ceded by the Sultan of Sulu to the British Company. The dispute is still under consideration by our Foreign Office, but in September, 1883, in order to practically assert the Company's claims, I, as their Governor, had a very pleasant trip in a very small steam launch and steaming at full speed past two Dutch gun-boats at anchor, landed at the South bank of the Sibuko, temporarily hoisted the North Borneo flag, fired a feu-de-joie, blazed a tree, and returning, exchanged visits with the Dutch gun-boats, and entertained the Dutch Controlleur at dinner. Having carefully given the Commander of one of the gun-boats the exact bearings of the blazed tree, he proceeded in hot haste to the spot, and, I believe, exterminated the said tree. The Dutch Government complained of our having violated Netherlands territory, and matters then resumed their usual course, the Dutch station at Batu Tinagat, or rather at the Tawas River, being maintained unto this day.
As is hereafter explained, the cession of coast line from the Sultan of Brunai was not a continuous one, there being breaks on the West Coast in the case of a few rivers which were not included. The annual tribute to be paid to the Sultan was fixed at $12,000, and to the Pangeran Tumonggong $3,000—extravagantly large sums when it is considered that His Highness' revenue per annum from the larger portion of the territory ceded was nil. In March, 1881, through negotiations conducted by Mr. A. H. Everett, these sums were reduced to more reasonable proportions, namely, $5,000 in the case of the Sultan, and $2,500 in that of the Tumonggong.
The intermediate rivers which were not included in the Sultan's cession belonged to Chiefs of the blood royal, and the Sultan was unwilling to order them to be ceded, but in 1883 Resident Davies procured the cession from one of these Chiefs of the Pangalat River for an annual payment of $300, and subsequently the Putalan River was acquired for $1,000 per annum, and the Kawang River and the Mantanani Islands for lump sums of $1,300 and $350 respectively. In 1884, after prolonged negotiations, I was also enabled to obtain the cession of an important Province on the West Coast, to the South of the original boundary, to which the name of Dent Province has been given, and which includes the Padas and Kalias Rivers, and in the same deed of cession were also included two rivers which had been excepted in the first grant—the Tawaran and the Bangawan. The annual tribute under this cession is $3,100. The principal rivers within the Company's boundaries still unleased are the Kwala Lama, Membakut, Inanam and Menkabong. For fiscal reasons, and for the better prevention of the smuggling of arms and ammunition for sale to head-hunting tribes, it is very desirable that the Government of these remaining independent rivers should be acquired by the Company.
On the completion of the negotiations with the two Sultans, Baron von Overbeck, who was shortly afterwards joined by Mr. Dent, hoisted his flag—the house flag of Mr. Dent'sfirm—at Sandakan, on the East Coast, and at Tampassuk and Pappar on the West, leaving at each a European, with a few so-called Police to represent the new Government, agents from the Sultans of Sulu and Brunai accompanying him to notify to the people that the supreme power had been transferred to Europeans. The common people heard the announcement with their usual apathy, but the officer left in charge had a difficult part to play with the headmen who, in the absence of any strong central Government, had practically usurped the functions of Government in many of the rivers. These Chiefs feared, and with reason, that not only would their importance vanish, but that trade with the inland tribes would be thrown open to all, and slave dealing be put a stop to under the new regime. At Sandakan, the Sultan's former Governor refused to recognise the changed position of affairs, but he had a resolute man to deal with in Mr. W. B. Pryer, and before he could do much harm, he lost his life by the capsizing of his prahu while on a trading voyage.
At Tampassuk, Mr. Pretyman, the Resident, had a very uncomfortable post, being in the midst of lawless, cattle-lifting and slave-dealing Bajaus and Illanuns. He, with the able assistance of Mr. F. X. Witti, an ex-Naval officer of the Austrian Service, who subsequently lost his life while exploring in the interior, and by balancing one tribe against another, managed to retain his position without coming to blows, and, on his relinquishing the service a few months afterwards, the arduous task of representing the Government without the command of any force to back up his authority developed on Mr. Witti. In the case of the Pappar River, the former Chief, Datu Bahar, declined to relinquish his position, and assumed a very defiant attitude. I was at that time in the Labuan service, and I remember proceeding to Pappar in an English man-of-war, in consequence of the disquieting rumours which had reached us, and finding the Resident, Mr. A. H. Everett, on one side of the small river with his house strongly blockaded and guns mounted in all available positions, and the Datu on the other side of the stream, immediately opposite to him, similarly armed to the teeth. But not a shot was fired, and Datu Bahar is now a peaceable subject of the Company.
The most difficult problem, however, which these officers had to solve was that of keeping order, or trying to do so, amongst a lawless people, with whom for years past might had been right, and who considered kidnapping and cattle-lifting the occupations of honourable and high spirited gentlemen. That they effected what they did, that they kept the new flag flying and prepared the way for the Government of the Company, reflects the highest credit upon their pluck and diplomatic ingenuity, for they had neither police nor steam launches, nor the prestige which would have attached to them had they been representatives of the British Government, and under the well known British flag. They commenced their work with none of the éclat which surrounded Sir James Brooke in Sarawak, where he found the people in successful rebellion against the Sultan of Brunai, and was himself recognised as an agent of the British Government, so powerful that he could get the Queen's ships to attack the head hunting pirates, killing such numbers of them that, as I have said, the Head money claimed and awarded by the British Government reached the sum of £20,000. On the other hand, it is but fair to add that the fame of Sir James' exploits and the action taken by Her Majesty's vessels, on his advice, in North-West Borneo years before, had inspired the natives with a feeling of respect for Englishmen which must have been a powerful factor in favour of the newly appointed officers. The native tribes, too, inhabiting North Borneo were more sub-divided, less warlike, and less powerful than those of Sarawak.
The promoters of the scheme were fortunate in obtaining the services, for the time being, as their chief representative in the East of Mr. W. H. Read, C.M.G., an old friend of SirJames Brooke, and who, as a Member of the Legislative Council of Singapore, and Consul-General for the Netherlands, had acquired an intimate knowledge of the Malay character and of the resources, capabilities and needs of Malayan countries.
On his return to England, Mr. Dent found that, owing to the opposition of the Dutch and Spanish Governments, and to the time required for a full consideration of the subject by Her Majesty's Ministers, there would be a considerable delay before a Royal Charter could be issued, meanwhile, the expenditure of the embryo Government in Borneo was not inconsiderable, and it was determined to form a "Provisional Association" to carry on till a Chartered Company could be formed.
Mr. Dent found an able supporter in Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B., who energetically advocated the scheme from patriotic motives, recognising the strategic and commercial advantages of the splendid harbours of North Borneo and the probability of the country becoming in the near future a not unimportant outlet for English commerce, now so heavily weighted by prohibitive tariffs in Europe and America.
The British North Borneo Provisional Association Limited, was formed in 1881, with a capital of £300,000, the Directors being Sir Rutherford Alcock, Mr. A. Dent, Mr. R. B. Martin, Admiral Mayne, and Mr. W. H. Read. The Association acquired from the original lessees the grants and commissions from the Sultans, with the object of disposing of these territories, lands and property to a Company to be incorporated by Royal Charter. This Charter passed the Great Seal on the 1st November, 1881, and constituted and incorporated the gentlemen above-mentioned as "The British North Borneo Company."
The Provisional Association was dissolved, and the Chartered Company started on its career in May, 1882. The nominal capital was two million pounds, in £20 shares, but the number of shares issued, including 4,500 fully paid ones representing £90,000 to the vendors, was only 33,030, equal to £660,600, but on 23,449 of these shares only £12 have so far been called up. The actual cash, therefore, which the Company has had to work with and to carry on the development of the country from the point at which the original concessionaires and the Provisional Association had left it, is, including some £1,000 received for shares forfeited, about £384,000, and they have a right of call for £187,592 more. The Charter gave official recognition to the concessions from the Native Princes, conferred extensive powers on the Company as a corporate body, provided for the just government of the natives and for the gradual abolition of slavery, and reserved to the Crown the right of disapproving of the person selected by the Company to be their Governor in the East, and of controlling the Company's dealings with any Foreign Power.
The Charter also authorised the Company to use a distinctive flag, indicating the British character of the undertaking, and the one adopted, following the example of the English Colonies, is the British flag, "defaced," as it is termed, with the Company's badge—a lion. I have little doubt that this selection of the British flag, in lieu of the one originally made use of, had a considerable effect in imbuing the natives with an idea of the stability and permanence of the Company's Government.
Mr. Dent's house flag was unknown to them before and, on the West Coast, many thought that the Company's presence in the country might be only a brief one, like that of its predecessor, the American syndicate, and, consequently, were afraid to tender their allegiance, since, on the Company's withdrawal, they would be left to the tender mercies of their former Chiefs. But the British flag was well-known to those of them who were traders, and they had seen it flying for many a year in the Colony of Labuan and on board the vessels which had punished their piratical acts in former days.
Then, too, I was soon able to organise a Police Force mainly composed of Sikhs, and was provided with a couple of steam-launches. Owing doubtless to that and other causes, the refractory chiefs, soon after the Company's formation, appeared to recognize that the game of opposition to the new order of things was a hopeless one.
The area of the territory ceded by the original grants was estimated at 20,000 square miles, but the additions which have been already mentioned now bring it up to about 31,000 square miles, including adjacent islands, so that it is somewhat larger than Ceylon, which is credited with only 25,365 square miles. In range of latitude, in temperature and in rainfall, North Borneo presents many points of resemblance to Ceylon, and it was at first thought that it might be possible to attract to the new country some of the surplus capital, energy and aptitude for planting which had been the foundation of Ceylon's prosperity.
Even the expression "The New Ceylon" was employed as an alternative designation for the country, and a description of it under that title was published by the well known writer—Mr. Joseph Hatton.
These hopes have not so far been realized, but on the other hand North Borneo is rapidly becoming a second Sumatra, Dutchmen, Germans and some English having discovered the suitability of its soil and climate for producing tobacco of a quality fully equal to the famed Deli leaf of that island.
The coast line of the territory is about one thousand miles, and a glance at the map will shew that it is furnished with capital harbours, of which the principal are Gaya Bay on the West, Kudat in Marudu Bay on the North, and Sandakan Harbour on the East. There are several others, but at those enumerated the Company have opened their principal stations.
Of the three mentioned, the more striking is that of Sandakan, which is 15 miles in length, with a width varying from 11 miles, at its entrance, to 5 miles at the broadest part. It is here that the present capital is situated—Sandakan, a town containing a population of not more than 5,000 people, of whom perhaps thirty are Europeans and a thousand Chinese., For its age, Sandakan has suffered serious vicissitudes. It was founded by Mr. Pryer, in 1878, well up the bay, but was soon afterwards burnt to the ground. It was then transferred to its present position, nearer the mouth of the harbour, but in May, 1886, the whole of what was known as the "Old Town" was utterly consumed by fire; in about a couple of hours there being nothing left of the atap-built shops and houses but the charred piles and posts on which they had been raised above the ground. When a fire has once laid hold of an atap town, probably no exertions would much avail to check it; certainly our Chinese held this opinion, and it was impossible to get them to move hand or foot in assisting the Europeans and Police in their efforts to confine its ravages to as limited an area as possible. They entertain the idea that such futile efforts tend only to aggravate the evil spirits and increase their fury. The Hindu shopkeepers were successful in saving their quarter of the town by means of looking glasses, long prayers and chants. It is now forbidden to any one to erect atap houses in the town, except in one specified area to which such structures are confined. Most of the present houses are of plank, with tile, or corrugated iron roofs, and the majority of the shops are built over the sea, on substantial wooden piles, some of the principal "streets," including that to which the ambitious name of "The Praya" has been given, being similarly constructed on piles raised three or four feet above high water mark. The reason is that, owing to the steep hills at the back of the site, there is little available flat land for building on, and, moreover, the pushing Chinese trader always likes to get his shops as near as possible to the sea—the highway of the "prahus" which bring him the products of the neighbouring rivers and islands. In time, no doubt, the Sandakan hills will be used to reclaim more land from the sea, and the town will cease to be an amphibious one. In the East there are, from a sanitary point of view, some points of advantage in having a tide-way passing under the houses. I should add that Sandakan is a creation of the Company's and not a native town taken over by them. When Mr. Pryer first hoisted his flag, there was only one solitary Chinaman and no Europeans in the harbour, though at one time, during the Spanish blockade of Sulu, a Singapore firm had established a trading station, known as "Kampong German," using it as their head-quarters from which to run the blockade of Sulu, which they successfully did for some considerable time, to their no small gain and advantage. The success attending the Germans' venture excited the emulation of the Chinese traders of Labuan, who found their valuable Sulu trade cut off and, through the good offices of the Government of the Colony, they were enabled to charter the Sultan of Brunai's smart little yacht the Sultana, and engaging the services as Captain of an ex-member of the Labuan Legislative Council, they endeavoured to enact the roll of blockade runner. After a trip or two, however, the Sultana was taken by the Spaniards, snugly at anchor in a Sulu harbour, the Captain and Crew having time to make their escape. As she was not under the British flag, the poor Sultan could obtain no redress, although the blockade was not recognised as effective by the European Powers and English and German vessels, similarly seized, had been restored to their owners. The Sultana proved a convenient despatch boat for the Spanish authorities. The Sultan of Sulu to prove his friendship to the Labuan traders, had an unfortunate man cut to pieces with krisses, on the charge of having betrayed the vessel's position to the blockading cruisers.
Sandakan is one of the few places in Borneo which has been opened and settled without much fever and sickness ensuing, and this was due chiefly to the soil being poor and sandy and to there being an abundance of good, fresh, spring water. It may be stated, as a general rule, that the richer the soil the more deadly will be the fever the pioneers will have to encounter when the primeval jungle is first felled and the sun's rays admitted to the virgin soil.
