Brunei in 1916, 100 Years Ago

This article was published in my column The Golden Legacy on Sunday, 28 August 2016 in The Brunei Time Sunday.


by Rozan Yunos

As the 2016 Olympics drew to a close, not many remember that the 1916 Olympics which was supposed to have taken place in Germany never took place. In that year the world was ensnared in the first World War. In July to November 1916, in the Battle of the Somme, more than one million soldiers died with 57,470 British Empire casualties on the first day alone and 19,240 of them killed.

Despite Brunei not being impacted or involved in the war directly, prayers were offered in the mosques, according to G.E. Cator, the British Resident writing in the Brunei Annual Report 1916 who noted that “His Highness the Sultan has frequently expressed his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and prayers are offered in the Mosques for the success of the British Army.”

What else happened in the world that year? Today’s luxury car maker, the German BMW company was established in March 1916 as the Die Bayerische Motoren Werke and the plane maker, the American Boeing company was established in July 1916 as the then Pacific Aero Products.

But what really happened in Brunei in 1916, exactly one hundred years ago?

1916 was indeed an interesting year. That was the year the British Resident Maundrell was killed by a Sikh policeman. E.B. Maundrell in fact, was the first Resident to stay in Brunei. Prior to having Maundrell having a permanent appointment in Brunei, all other Residents stayed in Labuan. In fact it was the Assistant Residents who actually ran the government in Brunei.

By the time Maundrell was murdered in 1916, the British had been governing Brunei for 10 years. During those 10 years, the police force in Brunei was basically made up of Sikh and Bengali policemen with an inspector in charge. It will take another five years before the police force was made up of Brunei Malay policemen.

According to Marie-Sybille de Vienne in her book ‘Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century’ (2015), the fortuitous assassination of Resident EB Maundrell by a Sikh Policeman in 1916 resulted in the creation of a Malay police force in 1921 with 39 members.

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser newspaper on 22 May 1916 reported that it was at 10 o’clock on the night of the 18th, that the Sikh sentry on duty at the government office made an unsuccessful attack on a companion. He then attempted to escape. In a daring attempt to arrest the man, at a distance of half a mile from the Government Office, Maundrell was shot. He died instantaneously. The next morning, the murderer surrendered.

The trial was held a few months later and His Honour Sir John Bucknill, Chief Justice, Straits Settlements, arrived on 27th July to try the Belait murder case (of a Chinese named Joo Chai) and that of Mr Maundrell and remained a week as reported in the Brunei Annual Report 1916. It was the first occasion on which a Judge of the Supreme Court of the Colony had sat in Brunei and the solemnity and dignity of the proceedings made a great impression.

Despite the murders, British Resident G.E. Cator who succeeded Maundrell noted that “the year on the whole was one of prosperity for Brunei in spite of the increase of prices. There is a steady movement from the old river kampongs to the land as has been said the standard of cultivation is slowly improving.”

With the migration of the Brunei people from the water village to the land, seventy nine new land titles were registered in that year and about 150 applications were made for small land holdings.

The British Resident speculated that since the Bruneis themselves have no agricultural tradition and had little knowledge of and less interest in the subject, it is “hardly surprising that on taking up land they devoted themselves to the most profitable and least troublesome products to the almost total exclusion of everything else” which is to plant rubber. However other Malay indigenous race ssuch as the Kedayans continued to plant padi, pineapples, sugar-canes.

Tutong continued to plant sago and padi, Belait planted Jelutong rubber while Temburong was the largest producer of sago and jungle produce and with three large rubber estates, rubber. The three rubber estates were the Brunei Estates Limited with 495 acres, Liverpool (Brunei) Para Rubber Company Limited with 415 acres and the Brunei-Borneo Rubber and Land Company Limited with 283 acres.

Coal continued to be mined at Brooketon (Muara) by Sir Charles Brooke’s mines at Brooketon and Buang Tawar with 27,447 tons. This was less compared to the year before of 30,413 tons. All these were exported to Labuan and the coal were used by His Majesty’s British Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy. The miners were mostly Brunei Malays and the Report noted that ‘the manager speaks well of the Brunei Malay as a miner.’
Oil had not been produced yet but there were four companies prospecting in Brunei in 1916. The Brunei Oil Royalty Limited at Jerudong did not do any work and their lease was forfeited. The other concession held by the Brunei-Borneo Petroleum Company Limited at Belait which was worked by Nederlandsche Colonial Petroleum Maatschappij only worked up to August. Whereas at Damuan and Sembatang in Tutong, it was done by the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company and another company The Shanghai Langkat Company also operated in Tutong.

Brunei’s main export was highly dependent on cutch which exported the largest amount of exports worth $285,400. In comparison the next two largest export of coal was $206,077 and rubber $142,711. The cutch was produced by The Island Trading Company. However it was noted that cutch produced from the bark of mangrove trees were getting harder to obtain.

The first Chinese school opened in Brunei towards the end of 1916 which was for the benefit of the children of the local shopkeepers. In the government vernacular schools in the Brunei Town, almost 60 children were registered and another in Muara with 40 children. The Report also noted that “it is a matter of satisfaction that some of the more influential Malays have begun to send their children regularly to school at an early age.”

Despite its small size, the country had 205 criminal and 524 civil cases in the Courts of the Resident and Magistrate. The Resident commended the Malay Magistrates “the work of the Malay Magistrates is characterised by a praiseworthy care and fairness and appeals from or complaints against their decision are rare.”

In terms of physical infrastructure, the foundations of today’s modern road systems were started in 1916. The Report noted the first section of the Brunei-Belait bridle-path namely, that between Damuan and Tutong was completed at a cost of $3,679. The last section over the Laguadau swamp proved difficult. That path has greatly improved communication between Brunei and Tutong.

Financially, the government was still paying to the Straits Settlement Government for the loans to buy out monopolies in 1906. The Government’s revenue for the year was $127,615 with an expenditure of $113,317. His Highness the Sultan was paid an allowance of $12,760 and the British Resident received $9,895 for the year.

There was an interesting note in the Brunei Annual Report of 1916 in that the first European child, the infant daughter of Mr. EG Goldfinch, the Customs Supervisor, was born in Brunei. His Highness the Sultan was said to ‘gave a name’ to her. According to a hand written footnote in the Annual Report, she was given the Malay name of ‘Dayang Kumala Indra’.

All in all, the British Resident noted that for 1916 ‘the year was one of prosperity.’

/End of Article


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