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Borneo Company Limited

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One of the oldest companies based in East Malaysia
.mw-parser-output .hatnote{font-style:italic}.mw-parser-output div.hatnote{padding-left:1.6em;margin-bottom:0.5em}.mw-parser-output .hatnote i{font-style:normal}.mw-parser-output .hatnote+link+.hatnote{margin-top:-0.5em}Not to be confused with North Borneo Chartered Company.

The Kuching Borneo Company building in 1896.
The Borneo Company building in Kuching between 1950 and 1959.

Borneo Company Limited, formed in 1856, was one of the oldest companies based in East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah).

History[edit]

Brooke era[edit]

In 1840s, James Brooke (White Rajah of Sarawak) formed a relationship with Henry Wise, a merchant from London who sought to exploit the natural resources of Sarawak. In 1850, the British government established a trading company called the Eastern Archipelago Company (EAC) with Henry Wise as its principal shareholder. The company was given Royal Charter in 1851. EAC was given a trade monopoly between Sarawak and Britain. Plans were drawn to export antimony from Sarawak to Britain. Merchant houses in Britain, such as R&J Henderson agreed to finance the operations of EAC.[1] However, the Hendersens pulled out from EAC before its incorporation. The commercial hub of the company was in Singapore, and it expanded its businesses to Thailand, and then Indonesia, and Hong Kong.[2]

In 1855, Mr. George Acland of Borneo Company established a jute mill for spinning jute yarn at Rishra, West Bengal, India. In 1859, weaving machinery and power loom were imported and stationed at Baranagar, West Bengal. These actions forced the traditional jute cottage industry out of business in India.[3][4]

The Borneo Company Limited (BCL) was registered in London on 6 May 1856 and MacEwan & Co. was appointed as the company’s Singapore agent. The MacEwan company was established in 1852 and was managed by John Harvey. BCL London had taken over the MacEwan Company in 1854. By 30 April 1857, the MacEwan Company was dissolved by BCL. BCL Singapore was established on 31 July 1857 and all the assets from MacEwan Company were transferred to BCL, including wharves in Telok Blangah, Singapore, and its branches in Batavia, Dutch East Indies (today Jakarta, Indonesia) and Bangkok, Thailand.[5] BCL also extended its operations to Calcutta, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.[5] The initial capital of the Borneo Company was £60,000 and the office was at 25 Mincing Lane.[citation needed] Its directors, including some close associates of White Rajah James Brooke, were Robert Henderson (of R.& J.Henderson, Glasgow merchants), John Charles Templer (friend of James Brooke), James Dyce Nicol, John Smith, Francis Richardson, and John Harvey (the latter two of MacEwan & Co. in Singapore).[citation needed]

The company was given exclusive rights to all minerals found in Sarawak, including gold, and the rights to operate as a merchant, ship owner, miner, agriculturist, and planter.[6] In Sarawak, its first manager was Ludvig Verner Helms, who had been a MacEwan & Co trading agent in Sarawak since 1852.[5] Helms was tasked to “buy up the antimony ore, and generally to develop the trade of the country”, with a Chinese, an Indian, and a Malay as his initial staff. Helms worked for the company for 20 years.[5] Helms also doubled up his role in the court of law that dealt with civil and criminal cases.[5] Since October 1856, The Borneo Company allocated £200 a year to build an Anglican school in Simunjan District in Sadong area (today part of Samarahan Division).[5] During 1857 Chinese uprising in Bau, BCL employee R Wellington was killed while lodging in police inspector P. Middleton’s house. The Sarawak treasury was ransacked, including $6350 belonging to BCL.[5] During the uprising, Helms had ordered arms and supplies from Singapore. The supplies were transported back to Kuching using BCL’s schooner named Water Lily. BCL was also instructed to give Rajah an advance payment of £5,000 to repair Rajah’s residence, two government houses, and Malays’ dwellings that were damaged during the uprising.[5]

