North Borneo #108 (1901)

North Borneo #108 (1901)
North Borneo #108 (1901)

The State of North Borneo (Borneo Utara) was a British protectorate located in the northern part of the island of Borneo. The territory of North Borneo was originally established by concessions of the Sultanates of Brunei and Sulu in 1877 and 1878 to an Austrian-German businessman and diplomat, von Overbeck.

Overbeck had recently purchased a small tract of land in the western coast of Borneo in 1876 from an American merchant Joseph William Torrey, had promoted the territory in Hong Kong since 1866. Overbeck then transferred all his rights to Alfred Dent before withdrawing in 1879. In 1881, Dent established the North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd to manage the territory, which was granted a royal charter in the same year. The following year, the Provisional Association was replaced by the North Borneo Chartered Company. The granting of royal charter worried both the neighboring Spanish and Dutch authorities and as a result the Spanish began to stake their claim to northern Borneo. A protocol known as the Madrid Protocol was signed in 1885 to recognize Spanish presence in the Philippine archipelago, in return establishing the definite border of Spanish influence beyond northern Borneo. To avoid further claims from other European powers, North Borneo was made a British protectorate in 1888.

North Borneo produced timber for export; along with agriculture this industry remained the main economic resource for the British in Borneo. As the population was too small to effectively serve the economy, the British sponsored various migration schemes for Chinese workers from Hong Kong and China to work in the European plantations, and for Japanese immigrants to participate in the economic activities of North Borneo. The starting of World War II with the arrival of Japanese forces however brought an end to protectorate administration, with the territory placed under a military administration and then designated as a crown colony.

Map of North Borneo, 1888
Map of North Borneo, 1888

North Borneo was founded in 1877–1878 through a series of land concessions in northern Borneo from the Sultanate of Brunei and Sulu to an Austrian-German businessman and diplomat, von Overbeck. A former American Trading Company of Borneo territory in the western coast of northern Borneo had already passed to Overbeck, requiring him to go to Brunei to renew the concession of the land he bought from Joseph William Torrey. William Clark Cowie played an important role as a close friend of the Sultanate of Sulu in helping Overbeck to buy additional land in the eastern coast of Borneo. Meanwhile, the Sultanate of Bulungan’s influence also reached Tawau in eastern southern coast, but came under the influence of the more dominating Sulu Sultanate.

Following his success in buying large tract of lands from both the western and eastern part of northern Borneo, Overbeck went to Europe to promote the territory in Austria-Hungary and Italy as well as in his own country of Germany, but none showed any real interest. Only Great Britain, which had sought to control trade routes in the Far East since the 18th century, responded. The interest of the British was strengthened by their presence in Labuan since 1846. As a result, Overbeck received a financial support from the British Dent brothers (Alfred Dent and Edward Dent) and diplomatic and military support from the British government. Following the entrance of support from the British side, a clause was included in the treaties that the ceded territories could not be given to another party without the permission of the British government,

Unable to attract the interest of the governments of Austria and Germany, Overbeck withdrew in 1879; all his treaty rights with the Sultanates were transferred to Alfred Dent, who in 1881 formed the North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd with the support of countrymen Rutherford Alcock, Admiral Henry Keppel, and Richard Biddulph Martin. The Provisional Association then applied to Queen Victoria for a royal charter, which was granted on November 1, 1881. William Hood Treacher was appointed as the first governor, and Kudat at the northern tip of Borneo was chosen as the Provisional Association administration capital. The granting of royal charter had worried both Dutch and the Spanish, who feared that Britain might threatening the position of their colony.

In May 1882, the Provisional Association was replaced by the newly formed North Borneo Chartered Company with Alcock acting as the first President and Dent becoming the company managing director. The administration is not considered as a British acquisition of the territory, but rather simply as a private enterprise with government guidelines to protect the territory from being encroached upon by other European powers. Under Governor Treacher, the company gained more territories on the western coast from the Sultanate of Brunei. The company subsequently acquired further sovereign and territorial rights from the sultan of Brunei, expanding the territory under control to the Putatan river (May 1884), the Padas district (November 1884), the Kawang river (February 1885), the Mantanani Islands (April 1885) and additional minor Padas territories (March 1898).

Initially, mail from North Borneo was sent via Labuan or Singapore, using postage stamps of the Straits Settlements. It issued its first stamp in 1883, a 2-cent brown (Scott #1) with two further denominations of the same design released in 1884 (Scott #2-3). These used a design incorporating the coat of arms (a dhow and a lion), inscribed NORTH BORNEO, and with the value written in English, Jawi, and Chinese. Initial values included 2 cents, 4 cents, and 8 cents, followed by large 50-cent and one dollar stamps of a more elaborate design with the arms flanked by two natives (Scott #6-7).

At the early stage of the administration, there was a claim in northern Borneo from the Spanish authorities in the Philippines when an attempt to raise the Spanish flag over Sandakan was met interference by a British warship. To prevent further conflict and ending the Spanish claim to northern Borneo, an agreement known as the Madrid Protocol was signed in Madrid between the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain in 1885, recognizing the Spanish presence in the Philippine archipelago.