Sandakan is the principal trading station in the Company's territory, but with Hongkong only 1,200 miles distant in one direction, Manila 600 miles in another, and Singapore 1,000 miles in a third, North Borneo can never become an emporium for the trade of the surrounding countries and islands, and the Court of Directors must rest content with developing their own local trade and pushing forward, by wise and encouraging regulations, the planting interest, which seems to have already taken firm root in the country and which will prove to be the foundation of its future prosperity. Gold and other minerals, including coal, are known to exist, but the mineralogical exploration of a country covered with forest and destitute of roads is a work requiring time, and we are not yet in a position to pronounce on North Borneo's expectations in regard to its mineral wealth.
The gold on the Segama River, on the East coast, has been several times reported on, and has been proved to exist in sufficient quantities to, at any rate, well repay the labours of Chinese gold diggers, but the district is difficult of access by water, and the Chinese are deferring operations on a large scale until the Government has constructed a road into the district. A European Company has obtained mineral concessions on the river, but has not yet decided on its mode of operation, and individual European diggers have tried their luck on the fields, hitherto without meeting with much success, owing to heavy rains, sickness and the difficulty of getting up stores. The Company will probably find that Chinese diggers will not only stand the climate better, but will be more easily governed, be satisfied with smaller returns, and contribute as much or more than the Europeans to the Government Treasury, by their consumption of opium, tobacco and other excisable articles, by fees for gold licenses, and so forth.
Another source of natural wealth lies in the virgin forest with which the greater portion of the country is clothed, down to the water's edge. Many of the trees are valuable as timber, especially the Billian, or Borneo iron-wood tree, which is impervious to the attacks of white-ants ashore and almost equally so to those of the teredo navalis afloat, and is wonderfully enduring of exposure to the tropical sun and the tropical downpours of rain. I do not remember having ever come across a bit of billian that showed signs of decay during a residence of seventeen years in the East. The wood is very heavy and sinks in water, so that, in order to be shipped, it has to be floated on rafts of soft wood, of which there is an abundance of excellent quality, of which one kind—the red serayah—is likely to come into demand by builders in England. Other of the woods, such as mirabau,penagah and rengas, have good grain and take a fine polish, causing them to be suitable for the manufacture of furniture. The large tree which yields the Camphor barus of commerce also affords good timber. It is a Dryobalanops, and is not to be confused with the Cinnamomum camphora, from which the ordinary "camphor" is obtained and the wood of which retains the camphor smell and is largely used by the Chinese in the manufacture of boxes, the scented wood keeping off ants and other insects which are a pest in the Far East. The Borneo camphor tree is found only in Borneo and Sumatra. The camphor which is collected for export, principally to China and India, by the natives, is found in a solid state in the trunk, but only in a small percentage of the trees, which are felled by the collectors. The price of this camphor barus as it is termed, is said to be nearly a hundred times as much as that of the ordinary camphor, and it is used by the Chinese and Indians principally for embalming purposes. Billian and other woods enumerated are all found near the coast and, generally, in convenient proximity to some stream, and so easily available for export. Sandakan harbour has some thirteen rivers and streams running into it, and, as the native population is very small, the jungle has been scarcely touched, and no better locality could, therefore, be desired by a timber merchant. Two European Timber Companies are now doing a good business there, and the Chinese also take their share of the trade. China affords a ready and large market for Borneo timber, being itself almost forestless, and for many years past it has received iron-wood from Sarawak. Borneo timber has also been exported to the Straits Settlements, Australia and Mauritius, and I hear that an order has been given for England. Iron wood is only found in certain districts, notably in Sandakan Bay and on the East coast, being rarely met with on the West coast. I have seen a private letter from an officer in command of a British man-of-war who had some samples of it on board which came in very usefully when certain bearings of the screw shaft were giving out on a long voyage, and were found to last three times as long as lignum vitæ.
In process of time, as the country is opened up by roads and railways, doubtless many other valuable kinds of timber trees will be brought to light in the interior.
A notice of Borneo Forests would be incomplete without a reference to the mangroves, which are such a prominent feature of the country as one approaches it by sea, lining much of the coast and forming, for mile after mile, the actual banks of most of the rivers. Its thick, dark-green, never changing foliage helps to give the new comer that general impression of dull monotony in tropical scenery, which, perhaps, no one, except the professed botanist, whose trained and practical eye never misses the smallest detail, ever quite shakes off.
The wood of the mangrove forms most excellent firewood, and is often used by small steamers as an economical fuel in lieu of coal, and is exported to China in the timber ships. The bark is also a separate article of export, being used as a dye and for tanning, and is said to contain nearly 42% of tannin.
The value of the general exports from the territory is increasing every year, having been $145,444 in 1881 and $525,879 in 1888. With the exception of tobacco and pepper, the list is almost entirely made up of the natural raw products of the land and sea—such as bees-wax, camphor, damar, gutta percha, the sap of a large forest tree destroyed in the process of collection of gutta, India rubber, from a creeper likewise destroyed by the collectors, rattans, well known to every school boy, sago, timber, edible birds'-nests, seed-pearls, Mother-o'-pearl shells in small quantities, dried fish and dried sharks'-fins, trepang (sea-slug or bêche-de-mer), aga, or edible sea-weed, tobacco (both Native and European grown), pepper, and occasionally elephants' tusks—a list which shews the country to be a rich store house of natural productions, and one which will be added to, as the land is brought under cultivation with coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa, Manila hemp, pine apple fibre, and other tropical products for which the soil, and especially the rainfall, temperature and climatic conditions generally, including entire freedom from typhoons and earthquakes, eminently adapt it, and many of which have already been tried with success on an experimental scale. As regards pepper, it has been previously shewn that North Borneo was in former days an exporter of this spice. Sugar has been grown by the natives for their own consumption for many years, as also tapioca, rice and Indian corn. It is not my object to give a detailed list of the productions of the country, and I would refer any reader who is anxious to be further enlightened on these and kindred topics to the excellent "Hand-book of British North Borneo," prepared for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886, at which the new Colony was represented, and published by Messrs. William Clowes & Sons.
The edible birds'-nests are already a source of considerable revenue to the Government, who let out the collection of them for annual payments, and also levy an export duty as they leave the country for China, which is their only market. The nests are about the size of those of the ordinary swallow and are formed by innumerable hosts of swifts—Collocalia fuciphaga—entirely from a secretion of the glands of the throat. These swifts build in caves, some of which are of very large dimensions, and there are known to be some sixteen of them in different parts of British North Borneo. With only one exception, the caves occur in limestone rocks and, generally, at no great distance from the sea, though some have been discovered in the interior, on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. The exception above referred to is that of a small cave on a sand-stone island at the entrance of Sandakan harbour. The Collocalia fuciphaga appears to be pretty well distributed over the Malayan islands, but of these, Borneo and Java are the principal sources of supply. Nests are also exported from the Andaman Islands, and a revenue of £30,000 a year is said to be derived from the nests in the small islands in the inland sea of Tab Sab, inhabited by natives of Malay stock.
The finest caves, or rather series of caves, as yet known in the Company's territories are those of Gomanton, a limestone hill situated at the head of the Sapa Gaia, one of the streams running into Sandakan harbour.
These grand caves, which are one of the most interesting sights in the country, are, in fine weather, easily accessible from the town of Sandakan, by a water journey across the harbour and up the Sapa Gaia, of about twelve miles, and by a road from the point of debarkation to the entrance of the lower caves, about eight miles in length.
The height of the hill is estimated at 1,000 feet, and it contains two distinct series of caves. The first series is on the "ground floor" and is known as Simud Hitam, or "black entrance." The magnificent porch, 250 feet high and 100 broad, which gives admittance to this series, is on a level with the river bank, and, on entering, you find yourself in a spacious and lofty chamber well lighted from above by a large open space, through which can be seen the entrance to the upper set of caves, some 400 to 500 feet up the hill side. In this chamber is a large deposit of guano, formed principally by the myriads of bats inhabiting the caves in joint occupancy with the edible-nest-forming swifts. Passing through this first chamber and turning a little to the right you come to a porch leading into an extensive cave, which extends under the upper series. This cave is filled half way up to its roof, with an enormous deposit of guano, which has been estimated to be 40 to 50 feet in depth. How far the cave extends has not been ascertained, as its exploration, until some of the deposit is removed, would not be an easy task, for the explorer would be compelled to walk along on the top of the guano, which in some places is so soft that you sink in it almost up to your waist. My friend Mr. C. A. Bampfylde, in whose company I first visited Gomanton, and who, as "Commissioner of Birds-nest Caves," drew up a very interesting report on them, informed me that, though he had found it impossible to explore right to the end, he had been a long way in and was confident that the cave was of very large size. To reach the upper series of caves, you leave Simud Hitam and clamber up the hill side—a steep but not difficult climb, as the jagged limestone affords sure footing. The entrance to this series, known as Simud Putih, or "white entrance," is estimated to be at an elevation of 300 feet above sea level, and the porch by which you enter them is about 30 feet high by about 50 wide. The floor slopes steeply downwards and brings you into an enormous cave, with smaller ones leading off it, all known to the nest collectors by their different native names. You soon come to a large black hole, which has never been explored, but which is said to communicate with the large guano cave below, which has been already described. Passing on, you enter a dome-like cave, the height of the roof or ceiling of which has been estimated at 800 feet, but for the accuracy of this guess I cannot vouch. The average height of the cave before the domed portion is reached is supposed to be about 150 feet, and Mr. Bampfylde estimates the total length, from the entrance to the furthest point, at a fifth of a mile. The Simud Putih series are badly lighted, there being only a few "holes" in the roof of the dome, so that torches or lights of some kind are required. There are large deposits of guano in these caves also, which could be easily worked by lowering quantities down into the Simud Hitam caves below, the floor of which, as already stated, is on a level with the river bank, so that a tramway could be laid right into them and the guano be carried down to the port of shipment, at the mouth of the Sapa Gaia River. Samples of the guano have been sent home, and have been analysed by Messrs. Voelcker & Co. It is rich in ammonia and nitrogen and has been valued at £5 to £7 a ton in England. The bat-guano is said to be richer as a manure than that derived from the swifts. To ascend to the top of Gomanton, one has to emerge from the Simud Putih entrance and, by means of a ladder, reach an overhanging ledge, whence a not very difficult climb brings one to the cleared summit, from which a fine view of the surrounding country is obtained, including Kina-balu, the sacred mountain of North Borneo. On this summit will be found the holes already described as helping to somewhat lighten the darkness of the dome-shaped cave, on the roof of which we are in fact now standing. It is through these holes that the natives lower themselves into the caves, by means of rattan ladders and, in a most marvellous manner, gain a footing on the ceiling and construct cane stages, by means of which they can reach any part of the roof and, either by hand or by a suitable pole to the end of which is attached a lighted candle, secure the wealth-giving luxury for the epicures of China. There are two principal seasons for collecting the nests, and care has to be taken that the collection is made punctually at the proper time, before the eggs are all hatched, otherwise the nests become dirty and fouled with feathers, &c., and discoloured and injured by the damp, thereby losing much of their market value. Again, if the nests are not collected for a season, the birds do not build many new ones in the following season, but make use of the old ones, which thereby become comparatively valueless.
There are, roughly speaking, three qualities of nests, sufficiently described by their names—white, red, and black—the best quality of each fetching, at Sandakan, per catty of 11⁄3 lbs., $16, $7 and 8 cents respectively.
The question as to the true cause of the difference in the nests has not yet been satisfactorily solved. Some allege that the red and black nests are simply white ones deteriorated by not having been collected in due season. I myself incline to agree with the natives that the nests are formed by different birds, for the fact that, in one set of caves, black nests are always found together in one part, and white ones in another, though both are collected with equal care and punctuality, seems almost inexplicable under the first theory. It is true that the different kinds of nests are not found in the same season, and it is just possible that the red and black nests may be the second efforts at building made by the swifts after the collectors have disturbed them by gathering their first, white ones. In the inferior nests, feathers are found mixed up with the gelatinous matter forming the walls, as though the glands were unable to secrete a sufficient quantity of material, and the bird had to eke it out with its own feathers. In the substance of the white nests no feathers are found.
Then, again, it is sometimes found in the case of two distinct caves, situated at no great distance apart, that the one yields almost entirely white nests, and the other nearly all red, or black ones, though the collections are made with equal regularity in each. The natives, as I have said, seem to think that there are two kinds of birds, and the Hon. R.Abercromby reports that, when he visited Gomanton, they shewed him eggs of different size and explained that one was laid by the white-nest bird and the other by the black-nest builder. Sir Hugh Low, in his work on Sarawak, published in 1848, asserts that there are "two different and quite dissimilar kinds of birds, though both are swallows" (he should have said swifts), and that the one which produces the white nest is larger and of more lively colours, with a white belly, and is found on the sea-coast, while the other is smaller and darker and found more in the interior. He admits, however, that though he had opportunities of observing the former, he had not been able to procure a specimen.
The question is one which should be easily settled on the spot, and I recommend it to the consideration of the authorities of the British North Borneo Museum, which has been established at Sandakan.
The annual value of the nests of Gomanton, when properly collected, has been reckoned at $23,000, but I consider this an excessive estimate. My friend Mr. A. Cook, the Treasurer of the Territory, to whose zeal and perseverance the Company owes much, has arranged with the Buludupih tribe to collect these nests on payment to the Government of a royalty of $7,500 per annum, which is in addition to the export duty at the rate of 10% ad valorem paid by the Chinese exporters.
The swifts and bats—the latter about the size of the ordinary English bat—avail themselves of the shelter afforded by the caves without incommoding one another, for, by a sort of Box and Cox arrangement, the former occupy the caves during the night and the latter by day.