By 1859, the company had paid the Brooke government £200,000 in mining royalties. Besides, the company had paid £2 million in wages. The company also requested that the Brooke government return the £5000 advance payment that it gave to Brooke following the 1857 Chinese uprising in Bau, Sarawak. This was because the coal mining venture in Simunjan had failed, the sago trade was disrupted, and there was labour shortage after the 1857 uprising. Thus the company was unable to provide any returns to its investors. The company argued that it is not a “philanthropic society” but a “commercial company”. James Brooke then described the company as “discourteous and avaricious”.[5] In 1861, after the Bruneian Sultanate ceded the central region of Sarawak (from Samarahan river to Kidurong point in Bintulu) to James Brooke, sago processing and trading restarted in Sarawak. Sago was shipped from growing areas in Mukah for processing in Kuching. Processed sago made up of 68% of total Sarawak exports at this time.[7] Profits from mining ventures were in 1870s were used to upgrade the BCL company buildings and personnel accomodations. In 1875, BCL was appointed as manager for the “Singapore-Sarawak Steamship Company” (S-SSC), where the latter was formed on the advice of the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce to open a trade link with Singapore. With just two ships namely Rajah Brooke and the 2nd Royalist, the company paid 40 to 50% dividends to shareholders for the monopoly sago trade to Singapore.[5] In 1899, BCL’s capital increased to £300,000.[7]

In 1923, there was no longer any economic benefit of extracting minerals in Sarawak. The Borneo Company in London was then forced to relinquish its 1857 agreement.[8]

Initially, all the BCL managers and senior employees were European. Only in the 1950s, were local Sarawakians appointed as executives and managers. The company also had branches throughout Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei.[9]

Japanese occupation[edit]

All of the Borneo Company’s activities was halted during the Japanese occupation. The Borneo Company’s personnel either escaped from Sarawak or interned at Batu Lintang camp.[10]

British Crown Colony[edit]

After the World War II, the company’s Bangkok office in Thailand was reopened on 18 October 1945, two months after the Japanese surrender, followed by the Singapore office on 31 December 1945. Borneo Company’s Kuching office in Sarawak was only opened in April 1946, followed by Sibu in June, and Miri in August 1946.[11]

The company was the only agent to distribute oil from Shell Oil Company, operating the first Shell petrol kiosk in Kuching. The Sarawak colonial government also mandated the company to import and distribute consumer goods throughout Sarawak.[9]

The Borneo Company offices in Kuching were on the spot now occupied by the Hilton hotel, with the manager’s house, ‘Aneberg’, on the hill above. It also had warehouses located where Grand Margherita and Wisma Bukit Mata today.[9]

Federation of Malaysia[edit]

The Borneo Company continued its businesses as usual after the formation of Malaysia.
At this time, the company was involved in various sectors such as shipping, airline, insurance, forestry, wood processing, and consumer products. The Borneo Company owned three subsidiary shipping companies, namely Borneo Agencies, Rejang Transport, United Agencies, and Rejang Agencies.[12]

In 1967, the company merged with the Inchcape Group headquartered in Singapore.[13] In 1974, the Borneo Company initiated a joint venture with Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) to form Sarawak Sebor Sdn Bhd. In 2007, Sarawak Sebor sold all its shareholdings to a company known as IDS/LF Asia. LF (Lee & Fung) Asia was a global supply chain company headquartered in Hong Kong. In 2016, LF Asia sold its interests to another China based company known as DCH (Dah Chong Hong Holdings Ltd). On 28 September 2018, DCH decided to cease all remaining operations of the Borneo Company.[9]

Corporate affairs[edit]

Helms left Sarawak on 30 May 1972. Helms helped to produce the second map of Sarawak Proper (today Kuching area) during his term as the manager of BCL. Helms later returned to Sarawak in 1894 to help BCL on mineral prospecting at Tubau (at Sebauh, Sarawak) but returned empty handed. Walter G. Brodie, who was involved in the BCL’s mining operation succeeded Helms from 1972 to 1885. Brodie was succeeded by Cadell from 1885 to 1891. Cadell was in turn succeeded by E. J. M. Smith from 1891 to 1899.[7]

Businesses[edit]

Banking[edit]