As the company did not wish to be involved in further foreign affairs issues, North Borneo was made a protectorate on May 12, 1888. In 1890, Labuan was incorporated into the administration of North Borneo before returned to British government rule in 1904.

In 1886, ½-cent, 1-cent, and 10-cent stamp values values were added, and there was a demand for 3-cent and 5-cent stamps, resolved by overprinting existing types (Scott #15-21). At the same time, the printers (Blades, East, and Blades of London) produced a new design, largely the same but inscribed BRITISH NORTH BORNEO, and joined by 25-cent and $2 values, also with elaborate frames (Scott #22-34). The stamps were redesigned again in 1888, to say POSTAGE & REVENUE instead of just POSTAGE, at which time the 25-cent to $2 values also received minor changes (Scott #35-47). These were followed up in 1889 by even larger and more elaborate $5 and $10 stamps (Scott #48-49). Between 1883-1890, postage stamps of North Borneo were valid to nearby countries only if sent by direct steamer at the 8-cent rate, otherwise additional adhesives of either Hong Kong, Labuan or Strait Settlements had to be affixed.

Shortages in 1890, 1891, and 1892 necessitated more surcharges (Scott #50-58). In 1894, the protectorate issued a new definitive series engraved by Waterlow and Sons, comprising nine pictorials featuring natives plants, animals, and scenes, and inscribed STATE OF NORTH BORNEO (Scott #59-73).

There were several local insurrections from 1894 to 1900 by Mat Salleh and by Antanum in 1915. World War I did not greatly affect the territory, and logging business grew during the interwar period.

In World War II, North Borneo was overwhelmed by Japanese forces on December 17, 1941. On January 3, 1942, the Japanese navy landed unopposed in Labuan. From January 7, Japanese troops in Sarawak crossed the border of Dutch Borneo and began to arriving on Jesselton. Another strong Japanese army detachment arrived from Mindanao and began to land on Tarakan Island before proceeding to Sandakan on January 17. The Japanese arrival was met without any strong resistance as the protectorate mainly relied on the British Navy for defense. Although North Borneo has a police force, it never had its own army or navy. By the end of January, North Borneo was completely occupied by the Japanese. It was administered as part of the Empire of Japan, with officers of the chartered company were allowed to continued administration under Japanese supervision.

The arrival of the Japanese forces to Borneo and the fall of Anglo-Japanese Alliance had already been predicted by revelation through secret telegrams that Japanese ships docked regularly at Jesselton were engaged in espionage. Many of the British and Australian soldiers captured after the fall of Malaya and Singapore were brought to North Borneo and held as a prisoners of war (POWs) in Sandakan camp where they were then forced to march from Sandakan to Ranau. Other POWs were also sent to Batu Lintang camp in neighboring Sarawak. The occupation drove residents in the coastal areas to the interior in searching for food and escaping the brutality during the war period, which led to the creation of several resistance movements; one of the such movement known as the Kinabalu Guerrillas which led by Albert Kwok and supported by indigenous groups in North Borneo.

As part of the Allied Campaign to retake their possessions in the East, Allied forces deployed to Borneo under the Borneo Campaign to liberate the island. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had a significant part in the mission, with the force being sent to Tarakan and Labuan islands to secure the east and western Borneo. The Allied Z Special Unit provided intelligence gatherings and other information from the Japanese that could facilitated the AIF landings, while U.S. submarines were used to transport Australian commandos to Borneo. Most of the major towns of North Borneo were heavily bombed during these period.

World War II ended on August 15, 1945, following the Japanese surrender and the administration of North Borneo was undertaken by the British Military Administration (BMA) from September. The company official administration returned to administer the territory but, unable to finance the reconstruction cost after the war, ceded administration of the protectorate to the crown colony government on July 15, 1946.

Scott #108 was an overprint of a stamp previously issued in 1900. The 4-cent deep rose and black stamp portraying an orangutan, was engraved and overprinted BRITISH / PROTECTORATE in green ink. It was released on October 8, 1901.

The orangutans (also spelled orang-utan, orangutang, or orang-utang) are the two exclusively Asian species of extant great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Classified in the genus Pongo, orangutans were considered to be one species. Since 1996, they have been divided into two species: the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii). In addition, the Bornean species is divided into three subspecies.

Based on genome sequencing, the two extant orangutan species evidently diverged around 400,000 years ago. The orangutans are also the only surviving species of the subfamily Ponginae, which also included several other species, such as the three extinct species of the genus Gigantopithecus, including the largest known primate Gigantopithecus blacki. The ancestors of the Ponginae subfamily split from the main ape line in Africa 16 to 19 million years ago and spread into Asia.

Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes and spend most of their time in trees. Their hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of chimpanzees and gorillas. Males and females differ in size and appearance. Dominant adult males have distinctive cheek pads and produce long calls that attract females and intimidate rivals. Younger males do not have these characteristics and resemble adult females. Orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes, with social bonds occurring primarily between mothers and their dependent offspring, who stay together for the first two years. Fruit is the most important component of an orangutan’s diet; however, the apes will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even bird eggs. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity.

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of the apes were pioneered by primatologist Birutė Galdikas. Both orangutan species are considered to be critically endangered. Human activities have caused severe declines in the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild.

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