Standing at the Simud Putih entrance about 5 P. M., the visitor will suddenly hear a whirring sound from below, which is caused by the myriads of bats issuing, for their nocturnal banquet, from the Simud Itam caves, through the wide open space that has been described. They come out in a regularly ascending continuous spiral or corkscrew coil, revolving from left to right in a very rapid and regular manner. When the top of the spiral coil reaches a certain height, a colony of bats breaks off, and continuing to revolve in a well kept ring from left to right gradually ascends higher and higher, until all of a sudden the whole detachment dashes off in the direction of the sea, towards the mangrove swamps and the nipas. Sometimes these detached colonies reverse the direction of their revolutions after leaving the main body, and, instead of from left to right, revolve from right to left. Some of them continue for a long time revolving in a circle, and attain a great height before darting off in quest of food, while others make up their minds more expeditiously, after a few revolutions. Amongst the bats, three white ones were, on the occasion of my visit, very conspicuous, and our followers styled them the Raja, his wife and child. Hawks and sea-eagles are quickly attracted to the spot, but only hover on the outskirts of the revolving coil, occasionally snapping up a prize. I also noticed several hornbills, but they appeared to have been only attracted by curiosity. Mr. Bampfylde informed me that, on a previous visit, he had seen a large green snake settled on an overhanging branch near which the bats passed and that occasionally he managed to secure a victim. I timed the bats and found that they took almost exactly fifty minutes to come out of the caves, a thick stream of them issuing all that time and at a great pace, and the reader can endeavour to form for himself some idea of their vast numbers. They had all got out by ten minutes to six in the evening, and at about six o'clock the swifts began to come home to roost. They came in in detached, independent parties, and I found it impossible to time them, as some of them kept very late hours. I slept in the Simud Putih cave on this occasion, and found that next morning the bats returned about 5 A.M., and that the swifts went out an hour afterwards.
As shewing the mode of formation of these caves, I may add that I noticed, imbedded in a boulder of rock in the upper caves, two pieces of coral and several fossil marine shells, bivalves and others.
The noise made by the bats going out for their evening promenade resembled a combination of that of the surf breaking on a distant shore and of steam being gently blown off from a vessel which has just come to anchor.
There are other interesting series of caves, and one—that of Madai, in Darvel Bay on the East coast—was visited by the late Lady Brassey and Miss Brassey in April, 1887, when British North Borneo was honoured by a visit of the celebrated yacht the Sunbeam, with Lord Brassey and his family on board.
I accompanied the party on the trip to Madai, and shall not easily forget the pluck and energy with which Lady Brassey, then in bad health, surmounted the difficulties of the jungle track, and insisted upon seeing all that was to be seen; or the gallant style in which Miss Brassey unwearied after her long tramp through the forest, led the way over the slippery boulders in the dark caves.
The Chinese ascribe great strengthening powers to the soup made of the birds'-nests, which they boil down into a syrup with barley sugar, and sip out of tea cups. The gelatinous looking material of which the substance of the nests is composed is in itself almost flavourless.
It is also with the object of increasing their bodily powers that these epicures consume the uninviting sea-slug or bêche-de-mer, and dried sharks'-fins and cuttle fish.
To conclude my brief sketch of Sandakan Harbour and of the Capital, it should be stated that, in addition to being within easy distance of Hongkong, it lies but little off the usual route of vessels proceeding from China to Australian ports, and can be reached by half a day's deviation of the ordinary track.
Should, unfortunately, war arise with Russia, there is little doubt their East Asiatic squadron would endeavour both to harass the Australian trade and to damage, as much as possible, the coast towns, in which case the advantages of Sandakan, midway between China and Australia, as a base of operations for the British protecting fleet would at once become manifest. It is somewhat unfortunate that a bar has formed just outside the entrance of the harbour, with a depth of water of four fathoms at low water, spring tides, so that ironclads of the largest size would be denied admittance.
There are at present, no steamers sailing direct from Borneo to England, and nearly all the commerce from British North Borneo ports is carried by local steamers to that great emporium of the trade of the Malayan countries, Singapore, distant from Sandakan a thousand miles, and it is a curious fact, that though many of the exports are ultimately intended for the China market, e.g., edible birds'-nests, the Chinese traders find it pays them better to send their produce to Singapore in the first instance, instead of direct to Hongkong. This is partly accounted for by the further fact that, though the Government has spent considerable sum in endeavouring to attract Chinamen from China, the large proportion of our Chinese traders and of the Chinese population generally has come to us viâ Singapore, after as it were having undergone there an education in the knowledge of Malayan affairs.
As further illustrating the commercial and strategical advantages of the harbours of British North Borneo, it should be noted that the course recommended by the Admiralty instructions for vessels proceeding to China from the Straits, viâ the Palawan passage, brings them within ninety miles of the harbours of the West Coast.
As to postal matters, British North Borneo, though not in the Postal Union, has entered into arrangements for the exchange of direct closed mails with the English Post Office, London, with which latter also, as well as with Singapore and India, a system of Parcel Post and of Post Office Orders has been established.
The postal and inland revenue stamps, distinguished by the lion, which has been adopted as the Company's badge, are well executed and in considerable demand with stamp collectors, owing to their rarity.
The Government also issues its own copper coinage, one cent and half-cent pieces, manufactured in Birmingham and of the same intrinsic value as those of Hongkong and the Straits Settlements.
The revenue derived from its issue is an important item to the Colony's finances, and considerable quantities have been put into circulation, not only within the limits of the Company's territory, but also in Brunai and in the British Colony of Labuan, where it has been proclaimed a legal tender on the condition of the Company, in return for the profit which they reap by its issue in the island, contributing to the impoverished Colonial Treasury the yearly sum of $3,000.
Trade, however, is still, to a great extent, carried on by a system of barter with the Natives. The primitive currency medium in vogue under the native regime has been described in the Chapters on Brunai.
The silver currency is the Mexican and Spanish Dollar and the Japanese Yen, supplemented by the small silver coinage of the Straits Settlements. The Company has not yet minted any silver coinage, as the profit thereon is small, but in the absence of a bank, the Treasury, for the convenience of traders and planters, carries on banking business to a certain extent, and issues bank notes of the values of $1, $5 and $25, cash reserves equal to one-third of the value of the notes in circulation being maintained.
Sir Alfred Dent is taking steps to form a Banking Company at Sandakan, the establishment of which would materially assist in the development of the resources of the territory.
British North Borneo is not in telegraphic communication with any part of the world, except of course through Singapore, nor are there any local telegraphs. The question, however, of supplementing the existing cable between the Straits Settlements and China by another touching at British territory in Borneo has more than once been mooted, and may yet become a fait accompli. The Spanish Government appear to have decided to unite Sulu by telegraphic communication with the rest of the world, viâ Manila, and this will bring Sandakan within 180 miles of the telegraphic station.
In the eyes of the European planter, British North Borneo is chiefly interesting as a field for the cultivation of tobacco, in rivalry to Sumatra, and my readers may judge of the importance of this question from a glance at the following figures, which shew the dividends declared of late years by three of the principal Tobacco Planting Companies in the latter island:—
|In||Dividends paid by|
|The Deli Maatschappi.||The Tabak Maatschappi.||The Amsterdam Deli Co.|
|1882||65||per cent.||25||per cent.||10||per cent.|
In Sumatra, under Dutch rule, tobacco culture can at present only be carried on in certain districts, where the soil is suitable and where the natives are not hostile, and, as most of the best land has been taken up, and planters are beginning to feel harassed by the stringent regulations and heavy taxation of the Dutch Government, both Dutch and German planters are turning their attention to British North Borneo, where they find the regulations easier, and the authorities most anxious to welcome them, while, owing to the scanty population, there is plenty of available land. It is but fair to say that the first experiment in North Borneo was made by an English, or rather an Anglo-Chinese Company, the China-Sabah Land Farming Company, who, on hurriedly selected land in Sandakan and under the disadvantages which usually attend pioneers in a new country, shipped a crop to England which was pronounced by experts in 1886 to equal in quality the best Sumatra-grown leaf. Unfortunately, this Company, which had wasted its resources on various experiments, instead of confining itself to tobacco planting, was unable to continue its operations, but a Dutch planter from Java, Count Geloes d'Elsloo, having carefully selected his land in Marudu Bay, obtained, in 1887, the high average of $1 per lb. for his trial crop at Amsterdam, and, having formed an influential Company in Europe, is energetically bringing a large area under cultivation, and has informed me that he confidently expects to rival Sumatra, not only in quality, but also in quantity of leaf per acre, as some of his men have cut twelve pikuls per field, whereas six pikuls per field is usually considered a good crop. The question of "quantity" is a very important one, for quality without quantity will never pay on a tobacco estate. Several Dutchmen have followed Count Geloes' example, and two German Companies and one British are now at work in the country. Altogether, fully 350,000 acres of land have been taken up for tobacco cultivation in British North Borneo up to the present time.
In selecting land for this crop, climate, that is, temperature and rainfall, has equally to be considered with richness of soil. For example, the soil of Java is as rich, or richer than that of Sumatra, but owing to its much smaller rainfall, the tobacco it produces commands nothing like the prices fetched by that of the former. The seasons and rainfall in Borneo are found to be very similar to those of Sumatra. The average recorded annual rainfall at Sandakan for the last seven years is given by Dr. Walker, the Principal Medical Officer, as 124.34 inches, the range being from 156.9 to 101.26 inches per annum.
Being so near the equator, roughly speaking between N. Latitudes 4 and 7, North Borneo has, unfortunately for the European residents whose lot is cast there, nothing that can be called a winter, the temperature remaining much about the same from year's end to year's end. It used to seem to me that during the day the thermometer was generally about 83 or 85 in the shade, but, I believe, taking the year all round, night and day, the mean temperature is 81, and the extremes recorded on the coast line are 67.5 and 94.5. Dr. Walkerhas not yet extended his stations to the hills in the interior, but mentions it as probable that freezing point is occasionally reached near the top of the Kinabalu Mountains, which is 13,700 feet high; he adds that the lowest recorded temperature he has found is 36.5, given by Sir Spencer St. John in his "Life in the Forests of the Far East." Snow has neverbeen reported even on Kinabalu, and I am informed that the Charles Louis Mountains in Dutch New Guinea, are the only ones in tropical Asia where the limit of perpetual snow is attained. I must stop to say a word in praise of Kinabalu, "the Chinese Widow," the sacred mountain of North Borneo whither the souls of the righteous Dusuns ascend after death. It can be seen from both coasts, and appears to rear its isolated, solid bulk almost straight out of the level country, so dwarfed are the neighbouring hills by its height of 13,680 feet. The best view of it is obtained, either at sunrise or at sunset, from the deck of a ship proceeding along the West Coast, from which it is about twenty miles inland. During the day time the Widow, as a rule, modestly veils her features in the clouds.
The effect when its huge mass is lighted up at evening by the last rays of the setting sun is truly magnificent.
On the spurs of Kinabalu and on the other lofty hills, of which there is an abundance, no doubt, as the country becomes opened up by roads many suitable sites for sanitoria will be discovered, and the day will come when these hill sides, like those of Ceylon and Java, will be covered with thriving plantations.
Failing winter, the Bornean has to be content with the the change afforded by a dry and a wet season, the latter being looked upon as the "winter," and prevailing during the month of November, December and January. But though the two seasons are sufficiently well defined and to be depended upon by planters, yet there is never a month during the dry season when no rain falls, nor in the wet season are fine days at all rare. The dryest months appear to be March and April, and in June there generally occurs what DoctorWalker terms an "intermediate" and moderately wet period.
Tobacco is a crop which yields quick returns, for in about 110 to 120 days after the seed is sown the plant is ripe for cutting. The modus operandi is somewhat after this fashion. First select your land, virgin soil covered with untouched jungle, situated at a distance from the sea, so that no salt breezes may jeopardise the proper burning qualities of the future crop, and as devoid as possible of hills. Then, a point of primary importance which will be again referred to, engage your Chinese coolies, who have to sign agreements for fixed periods, and to be carefully watched afterwards, as it is the custom to give them cash advances on signing, the repayment of which they frequently endeavour to avoid by slipping away just before your vessel sails and probably engaging themselves to another master.
Without the Chinese cooly, the tobacco planter is helpless, and if the proper season is allowed to pass, a whole year may be lost. The Chinaman is too expensive a machine to be employed on felling the forest, and for this purpose, indeed, the Malay is more suitable and the work is accordingly given him to do under contract. Simultaneously with the felling, a track should be cut right through the heart of the estate by the natives, to be afterwards ditched and drained and made passable for carts by the Chinese coolies.
That as much as possible of the felled jungle should be burned up is so important a matter and one that so greatly affects the individual Chinese labourer, that it is not left to the Malays to do, but, on the completion of the felling, the whole area which is to be planted is divided out into "fields," of about one acre each, and each "field" is assigned by lot to a Chinese cooly, whose duty it is to carefully burn the timber and plant, tend and finally cut the tobacco on his own division, for which he is remunerated in accordance with the quality and quantity of the leaf he is able to bring into the drying sheds. Each "field," having been cleared as carefully as may be of the felled timber, is next thoroughly hoed up, and a small "nursery" prepared in which the seeds provided by the manager are planted and protected from rain and sun by palm leaf mats (kajangs) raised on sticks. In about a week, the young plants appear, and the Chinese tenant, as I may call him, has to carefully water them morning and evening. As the young seedlings grow up, their enemy, the worms and grubs, find them out and attack them in such numbers that at least once a day, sometimes oftener, the anxious planter has to go through his nursery and pick them off, otherwise in a short time he would have no tobacco to plant out. About thirty days after the seed has been sown, the seedlings are old enough to be planted out in the field, which has been all the time carefully prepared for their reception. The first thing to be done is to make holes in the soil, at distances of two feet one way and three feet the other, the earth in them being loosened and broken up so that the tender roots should meet with no obstacles to their growth. As the holes are ready for them, the seedlings are taken from the nursery and planted out, being protected from the sun's rays either by fern, or coarse grass, or, in the best managed estates, by a piece of wood, like a roofing shingle, inserted in the soil in such a way as to provide the required shelter. The watering has to be continued till the plants have struck root, when the protecting shelter is removed and the earth banked up round them, care being taken to daily inspect them and remove the worms which have followed them from the nursery. The next operation is that of "topping" the plants, that is, of stopping their further growth by nipping off the heads.
According to the richness of the soil and the general appearance of the plants, this is ordered to be done by the European overseer after a certain number of leaves have been produced. If the soil is poor, perhaps only fourteen leaves will be allowed, while on the richest land the plant can stand and properly ripen as many as twenty-four leaves. The signs of ripening, which generally takes place in about three months from the date of transplantation, are well known to the overseers and are first shewn by a yellow tinge becoming apparent at the tips of the leaves.