The Brooke government made monetary transactions through agents in Singapore and London prior to the formation of the Borneo Company (BCL). After that, the Borneo Company became the sole government banker from 1856 to 1912. All government transactions were routed through BCL head office at 28 Fenchurch Street in London. Besides, the company also provided banking services for the public, using Sarawak dollar as the medium of exchange.[5] People had also approached the company for loans to collect forest produce, build boats, and carry out trading activities. The Dayak people also accumulated enough cash by selling forest produce during economic boom times and started to provide loans to Chinese traders. To protect the interests of the Dayak people, Rajah Charles Brooke issued an order dated 27 June 1885, stating that all loans should be registered with BCL or otherwise heavy penalties will be instituted.[5]

Later, Sarawak Chinese developed their own financing and credit facilities that linked back to Singapore. In 1905, Cantonese-managed Kwong Lee
Mortgage & Remittance Company was formed, ending the dominance of BCL banking businesses in Sarawak. In 1912, the Brooke government also set up Sarawak State
Advisory Council in London, taking over some of the government’s money remittance functions from BCL.[5] In 1925, Charles Vyner Brooke invited London-based Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China to open a branch in Kuching. BCL later agreed not to open new accounts, while the company continued to provide service to existing customers, mainly consisting of Dayaks, who would sometimes come downriver to the office to see their money.[5] However, the company did not extend its credit facilities to its own employees.[5]

Mining[edit]

Coal[edit]

BCL was given a monopoly for mineral extractions in Sarawak. In 1857, the company hired five coal miners from England to work in Sadong coal mine together with Chinese labourers, located at the base of the 322-metre-high Gunong Ngili (Ngili hill) in Simunjan District, three kilometres away from Sadong river. On 1 April 1858, a short railway was built connecting the coal mine to the Sadong river. Buffaloes were used to pull carts of coal to the river. The coal was then transported to Singapore on a brig or steamship.[5] Introduction of longwall mining method allowed increase in coal production. However, the coal seams were thin, which measures 45 to 60 cm in thickness, making it unprofitable to mine. Accidents occurred in 1858 where a falling stone killed a Chinese miner and an Indian buffalo driver lost his arm after falling down in front of a wagon filled with ore. BCL incurred a loss of £20,000 and closed the mine, depriving the Brooke government of payment of £1,000 from BCL on exclusive rights for coal extraction.[5] Undeterred by the mishap, the Brooke government reopened the mine with assistance from BCL in terms of marketing and management. The Brooke government offered to sell 300 tons of coal to Peninsular & Oriental (P & O) Steam Navigation Company in Singapore by June 1874 but only able to supply 150 tons by September 1874. Mine manager W. G. Brodie predicted that the Brooke government would have difficulty supplying the remaining 150 tons of coal to the P&O Steam Navigation Company and would suffer heavy losses. However, the Simunjan mine continued to operate until January 1932.[5]

Antimony[edit]

Antimony deposits were readily found in Bau District, especially in Buso, Bidi West, and East Mines, along the tributaries of the Sarawak River. Exporting 1,500 tons of antimony a year, Sarawak was the chief supplier of antimony to Europe through Singapore. In the year ending 31 October 1857, BCL had earned $11,935 from the antimony trade. After deducting $3,750 royalty paid to the Brooke government, the net profit for BCL was $8,365, which was 70 percent of BCL income for that year.[5] Initially, Chinese workers were hired to carry baskets of antimony ores on their shoulders to the river. Later in 1858, BCL hired miners from England to build tramway track made up of Belian wood (Eusideroxylon) with wagons drawn by buffaloes. During fine weather, water was kept out of the mines by pulling buckets attached to huge posts and beams. During the rainy season, all mining activities had to be stopped due to rapidly rising water levels. English miners had commented that “a little donkey engine” would have done a better job of pumping out water from the mines. Several Chinese miners had died due to infectious diseases. English miners did not spare from such diseases and had to return to England later.[5] Two Bidi mines were shut down later after digging 28 and 46 metres respectively.[5] BCL also built reverberatory and calcining furnaces (smelter) in Busau to extract antimony sulphide ores. BCL also produced a patent in 1864 that used antimony for the production of paint, however, no evidence of such paint has been produced in the market.[5] The most productive antimony mines were: Busau, Jambusan, Piat Flats, and Bidi mines. Antimony output rose to 3,285 tons in 1872. In 1874, BCL paid £2,000 a year for the sole right to mine antimony in Sarawak.[5] However, minable antimony ores in Bau district were rapidly declining. In 1890s, antimony exports were negligible. Antimony stockpiles in the company were exhausted in 1907 and the smelter in Busau was shut down. BCL relinquished its mining rights in 1923.[5]

