Dalrymple helps Sulu Sultan regain throne; is ceded islands
Published on: Saturday, October 30, 2021
By: British North Borneo Herald
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May 2nd, 1938 

Almost everybody, surely, the history of our country has heard the legend of the treasure on Balambangan, the smaller of the two large islands off our shores to the north of Marudu Bay. Perhaps not all have a very settled idea of how the legend arose, and whose treasure it is believe is buried there.

The history of our part of the world is so fragmentary and disjointed that it makes a difficult if fascinating task to piece it together with reference to any one particular decade or so. And the decade to be examined is indeed an early one, dating eighty years before the sphere of European influence was extended to the mainland of Borneo.

In July of the year 1763 a young officer of the East India Company set sail with a small but effective armed force from Madras for China. 

His name was Dalrymple, and being of an adventurous turn of mind he decided that instead of making for China direct after passing through the Straits of Malacca, he would run before the South West monsoon to the almost mythical Philippines Islands.

Now Dalrymple had something of the knack of happening on rebellions and insurrections which has characterized only successful colonists in our part of the world. Dalrymple found Manila in an uproar, and in pacifying the city with the assistance of his mariners, he came across an extremely disgruntled body in the person of Sultan Amir, the recently exiled ex-Sultan of Sulu.

The older Sultan was impressed by the efficacy of Dalrymple’s marines and lost no time in seeking to enlist their aid on his behalf for the restoration of his Kingdom. Dalrymple realized that he was faced with a task which, though in itself possibly quite simple, when completed would entitle him to a very concrete expression of the Sultan’s gratitude. And this he determined should be forthcoming.

So Dalrymple set sail for Sulu and arrived there in September of this same year (1763). Amir was reinstated on the throne of his ancestors seven days after his arrival amid general acclamation, and without encountering any resistance to the muskets of the marines which were there to support him.

Then came the reckoning of Dalrymple’s recompense, and the Sultan was prodigal in his cessions of all the lands over which he had a very precarious hold, retaining only those to which he could look with confidence to produce him a satisfactory revenue.

Dalrymple, however, was quite satisfied with this arrangement, and found himself at a bow in possession of a treaty ceding to his Company all Northern Borneo as far South as Kimanis, the Islands of Banggi, Balabak, Balambangan and the rest, and the South-Western end of Palawan.

Dalrymple remained for a considerable time at the Court of the Sultan at Sulu, making trips thence to visit his newly acquired islands and making the necessary preparatory arrangements for the permanent establishment of the British power in these seas; and at last set sail for China whence he returned to Madras and England in 1765 to lay his project before the Court of Directors of the Company. 

The Court however was understandably, timid and was very unwilling at first to risk sinking the large sum of capital in this little known area which was clearly necessary to make the trading station a success. 

Dalrymple however deserves the greatest credit for the stead-fastness with which he harried F the Directors with demands for recognition and eventually the decision was taken to open a trading centre in this area. 

The choice of locale was wisely left to Dalrymple who chose the large uninhabited island of Balambangan which he had remarked previously as possessing two fine harbours. 

In 1773 Dalrymple took possession of Balambangan for the East India Company and hoisted the flag there. Troops and stores were sent from India, and the Settlement was fortified and consolidated. Numbers of natives and Chinese began to settle there. Prosperity from the first smiled on the venture which seemed destined to be a great success. 

But though the Settlement’s trade gave cause for every satisfaction, the climate, not surprisingly, proved too much for the sepoys transported direct as they were from the plains of India, and by 1775 not only was the sick rate alarming, but some had died. 

This state of affairs soon became known to the Sulus, who we may be sure, had long been on the watch for an opportunity to storm the Settlement. 

And, choosing a favourable season in this year 1775 when all the armed frigates were away on commercial expeditions, they made a concealed landing on the island in large numbers, and rushed the Settlement, guarded only as it was by the by now somewhat sickly and despondent troops. 

The troops put up a most valiant struggle before being overpowered, and the Sulus then burst into the fort, slaughtering the sentries, and proceeded to collect as much booty and plunder as they could lay their rapacious hands on. 

Great quantities of guns, coin, Piece goods and produce were obtained and the loss to the Company was shattering and immense, being estimated in con-temporary documents at little short quarter of a million sterling.

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