The cooly thereupon cuts the plants down close to the ground and lightly and carefully packs them into long baskets so as not to injure the leaves, and carries them to the drying sheds. There they are examined by the overseer of his division, who credits him with the value, based on the quantity and quality of the crop he brings in, the price ranging from $1 up to $8 per thousand trees. The plants are then tied in rows on sticks, heads downwards, and hoisted up in tiers to dry in the shed.
After hanging for a fortnight, they are sufficiently dry and, being lowered down, are stripped of their leaves, which are tied up into small bundles, similar leaves being roughly sorted together.
The bundles of leaves are then taken to other sheds, where the very important process of fermenting them is carried out. For this purpose, they are put into orderly arranged heaps—small at first, but increased in size till very little heat is given out, the heat being tested by a thermometer, or even an ordinary piece of stick inserted into them. When the fermentation is nearly completed and the leaves have attained a fixed colour, they are carefully sorted according to colour, spottiness and freedom from injury of any kind. The price realized in Europe is greatly affected by the care with which the leaves have been fermented and sorted. Spottiness is not always considered a defect, as it is caused by the sun shining on the leaves when they have drops of rain on them, and to this the best leaves are liable; but spotted leaves, broken leaves and in short leaves having the same characteristics should be carefully sorted together. After this sorting is completed as regards class and quality, there is a further sorting in regard to length, and the leaves are then tied together in bundles of thirty-five. These bundles are put into large heaps and, when no more heating is apparent, they are ready to be pressed under a strong screw press and sewn up in bags which are carefully marked and shipped off to Europe—to Amsterdam as a rule.
As the coolies' payment is by "results," it is their interest to take the greatest care of their crops; but for any outside work they may be called on to perform, and for their services as sorters, etc. in the sheds, they are paid extra. During the whole time, also, they receive, for "subsistence" money, $4 or $3 a month. At the end of the season their accounts are made up, being debited with the amount of the original advance, subsistence money and cost of implements, and credited with the value of the tobacco brought in and any wages that may be due for outside work. Each estate possesses a hospital, in which bad cases are treated by a qualified practitioner, while in trifling cases the European overseer dispenses drugs, quinine being that in most demand. If, owing to sickness, or other cause, the cooly has required assistance in his field, the cost thereof is deducted in his final account.
The men live in well constructed "barracks," erected by the owner of the estate, and it is one of the duties of the Chinese "tindals," or overseers acting under the Europeans to see that they are kept in a cleanly, sanitary condition.
The European overseers are under the orders of the head manager, and an estate is divided in such a way that each overseer shall have under his direct control and be responsible for the proper cultivation of about 100 fields. He receives a fixed salary, but his interest in his division is augmented by the fact that he will receive a commission on the value of the crop it produces. His work is onerous and, during the season, he has little time to himself, but should be here, there, and everywhere in his division, seeing that the coolies come out to work at the stated times, that no field is allowed to get in a backward state, and that worms are carefully removed, and, as a large proportion of the men are probablysinkehs, that is, new arrivals who have never been on a tobacco estate before, he has, with the assistance of the tindals, to instruct them in their work. When the crop is brought in, he has to examine each cooly's contribution, carefully inspecting each leaf, and keeping an account of the value and quantity of each.
Physical strength, intelligence and an innate desire of amassing dollars, are three essential qualifications for a good tobacco cooly, and, so far, they have only been found united in the Chinaman, the European being out of the question as a field-labourer in the tropics.
The coolies are, as a rule, procured through Chinese cooly brokers in Penang or Singapore, but as regards North Borneo, the charges for commission, transport and the advances—many of which, owing to death, sickness and desertion, are never repaid—have become so heavy as to be almost prohibitive, and my energetic friend, Count Geloes, has set the example of procuring his coolies direct from China, instead of by the old fashioned, roundabout way of the extortionate labour-brokers of the Straits Settlements. North Borneo, it will be remembered, is situated midway between Hongkong and Singapore, and the Court of Directors of the Governing Company could do nothing better calculated to ensure the success of their public-spirited enterprise than to inaugurate regular, direct steam communication between their territory and Hongkong. In the first instance, this could only be effected by a Government subsidy or guarantee, but it is probable that, in a short time, a cargo and passenger traffic would grow up which would permit of the subsidy being gradually withdrawn.
Many of the best men on a well managed estate will re-engage themselves on the expiration of their term of agreement, receiving a fresh advance, and some of them can be trusted to go back to China and engage their clansmen for the estate.
In British North Borneo the general welfare of the indentured coolies is looked after by Government Officials, who act under the provisions of a law entitled "The Estate Coolies and Labourers Protection Proclamation, 1883."
Owing to the expense of procuring coolies and to the fact that every operation of tobacco planting must be performed punctually at the proper season of the year, and to the desirability of encouraging coolies to re-engage themselves, it is manifestly the planters' interest to treat his employés well, and to provide, so far as possible, for their health and comfort on the estate, but, notwithstanding all the care that may be taken, a considerable amount of sickness and many deaths must be allowed for on tobacco estates, which, as a rule, are opened on virgin soil; for, so long as there remains any untouched land on his estate, the planter rarely makes use of land off which a crop has been taken.
In North Borneo the jungle is generally felled towards the end of the wet season, and planting commences in April or May. The Native Dusun, Sulu and Brunai labour is available for jungle-felling and house-building, and nibong palms for posts and nipa palms for thatch, walls and kajangs exist in abundance.
Writing to the Court of Directors in 1884 I said:—"The experiment in the Suanlambah conclusively proves so far that this country will do for tobacco. * * * There seems every reason to conclude that it will do as well here as in Sumatra. When this fact becomes known, I presume there will be quite a small rush to the country, as the Dutch Government, I hear, is not popular in Sumatra, and land available for tobacco there is becoming scarcer."
My anticipations have been verified, and the rush is already taking place.
The localities at present in favour with tobacco planters are Marudu Bay and Banguey Island in the North, Labuk Bay and Darvel Bay in the neighbourhood of the Silam Station, and the Kinabatangan River on the East.
The firstcomers obtained their land on very easy terms, some of them at 30 cents an acre, but the Court has now issued an order that in future no planting land is to be disposed of for a less sum than $1 per acre, free of quit-rent and on a lease for 999 years, with clauses providing that a certain proportion be brought under cultivation.
At present no export duty is levied on tobacco shipped from North Borneo, and the Company has engaged that no such duty shall be imposed before the 1st January, 1892, after which date it will be optional with them to levy an export royalty at the rate of one dollar cent, or a halfpenny, per lb., which rate, they promise, shall not be exceeded during the succeeding twenty years.
The tobacco cultivated in Sumatra and British North Borneo is used chiefly for wrappers for cigars, for which purpose a very fine, thin, elastic leaf is required and one that has a good colour and will burn well and evenly, with a fine white ash. This quality of leaf commands a much higher price than ordinary kinds, and, as stated, Count Geloes'trial crop, from the Ranan Estate in Marudu Bay, averaged 1.83 guilders, or about $1 (3⁄2) per lb. It is said that 2 lbs. or 21⁄2 lbs. weight of Bornean tobacco will cover 1,000 cigars.
Tobacco is not a new culture in Borneo, as some of the hill natives on the West Coast of North Borneo have grown it in a rough and ready way for years past, supplying the population of Brunai and surrounding districts with a sun-dried article, which used to be preferred to that produced in Java. The Malay name for tobacco is tambako, a corruption of the Spanish and Portuguese term, but the Brunai people also know it as sigup.
It was probably introduced into Malay countries by the Portuguese, who conquered Malacca in 1511, and by the Spanish, who settled in the Philippines in 1565. Its use has become universal with men, women and children, of all tribes and of all ranks. The native mode of using tobacco has been referred to in my description of Brunai.
Fibre-yielding plants are also now attracting attention in North Borneo, especially the Manila hemp (Musa textilis) a species of banana, and pine-apples, both of which grow freely. The British Borneo Trading and Planting Company have acquired the patent for Borneo of Death's fibre-cleaning machines, and are experimenting with these products on a considerable scale and, apparently, with good prospects of success. For a long time past, beautiful cloths have been manufactured of pine-apple fibre in the Philippines, and as it is said that orders have been received from France for Borneo pine-apple fibre, we shall perhaps soon see it used in England under the name of French silk.
In the Government Experimental Garden at Silam, in Darvel Bay, cocoa, cinnamon and Liberian coffee have been found to do remarkably well. Sappan-wood and kapok or cotton flock also grow freely.
Many people have a very erroneous idea of the objects and intentions of the British North Borneo Company. Some, with a dim recollection of untold wealth having been extracted from the natives of India in the early days of the Honourable East India Company, conceive that the Company can have no other object than that of fleecing our natives in order to pay dividends; but the old saying, that it is a difficult matter to steal a Highlander's pantaloons, is applicable to North Borneo, for only a magician could extract anything much worth having in the shape of loot from the easy going natives of the country, who, in a far more practical sense than the Christians of Europe, are ready to say "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," and who do not look forward and provide for the future, or heap up riches to leave to their posterity.
Some years ago, a correspondent of an English paper displayed his ignorance on the matter by maintaining that the Company coerced the natives and forced them to buy Manchester goods at extortionate prices. An Oxford Don, when I first received my appointment as Governor, imagined that I was going out as a sort of slave-driver, to compel the poor natives to work, without wages, on the Company's plantations. But, as a matter of fact, though entitled to do so by the Royal Charter, the Company has elected to engage neither in trade nor in planting, deeming that their desire to attract capital and population to their territory will be best advanced by their leaving the field entirely open to others, for otherwise there would always have been a suspicion that rival traders and planters were handicapped in the race with a Company which had the making and the administration of laws and the imposition of taxation in its hands.
It will be asked, then, if the Company do not make a profit out of trading, or planting, or mining, what could have induced them to undertake the Government of a tropical country, some 10,000 miles or more distant from London, for Englishmen, as a rule, do not invest hundreds of thousands of pounds with the philanthropic desire only of benefitting an Eastern race?
The answer to this question is not very plainly put in the Company's prospectus, which states that its object "is the carrying on of the work begun by the Provisional Association" (said in the previous paragraphs of the prospectus to have been the successful accomplishment of the completion of the pioneer work) "and the further improvement and full utilization of the vast natural resources of the country, by the introduction of new capital and labour, which they intend shall be stimulated, aided and protected by a just, humane and enlightened Government. The benefits likely to flow from the accomplishment of this object, in the opening up of new fields of tropical agriculture, new channels of enterprise, and new markets for the world's manufactures, are great and incontestable." I quite agree with the framer of the prospectus that these benefits are great and incontestable, but then they would be benefits conferred on the world at large at the expense of the shareholders of the Company, and I presume that the source from which the shareholders are to be recouped is the surplus revenues which a wisely administered Government would ensure, by judiciously fostering colonisation, principally by Chinese, by the sale of the vast acreages of "waste" or Government lands, by leasing the right to work the valuable timber forests and such minerals as may be found to exist in workable quantities, by customs duties and the "farming out" of the exclusive right to sell opium, spirits, tobacco, etc., and by other methods of raising revenue in vogue in the Eastern Colonies of the Crown. In fact, the sum invested by the shareholders is to be considered in the light of a loan to the Colony—its public debt—to be repaid with interest as the resources of the country are developed. Without encroaching on land worked, or owned by the natives, the Company has a large area of unoccupied land which it can dispose of for the highest price obtainable. That this must be the case is evident from a comparison with the Island of Ceylon, where Government land sales are still held. The area of North Borneo, it has been seen, is larger than that of Ceylon, but its population is only about 160,000, while that of Ceylon is returned as 2,825,000; furthermore, notwithstanding this comparatively large population, it is said that the land under cultivation in Ceylon forms only about one-fifth of its total area. From what I have said of the prospects of tobacco-planting in British North Borneo, it will be understood that land is being rapidly taken up, and the Company will soon be in a position to increase its selling price. Town and station lands are sold under different conditions to that for planting purposes, and are restricted as a rule to lots of the size of 66 feet by 33 feet. The lease is for 999 years, but there is an annual quit-rent at the rate of $6 per lot, which is redeemable at fifteen years' purchase. At Sandakan, lots of this size have at auction realized a premium of $350. In all cases, coal, minerals, precious stones, edible nests and guano are reserved to the Government, and, in order to protect the native proprietors, it is provided that any foreigner desirous of purchasing land from a native must do so through the Government.
Titles and mutations of titles to land are carefully registered and recorded in the Land Office, under the provisions of the Hongkong Registration of Documents Ordinance, which has been adopted in the State.
The local Government is administered by a Governor, selected by the Court of Directors subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He is empowered to enact laws, which require confirmation by the Court, and is assisted in his executive functions by a Government Secretary, Residents, Assistant Residents, a Treasurer-General, a Commissioner of Lands, a Superintendent of Public Works, Commandant, Postmaster-General and other Heads of Departments usually to be found in Crown Colonies, and the British Colonial Regulations are adhered to as closely as circumstances admit. The title of Resident is borrowed from the Dutch Colonies, and the duties of the post are analogous to those of the Resident Councillors of Penang or Malacca, under the Governor of Singapore, or of the Government Agents in Ceylon. The Governor can also call to assist him in his deliberations a Council of Advice, composed of some of the Heads of Departments and of natives of position nominated to seats therein.
The laws are in the form of "Proclamations" issued by the Governor under the seal of the Territory. Most of the laws are adaptations, in whole or in part, of Ordinances enacted in Eastern Colonies, such as the Straits Settlements, Hongkong, Labuan and Fiji.
The Indian Penal Code, the Indian Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence and Contract Acts have been adopted in their entirety, "so far as the same shall be applicable to the circumstances of this Territory."
The Proclamation making these and other Acts the law in North Borneo was the first formal one issued, and bears date the 23rd December, 1881.
The law relating to the protection of estate coolies and labourers has been already referred to.
