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Bringing back the early Sabah memories
Published on: Saturday, January 03, 2015
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THE Sabah Museum is honoured to curate the valuable Knowles collection for the North Borneo Sacred Legacy Photographic Exhibition VI: Robert Knowles Collection (1947-1960), at the Sabah Museum, on Feb 18, 2014.Copies of his photos can be bought in the form of postcards at the State Museum at RM2 each.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, who was present, said he was honoured to be part of the event.

“The memories and information behind each photo has much value, giving sentimental and historical values to the present moment and in the future, said Masidi who officiated at the exhibition.

He urged locals to utilise their photography skills to immortalise the State’s legacy for the future generation.

“Most people take photos nowadays. But after some time, they might forget about the memories and details of each photo because they were not documented. The date, place and other information, if not recorded, might just disappear with time.”

Masidi called on locals to emulate Knowles in his effort in terms of documentation and preservation of photographs and details.

As a Minister who is proud of the State’s beauty, Masidi pointed out how the State’s diverse culture and natural beauty had inspired Knowles to capture and document these assets, despite the post-war condition of the State then.

“These assets continue to make Sabah a unique destination and attract tourists from all over the world.”

Robert Knowles was awarded the OBE by the Queen of England, worked as an Assistant Commissioner of Trade and Customs (Jabatan Kastam Labuan/Labuan Customs Department) in 1947.

With his wife Phyllis and two young children Chris and Eleanor, the Knowles family arrived in Labuan from Singapore via the S.S. Kajang in early July of 1947.

However, they left Labuan in November for Singapore enroute to the UK.

Knowles at that time was, unfortunately, in poor health due to the terrible conditions in Labuan.

In 1948, he returned to British North Borneo, leaving his family in a better environment in the highlands of Kenya while he was posted to Kota Kinabalu, which was then called Jesselton.

From the position of Assistant Commissioner of Trade and Customs, he became the Senior Assistant Commissioner of Trade and Customs on January 1, 1950 and was then promoted to become the Commissioner of Trade and Customs on March 29, 1955.

He retired as a Regional Comptroller of Customs and Excise, but continued to stay on for the eventual complete transfer to local staff in 1965.

Although he passed away in year 2000, his memory still lives on. One of the ways to remember him is through his beautiful photographs – a huge contribution to the State.

About 120 films, and 21/4 inch square negatives were used and a Weston light meter was needed to set the correct time and aperture settings.

He developed and printed most of the negatives himself, and found that the most difficult factor was controlling the temperature of the chemicals used.

The films, chemicals and photographic paper used by him were bought in Singapore.

Knowles’ hobby in photography had enabled our diverse culture and beauty of nature to be captured in photographic documentations that are integral to Sabah’s cultural heritage preservation.



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