Freak death of an early K’batangan adventurer
Published on: Saturday, July 25, 2020
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Scenes from the past......Bamboo raft as means of transport at Meligan around 1900s.
North Borneo Herald

(MAY 1, 1883)


IT is our sad duty to chronicle in this, only our second issue, the occurrence of a most melancholy accident resulting in the death of a promising young officer of the Company’s service. 

Mr Frank Hatton, after an arduous exploring journey up the river Kinabatangan, and a very plucky though unsuccessful attempt to reach the Segama over-land from the former river, during the prevalence of the rainy season was compelled to make the journey by sea and reached the Segama with his party in open boats on the 27th February, after what he has described in his diary as “a terrible voyage.” 

His duty was to prospect the Segama district for gold, to the existence of which the testimony of all the natives of the East Coast unanimously point. With this object, accompanied by Mr Beveridge, the companion of all his journies in Borneo, and by a party of Malays, he ascended the river. 

His diary is continued to 1st March, on which day he enters the note, “Just one year ago left Sandakan for the Labuk,” the first inland journey he had made in the territory, and this was the day that was to terminate for ever all his work in this world. 

The last entry in the diary is to the effect that at 3.40 p.m. on the date named above he had reached a certain point up the river. Soon after this it appears he came across an elephant on the bank and, firing at it with his Winchester repeating rifle, he wounded it. 

The animal made for the jungle and the deceased immediately started in pursuit. He was unable to get up to the quarry and, darkness coming on with the rapidity usual in tropical climes, he and his native followers determined to give up the chase for the day and return to their boats. On the way back Mr Hatton, leading the way, came across a creeper growing across the track. 

He, somewhat, wearied, probably, by the fatigues of the day, attempted to remove it with the butt end of his rifle. The weapon is known to have had an exceptionally sensitive lock. Some sudden jerk occasioned by the elasticity of the creeper caused the loaded weapon to explode and the bullet passed right through his breast. 

He fell into the arms of his “boy,” (a native servant) who was walking behind him, and was only able to utter “Udin, saya mati” – Udin, I die!” And in three or four minutes all was over. Mr Beveridge had been following up the river close behind in another boat. He heard the shot fired and hurrying up to the spot whence the sound proceeded, was informed by the followers of the terrible event which had just transpired and arrived only in time to see poor Hatton breathe his last. 

This sad event is, if possible, rendered still more sad by the fact that the lamented office had been, according to the evidence of Mr Beveridge, in the highest spirits for several weeks previously, rejoicing in the fact that he was shortly to terminate his labours in Borneo and rejoin his family, to which it was patent to all who had experienced the pleasure of his acquaintance he, as an only son, was attached by ties of more than ordinary depth and devotion. 

Mr. Hatton arrived in the country in October, 1881. He was of somewhat slender build and apparently not possessed of a robust constitution, and it was consequently thought by many of his brother officers that he was scarcely fitted to stand the hardships of inland journies in a jungle-covered country such as this, without roads or house accommodation for the traveller. 

But what he may have wanted in physical strength the deceased made up in strength of mind and in that pluck and determination to carry out his mission, however arduous and dangerous, which we find in the Englishman in all quarters of the globe. 

This pluck and determination had carried him safely and triumphantly through difficulties which could never have entered into his thoughts when he accepted in London the appointment of Commissioner of Mineral Explorations to the Company. 

During the short time he was with us Mr. Hatton had examined, and furnished an exhaustive report upon, the valuable resources locked up in the Sekuati petroleum oil shale. He made an adventurous journey from Sandakan to the Labuk river, up that river and across country to Kudat. 

He subsequently spent some months in a patient exploration of the country at the head of Marudu Bay, where he met with and discovered samples of native copper and copper pyrites, coal, and other minerals which will in time, doubtless be developed in the interests of the Company’s Government. 

He then paid a short visit to Singapore to recruit himself after his prolonged sojourn in the jungle and on his return to Borneo proceeded to Sandakan where he entered upon the expedition which has so disastrously terminated in the death of a gallant and enterprising young officer. Mr Frank Hatton was the only son of Mr Joseph Hatton, the well known journalist and novelist, who, amongst other works, has given to the public an account of the objects of the Company in his book entitled.

 “The New Ceylon.” Mr Hatton by his modesty, his ingenuousness, and by his attainments had won the sincere regard and, in many cases, the affection of his brother officers. Before leaving England he had made the commencement of a reputation by his chemical researches. 

His native followers were strongly attached to him and he had shewn an exceptionable facility in acquiring influence over and inspiring confidence in the untutored inland tribes. 

He has, we believe, left behind him a very complete vocabulary of one dialect of the Dusun language, which we trust the government will take steps to have published in the interest of the junior members of the service. Mr Hatton’s age we gather to have been not more than 21 or 22 years. 

All who knew him prophesied for him a distinguished career. To the great Disposer of all things it has seemed good to ordain otherwise. Whom the Gods love die young.





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