Chinese form bulk of coolies
Published on: Saturday, September 05, 2020
By: British North Borneo Herald
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Chinese masons cutting boundary stones in 1915
(May 1, 1883)

THE question is often asked, “I am well assured that for North Borneo and its inhabitants the advent of the company is the best thing possible, as the advent of the dynasty of Sir James Brooke has proved to be in another part of the island; but how does the company expect to raise a revenue out of the country in excess of the expenditure which will he required to carry on the government in such a manner as the sentiments and feelings of the nineteenth century demand?” 

In the limits of a leading article it is hardly possible to discuss each available source of revenue, but it may be interesting to examine a few of the more salient and interesting sources whence the requisite taxation for carrying on the government may be expected to be obtained, so far as our brief experience and knowledge of what has been done enables us to forecast. 

Take first the land, the most permanent source of wealth in all countries. The Company’s territory is roughly estimated to contain at least 20,000 square miles of land, or 12,800,000 acres. 

Owing to the sparseness of the indigenous population and their want of energy, and of any desire to lay up wealth or provide more than is sufficient for their wants from day to day, a very large proportion of this acreage, especially on the East Coast, where the population is scantiest, is available for sale by the Company to European and Chinese planters and companies. 

From this sale of land the government of the Company derives not only a direct profit — the price realised per acre - but indirect revenue derived from the population introduced by the planters directly and indirectly — coolies, and the storekeepers and traders who supply their wants. 

The bulk of the coolies employed on the estate will, it is now certain, be Chinese, and the experience of Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements and of the Malay Peninsula teaches us that every Chinaman in the population is worth to the Treasury from $10 to $12 per annum, derived from their contributions to the excise farms of opium, tobacco, spirits, and in other ways we need not particularise here. 

For attracting Chinese capitalists, planters, traders and coolies the territory is most favourably situated, being within four and-a-half days’ steam from Hong Kong whence, by the arrangements successfully inaugurated by Sir Walter Medhurst, the Company’s special representative at Hong Kong, coolies can be engaged without the intervention of the class of Chinese brokers, such as those in Penang and Singapore who have acquired fortunes from this lucrative business at the expense, partly of the planters of Province Wellesley, Johore, the Native Protected States and Deli (Sumatra), and partly at that of the coolies themselves. 

Already influential Chinese agricultural companies have been formed and have taken up land on the East Coast of the territory and set to work. 

For instance the China Sabah Land-farming Company, with a capital of 300,000 taels, has taken up 40,000 acres, on the banks of some of the rivers running into Sandakan Bay.

The geographical position of North Borneo with regards to Australia is also most favourable, Elopura (Sandakan) being within five day’s steam of Port Darwin, and this fact has already attracted the attention of capitalists in the colonies, Mr de Lissa having been the first to appreciate the advantages to be derived and having acquired 10,000 acres of land on the Sapagaya river, in Sandakan Bay, which is pronounced by many experienced in cultivation to be specially adapted for the culture of sugar. 

A North Borneo land syndicate has since been formed in Australia, and has applied for 100,000 acres of agricultural land in North Borneo.

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