Mercury[edit]

BCL discovered the mercury ore (Cinnabar or mercuric sulphide) at the foot of the 250-metre tall Tegora hill, in the Bungo Range, 20-kilometre south of Busau, Bau District in September 1867.[5] BCL cleared a bridle path and built 48 footbridges from Jambusan to Gunung Tegora after that. Chinese contract miners were tasked to remove clay from the Western side of Tegora by sluicing and washing. The ores obtained yield 40 to 60% pure mercury. Ore exports to London totaled 25 tons in 1868 and 123 tons in 1869. A plant to extract mercury was built by 1870. In the same year, BCL hired about 1,000 Chinese workers and a number of Dayaks. BCL offices and a hospital was also built there. Horse-drawn rail wagons were used to transport ores to the plant. A total of 732 iron flasks each containing 75 lbs was exported in that same year, valuing $22,692. By 1872, 1,505 mercury flasks were exported with a value of $86,353.[5] BCL also tried to explore Gunung Gading (in Lundu District today), seven kilometres away from Gunung Tegora for mercury ore deposits but without success due to the lower quality of ores available there.[5] Workers at the mercury mining sites experienced several hazards such as the risk of injury from falling rocks or landslides, and mercury poisoning that causes loss of teeth and body sores.[5] By 1875, a total of 2,500 lbs. (1,114 kg.) of gun powder was used to detonate the Tengora hill, leaving honeycomb-like tunnels within the hill. BCL subsequently closed down the mine in 1921. By this time, a total of 10,608 iron flasks each containing 75 lbs. (34 kg.) of mercury were produced, at a total value of £228,000. BCL abandoned the plant and equipment where the majority of them were sent to Kuching with the exception of one boiler sent to BCL’s sawmill in Bangkok.[5]

Gold[edit]

After the 1857 Chinese uprising in Bau, Rajah James Brooke invited Liew Syn Ted and his group of gold miners to revive the gold mining industry in Bau. Later self-employed miners and Kongsi (Chinese cooperatives) were attracted to the area. A new bazaar was built in Bau, replacing “Mah San” town that was burnt down during the uprising. BCL provided credits, lent mining equipment, and purchase gold from miners for export instead of being involved directly in mining business. However, the growing influence of BCL in gold mining led Soon Hen Kongsi to later work on a contract basis with BCL.[7] In March 1879, BCL was given 15 years of gold prospecting monopoly. In 1882, the company commissioned a small ore-crushing plant in Bau, replacing manual labour in ore-crushing. Silver ore were also produced during gold mining but the silver ores were exhausted quickly.[7] As the gold mining started to expand, the Brooke government started to ban the trading of dynamite and to be used exclusively for mining purposes. In 1883, gold ore was discovered in “Grey Ridge” (or “Tai Parit”) in Bau district.[7]

BCL also worked with other Chinese Kongsis such as Tai Parit Kongsi and Shak Lung Mun Kongsi. However, some conflicts do happen such as Shak Lung Mun diverting water away from flowing to the BCL’s mining operations despite being only allowed to “use the water from the reservoir but not diverting away”. By 1897, BCL bought last of the Chinese Kongsis and gained complete control of gold mining in Bau.[7] Initially, simple methods of gold panning and sluice were used to recover coarse gold particles from the river bed. BCL later turned to the recovery of fine gold particles by suspending the crushed ore in cyanide solution after the method was first used in South Africa in 1890.[7]

Sago[edit]