The question of domestic slavery was one of the first with which the Company had to grapple, the Royal Charter having ordained that "the Company shall to the best of its power discourage and, as far as may be practicable, abolish by degrees, any system of domestic servitude existing among the tribes of the Coast or interior of Borneo; and no foreigners whether European, Chinese or other, shall be allowed to own slaves of any kind in the Company's territories." Slavery and kidnapping were rampant in North Borneo under native regime and were one of the chief obstacles to the unanimous acceptance of the Company's rule by the Chiefs. At first the Residents and other officers confined their efforts to prohibiting the importation of slaves for sale, and in assisting slaves who were ill-treated to purchase their liberty. In 1883, a Proclamation was issued which will have the effect of gradually abolishing the system, as required by the Charter. Its chief provisions are as follows:—No foreigners are allowed to hold slaves, and no slaves can be imported for sale, nor can the natives buy slaves in a foreign country and introduce them into Borneo as slaves, even should there be no intention of selling them as such. Slaves taking refuge in the country from abroad will not be surrendered, but slaves belonging to natives of the country will be given up to their owners unless they can prove ill-treatment, or that they have been brought into the territory subsequently to the 1st November, 1883, and it is optional for any slave to purchase his or her freedom by payment of a sum, the amount of which is to be fixed, from time to time, by the Government.
A woman also becomes free if she can prove that she has cohabited with her master, or with any person other than her husband, with the connivance of her master or mistress; and finally "all children born of slave parents after the first day of November, 1883, and who would by ancient custom be deemed to be slaves, are hereby proclaimed to be free, and any person treating or attempting to treat any such children as slaves shall be guilty of an offence under this Proclamation." The punishment for offences against the provisions of this Proclamation extends to imprisonment for ten years and to a fine up to five thousand dollars.
The late Mr. Witti, one of the first officers of the Association, at my request, drew up, in 1881, an interesting report on the system of Slavery in force in the Tampassuk District, on the West Coast, of which the following is a brief summary. Slaves in this district are divided into two classes—those who are slaves in a strict and rigorous sense, and those whose servitude is of a light description. The latter are known as anak mas, and are the children of a slave mother by a free man other than her master. If a female, she is the slave or anak mas of her mother's master, but cannot be sold by him; if a boy, he is practically free, cannot be sold and, if he does not care to stay with his master, can move about and earn his own living, not sharing his earnings with his master, as is the case in some other districts. In case of actual need, however, his master can call upon him for his services.
If an anak mas girl marries a freeman, she at once becomes a free woman, but a brihan, or marriage gift, of from two to two and a half pikuls of brass gun—valued at $20 to $25 a pikul is payable by the bridegroom to the master.
If she marry a slave, she remains an anak mas, but such cases are very rare and only take place when the husband is in a condition to pay a suitable brihan to the owner.
If an ordinary slave woman becomes enceinte by her owner, she and her offspring are henceforth free and, she may remain as one of her late master's wives. But the jealousy of the inmates of the harem often causes abortion to be procured.
The slaves, as a rule, have quite an easy time of it, living with and, as their masters, sharing the food of the family and being supplied with tobacco, betel-nut and other native luxuries. There is no difference between them and free men in the matter of dress, and in the arms which all carry, and the mere fact that they are allowed to wear arms is pretty conclusive evidence of their not being bullied or oppressed.
They assist in domestic duties and in the operations of harvest and trading and so forth, but there is no such institution as a slave-gang, working under task masters, a picture which is generally present to the Englishman's mind when he hears of the existence of slavery. The slave gang was an institution of the white slave-owner. Slave couples, provided they support themselves, are allowed to set up house and cultivate a patch of land.
For such minor offences as laziness and attempting to escape, the master can punish his slaves with strokes of the rattan, but if an owner receives grave provocation and kills his slave, the matter will probably not be taken notice of by the elders of the village.
An incorrigible slave is sometimes punished by being sold out of the district.
If a slave is badly treated and insufficiently provided with food, his offence in endeavouring to escape is generally condoned by public opinion. If a slave is, without sufficient cause, maltreated by a freeman, his master can demand compensation from the aggressor. Slaves of one master can, with their owner's consent, marry, and no brihan is demanded, but if they belong to different masters, the woman's master is entitled to a brihan of one pikul, equal to $20 or $25. They continue to be the slaves of their respective masters, but are allowed to live together, and in case of a subsequent separation they return to the houses of their masters. Should a freeman, other than her master, wish to marry a slave, he practically buys her from her owner with a brihan of $60 or $75.
Sometimes a favourite slave is raised to a position intermediate between that of an ordinary slave and an anak mas, and is regarded as a brother, or sister, father, mother, or child; but if he or she attempt to escape, a reversion to the condition of an ordinary slave is the result. Occasionally, slaves are given their freedom in fulfilment of a vow to that effect made by the master in circumstances of extreme danger, experienced in company with the slave.
A slave once declared free can never be claimed again by his former master.
Debts contracted by a slave, either in his own name, or in that of his master, are not recoverable.
By their own extra work, after performing their service to their owners, slaves can acquire private property and even themselves purchase and own slaves.
Infidel slaves, of both sexes, are compulsorily converted to Muhammadanism and circumcized and, even though they should recover their freedom, they seldom relapse.
There are, or rather were, a large number of debt slaves in North Borneo. For a debt of three pikuls—$60 to $75—a man might be enslaved if his friends could not raise the requisite sum, and he would continue to be a slave until the debt was paid, but, as a most usurious interest was charged, it was almost always a hopeless task to attempt it.
Sometimes an inveterate gambler would sell himself to pay off his debts of honour, keeping the balance if any.
The natives, regardless of the precepts of the Koran, would purchase any slaves that were offered for sale, whether infidel or Muhammadan. The importers were usually the Illanun and Sulu kidnappers, who would bring in slaves of all tribes—Bajaus, Illanuns, Sulus, Brunais, Manilamen, natives of Palawan and natives of the interior of Magindanau—all was fish that came into their net. The selling price was as follows:—A boy, about 2 pikuls, a man 3 pikuls. A girl, 3 to 4 pikuls, a young woman, 3 to 5 pikuls. A person past middle age about 11⁄2 pikuls. A young couple, 7 to 8 pikuls, an old couple, about 5 pikuls. The pikul was then equivalent to $20 or $25. Mr. Witti further stated that in Tampassuk the proportion of free men to slaves was only one in three, and in Marudu Bay only one in five. In Tampassuk there were more female than male slaves.
Mr. A. H. Everett reported that, in his district of Pappar-Kimanis, there was no slave trade, and that the condition of the domestic slaves was not one of hardship.
Mr. W. B. Pryer, speaking for the East Coast, informed me that there were only a few slaves in the interior, mostly Sulus who had been kidnapped and sold up the rivers. Among the Sulus of the coast, the relation was rather that of follower and lord than of slave and master. When he first settled at Sandakan, he could not get men to work for him for wages, they deemed it degrading to do so, but they said they would work for him if he would buy them! Sulu, under Spanish influence, and Bulungan, in Dutch Borneo, were the chief slave markets, but the Spanish and Dutch are gradually suppressing this traffic.
There was a colony of Illanuns and Balinini settled at Tunku and Teribas on the East Coast, who did a considerable business in kidnapping, but in 1879 Commander E. Edwards, in H. M. S. Kestrel, attacked and burnt their village, capturing and burning several piratical boats and prahus.
Slavery, though not yet extinct in Borneo, has received a severe check in British North Borneo and in Sarawak, and is rapidly dying out in both countries; in fact it is a losing business to be a slave-owner now.
Apart from the institution of slavery, which is sanctioned by the Muhammadan religion, the religious customs and laws of the various tribes "especially with respect to the holding, possession, transfer and disposition of lands and goods, and testate or intestate succession thereto, and marriage, divorce and legitimacy, and the rights of property and personal rights" are carefully regarded by the Company's Government, as in duty bound, according to the terms of Articles 8 and 9 of the Royal Charter. The services of native headmen are utilised as much as possible, and Courts composed of Native Magistrates have been established, but at the same time efforts are made to carry the people with the Government in ameliorating and advancing their social position, and thus involves an amendment of some of the old customs and laws.
Moreover, customs which are altogether repugnant to modern ideas are checked or prohibited by the new Government; as, for example, the time-honoured custom of a tribe periodically balancing the account of the number of heads taken or lost by it from or to another tribe, an audit which, it is strange to say, almost invariably results in the discovery on the part of the stronger tribe that they are on the wrong side of the account and have a balance to get from the others. These hitherto interminable feuds, though not altogether put a stop to in the interior, have been in many districts effectually brought to an end, Government officers having been asked by the natives themselves to undertake the examination of the accounts and the tribe who was found to be on the debtor side paying, not human heads, but compensation in goods at a fixed rate per head due. Another custom which the Company found it impossible to recognize was that of summungap, which was, in reality, nothing but a form of human sacrifice, the victim being a slave bought for the purpose, and the object being to send a message to a deceased relative. With this object in view, the slave used to be bound and wrapped in cloth, when the relatives would dance round him and each thrust a spear a short way into his body, repeating, as he did so, the message which he wished conveyed. This operation was performed till the slave succumbed.
The Muhammadan practice of cutting off the hair of a woman convicted of adultery, or of men flogging her with a rattan, and that of cutting off the hand of a thief, have also not received the recognition of the Company's Government.
It has been shewn that the native population of North Borneo is very small, only about five to the square mile, and as the country is fertile and well-watered and possesses, for the tropics, a healthy climate, there must be some exceptional cause for the scantiness of the population. This is to be found chiefly in the absence, already referred to, of any strong central Government in former days, and to the consequent presence of all forms of lawlessness, piracy, slave-trading, kidnapping and head-hunting.
In more recent years, too, cholera and small-pox have made frightful ravages amongst the natives, almost annihilating some of the tribes, for the people knew of no remedies and, on the approach of the scourge, deserted their homes and their sick and fled to the jungle, where exposure and privation rendered them more than ever liable to the disease. Since the Company's advent, efforts are being successfully made to introduce vaccination, in which most of the people now have confidence.
This fact of a scanty native population has, in some ways, rendered the introduction of the Company's Government a less arduous undertaking than it might otherwise have proved, and has been a fortunate circumstance for the shareholders, who have the more unowned and virgin land to dispose of. In British North Borneo, luckily for the Company, there is not, as there is in Sarawak, any one large, powerful tribe, whose presence might have been a source of trouble, or even of danger to the young Government, but the aborigines are split up into a number of petty tribes, speaking very distinct dialects and, generally, at enmity amongst themselves, so that a general coalition of the bad elements amongst them is impossible.
The institution and amusement of head-hunting appears never to have been taken up and followed with so much energy and zeal in North Borneo as among the Dyaks of Sarawak. I do not think that it was as a rule deemed absolutely essential with any of our tribes that a young man should have taken at least a head or two before he could venture to aspire to the hand of the maiden who had led captive his heart. The heads of slain enemies were originally taken by the conquerors as a substantial proof and trophy of their successful prowess, which could not be gainsaid, and it came, in time, to be considered the proper thing to be able to boast of the possession of a large number of these ghastly tokens; and so an ambitious youth, in his desire for applause, would not be particularly careful from whom, or in what manner he obtained a head, and the victim might be, not only a person with whom he had no quarrel, but even a member of a friendly tribe, and the mode of acquisition might be, not by a fair stand-up fight, a test of skill and courage, but by treachery and ambush. Nor did it make very much difference whether the head obtained was that of a man, a woman or a child, and in their petty wars it was even conceived to be an honourable distinction to bring in the heads of women and children, the reasoning being that the men of the attacked tribe must have fought their best to defend their wives and children.
The following incident, which occurred some years ago at the Colony of Labuan, serves to shew how immaterial it was whether a friend, or foe, or utter stranger was the victim. A Murut chief of the Trusan, a river on the mainland over against Labuan, was desirous of obtaining some fresh heads on the occasion of a marriage feast, and put to sea to a district inhabited by a hostile tribe. Meeting with adverse winds, his canoes were blown over to the British Colony; the Muruts landed, held apparently friendly intercourse with some of the Kadaian (Muhammadan) population and, after a visit of two or three days, made preparations to sail; but meeting a Kadaian returning to his home alone, they shot him and went off with his head—though the man was an entire stranger to them, and they had no quarrel with any of his tribe.
With the assistance of the Brunai authorities, the chief and several of his accomplices were subsequently secured and sent for trial to Labuan. The chief died in prison, while awaiting trial, but one or two of his associates paid the penalty of their wanton crime.
A short time afterwards, Mr. Cook and I visited the Lawas River for sport, and took up our abode in a Murut long house, where, I remember, a large basket of skulls was placed as an ornament at the head of my sleeping place. One night, when all our men, with the exception of my Chinese servant, were away in the jungle, trying to trap the then newly discovered "Bulwer pheasant," some Muruts from the Trusan came over and informed our hosts of the fate of their chief. On the receipt of this intelligence, all the men of our house left it and repaired to one adjoining, where a great "drink" was held, while the women indulged in a loud, low, monotonous, heart-breaking wail, which they kept up for several hours. Mr. Cook and myself agreed that things looked almost as bad for us as they well could, and when, towards morning, the men returned to our house, my Chinese boy clung to me in terror and—nothing happened! But certainly I do not think I have ever passed such an uncomfortable period of suspense.
Writing to the Court of Directors of the East India Company a hundred and thirteen years ago, Mr. Yesse, who concluded the pepper monopoly agreement with the Brunai Government, referring to the Murut predilection for head-hunting says:—"With respect to the Idaan, or Muruts, as they are called here, I cannot give any account of their disposition; but from what I have heard from the Borneyans, they are a set of abandoned idolaters; one of their tenets, so strangely inhuman, I cannot pass unnoticed, which is, that their future interest depends upon the number of their fellow creatures they have killed in any engagement, or common disputes, and count their degrees of happiness to depend on the number of human skulls in their possession; from which, and the wild, disorderly life they lead, unrestrained by any bond of civil society, we ought not to be surprised if they are of a cruel and vindictive disposition." I think this is rather a case of giving a dog a bad name.
