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Treaty of Labuan

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Treaty of Labuan
Treaty of the Cession of the Island of Labuan to Great Britain
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The signing of the Treaty of Labuan between the Sultan of Brunei and the British delegation on 18 December 1846 at the Brunei palace
Type Bilateral / Unequal
Signed 18 December 1846 (1846-12-18)
Location Brunei Town, Brunei
Sealed 18 December 1846
Effective 24 December 1846 (1846-12-24)
Condition Accession of Labuan to Great Britain
Expiration 1946 (100 years)[1]
Signatories Omar Ali Saifuddin II, on behalf of Brunei, James Brooke and Rodney Mundy, on behalf of the United Kingdom.
Parties

Brunei and United Kingdom

Languages English and Malay
Treaty of Labuan at Wikisource

The Treaty of Labuan which was signed between the government of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and the Sultan of Brunei on 18 December 1846. Under this treaty, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the Island of Labuan, which had been a long possession of the Kingdom since its first Sultan to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain. Syair Rakis (Rakis Poem), a poem which was written by Pengiran Indera Mahkota Pengiran Muhammad Salleh, the former Governor of Sarawak, in which he mourn the loss of Labuan to Great Britain.

Background[edit]

The Island of Labuan was once part of the Sultanate of Brunei since the reign of the first Sultan of Brunei, Muhammad Shah. Labuan Island, previously uninhabited, was used by Malay and Chinese merchants and traders to shelter their ships from storms. Labuan Island was important economically for Brunei as it was regarded as the Sultanate's gateway to the outside world. Labuan was considered as a safe shelter and strategically sited to protect Brunei interest in the region especially the China trade route between Brunei and Manila.[2] After the fall of Manila to the Spaniards, trading activities in Labuan increased the Island's revenues as taxes increased, due to the increasing number of traders and merchants who came for water supply and most importantly, coal, which Labuan had vast reserves on the Island.

Foreign interests in Labuan[edit]

Labuan Island attracted foreign interests due to the economic potentials of the Island. However, to Brunei, Labuan was their secret weapon in quelling pirates activities in Brunei Seas, especially the Sulus, who was once under Brunei rule. In 1700s, the Sultan of Brunei offered Labuan Island to the British in exchange to assistance to protect Brunei from Sulu pirates. However, the offer came to nothing.

By 1800s, several foreign powers started to come to Southeast Asia, started by the Portuguese's conquest of Malacca in 1511 and the Dutch's conquest of Java and Southern Borneo, as a result of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, Labuan became more important to the foreign powers as from Labuan, the foreign powers began to venture into Borneo Island.

1840s[edit]

Following the events which affected the Brunei Sultanate in Sarawak, The British, pressured by its commercial interests, decided that this is a good opportunity for them to occupy Labuan. For the British, Labuan will be used as a port to harbour their ships. Rich coal supply in Labuan made the interests grew further.

The other western powers had expanded in the region that Britain too realised the need to have a permanent harbour in northwestern Borneo. It was to prevent further foreign interference in Borneo. The British worried that the Sultan might sought the assistance of other foreign powers who at that time were active in Southeast Asia, the Americans. Nevertheless, Labuan was considered as a safe shelter and strategically sited to protect British interest in the region especially the China trade route. With the assistance of Brooke, Britain now sought to take over Labuan.

Cession of Labuan[edit]

British flag hoisted on the Island of Labuan for the first time to mark the accession of the island to Great Britain on 24 December 1846.

Soon after the signing of the 1846 treaty, the British put pressure on Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II to cede Labuan to the British. The Sultan refused and employed delaying tactics.

However the British navy lined up British warships near the Sultan's palace with cannons ready to fire if the Sultan refused to sign the treaty. The Sultan had no choice but to put the royal seal, symbolise the surrender of Labuan Island to Great Britain as a crown colony, ceding it to the British Queen "in perpetuity", to provide British traders with a harbour where they could protect their trade interests. After the signing, James Brooke was knighted and later appointed the first British governor of Labuan.

Six days later, the British occupied the island. It was on 24 December 1846 when Captain Mundy, commanding HMS Iris, took possession of Labuan, "in the Name of Her Majesty Victoria Queen of Great Britain and Ireland under the Direction of His Excellency Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, C.B., Commander-in-Chief".

Aftermath[edit]

The loss of Labuan was a big blow to Brunei as Labuan was considered as its only gateway in the sea to the outside world. It was after the loss of Labuan that Brunei began to loss most of its territories, mainly to the Brooke Regime in Sarawak and British North Borneo Chartered Company in North Borneo.

Expiration of the Treaty and the Return of Labuan to Brunei[edit]

In 1957, the British High Commissioner for Brunei Sir Anthony Abell made a proposal to the Brunei government and to the Secretary for the Colonies Alan Lennox-Boyd, in which the Crown Colony of Labuan was to be returned to Brunei after a long time since the island was ceded to Great Britain in December 1846. The Sultan did not agree with the proposal as he saw it as a motive by the Great Britain to accept the proposed merger of the three British Borneo Colonies of Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak into one administration.[3]

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III demanded that the Island of Labuan be returned to Brunei after the expiration of the Treaty of Labuan after 100 years the island became Great Britain's possession.[4] Sir Anthony Abell "denied the validity of the Sultan's arguments and said that he did not expect the British government would support Brunei claim for the return of Labuan."[5] The talks between Brunei and Great Britain about the return of the island to Brunei continued until Labuan, together with Sarawak and North Borneo join the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong, Memoir of a Statesman, Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei History Centre, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, Negara Brunei Darussalam, 2009, p.82
  2. ^ Tarling, Nicholas (1990). Brunei: Political, Commercial, and Social History. Volume 2. Brunei Times. p. 84.
  3. ^ Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong, Memoir of a Statesman, Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei History Centre, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, Negara Brunei Darussalam, 2009, p.81
  4. ^ Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong, Memoir of a Statesman, Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei History Centre, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, Negara Brunei Darussalam, 2009, p.82
  5. ^ Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong, Memoir of a Statesman, Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei History Centre, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, Negara Brunei Darussalam, 2009, p.82
  6. ^ Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong, Memoir of a Statesman, Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei History Centre, Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, Negara Brunei Darussalam, 2009, p.82