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Tracing the lost Jesselton connection
Published on: Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: Years of search for his roots climaxed at the launch of a book entitled "Finding Jesselton" at Hyatt Regency Kinabalu, here, Monday.

State Culture, Tourism and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun, who officiated the event, described the name Jesselton as an enduring "old charm" of Kota Kinabalu that has not diminished.

"I am very honoured," said the ex-army Lieutenant-turned farmer descendant of Sir Charles Jessel.

The star of the event was the one and only in the world – George Jessel – simply because he is the great-great grandson of Sir Charles Jessel, once Chairman of The British North Borneo Chartered Company, after whom former Sabah State Capital Jesselton was named, although Sir Jessel never once set foot anywhere in Borneo. Publisher Datuk CL Chan, of Opus Publications Sdn Bhd, cited this point:

"It is indeed puzzling that a trading post in the Far East was named after someone who had never set foot on this beautiful country."

As an obviously ecstatic George spoke at the very special book launch, a sense of unsolved mystery still shrouded the life of Sir Charles Jessel, as George cited his inexplicable sudden drop away from the scene of the North Borneo Chartered Company without a trace of record, just as an equally mysterious situation why his great grandfather whom he knew very well and his own father, 93, never knew a thing that one entire prominent capital city in Borneo was named after his great-great grandfather.

So "Finding Jesselton" is a fitting book title about George's mission to track down one of the great unknowns in his family history as a packed audience sat awe struck looking at the very prodigy and probably asked: Is this really the long lost connection of Jesselton? Masidi saw the point: "I applaud you who agree to continue giving back or rather reconnect Sir Jessel your great-great grandfather with Sabah and I would suggest in future we think about creating a Jesselton Corner in the State Museum with exhibits of the history part of which can be dedicated to Sir Charles Jessel," Masidi mooted. "In fact, one reason tourists continue to flow to Sabah is because here is a place where ethnicity seems to be a non-issue and I think we need to thank the British about that, and in our endeavour to make Sabah better, I would really hope to continue Sabah as it was and as it is – a very peaceful State."

"You (George) mentioned tobacco as one of the first exports of Sabah (in the days of North Borneo Chartered Company). We are currently working to gazette the former Silam Tobacco Company site in Lahad Datu," Masidi announced.

"Probably the tobacco company exported cigars to the UK because, in fact, I read somewhere that Sir Winston Churchchill, one of the great cigar smokers, said he enjoyed cigars from Borneo and I believe he was referring to cigars from the Silam Tobacco Company in Lahad Datu," Masidi said.

"So hopefully one day, if all goes well, the factory which is still there, although somewhat in ruins but still can be identified, we would like one day gazette it as a heritage site."

Determined to clarify the obscure link between Sir Charles Jessel and Jesselton as the clues grew louder and louder, Geroge brought his wife Vicki for their first real visit to Kota Kinabalu in 2011, checking into Jesselton Hotel to feel that emotive connection.

Assisted by Mike Steel, Geroge recalled that "most wonderful" debut experience, travelling around including a visit to Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sandakan and treated like royalty. "On the plane back to England, my wife said to me: 'George, this is the most fascinating country, this is the most fascinating city. This is the city that is really building itself up, this is the country that is going to make one hell of a mark in the world.

"So why don't you put down on paper your thoughts and your recollections and a small history for your children because we have two young children and I thought that is what I would do.' That's how I started writing the book," Geroge told Daily Express.

George now is very busy running his 400-hectare farm in Kent where he grows wheat, corn, cattle and now a vineyard for sparking English wine.

An interesting part of this guy is he became the High Sheriff of Kent from 2017-2018 from which he had just stood down last week.

Traditionally, the High Sheriff head the police and military and crimes where he even sits in with judges in even serious cases like murder trials in the current county of 1.6 million people.

A hereditary position, his great grandfather Sir Charles and his grandfather Sir George were also High Sheriffs, in 1903 and 1958 respectively.

This tradition of High Sheriff of Kent was appointed 995 years ago or nearly a 1,000-year history and each sheriff serves only a one-year term and no more and those who do, eventually get a title "Sir".

One fine day, this descendant of Sir Charles Jessel will also be called a 'Sir'! - Kan Yaw Chong

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