I heard read once at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, an eloquent paper on the Natives of the Andaman Islands, in which the lecturer, after shewing that the Andamanese were suspicious, treacherous, blood-thirsty, ungrateful and untruthful, concluded by giving it as his opinion that they were very good fellows and in many ways superior to white man.
I do not go quite so far as he does, but I must say that many of the aborigines are very pleasant good-natured creatures, and have a lot of good qualities in them, which, with care and discriminating legislation on the part of their new rulers, might be gradually developed, while the evil qualities which they possess in common with all races of men, might be pari passu not extinguished, but reduced to a minimum. But this result can only be secured by officers who are naturally of a sympathetic disposition and ready to take the trouble of studying the natives and entering into their thoughts and aspirations.
In many instances, the Company has been fortunate in its choice of officials, whose work has brought them into intimate connection with the aborigines.
A besetting sin of young officers is to expect too much—they are conscious that their only aim is to advance the best interests of the natives, and they are surprised and hurt at, what they consider, the want of gratitude and backwardness in seconding their efforts evinced by them. They forget that the people are as yet in the schoolboy stage, and should try and remember how, in their own schoolboy days, they offered opposition to the efforts of their masters for their improvement, and how little gratitude they felt, at the time, for all that was done for them. Patience and sympathy are the two qualifications especially requisite in officers selected for the management of native affairs.
In addition to the indigenous population, there are, settled along the coast and at the mouths of the principal rivers, large numbers of the more highly civilized tribes of Malays, of whose presence in Borneo an explanation has been attempted on a previous page. They are known as Brunais—called by the Natives, for some unexplained reason, orang abai—Sulus, Bajows, Illanuns and Balininis; there are also a few Bugis, or natives of Celebes.
These are the people who, before the Company's arrival, lorded it over the more ignorant interior tribes, and prevented their having direct dealings with traders and foreigners, and to whom, consequently, the advent of a still more civilized race than themselves was very distasteful.
The habits of the Brunai people have already been sufficiently described.
The Sulus are, next to the Brunais, the most civilized race and, without any exception, the most warlike and powerful. For nearly three centuries, they have been more or less in a state of war with the Spaniards of the Philippine Islands, and even now, though the Spaniards have established a fortified port in their principal island, their subjugation is by no means complete.
The Spanish officials dare not go beyond the walls of their settlement, unless armed and in force, and it is no rare thing for fanatical Sulus, singly or in small parties, to make their way into the Spanish town, under the guise of unarmed and friendly peasants, and then suddenly draw their concealed krises and rush with fury on officers, soldiers and civilians, generally managing to kill several before they are themselves cut down.
They are a much bolder and more independent race than the Brunais, who have always stood in fear of them, and it was in consideration of its undertaking to defend them against their attacks that the Brunai Government conceded the exclusive trade in pepper to the East India Company. Their religion—Muhammadanism—sits even more lightly on the Sulus than on the Brunais, and their women, who are fairer and better looking than their Brunai sisters, are never secluded or veiled, but often take part in public deliberations and, in matters of business, are even sharper than the men.
The Sulus are a bloodthirsty and hard-hearted race, and, when an opportunity occurs, are not always averse to kidnapping even their own countrymen and selling them into slavery. They entertain a high notion of their own importance, and are ever ready to resent with their krises the slightest affront which they may conceive has been put upon them.
In Borneo, they are found principally on the North-East Coast, and a good many have settled in British North Borneo under the Company's Government. They occasionally take contracts for felling jungle and other work of similar character, but are less disposed than the Brunai men to perform work for Europeans on regular wages. Among their good qualities, it may be mentioned that they are faithful and trustworthy followers of any European to whom they may become attached. Their language is distinct from ordinary Malay, and is akin to that of the Bisaias, one of the principal tribes of the Philippines, and is written in the Arabic character; but many Malay terms have been adopted into the language, and most of the trading and seafaring Sulus know enough Malay to conclude a bargain.
The most numerous Muhammadan race in British North Borneo is that of the Bajows, who are found on both coasts, but, on the West Coast, not South of the Pappar River. These are the orang-laut (men of the sea) or sea-gipsies of the old writers, and are the worst class that we have to deal with, being of a treacherous and thievish disposition, and confirmed gamblers and cattle-lifters.
They also form a large proportion of the population of the Sulu Islands, where they are, or used to be, noted kidnappers and pirates, though also distinguished for their skill in pearl fisheries. Their religion is that of Mahomet and their language Malay mixed, it is said, with Chinese and Japanese elements; their women are not secluded, and it is a rare thing for a Borneo Bajow to take the trouble of making the pilgrimage to Mecca. They are found along the coasts of nearly all the Malay Islands and, apparently, in former days lived entirely in their boats. In British North Borneo, a large majority have taken to building houses and residing on the shore, but when Mr. Pryer first settled at Sandakan, there was a considerable community of them in the Bay, who had no houses at all, but were born, bred, married and died in their small canoes.
On the West Coast, the Bajows, who have for a long time been settled ashore, appear to be of smaller build and darker colour than the other Malays, with small sparkling black eyes, but on the East Coast, where their condition is more primitive, Mr. Pryer thinks they are much larger in stature and stronger and more swarthy than ordinary Malays.
On the East Coast, there are no buffaloes or horned cattle, so that the Bajows there have, or I should say had, to be content with kidnapping only, and as an example of their daring I may relate that in, I think, the year 1875, the Austrian Frigate Friederich, Captain Baron Oesterreicher, was surveying to the South of Darvel Bay, and, running short of coal, sent an armed party ashore to cut firewood. The Bajows watched their opportunity and, when the frigate was out of sight, seized the cutter, notwithstanding the fire of the party on the shore, who expended all their ammunition in vain, and carried off the two boat-keepers, whose heads were subsequently shewn round in triumph in the neighbouring islands. Baron Oesterreicher was unable to discover the retreat of these Bajows, and they remain unpunished to this day, and are at present numbered among the subjects of the British North Borneo Company. I have been since told that I have more than once unwittingly shaken hands and had friendly intercourse with some of them. In fairness to them I should add that it is more than probable that they mistook the Friederich for a vessel belonging to Spain, with whom their sovereign, the Sultan of Sulu, was at that time at war. After this incident, and by order of his Government, Baron Oesterreicher visited Sandakan Bay and, I believe, reported that he could discover no population there other than monkeys. Altogether, he could not have carried away with him a very favourable impression of Northern Borneo. On the West Coast, gambling and cattle-lifting are the main pursuits of the gentlemanly Bajow, pursuits which soon brought him into close and very uncomfortable relations with the new Government, for which he entertains anything but feelings of affection. One of the principal independent rivers on the West Coast—i. e., rivers which have not yet been ceded to the Company—is the Mengkabong, the majority of the inhabitants of which are Bajows, so that it has become a sort of river of refuge for the bad characters on the coast, as well as an entrepôt for the smuggling of gunpowder for sale to the head-hunting tribes of the interior. The existence of these independent and intermediate rivers on their West Coast is a serious difficulty for the Company in its efforts to establish good government and put down lawlessness, and every one having at heart the true interests of the natives of Borneo must hope that the Company will soon be successful in the negotiations which they have opened for the acquisition of these rivers. The Kawang was an important river, inhabited by a small number of Bajows, acquired by the Company in 1884, and the conduct of these people on one occasion affords a good idea of their treachery and their hostility towards good government. An interior tribe had made itself famous for its head-hunting proclivities, and the Kawang was selected as the best route by which to reach their district and inflict punishment upon them. The selection of this route was not a politic one, seeing that the inhabitants were Bajows, and that they had but recently come under the Company's rule. The expedition was detained a day or two at the Bajow village, as the full number of Dusun baggage-carriers had not arrived, and the Bajows were called upon to make up the deficiency, but did not do so. Matters were further complicated by the Dusuns recognising some noted cattle-lifters in the village, and demanding a buffalo which had been stolen from them. It being impossible to obtain the required luggage carriers, it was proposed to postpone the expedition, the stores were deposited in some of the houses of the village and the Constabulary were "dismissed" and, piling their arms, laid down under the shelter of some trees. Without any warning one of two Bajows, with whom Dr. Fraser was having an apparently friendly chat, discharged his musket point blank at the Doctor, killing him on the spot, and seven others rushed among the unarmed Constables and speared the Sikh Jemmadhar and the Sergeant-Major and a private and then made off for the jungle. Captain De Fontaine gallantly, but rashly started off in pursuit, before any one could support him. He tripped and fell and was so severely wounded by the Bajows, after killing three of them with his revolver, that he died a few days afterwards at Sandakan. By this time the Sikhs had got their rifles and firing on the retreating party killed three and wounded two. Assistant Resident Little, who had received a spear in his arm, shot his opponent dead with his revolver. None of the other villagers took any active part, and consequently were only punished by the imposition of a fine. They subsequently all cleared out of the Company's territory. It was a sad day for the little Colony at Sandakan when Mr. Whitehead, a naturalist who happened to be travelling in the neighbourhood at the time, brought us the news of the melancholy affray, and the wounded Captain De Fontaine and several Sikhs, to whose comfort and relief he had, at much personal inconvenience, attended on the tedious voyage in a small steam-launch from the Kawang to the Capital. On the East Coast, also, their slave-dealing and kidnapping propensities brought the Bajows into unfriendly relations with the Government, and their lawlessness culminated in their kidnapping several Eraan birds' nest collectors, whom they refused to surrender, and making preparations for resisting any measures which might be taken to coerce them. As these same people had, a short time previously, captured at sea some five Dutch subjects, it was deemed that their offences brought them within the cognizance of the Naval authorities, and Captain A. K. Hope, R.N., at my request, visited the district, in 1886, in H. M. S.Zephyr and, finding that the people of two of the Bajow villages refused to hold communication with us, but prepared their boats for action, he opened fire on them under the protection of which a party of the North Borneo Constabulary landed and destroyed the villages, which were quickly deserted, and many of the boats which had been used on piratical excursions. Happily, there was no loss of life on either side, and a very wholesome and useful lesson was given to the pirates without the shedding of blood, thanks to the good arrangements and tact of Captain Hope. In order that the good results of this lesson should not be wasted, I revisited the scene of the little engagement in the Zephyr a few weeks subsequently, and not long afterwards the British flag was again shewn in the district, by Captain A. H. Alington in H. M. S. Satellite, who interviewed the offending chiefs and gave them sound advice as to their conduct in future.
Akin to the Bajows are the Illanuns and Balinini, Muhammadan peoples, famous in former days as the most enterprising pirates of the Malayan seas. The Balinini, Balignini or Balanguini—as their name is variously written—originally came from a small island to the north of Sulu, and the Illanuns from the south coast of the island of Mindanao—one of the Philippines, but by the action of the Spanish and British cruisers their power has been broken and they are found scattered in small numbers throughout the Sulu Islands and on the seaboard of Northern Borneo, on the West Coast of which they founded little independent settlements, arrogating to their petty chiefs such high sounding titles as Sultan, Maharajah and so forth.
The Illanuns are a proud race and distinguished by wearing a much larger sword than the other tribes, with a straight blade about 28 inches in length. This sword is called akampilan, and is used in conjunction with a long, narrow, wooden shield, known by the name of klassap, and in the use of these weapons the Illanuns are very expert and often boast that, were it not for their gunpowder, no Europeans could stand up to them, face to face. I believe, that it is these people who in former days manufactured the chain armour of which I have seen several specimens, but the use of which has now gone out of fashion. Those I have are made of small brass rings linked together, and with plates of brass or buffalo horn in front. The headpiece is of similar construction.
There are no Negritos in Borneo, although they exist in the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines, and our explorers have failed to obtain any specimens of the "tailed" people in whose existence many of the Brunai people believe. The late Sultan of Brunai gravely assured me that there was such a tribe, and that the individuals composing it were in the habit of carrying about chairs with them, in the seat of each of which there was a little hole, in which the lady or gentleman carefully inserted her or his tail before settling down to a comfortable chat. This belief in the existence of a tailed race appears to be widespread, and in his "Pioneering in New Guinea" Mr. Chalmers gives an amusing account of a detailed description of such a tribe by a man who vowed he had lived with them, and related how they were provided with long sticks, with which to make holes in the ground before squatting down, for the reception of their short stumpy tails! I think it is Mr. H. F. Romilly who, in his interesting little work on the Western Pacific and New Guinea, accounts for the prevalence of "yarns" of this class by explaining that the natives regard Europeans as being vastly superior to them in general knowledge and, when they find them asking such questions as, for instance, whether there are tailed-people in the interior, jump to the conclusion that the white men must have good grounds for believing that they do exist, and then they gradually come to believe in their existence themselves. There is, however, I think, some excuse for the Brunai people's belief, for I have seen one tribe of Muruts who, in addition to the usual small loin cloth, wear on their backs only a skin of a long-tailed monkey, the tail of which hangs down behind in such a manner as, when the men are a little distance off, to give one at first glance the impression that it is part and parcel of the biped.
In Labuan it used to be a very common occurrence for the graves of the Europeans, of which unfortunately, owing to its bad climate when first settled, there are a goodly number, to be found desecrated and the bones scattered about. The perpetrators of these outrages have never been discovered, notwithstanding the most stringent enquiries. It was once thought that they were broken open by head-hunting tribes from the mainland, but this theory was disproved by the fact that the skulls were never carried away. As we know of no Borneo tribe which is in the habit of breaking open graves, the only conclusion that can be come to is that the graves were rifled under the supposition that the Europeans buried treasure with their dead, though it is strange that their experiences of failure never seemed to teach them that such was not the case.
The Muhammadan natives are buried in the customary Muhammadan manner in regular graveyards kept for the purpose.
The aborigines generally bury their dead near their houses, erecting over the graves little sheds adorned, in the case of chiefs, with bright coloured clothes, umbrellas, etc. I once went to see the lying in state of a deceased Datoh, who had been dead nine days. On entering the house I looked about for the corpse in vain, till my attention was drawn to an old earthen jar, tilted slightly forward, on the top of the old Chief's goods—his sword, spear, gun and clothing.
