Friday, 14 April 2017

A 1882 letter from Sandakan

This is a previously unknown cover that was sold through a major auction house in London. It was one of 5 covers by the same sender. The remarkable thing was that it was sent from Sandakan through Labuan before the North Borneo post offices were opened and its first stamps issued in March 1883. It is not the earliest cover but it has the earliest known letter written from Sandakan.

The letter was sent by Barclay Pollock to his 17 year old younger sister, Cicely. Barclay Pollock was born in London in 1851. He arrived in Singapore in July 1880. By 1881, he was listed as the Assistant Resident at the Sandakan Residency under W B Pryer. Unfortunately, he died in Singapore in November 1882 aged 31 not many months after these letters were sent. It was not recorded what he died of. It was possibly some form of tropical disease. But then four out of his 7 siblings did not live beyond 29 years including his youngest sister Cicely. 

This is a part of the letter which was inside the envelope. It was written in April 16 1882 and sent by the ship HMS Mosquito to Labuan. An amount of Labuan stamps must have been kept in Sandakan for this purpose. It has the correct rate to Britain. When it arrived in Labuan, it was duly cancelled with the 9 bar Labuan K1. The date on the earliest of these letters shows that K1 was already in use by April 1881 as compared to date given by Proud of June 1883.
This letter would have arrived in Labuan 2-3 days later but it was not until May 25 1882 when a boat was available to take it to Singapore for its onward journey to London.

HMS Mosquito (Milford Haven Museum)
HMS Mosquito was a Ariel class gunboat. It was launched in 1871 and sold on in 1888. It arrived in Hong Kong June 18 1879 for duties in the Far East chiefly visiting the ports of China. Lieut Hon. Francis Sandiland was appointed to the command in September 1880. 
Towards the end of 1881, it was deployed to Singapore and Penang and this included Borneo in early 1882. By March, the ship was visiting Sandakan and we know from the letter above it also visited on April 16 1882. A month later in May, it left Singapore and the Far East for good.


  1. Nice collection of things. Have you gathered these all by yourself?Thanks for sharing the details and information about them.

    1. Yes,it took years and sometimes through good advice from friends.