Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Labuan Coal Company

This is a really nice registered letter cover to the Labuan Coal Company at its office in London. Arthur Vanscolina  was the secretary for the Labuan Coal Company. He had many children and one of them, Arthur Gurner Vanscolina went on to work and lived in Labuan. He initially worked for the Labuan Ice Company but later branched on his own and set up Vanscolina & Co who were agents for the Straits Steamship Co., Lloyds, Brunei Rubber Estates etc
In 1912, his brother Albert Victor Vanscolina was recorded as the assistant manager of the Brunei Estates Ltd but unfortunately was stabbed by a native in Temburong in the same year.  A G Vanscolina was socially active and was a vice president of the Labuan Social Club and later the secretary and treasurer for the Labuan Golf Club. He also remained as the local representative for the Labuan Coalfields Company. The coalfields were closed in early 1911 due to the presence of fire damp. A G sold out to Harrisons & Crosfield in 1926.
Update: The above short account has been extensively rewritten and corrected thanks to information from the editor of the Sarawak Journal. 

The New Central Borneo Company Ltd were the lessee for the coal mine. In this share certificate dated 1896, A Vanscolina was one of the signatories as the secretary of the company. 

The coal reserves located at Tanjong Kubong on the northern tip of Labuan were mined between 1847 and 1911. The rights were acquired by the Eastern Archipelago Company in 1847 until it was wound up in 1858. It was then followed by the Labuan Coal Company between 1860-66 and then the China Steamship and Labuan Coal company from 1866 to 1868. The Oriental Coal Company took  over from 1868 to 1878. The repeated failures were due to poor management and a lack of proper investment especially with mining the deeper seams after the easier surface coal had been exploited.  It was also plagued by labour shortages. The coal was said to be of an inferior quality.
But nonetheless, coal mining was resumed by the New Central Borneo Company Ltd in 1882. It constructed a railway line to transport coal to Victoria Port but halted operations 1898. The Central Borneo Company was also planting tobacco and other crops in North Borneo. The concession was then taken over by the Labuan & Borneo Co. Ltd until 1900. A share certificate for 200 shares at £1 each is shown above. That would have amounted £23,500 in today's money! It was then revived as the Labuan Coal Fields Ltd from 1902 to 1911 during which, in 1903 managed to produce 50,000 tons of coal. The registered cover at the very top was from this period.

The 8 mile 2ft 5in single track railway transporting coal from the mine to Port Victoria built by Arthur J West at an exorbitant cost of £2500 per mile. West was also responsible for the railway through the Padas Gorge in North Borneo.

The brick chimney near the coal mine which was constructed as part a smelting works which never came to fruition. There is a long article by Lynette Silver in the Daily express of Sabah. You can read it by clicking here.  Picture per 


  1. These look like very old manuscripts of the letters. They certainly hold a historical significance. Do you have these or have you got the pictures of these letters?

  2. This was an original share certificate. They are uncommon.
    Or are you referring to the Pollock letters from Sandakan?
    There are 3 known letters in existence dating from April and May 1882.
    I have one of them but the other two with another collector.