Sabah is a territory that lies on the northwest section of the huge island of Borneo. It has an area of about 29, 388 square miles. It includes the islands of Banggi and Balembangan, also in the northwest of Borneo. Prior to the year 1704, according to available historical accounts, Sabah belonged to the Sultan of Brunei. According to some historical accounts, a war over the right of succession to the sultanate of Brunei occurred on or about 1704 among brothers or cousins. A leader of one of the warring groups went to the Sultan of Sulu for assistance. The Sultan of Sulu dispatched a force to help him. The Suluanos proved once again their prowess. They won and firmly established their man in the sultanate. This Sultan of Brunei ceded Sabah as a reward to the Sultan of Sulu, who exercised sovereign rule over it. As a consequence, the Sultan of Sulu exercised influence, if not dominion, over the territory extending from the Sulu archipelago southwestward to Sabah and northward and eastward to Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon. This was the condition of the country when the western colonizers, principally Spain, arrived in this part of the world. It should be noted that Spain, Great Britain, and other European countries through a series of treaties recognized the title of the Sultan of Sulu over Sabah. In January 1878, Baron von Overbeck, Austrian Consul General in Hongkong, traveled to Sulu to negotiate with the Sultan of Sulu for the lease of Sabah. William Treacher, the acting British Consul General in Labuan Island -- a part of Borneo -- accompanied Overbeck. Evidently, Overbeck entered into this negotiation for the lease of Sabah on behalf of Alfred Dent, an English merchant, who advanced 10, 000 English pound for the venture. Historical records revealed that at the time of the negotiation a Spanish expeditionary force under Captain General Malcampo was dispatched against Jamalul Alam, the Sultan of Sulu. Overbeck employed this circumstance to pressure the Sultan of Sulu to agree to lease Sabah to Alfred Dent for a rental of 5,000 Malaysian dollars a year. The contract, which carried the date of January 1878, was drafted by Overbeck and written in the Malaysian language and in Arabic characters. The contract used the Malaysian word "padjak" to describe the nature of the agreed transaction. The British and the Malaysians claimed that the word "padjak" meant "sale or cession" and not "lease." But scholars and Spanish documents translated the word "padjak" to mean the English word "lease", or the Spanish word "arrendamiento." After getting the contract from the Sultan of Sulu, Alfred Dent organized the "British North Borneo Company". He then applied for a Royal Charter from the British government. In his Statement and Application for a Royal Charter, which he submitted to the Marquis of Salisbury, K. C., the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Alfred Dent described the exact nature of the contract and the scope of the powers of the British North Borneo Company. After the Company received its Royal Charter, the Spanish Crown and Dutch Government rendered their protests against the grant of a Royal Charter to the British North Borneo Company. Lord Earl Granville, the British Foreign Minister, disclaimed any intention of the British Crown to assume either dominion or sovereignty over Sabah and categorically stated that "sovereignty remain vested in the Sultan." From official English documents, it would appear that the British North Borneo Company was no more than a mere administrator of the Sabah territory. Although it exercised rights of control over the area, it did so by delegation of the Sultan of Sulu. The British North Borneo Company had no sovereign authority over the territory. The sovereign power remained in the person and hands of the Sultan of Sulu. In 1888, the Company entered purportedly into an agreement with the British Government. By virtue of this purported 1888 agreement, the Company placed a...
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