In this jar were the Datoh's remains, the poor old fellow having been doubled up, head and heels together, and forced through the mouth of the vessel, which was about two feet in diameter. The jar itself was about four feet high. Over the corpse was thickly sprinkled the native camphor, and the jar was closed with a piece of buffalo hide, well sealed over with gum dammar. They told us the Datoh was dressed in his best clothes and had his pipe with him, but nothing else. He was to be buried that day in a small grave excavated near the house, just large enough to contain the jar, and a buffalo was being killed and intoxicating drink prepared for the numerous friends and followers who were flocking in for the wake. Over his grave cannon would be fired to arouse the spirits who were to lead him to Kinabalu, the people shouting out "Turn neither to the right nor to the left, but proceed straight to Kinabalu"—the sacred mountain where are collected the spirits of all good Dusuns under, I believe, the presidency of a great spirit known as Kinaringan.
The population of North Borneo, as has been shewn, is very scanty, and the great object of the new Government should be to attract population and capital to their territory. Java is often quoted as an island which, under Dutch rule, has attained great prosperity without any large immigration of Chinese or other foreigners. This is true, but in Java the Dutch had not only a fertile soil and good climate in their favour, but found their Colony already thickly populated by native races who had, under Hindu and Arab influences, made considerable advances in civilization, in trade and in agriculture, and who, moreover, had been accustomed to a strong Government.
The Dutch, too, were in those days able to introduce a Government of a paternal and despotic character which the British North Borneo Company are, by the terms of the Royal Charter, precluded from imitating.
It was Sir James Brooke's wish to keep Sarawak for the natives, but his successor has recognised the impolicy of so doing and admits that "without the Chinese we can do nothing." Experience in the Straits Settlements, the Malay Peninsula and Sarawak has shewn that the people to cause rapid financial progress in Malayan countries are the hard-working, money-loving Chinese, and these are the people whom the Company should lay themselves out to attract to Borneo, as I have more than once pointed out in the course of these remarks. It matters not what it is that attracts them to the country, whether trade, as in Singapore, agriculture, as in Johor and Sarawak, or mining as in Perak and other of the Protected Native States of the Peninsula—once get them to voluntarily immigrate, and govern them with firmness and justice, and the financial success of the Company would, in my opinion, be assured. The inducements for the Chinese to come to North Borneo are trade, agriculture and possibly mining. The bulk of those already in the country are traders, shop-keepers, artisans and the coolies employed by them, and the numbers introduced by the European tobacco planters for the cultivation of their estates, under the system already explained, is yearly increasing. Very few are as yet engaged in agriculture on their own account, and it must be confessed that the luxuriant tropical jungle presents considerable difficulties to an agriculturist from China, accustomed to a country devoid of forest, and it would be impossible for Chinese peasants to open land in Borneo for themselves without monetary assistance, in the first instance, from the Government or from capitalists. In Sarawak Chinese pepper planters were attracted by free passages in Government ships and by loans of money, amounting to a considerable total, nearly all of which have since been repaid, while the revenues of the State have been almost doubled. The British North Borneo Company early recognised the desirability of encouraging Chinese immigration, but set to work in too great haste and without judgment.
They were fortunate in obtaining the services for a short time, as their Commissioner of Chinese Immigration, of a man so well-known in China as the late Sir Walter Medhurst, but he was appointed before the Company's Government was securely established and before proper arrangements had been made for the reception of the immigrants, or sufficient knowledge obtained of the best localities in which to locate them. His influence and the offer of free passages from China, induced many to try their fortune in the Colony, but the majority of them were small shop-keepers, tailors, boot-makers, and artisans, who naturally could not find a profitable outlet for their energies in a newly opened country to which capital (except that of the Governing Company) had not yet been attracted, and a large proportion of the inhabitants of which were satisfied with a loin cloth as the sole article of their attire. Great, therefore, was their disappointment, and comparatively few remained to try their luck in the country. One class of these immigrants, however, took kindly to North Borneo—the Hakkas, an agricultural clan, many of whom have embraced the Christian religion and are, in consequence, somewhat looked down upon by their neighbours. They are a steady, hard-working body of men, and cultivate vegetable and coffee gardens in the vicinity of the Settlements and rear poultry and pigs. The women are steady, and work almost as well as the men. They may form a valuable factor in the colonization of the country and a source of cheap labour for the planters in the future.
Sir Spencer St. John, formerly Her Britannic Majesty's Consul-General at Brunai and who knew Borneo well, in his preface to the second edition of his "Life in the Forests of the Far East," lays great stress on the suitability of North Borneo for the immigration of Chinese on a very large scale, and prophesied that "should the immigration once commence, it would doubtless assume great proportions and continue until every acre of useless jungle is cleared away, to give place to rice, pepper, gambier, sugar-cane, cotton, coffee, indigo and those other products which flourish on its fertile soil." No doubt a considerable impetus would be given to the immigration of Chinese and the introduction of Chinese as well as of European capital, were the British Government to proclaim formally a Protectorate over the country, meanwhile the Company should try the effect of the offer of free passages from China and from Singapore and of liberal allotments of suitable land to bonâ fide agriculturists.
The sources of the Company's revenues have been referred to on a previous page, and may be summarised here under the following principal heads:—The "Farms" of Opium, Tobacco, Spirits, and of Pawnbroking, the Rent of the edible birds'-nest caves, Market Dues, Duties on Imports and Exports, Court Fines and Fees, Poll Tax on aborigines, House and Store Rents, profit accruing from the introduction of the Company's copper or bronze token coinage—a considerable item—Interest and Commission resulting from the Banking business carried on by the Treasury pending the establishment of a Banking Company, Land Sales and Quit-rents on land alienated, and Postal Receipts.
The Poll Tax is a source of revenue well-known in the East and not objected to by most of our natives, with whom it takes the place of the land rent which the Government of India imposes. To our aborigines a land rent would be most distasteful at present, and they infinitely prefer the Poll Tax and to be allowed to own and farm what land they like without paying premium or rent. The more civilized tribes, especially on the West coast, recognize private property in land, the boundaries of their gardens and fields being carefully marked and defined, and the property descending from fathers to children. The rate of the Poll Tax is usually $2 for married couples and $1 for adult bachelors per annum, and I believe this is about the same rate as that collected by the British Government in Burma. At first sight it has the appearance of a tax on marriage, but in the East generally women do a great deal of the out-door as well as of the indoor work, so that a married man is in a much better position than a bachelor for acquiring wealth, as he can be engaged in collecting jungle produce, or in trading, or in making money in other ways, while his womenkind are planting out or gathering in the harvest.
The amounts received by the Company for the sale of their waste lands has been as follows:—
The receipts for 1888, owing to the rush for tobacco lands already alluded to, and to the fact that the balances of the premia on lands taken up in 1887 becomes due in that year, will be considerably larger than those of any previous period.
The most productive, and the most elastic source of revenue is that derived from the Excise on the retail of opium and, with the comparatively small number of Chinese at present in the country, this amounted in 1887 to $19,980, having been only $4,537 in 1882. The next most substantial and promising item is the Customs Duties on Import and Export, which from about $8,300 in 1882 have increased to $19,980 in 1887.
The local expenditure in Borneo is chiefly for salaries of the officials, the armed Constabulary and for Gaols and Public Works, the annual "rental" payable to the Sultans of Brunai and Sulu and others, the subsidizing of steamers, Medical Services, Printing, Stationery, Prospecting, Experimental Gardens and Harbour and Postal Services. The designations of the principal officials employed by the Company in Borneo have been given on a previous page; the salaries allowed them, as a rule, can scarcely be called too liberal, and unfortunately the Court of Directors does not at present feel that it is justified in sanctioning any pension scheme. Those of my readers who are conversant with the working of Public Offices will recognize that this decision of the Directors deprives the service of one great incentive to hard and continuous work and of a powerful factor in the maintenance of an effective discipline, and it speaks volumes for the quality of the officials, whose services the Company has been so fortunate as to secure without this attraction, that it is served as faithfully, energetically and zealously as any Government in the world. It I may be allowed to say so here, I can never adequately express my sense of the valuable assistance and support I received from the officers, with scarcely any exception, during my six years' tenure of the appointment of Governor. An excellent spirit pervades the service and, when the occasions have arisen, there have never been wanting officers ready to risk their lives in performing their duties, without hope of rewards or distinctions, Victoria Crosses or medals.
The figures below speak for the advance which the country is making, not very rapidly, perhaps the shareholders may think, but certainly, though slowly, surely and steadily:—
Revenue in 1883, $51,654, with the addition of Land Sales, $25,449, a total of $77,103.
Revenue in 1887, $142,687, with the addition of Land Sales, $14,505, a total of $157,192.
Expenditure in 1883, including expenditure on Capital Account, $391,547.
Expenditure in 1887, including expenditure on Capital Account, $209,862.
For reasons already mentioned, the revenue for 1888 is expected to considerably exceed that of any previous year, while the expenditure will probably not be more and may be less than that of 1887.
The expenses of the London office average, I believe, about £3,000 a year.
As Sir Rutherford Alcock, their able and conscientious Chairman, explained to the shareholders at a recent meeting, "with reference to the important question of expenditure, the position of the Company was that of a man coming into possession of a large estate which had been long neglected, and which was little better than a wilderness. If any rent roll was to be derived from such a property there must be, in the first place, a large outlay in many ways before the land could be made profitable, or indeed tenantable. That was what the Company had had to do and what they had been doing; and that had been the history of all our Colonies." I trust that the few observations I have offered will have shewn my readers that, though British North Borneo might be described as a wilderness so far as regards the absence of development when the Company took possession of it, such a description is by no means applicable to it when regard is had to its great and undoubted natural resources.
British North Borneo not being a Crown Colony, it has to provide itself for the maintenance of order, both ashore and afloat, without assistance from the Imperial Army or Navy, except such temporary assistance as has been on two occasions accorded by Her Majesty's vessels, under circumstances which have been detailed. There are no Imperial Troops stationed either in Labuan or in any portion of Borneo, and the Company has organized an armed Police Force to act both in a military and in a civil capacity.
The numbers of their Force do not much exceed two hundred of all ranks, and are composed principally of Sikhs from the Punjaub and a few Dyaks from Sarawak—an excellent mixture for fighting purposes, the Dyaks being sufficiently courageous and expert in all the arts of jungle warfare, while the pluck and cool steadiness under fire of the Sikhs is too well-known to need comment here. The services of any number of Sikhs can, it appears, be easily obtained for this sort of work, and some years ago a party of them even took service with the native Sultan of Sulu, who, however, proved a very indifferent paymaster and was soon deserted by his mercenaries, who are the most money-grabbing lot of warriors I have ever heard of. Large bodies of Sikhs are employed and drilled as Armed Constables in Hongkong, in the Straits Settlements and in the Protected Native States of the Malay Peninsula, who, after a fixed time of service, return to their country, their places being at once taken by their compatriots, and one cannot help thinking what effect this might have in case of future disturbances in our Indian Empire, should the Sikh natives make common cause with the malcontents.
Fault has been found with the Company for not following the example of Sarawak and raising an army and police from among its own people. This certainly would have been the best policy had it only been feasible; but the attempt was made and failed.
As I have pointed out, British North Borneo is fortunate in not possessing any powerful aboriginal tribe of pronounced warlike instincts, such as the Dyaks of Sarawak.
The Muhammadan Bajows might in time make good soldiers, but my description of them will have shewn that the Company could not at present place reliance in them.
While on the subject of "fault finding," I may say that the Company has also been blamed for its expenditure on public works and on subsidies for steam communication with the outer world.
But our critics may rest assured that, had not the Company proved its faith in the country by expending some of its money on public works and in providing facilities for the conveyance of intending colonists, neither European capital nor Chinese population, so indispensable to the success of their scheme, would have been attracted to their Territory as is now being done—for the country and its new Government lacked the prestige which attaches to a Colony opened by the Imperial Government. The strange experiment, in the present day, of a London Company inaugurating a Government in a tropical Colony, perhaps not unnaturally caused a certain feeling of pique and uncharitableness in the breasts of that class of people who cannot help being pleased at the non-success of their neighbours' most cherished schemes, and who are always ready with their "I told you so." The measure of success attained by British North Borneo caused it to come in for its full share of this feeling, and I am not sure that it was not increased and aggravated by the keen interest which all the officers took in the performance of their novel duties—an interest which, quite unintentionally, manifested itself, perhaps, in a too enthusiastic and somewhat exaggerated estimate of the beauties and resources of their adopted country and of the grandeur of its future destiny and of its rapid progress, and which, so to speak, brought about a reaction towards the opposite extreme in the minds of the class to whom I refer. This enthusiasm was, to say the least, pardonable under the circumstances, for all men are prone to think that objects which intensely engross their whole attention are of more importance than the world at large is pleased to admit. Every man worth his salt thinks his own geese are swans.
A notable exception to this narrow-mindedness was, however, displayed by the Government of Singapore, especially by its present Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, who let no opportunity pass of encouraging the efforts of the infant Government by practical assistance and unprejudiced counsel.
Lord Brassey, whose visit to Borneo in the Sunbeam I have mentioned, showed a kindly appreciation of the efforts of the Company's officers, and practically evinced his faith in the future of the country by joining the Court of Directors on his return to England.
In the number of the "Nineteenth Century" for August, 1887, is a sketch of the then position of the portion of Borneo which is under the British influence, from his pen.
As the country is developed and land taken up by European planters and Chinese, the Company will be called upon for further expenditure on public works, in the shape of roads, for at present, in the interior, there exist only rough native tracks, made use of by the natives when there does not happen to be a river handy for the transport of themselves and their goods. Though well watered enough, British North Borneo possesses no rivers navigable for European vessels of any size, except perhaps the Sibuku River, the possession of which is at the present moment a subject of dispute with the the Dutch. This is due to the natural configuration of the country. Borneo, towards the North, becoming comparatively narrow and of roughly triangular shape, with the apex to the North. The only other river of any size and navigable for vessels drawing about nine feet over the bar, is the Kinabatangan, which, like the Sibuku, is on the East side, the coast range of mountains, of which Kinabalu forms a part, being at no great distance from the West coast and so preventing the occurrence of any large rivers on that side. From data already to hand, it is calculated that the proceeds of Land Sales for 1887 and 1888 will equal the total revenue from all other sources, and a portion of this will doubtless be set aside for road making and other requisite public works.
