North Borneo was a British Protectorate under the sovereignty of the North Borneo Chartered Company from 1882 to 1946 after which it became a Crown Colony until 1963.
In July 1881, the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd, formed by Alfred Dent and his brother obtained a Royal Charter. A year later the Association was replaced by the North Borneo Chartered Company which proceeded to organize the settlement and the administration of the territory despite protests by the Dutch, the Spanish and the Sarawak governments.
Borneo, like Malaya, was a small fragile independent state who were keen to obtain British ‘friendship and armed assistance’.
The Company acquired further sovereign and territorial rights from the Sultan of Brunei.
James Brooke, ‘another romantic swashbuckler’ established a foundation which would enable economic growth by restoring peace to a land where piracy and tribal feuds had dominated. Anti-piracy operations were an extension of the wider effort to break into the Far Eastern markets (like Borneo and others).
But the suppression of coastal piracy was not an easy task, as the Borneo and Malay pirates were ‘persistent and elusive’. It abolished slavery, set up transport, health and education services. Local and immigrant (mainly Chinese) labour worked hard to allow the towns and farms to thrive. Industries such as timber, tobacco and rubber boomed.
The Company oversaw the administration of the Protectorate from 1881, with only foreign relations being in the control of the crown.
Although the Company had had a great impact on the region by predominantly restoring peace, the local population sometimes resented the imposition of British rule. They opposed the taxes and the loss of land to European plantations. It was the British, not the native chiefs, who held the top posts, with the chiefs managing people at the grassroots level. However, this was not an attempt at indirect rule.
The Company continued to rule until part way through the Second World War, when from January 1st 1942 the Japanese invaded and captured the region. As the Company only had 650 men at their disposal in the North Borneo Armed Constabulary, the Japanese swept through the region with very little resistance.
Continue reading at: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – North Borneo.