Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Walter George Darby (6.8.1865-7.2.1938)

Following on from Edward Ellis Abrahamson, we have an even bigger business character in Walter George Darby. He took over the running of the China-Borneo Company when Abrahamson left in July 1891. He arrived initially in September 1889 on the SS Memnon from Hong Kong to work as the accountant for the China-Borneo Company. Through his contacts, he also set up Darby & Co with interests in shipping, insurance, plantations etc. He was by far the wealthiest expatriate locally in those days. He continued to wield enormous power when he was in charge of Harrisons & Crosfield which took over most of the assets of the China-Borneo Company in 1919. He was definitely more influential and powerful than the Governor himself. He was also credited with importing the first motor car into North Borneo in 1914. It was believed to be a Chrevolet Baby Grand Touring. It was used for the short distance between his residence, Palawan House and work. Roads were almost non existent in North Borneo and there were 4-5 miles of road in and around Sandakan. The car was a great luxury and a grand gesture of power. 

Really a lot can be written about this card. It is full of wonderful information about the route and time it took for its journey from Suriname, a former Dutch colony on the north eastern Atlantic coast of South America, to Sandakan in North Borneo. The markings are quite clear. It went from Suriname to Le Havre, then to Paris, to Singapore via Penang, then to Jesselton and finally Sandakan. The whole journey took less than 2 months which was pretty remarkable. 
The important thing was that the card was addressed to Walter George Darby. There is scarcely any postal history around involving Darby directly as far as I know. There are a lot of post cards addressed to Mary Dolla Darby, the daughter, some of which are from her mother. Darby's wife was Violet Beeston who was the daughter of Captain Richard D Beeston, chief  of the Sandakan constabulary. They married in 1900. Violet Beeston was a contemporary friend of Ada Pryer as mentioned in her diary.

This pair are examples of postcards to Dolla Darby, the daughter. They were posted in Singapore on the same date and transited Jesselton before arriving in Sandakan. It has Jesselton D2 and Sandakan D8. They both showed the area in Singapore frequented by most expatriates.

Tuck's postcards were popular in those days and this was sent from UK to Dolla. It has Jesselton D2 and Sandakan D11. 

This was an incoming postcard from Manila in the Philippines. It went per SS Changsha and sent c/o Harrisons & Crosfields which was managed by Walter Darby.

S S Changsha
With this postcard, the S S Changsha arrived at Sandakan on 2 December 1921. It plied the route between Hong Kong, Manila and Australian ports. It was part of the Australian Oriental Line. It was delivered in 1886 and made its final voyage in November 1925 and sent to the breaker yard a year later.

This was a photo used as a postcard sent in 4 April 1937. The photo was the only one of W G Darby that I know. By this time, he was looking frail and he died less than a year later. His grave is marked by a modest tombstone in St Mary Churchyard, Warbleton, East Sussex near to Markly, a country estate which he inherited from his grandfather in 1931.
After almost 29 years in North Borneo, Darby retired in August 1918 and left for England.  They returned for visits in 1919 and 1921.  From 1928, there were frequent visits to North Borneo both for business and leisure including revisiting the very popular picnic excursions to Taganak, now part of the Philippines turtle islands when it was returned after WWll. On a clear day, Taganak can be seen in the distance from the Buli Simsim area of Sandakan.
During his retirement, he was chairman of Cowie Harbour Coal Co Ltd, Membakut Rubber Ltd, North Borneo State Rubber Ltd, Marudu Rubber Ltd as well as managing director of British Borneo Timber Co.
The postcard was written by the mother, Violet Darby to their daughter, Dolla who was Mrs Curteis by that time. She married Sir Gerald Curteis in 1936 when she was 34 years old. Mary Dolla Curteis died in Tunbridge Wells at the grand old age of 91 in August 1992. She had 3 children including 2 older girls who were twins. W G Darby also had a younger son Selby, named after his brother, but it is unclear what happened to him before or after the family left Sandakan in 1918.

Taganak Is in the distance and Berhala Is in the foreground, that is how near Philippines is to Sandakan. 


  1. This is some really good collection, I liked it and impressed. Thank you for sharing such good post with us

  2. A more detailed article will hopefully be submitted to the Sarawak Journal by the end of the year.