Friday, 2 March 2018

A Sandakan American Consulate cover and letter

The American Consular Service at North Borneo was based in Sandakan which was the capital prior to the 2nd World War. George M Hanson (1869-1929), a native of Ogden, Weber county in Utah arrived in Sandakan on 27 June 1914 on the SS Darvel to start his post as the American Consul.

The sumptuous residence of  the American Consulate is described here, a picture of which you can see by searching the internet. You can see it by clicking the link here.

Here we have a description of the privileged daily routine of the ruling class in Sandakan at that period of our history. This type of household would have a chef, a maid, a "boy" and a gardener to look after most of their needs. In later years, a chauffeur would also be included when more roads were accessible as was certainly the situation in the later colonial days depending on the professional seniority of the these expatriates. But it was also not true that all expatriates lived to this standard.

The cover and the 4 page letter was sent by Mrs George M Hanson. George M Hanson was promoted to his post in Sandakan after spending 1 year 4 months at Hobart in Tasmania. There was a back stamp for Hong Kong before the letter made its way to San Francisco and ending up in Nevada.
The letter dated 27 December 1914 was written about 3 weeks after arriving in Sandakan with her niece via the Philippines from leave in the States. She was obviously finding it difficult to adjust to the climate and the food and in particular a craving for good butter. The letter gave some details of life for the expatriates in 1914.
George Hanson stayed on for about 2 years and his main function was to look after American interests and in particular new trading opportunities for goods made in USA. A report by his immediate predecessor in early 1914 stated that Britain had a third share in the foreign trade of North Borneo with Germany as the nearest competitor. 
And also of particular interest was an 18 page 1914 type written report by George M Hanson. This appeared in September 2018 on ebay and was sold for 200 US dollars. There was an informative preview of a few pages which gave a glimpse of some of the aspects of life in North Borneo. When WWl broke out, the American consulate was also looking after German owned interests such as the plantation at Batu Puteh on the Kinabatangan.
George M Hanson's predecessors at Sandakan were Lester Maynard (Consul 1906-1908), John Nimmo Wardrop (Vice Consul 1907-1916) and Orlando H Baker (Consul 1908-1913). There were some letters from Lester Maynard and a nice article here from a fellow blogger:
Orlando Harrison Baker was formerly a professor of ancient languages at Simpson College in Iowa before serving as consuls in Denmark, Australia and North Borneo. He died whilst on leave from Sandakan to USA on board an American ship in the harbour of Nagasaki in Japan. There was also some correspondence from him about North Borneo in the same blog:


  1. Hello from U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur! :)
    We find that this post is very interesting.
    How may we contact you?

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