Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ellena - the most recent forefather of Sabah

Written by Arimi Sidek
Friday, 11 July 2008

Torrey sold his rights to Baron Van Overbeck for $15, 000. It was Baron Van Overbeck and Alfred Dent who set up the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

Rajah William Torrey

Ellena of Kimanis Borneo 3, 1865

The British observed American activities in Ellena with extreme cautious since the beginning. The Governor of Labuan, Callaghan, questioned Torrey on whether he knew the content of Anglo-Brunei Treaty of 1847 on the cession of Labuan.

Clause ten of the treaty stated that the Sultan of Brunei should not make any similar cession with any other parties without the consent of Her Britannic Majesty.

Torrey however argued that the treaty does not cover the cession of Ellena as it is only for a limited period of 10 year, unlike Labuan which were ceded to British forever.

Torrey went back to Hong Kong to raised more money for Ellena.

But by doing so, he actually left Ellena on uncertain fate in Borneo, while the creditors became increasingly impatient for the return of their money. The situation was getting worse. Chinese creditors that advance most expenses to brought coolies to Ellene had followed them to Kimanis and demanded repayment.

In Hong Kong Torrey failed to get sufficient fund necessary for Ellena, so was Mosses which follow him later. The chief secretary of the settlement, Thomas B. Harris died in May, 1866 and his tombstone was discovered forty years later. Other Americans left one by one.

Thomas Bradley Harris

Chinese Coolies were more unfortunate, they were told that they belonged to the company and would share the profits when they were made, which was none. Therefore, they were virtually unpaid workers. For that, they had cleared around ninety acres of land and planted rice, sugar cane and tobacco.

T.B. Harris & Torrey - in Hong Kong

Ellena settlement died fast. At a later stage Mosses attempt to charge J. Wheelright, Ellena's lieutenant governor, for treason against the American flag. But Mosses failed to arrest Wheelright because the Governor of Labuan refused to cooperate with him. Partly, this was due to Callaghan bad impression on Mosses as someone that “ ... I am told, express himself in a very swaggering and boastful manner”.

J. Wheelright, Captain

Although Ellena just a failed endeavor, it was a starting point for the similar attempts of western explorers in their quest to set up trading post in the northern part of Borneo island, such as by William Clarke Cowie. Even J. Wheelright, on his own was trying in vain to get Gaya island and the village of Gantisan, the opposite mainland.

Eventually, Torrey sold his rights in American Trading Company of Borneo to Baron Van Overbeck for $15, 000.

It was Baron Van Overbeck and Alfred Dent who were the most successful in 1881, via the British North Borneo Chartered Company that actually lied the permanent political boundary of the present day Sabah.


American Activity in North Borneo, 1865-1881 by K. G. Tregonning. The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 23, No. 4. (Nov., 1954), pp. 357-372.

All pictures are taken from T.B. Harris collection,

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