Labuan under Straits Settlements Administration 1907 - 1941
A display by Andrew Norris on April 12th at Spink London
Handout by Andrew Norris, & pictures by Nick Hackney & Charles Keel
This was a tour de force of the Postal History of the three periods of the history of Labuan between 1907 - 1941. The excellent handout prepared by Andrew is set out below interspersed with some pictures of the rounds. There will be a fuller writeup by Peter Cockburn in the Newsletter.
Part of the audience
History: In 1846 the
uninhabited island was ceded to Great Britain by the Sultan of Brunei
as it was “desirable to him that British ships were there to suppress
piracy and protect trade.” From 1848 until 1889 it was a Crown Colony
but it was put in the care of the British North Borneo Co. from 1890 because
of the cost of maintaining the establishment. The Company fared little
better in resolving that problem and made no long term profit from the
Trade: Labuan was a market for the produce of Borneo, Brunei and the Sulu Archipelago as well as for its own produce. Coal on the island was extracted but profitability was always a problem. In 1905 coal (11,881 tons) from Muara (Brooketon), located in Brunei, was exported through the island whilst local tonnage was not much more(14,816 tons). In 1908 coal was available by agreement to H.M. Ships at 15/- per ton, fresh water at $1 per ton and provisions were cheaply supplied by a Navy Contractor. Other shipping availed themselves of these facilities and there was enough trade to make it a regular port of call.
The Norddeutscher Lloyd steamers dominated local shipping which ran between Singapore, Borneo, Labuan, and the Philippines giving a fortnightly service between Labuan and Singapore. By 1912 trade was sufficient for a weekly service but with war the service abruptly ceased. The Straits Steamship Co., or its subsidiaries, took up the route until the Japanese occupation in December 1941.
A display of three rounds arranged chronologically and sheets run horizontally across frames. The rounds are three ‘thin’ rounds rather than two ‘fat’ ones as this allows me to deal with Censorship during World War Two as a separate subject in round three.
My aim is to show initially the use of the Provisional issue of stamps and Postal Stationery overprinted Straits Settlements and the change to normal Straits Settlements issues in that Colony. From there to a broader spectrum of rates, their changes, how the items were franked with their various cancellations including Paquebot, and destinations. The transit mail that passed through this island indicates it was locally an important office of exchange especially with the regular steamer service on to and back from Singapore.
The less than usual includes visiting German warships before World War One, attempted use of obsolete stamps, unpaid and postage due items, souvenirs posted by passengers on board visiting vessels and then the introduction of sparingly used air mail services.
The emphasis changes again in 1939 with the end of peace and the outbreak of war. There obviously was a plan to deal with Censorship for the Bornean Territories and that particularly included this remote part of the Straits Settlements.
This covers the period from 1907 to 1917. I would draw your attention to a few favourites in this document but will highlight others in a brief discourse before you view.
The stationery card of January 3rd 1907 with message dated the 2nd is the earliest item I am aware of in the Straits Settlements period. I am grateful to the sender who beat the speculators to a pair of the 2 cents value of the provisional issue. The 1907 3c on 4c postal stationery card from the British Resident and 1907 Insured item which is the earliest I know of from the Straits Settlements are also worthy of attention.
Part of the viewing - Photograph by Charles Keel
This continues with mail from 1919 to 1939 in much the same vein but includes some of my favourite items some that I hope you might share my pleasure in their guardianship is the use of Straits Settlements postage dues in Labuan. There are reputed to be three items of this ilk and there are two in this display.
The air mail item that has always tickled me is the one where the Dutch Plane failed to call which the British kindly made a cachet to pointedly announce! This was applied at Penang with only a small number known so this mark on a Labuan cover is as far as we know unique.
A postal stationery envelope uprated that conveniently happens to have the earliest known strike of a new datestamp is also an item to enjoy.
Imperial Censorship - Mail censorship was immediately imposed and Labuan was established as an Imperial Censorship Station. All transit mail not suitably censored elsewhere was dealt with, including much mail from Brunei which was all routed via Labuan, and some from the more remote parts of Sarawak. This Round is more easily explained verbally but I will do my best to keep it brief whilst taking the liberty to mention some items which I hope you will enjoy. The earlier theme of rates and interesting items is maintained as far as possible and the cover from the British Resident. Mr. Humphrey, to a Reverend Mother in North Borneo which led to personal correspondence between the displayer and the Resident about censorship is important. The use of Censor marks, both used in Labuan and Singapore is also paramount.
Andrew Norris, photograph by Charles Keel
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