The question may be asked what has the Company done for North Borneo?
A brief reply to this question would include the following points. The Company has paved the way to the ultimate extinction of the practice of slavery; it has dealt the final blow to the piracy and kidnapping which still lingered on its coasts; it has substituted one strong and just Government for numerous weak, cruel and unjust ones; it has opened Courts of Justice which know no distinction between races and creeds, between rich and poor, between master and slave; it is rapidly adjusting ancient blood feuds between the tribes and putting a stop to the old custom of head-hunting; it has broken down the barrier erected by the coast Malays to prevent the aborigines having access to the outer world and is thus enabling trade and its accompanying civilisation to reach the interior races; and it is attracting European and Chinese capital to the country and opening a market for British traders.
These are some, and not inconsiderable ones, of the achievements of the British North Borneo Company, which, in its humble way, affords another example of the fact that the "expansion of Britain" has been in the main due not to the exertions of its Government so much as to the energy and enterprise of individual citizens, and Sir Alfred Dent the the founder, and Sir Rutherford Alcock the guide and supporter of the British North Borneo Company, cannot but feel a proud satisfaction in the reflection that their energy and patient perseverance have resulted in conferring upon so considerable a portion of the island of Borneo the benefits above enumerated and in adding another Colony to the long list of the Dependencies of the British Crown.
In the matter of geographical exploration, too, the Company and its officers have not been idle, as the map brought out by the Company sufficiently shews, for previous maps of North Borneo will be found very barren and uninteresting, the interior being almost a complete blank, though possessing one natural feature which is conspicuous by its absence in the more recent and trustworthy one, and that is the large lake of Kinabalu, which the explorations of the late Mr. F. K. Witti have proved to be non-existent. Two explanations are given of the origin of the myth of the Kinabalu Lake—one is that in the district, where it was supposed to exist, extensive floods do take place in very wet seasons, giving it the appearance of a lake, and, I believe there are many similar instances in Dutch Borneo, where a tract of country liable to be heavily flooded has been dignified with the name of Danau, which is Malay for lake, so that the mistake of the European cartographers is a pardonable one. The other explanation is that the district in question is known to the aboriginal inhabitants as Danau, a word which, in their language, has no particular meaning, but which, as above stated, signifies, in Malay, a lake. The first European visitors would have gained all their information from the Malay coast tribes, and the reason for their mistaken supposition of the existence of a large lake can be readily understood. The two principal pioneer explorers of British North Borneo were Witti and Frank Hatton, both of whom met with violent deaths. Witti's services as one of the first officers stationed in the country, before the British North Borneo Company was formed, have already been referred to, and I have drawn on his able report for a short account of the slave system which formerly prevailed. He had served in the Austrian Navy and was a very energetic, courageous and accomplished man. Besides minor journeys, he had traversed the country from West to East and from North to South, and it was on his last journey from Pappar, on the West Coast, inland to the headwaters of the Kinabatangan and Sambakong Rivers, that he was murdered by a tribe, whose language none of his party understood, but whose confidence he had endeavoured to win by reposing confidence in them, to the extent even of letting them carry his carbine. He and his men had slept in the village one night, and on the following day some of the tribe joined the party as guides, but led them into the ambuscade, where the gallant Witti and many of his men were killed by sumpitans. So far as we have been able to ascertain the sole reason for the attack was the fact that Witti had come to the district from a tribe with whom these people were at war, and he was, therefore, according to native custom, deemed also to be an enemy. Frank Hatton joined the Company's service with the object of investigating the mineral resources of the country and in the course of his work travelled over a great portion of the Territory, prosecuting his journeys from both the West and the East coasts, and undergoing the hardships incidental to travel in a roadless, tropical country with such ability, pluck and success as surprised me in one so young and slight and previously untrained and inexperienced in rough pioneering work.
He more than once found himself in critical positions with inland tribes, who had never seen or heard of a white man, but his calmness and intrepidity carried him safely throughsuch difficulties, and with several chiefs he became a sworn brother, going through the peculiar ceremonies customary on such occasions. In 1883, he was ascending the Segama River to endeavour to verify the native reports of the existence of gold in the district when, landing on the bank, he shot at and wounded an elephant, and while following it up through the jungle, his repeating rifle caught in a rattan and went off, the bullet passing through his chest, causing almost immediate death. Hatton, before leaving England, had given promise of a distinguished scientific career, and his untimely fate was deeply mourned by his brother officers and a large circle of friends. An interesting memoir of him has been published by his father, Mr. Joseph Hatton, and a summary of his journeys and those of Witti, and other explorers in British North Borneo, appeared in the "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography" for March, 1888, being the substance of a paper read before the Society by Admiral R. C. Mayne, C.B., M.P. A memorial cross has been erected at Sandakan, by their brother officers, to the memory of Witti, Hatton, de Fontaine and Sikh officers and privates who have lost their lives in the service of the Government.
To return for a moment to the matter of fault-finding, it would be ridiculous to maintain that no mistakes have been made in launching British North Borneo on its career as a British Dependency, but then I do not suppose that any single Colony of the Crown has been, or will be inaugurated without similar mistakes occurring, such, for instance, as the withholding money where money was needed and could have been profitably expended, and a too lavish expenditure in other and less important directions. Examples will occur to every reader who has studied our Colonial history. If we take the case of the Colony of the Straits Settlements, now one of our most prosperous Crown Colonies and which was founded by the East India Company, it will be seen that in 1826-7 the "mistakes" of the administration were on such a scale that there was an annual deficit of £100,000, and the presence of the Governor-General of India was called for to abolish useless offices and effect retrenchments throughout the service.
The British North Borneo Company possesses a valuable property, and one which is daily increasing in value, and if they continue to manage it with the care hitherto exhibited, and if, remembering that they are not yet quite out of the wood, they are careful to avoid, on the one hand, a too lavish expenditure and, on the other, an unwise parsimony, there cannot, I should say, be a doubt that a fair return will, at no very distant date, be made to them on the capital they have expended.
As for the country per se, I consider that its success is now assured, whether it remains under the rule of the Company or is received into the fellowship of bonâ fide Colonies of the Empire.
In bringing to a conclusion my brief account of the Territory, some notice of its suitability as a residence for Europeans may not be out of place, as bearing on the question of "what are we to do with our boys?"
I have my own experience of seventeen years' service in Northern Borneo, and the authority of Dr. Walker, the able Medical Officer of the Government, for saying that in its general effect on the health of Europeans, the climate of British North Borneo, as a whole, compares not unfavourably with that of other tropical countries.
There is no particular "unhealthy season," and Europeans who lead a temperate and active life have little to complain of, except the total absence of any cold season, to relieve the monotony of eternal summer. On the hills of the interior, no doubt, an almost perfect climate could be obtained.
One great drawback to life for Europeans in all tropical places is the fact that it is unwise to keep children out after they have attained the age of seven or eight years, but up to that age the climate appears to agree very well with them and they enjoy an immunity from measles, whooping cough and other infantile diseases. This enforced separation from wife and family is one of the greatest disadvantages in a career in the tropics.
We have not, unfortunately, had much experience as to how the climate of British North Borneo affects English ladies, but, judging from surrounding Colonies, I fear it will be found that they cannot stand it quite so well as the men, owing, no doubt, to their not being able to lead such an active life and to their not having official and business matter to occupy their attention during the greater part of the day, as is the case with their husbands.
Of course, if sufficient care is taken to select a swampy spot, charged with all the elements of fever and miasma, splendidly unhealthy localities can be found in North Borneo, a residence in which would prove fatal to the strongest constitution, and I have also pointed out that on clearing new ground for plantations fever almost inevitably occurs, but, as Dr. Walker has remarked, the sickness of the newly opened clearings does not last long when ordinary sanitary precautions are duly observed.
At present the only employers of Europeans are the Governing Company, who have a long list of applicants for appointments, the Tobacco Companies, and two Timber Companies. Nearly all the Tobacco Companies at present at work are of foreign nationality and, doubtless, would give the preference to Dutch and German managers and assistants. Until more English Companies are formed, I fear there will be no opening in British North Borneo for many young Englishmen not possessed of capital sufficient to start planting on their own account. It will be remembered that the trade in the natural products of the country is practically in the hands of the Chinese.
Among the other advantages of North Borneo is its entire freedom from the presence of the larger carnivora—the tiger or the panther. Ashore, with the exception of a few poisonous snakes—and during seventeen years' residence I have never heard of a fatal result from a bite—there is no animal which will attack man, but this is far from being the case with the rivers and seas, which, in many places, abound in crocodiles and sharks. The crocodiles are the most dreaded animals, and are found in both fresh and salt water. Cases are not unknown of whole villages being compelled to remove to a distance, owing to the presence of a number of man-eating crocodiles in a particular bend of a river; this happened to the village of Sebongan on the Kinabatangan River, which has been quite abandoned.
Crocodiles in time become very bold and will carry off people bathing on the steps of their houses over the water, and even take them bodily out of their canoes.
At an estate on the island of Daat, I had two men thus carried off out of their boats, at sea, after sunset, in both cases the mutilated bodies being subsequently recovered. The largest crocodile I have seen was one which was washed ashore on an island, dead, and which I found to measure within an inch of twenty feet.
Some natives entertain the theory that a crocodile will not touch you if you are swimming or floating in the water and not holding on to any thing, but this is a theory which I should not care to put practically to the test myself.
There is a native superstition in some parts of the West Coast, to the effect that the washing of a mosquito curtain in a stream is sure to excite the anger of the crocodiles and cause them to become dangerous. So implicit was the belief in this superstition, that the Brunai Government proclaimed it a punishable crime for any person to wash a mosquito curtain in a running stream.
When that Government was succeeded by the Company, this proclamation fell into abeyance, but it unfortunately happened that a woman at Mempakul, availing herself of the laxity of the law in this matter, did actually wash her curtain in a creek, and that very night her husband was seized and carried off by a crocodile while on the steps of his house. Fortunately, an alarm was raised in time, and his friends managed to rescue him, though badly wounded; but the belief in the superstition cannot but have been strengthened by the incident.
Some of the aboriginal natives on the West Coast are keen sportsmen and, in the pursuit of deer and wild pig, employ a curious small dog, which they call asu, not making use of the Malay word for dog—anjing. The term asu is that generally employed by the Javanese, from whose country possibly the dog may have been introduced into Borneo. In Brunai, dogs are called kuyok, a term said to be of Sumatran origin.
On the North and East there are large herds of wild cattle said to belong to two species, Bos Banteng and Bos Gaurus or Bos Sondaicus. In the vicinity of Kudat they afford excellent sport, a description of which has been given, in a number of the "Borneo Herald," by Resident G. L. Davies, who, in addition to being a skilful manager of the aborigines, is a keen sportsman. The native name for them on the East Coast is Lissang or Seladang, and on the North, Tambadau. In some districts the water buffalo, Bubalus Buffelus, has run wild and affords sport.
The deer are of three kinds—the Rusa or Sambur (Rusa Aristotelis), the Kijang or roe, and the Plandok, or mousedeer, the latter a delicately shaped little animal, smaller and lighter than the European hare. With the natives it is an emblem of cunning, and there are many short stories illustrating its supposed more than human intelligence. Wild pig, theSus barbatus, a kind distinct from the Indian animal, and, I should say, less ferocious, is a pest all over Borneo, breaking down fences and destroying crops. The jungle is too universal and too thick to allow of pig-sticking from horseback, but good sport can be had, with a spear, on foot, if a good pack of native dogs is got together.
It is on the East Coast only that elephants and rhinoceros, called Gajah and Badak respectively, are found. The elephant is the same as the Indian one and is fairly abundant; the rhinoceros is Rhinoceros sumatranus, and is not so frequently met with.
The elephant in Borneo is a timid animal and, therefore, difficult to come up with in the thick jungle. None have been shot by Europeans so far, but the natives, who can walk through the forest so much more quietly, sometimes shoot them, and dead tusks are also often brought in for sale.
The natives in the East Coast are very few in numbers and on neither coast is there any tribe of professional hunters, or shikaris, as in India and Ceylon, so that, although game abounds, there are not, at present, such facilities for Europeans desirous of engaging in sport as in the countries named.
A little Malay bear occurs in Borneo, but is not often met with, and is not a formidable animal.
My readers all know that Borneo is the home of the Orang-utan or Mias, as it is called by the natives. No better description of the animal could be desired than that given byWallace in his "Malay Archipelago." There is an excellent picture of a young one in the second volume of Dr. Guillemard's "Cruise of the Marchesa." Another curious monkey, common in mangrove swamps, is the long-nosed ape, or Pakatan, which possesses a fleshy probosis some three inches long. It is difficult to tame, and does not live long in captivity.
As in Sumatra, which Borneo much resembles in its fauna and flora, the peacock is absent, and its place taken by the Argus pheasant. Other handsome pheasants are the Firebackand the Bulwer pheasants, the latter so named after Governor Sir Henry Bulwer who took the first specimen home in 1874. These pheasants do not rise in the jungle and are, therefore, uninteresting to the Borneo sportsman. They are frequently trapped by the natives. There are many kinds of pigeons, which afford good sport. Snipe occur, but not plentifully. Curlew are numerous in some localities, but very wild. The small China quail are abundant on cleared spaces, as also is the painted plover, but cleared spaces in Borneo are somewhat few and far between. So much for sport in the new Colony.
Let me conclude my paper by quoting the motto of the British North Borneo Company—Pergo et perago—I under take a thing and go through with it. Dogged persistence has, so far, given the Territory a fair start on its way to prosperity, and the same perseverance will, in time, be assuredly rewarded by complete success.