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Recalling Low’s exploits in Borneo
Published on: Saturday, May 11, 2019
By: David Thien

Kota Kinabalu: The imprint of Sir Hugh Low on Malaysian history came to light as more than 50 enthusiasts throng the function featuring experts from the Sarawak Specialists’ Society (SSS).

Speaker Ray Price said Sir Hugh Low was mentioned as unhappy in one of his roles as Labuan’s Postmaster. “In those days, but he had to be the coroner, magistrate, official Administrator as well.”

Low first travelled to Sarawak before making his way up to North Borneo. Born in 1824 to a horticulturist father, Low started to show interest in botany at an early age while working at his family’s nursery.

At the young age 20, his father sent him to Southeast Asia to collect plants. Low was based in Singapore first before he made friends with Sarawak’s first White Rajah, James Brooke.

Brooke invited Low to Sarawak and together they travelled to the interior. He spent about 30 months in Sarawak, long enough for him to pick up a little bit of conversational Malay.

After writing his book about Sarawak in England, Low made his return to the island of Borneo.

SSS brought an encyclopedia book on Labuan that Sabah Society did not know existed.

Again, thanks to his friendship with the Rajah, he became Brooke’s colonial secretary in Labuan.

This was when Brooke was appointed as the first governor of newly established British Colony, Labuan.

During his stay in Labuan, Low explored part of North Borneo. His notable exploration in the area is when he ascended to Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.

Low made the first documented ascent of the mountain in March 1851. Then in 1858, he made another two ascents that year in April and July.

Although now the highest peak Low’s Peak is named after him, the truth is he never reached the highest point of the mountain. He described the peak as “inaccessible to any but winged animals.”

Nonetheless, a non-winged English explorer did actually reach the highest peak of the mountain. John Whitehead, a naturalist and zoologist made it to the top in 1888.

Besides the highest peak of the mountain, the lowest point of the mountain was also named after the British administrator.

Low was recorded as the first person who looked down into it in 1851. Low’s Gully is a 1,800m deep He later served as British Resident in Perak (1876-1889) where he developed experimental plantations that introduced rubber, coffee, pepper and tea to the region.

Hugh’s Gully on Mount Kinabalu.

He was instrumental in founding the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and its Journal. His knowledge of Malay culture enabled him to negotiate British Protectorate status over Brunei in 1888.

His son, Hugh “Hugo” Brooke Low, (1849-1887) joined the Sarawak Service. While on his many expeditions in the Rejang and Batang Lupar tributaries he collected the nucleus of the initial ethnographic collections in the Sarawak Museum.

Brooke Low was intent on producing a major work on the peoples of North Borneo and his notes (many taken from other sources) were compiled by the ethnologist H. Ling Roth to produce the massive two volumes – ‘The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo’ (1896).

Sabah Society newly elected President Datuk Dr Heng Aik Cheng gave a book memento ‘The History of Wireless Telegraphy in British North Borneo’ by Uwe Aranas, obtained from the Sabah Museum by Sabah Society Past President Stella Moo, to the Sarawak Specialists’ Society in appreciation of their visit.



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