since 1906

Labuan 1846-1906

In an Anglo-Dutch agreement of 1824, the island of Borneo had been allocated to the Dutch sphere of influence. In reality, in the early 19th century, the entire northern coast of Borneo belonged to the SULTANATE OF BRUNEI. However, the Sultan's authority was at times only nominal, as his vassals were rather independent-minded. Many of them profited of PIRACY, for which the waters in the region were notorious.
In 1846 the Sultan, at a British request, ceded to Great Britain the island of LABUAN (92 sq km). It was of importance as a COAL STATION, for British steamers to refuel; for this Labuan was excellently suited, as it provided both a deep sea harbour and coal mines on the island (coal was found in 1847, the mine operated 1849-1911). It also served as a station for expeditions with the object to suppress piracy. And being an island off Borneo, it did not strictly violate the Anglo-Dutch agreement of 1824. The British declared Labuan a FREE PORT. Chinese convicts were brought in to work the coal mines. A short railway line (for the transport of coal) was built in 1852. Labuan had the status of a CROWN COLONY since 1848.
In 1888 the administration of Labuan (now no more a crown colony) was handed over to the BRITISH NORTH BORNEO CHARTERED COMPANY, which, since 1877/1881 ran NORTH BORNEO (Sabah). In 1906 Labuan was again given the status of a crown colony, in 1907 it was placed under the administration of the STRAITS SETTLEMENTS.

The first Labuan stamps were issued in 1879 (before, stamps of the Straits Settlements had been used). Although British North Borneo stamps were valid for postal use on Labuan since 1892, further Labuan stamps were issued in 1894, 1896, 1897 and 1902, with inscriptions in English, Chinese and JAWI (Malay in Arab script).
Labuan had an important strategic function in the middle 19th century, as coal stations were essential for the British Empire. The island's economic importance is reflected in her population, which was given at c. 1,400 in 1851, 2,400 in 1861, 4,900 in 1871, 6,298 in 1881, then stagnating at 5,900 in 1891 and 1901.

History of Labuan, from Labuan Tourism
Philatelic and Postal History of Labuan, from The Sarawak Specialists' Society
DOCUMENTS Malaysia : historical demographical data of the administrative divisions, from Population Statistics at Univ. Utrecht; has population data for Labuan 1851-1948, 1978-1999
Article Labuan, from Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1888-1890 edition, in German
REFERENCE Article Labuan, in : Statesman's Year Book 1895 p.158 (on events of 1894) [G]
Article Labuan, in : Statesman's Year Book 1898 p.158 (on events of 1897) [G]
Article Labuan, in : Statesman's Year Book 1901 pp.171-172 (on events of 1900) [G]
Article Labuan, in : Statesman's Year Book 1905 pp.180-181 (on events of 1904) [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 9th 2002, last revised on October 4th 2006

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