Recounting the Memories of the Past

Category Archives: North Borneo

The Yankee Consul Affairs

In 1846, an American named Charles Lee Moses received appointment as the first US Consul General in Brunei. Sultan Abdul Momin was much impressed by the ambitious promises made by the US Consul General and agreed to build a consulate building for him. The Sultan believed that Moses would bring economic benefits and American protection to Brunei. Moses succeeded in convincing the Sultan to lease out for ten years almost the entire North Borneo, comprising 21 districts from the Sulaman to the Paitan rivers and territories from Paitan to Kimanis – including the Balabac and Palawan islands. In return, the Sultan was to recieve $4,500 in annual payments, while Pengiran Temenggong Pengiran Anak Hashim’s share was another $4000.

Map of Sarawak in 1860s and Islands close to North Borneo

For Moses, the concession was purely a profit-making venture. Unfortunately his drive to get more profit did not help him to become a popular person in Brunei as he failed to keep his promises to the Sultan. The Sultan’s many requests for the British help in recovering the money owed to him fell on deaf ears. Moses found himself unable to recover the dues so he set fire to the US Consulate building and tried to implicate the Sultan in order to demand compensation. An American Government inquiry exonerated the Sultan and dismissed Moses from its service.

Daughter of CL Moses

Torrey, an American businessman acquired the leasing rights from Moses when he went to Hong Kong and renegotiated the lease later on.

[Text taken from Brunei Revival of 1906 by B.A. Hussainmiya]


Rajah Joseph William Torrey

Thomas Bradley Harris and Joseph William Torrey

North Borneo was never touched by any Europeans up until Charles Lee Moses came to Brunei and bought the leasing rights on almost the entire North Borneo from Sultan Abdul Momin and Pengiran Anak Pengiran Temenggong Hashim in 1865. The rights was later transferred to Joseph William Torrey of Hong Kong, Thomas Bradley Harris, Tat Cheong and other Chinese merchants. In fact these rights were transferrable to his successors in the company on the event of Torrey’s death.

Torrey began a settlement at the Kimanis River mouth, which he called Ellana.  Sugarcane, tobacco and rice were planted and some trade was conducted along the coast.

He was also highly regarded in North Borneo as he was not only the president of the American Trading Company of Borneo but also conferred by the Sultan the title of Rajah of Ambong and Marudu with ‘all other powers and rights usually exercised by and belonging to sovereign rulers’.

However, the company faced financial problems and other adversities such as diseases and desertion by immigrant labourers towards the end of 1866. In May 1866 Harris who had been appointed Chief Secretary died of fever and the settlement was withdrawn in November 1866.

Before Torrey returned to United Sates in 1877, he managed to sell his rights to the Consul of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Hong Kong, Baron Von Overbeck. Torrey died in Boston Massachusetts in March 1884.