By 1857, the sago trade was the second most important trade for BCL after antimony, earning a profit of £2,752 from sago, sago flour, and vegetable tallow sago. The profit from the antimony trade at that time was £8,365. BCL sourced its raw sago materials from Mukah, which was still under Brunei’s control. In 1859, Sarawak traders were not allowed to enter Mukah. Tuan Muda Charles Brooke opined that Syarif Masahor, the governor of Brunei of that area needs to be expelled in order to resume trade with Mukah. Rajah James Brooke then sailed to Mukah on armed flotilla. On 11 August 1861, the Sultan of Brunei agreed to resume trade with Sarawak and cede the area from Samarahan River (near Kota Samarahan today) to Kidurong point in (near Bintulu today) to Sarawak in return for $4,500 annual payment.[5] A branch office of BCL was opened in Mukah later. A sago processing factory began commercial operation in May 1862.[5] However, in early 1900s, with the drop in Sago prices and increased competition from Chinese sago mills, BCL closed down its Mukah sago factory, leaving behind a 20-metre tall brickwork chimney in there.[7]

References[edit]

.mw-parser-output .reflist{font-size:90%;margin-bottom:0.5em;list-style-type:decimal}.mw-parser-output .reflist .references{font-size:100%;margin-bottom:0;list-style-type:inherit}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns-2{column-width:30em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns-3{column-width:25em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns{margin-top:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns ol{margin-top:0}.mw-parser-output .reflist-columns li{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .reflist-upper-alpha{list-style-type:upper-alpha}.mw-parser-output .reflist-upper-roman{list-style-type:upper-roman}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-alpha{list-style-type:lower-alpha}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-greek{list-style-type:lower-greek}.mw-parser-output .reflist-lower-roman{list-style-type:lower-roman}

  • ^ .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Lock-green.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#3a3;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}Cox, Howard; Metcalfe, Stuart (June 1998). “The Borneo company limited: origins of a nineteenth-century networked multinational”. Asia Pacific Business Review. 4 (4): 53–69. doi:10.1080/13602389812331288294. ISSN 1360-2381.
  • ^ Longhurst, H. (1956) The Borneo Story: The First Hundred Years of the Borneo Company Limited
  • ^ Keshwar, Lal. “Raw material base of jute industry in India” (PDF). Institute for Catalan Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 January 2022. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  • ^ Sethia, Tara (1996). “The Rise of the Jute Manufacturing Industry in Colonial India: A Global Perspective”. Journal of World History. 7 (1): 71–99. ISSN 1045-6007.
  • ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Porritt, Vernon L (2013). “The Borneo Company’s role in the economic development of Sarawak during the early years of the Brooke dynasty”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 44: 132–149. Archived from the original on 25 April 2023. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  • ^ Porritt, Vernon L (2012). “Sarawak Proper: trading and trading patterns from earlier times to the registration of the Borneo Company in 1856”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 43: 43–85. Archived from the original on 23 April 2023. Retrieved 22 April 2023.
  • ^ a b c d e f g h i Porritt, Vernon L (2013). “The Borneo company’s role in the economic development of Sarawak during the early years of the Brooke dynasty: part II”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 44: 71–86. Archived from the original on 25 April 2023. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  • ^ Porritt, Vernon L (2015). “The Borneo Company’s role in the economic development of Sarawak during the Brooke dynasty: Part III: up to the Japanese occupation of Kuching on 24 December 1941”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 46: 132–149. Archived from the original on 11 May 2023. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  • ^ a b c d Edgar, Ong (11 August 2018). “The Borneo Company (1856-2018)”. The Borneo Post. Archived from the original on 22 August 2018. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  • ^ Porritt, Vernon L (2016). “The Borneo Company Limited, Sarawak, Japanese Occupation 24 December 1941 To 11 September 1945”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 47: 115–129. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  • ^ Porritt, Vernon L (2017). “THE BORNEO COMPANY LIMITED, SARAWAK: Part VI: 11 September 1945 to 16 September 1963: Under Britain’s Tutelage”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 48: 105–125. Archived from the original on 11 May 2023. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  • ^ Porritt, Vernon L (2018). “THE BORNEO COMPANY LIMITED, SARAWAK FINAL INSTALMENT: OPERATING IN THE FEDERATION OF MALAYSIA”. Borneo Research Bulletin. 49: 53–63. Archived from the original on 19 April 2023. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  • ^ Yeong Jia, Joshua Chia. “Borneo Co. Ltd”. Singapore National Library Board. Archived from the original on 13 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  • External links[edit]

    • Documents and clippings about Borneo Company Limited in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW

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    • Anti-cession movement of Sarawak
    • Crown Colony of Sarawak



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