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British North Borneo 1881-1963 (Malaysia)

Last modified: 2005-02-19 by
Keywords: british north borneo | north borneo | state of north borneo | colony of north borneo | sabah | borneo | lion (red) | disc (yellow) |
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British North Borneo Chartered Company 1881-1937, State of North Borneo 1937-1946, Colony of North Borneo 1946-1963

[State Flag and Ensign 1882-1948 (North Borneo, Malaysia)] 1:2
State Flag and Ensign 1882-1948
by Juan Manuel Gabino

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Roughly speaking, Sabah was previously known as (British) North Borneo (Company).

David Prothero, 6 March 1999

In 1878 Alfred Dent formed a British syndicate, and he persuaded the Sultan of Sulu to cede those parts of North Borneo which his ancestors had held for generations. Later a company was formed which took over the concession granted to the syndicate, and as the British North Borneo Company applied for and received a charter from Queen Victoria in 1881. The conditions laid down were that the company must remain British and that the religion and customs of the native inhabitants must be respected. Later on more concessions were added, granted by the Sultan of Brunei.

Because of possible complications with foreign powers, a British Protectorate was declared over the northern part of Borneo in 1888, which included Sarawak, Brunei and the state of North Borneo. The Crown took over external affairs, while the Chartered Company remained in control of internal administration of their territory, except that the Governor chosen by the directors of the company sitting in London to represent them in Borneo was to have the approval of the Colonial Secretary.

The British North Borneo Company continued its operations until the Japanese invasion in 1942. On 15 July 1946 the company's rights passed to the Crown. It then became the Colony of North Borneo and included the island of Labuan. Source: several.

Jarig Bakker, 2 January 2001


Eight different flags of British North Borneo were used, six based on the badge of the Chartered Company, "a Lion passant, guardant, Gules on a circular field Or" and two derived from the crest of the Arms of the Company granted in 1894, "two arms hold flag flowing to the sinister Or charged with lion guardant Gules".

Admiralty warrant of 5th January 1882 authorised defaced Union Flag, Blue Ensign and Red Ensign. The badge was to be 2' 8" (approx. 81cm) diameter on a 6' × 12' (approx. 183cm × 366cm) flag:

  1. Union Flag defaced: principal representative when embarked.
  2. Union Flag defaced: jack of armed vessels which are not traders.
  3. Red Ensign defaced: for merchant and trading vessels.
  4. Blue Ensign defaced: for armed vessels.
5th January 1882. Governor's Yellow Flag

18th October 1937. Admiralty informed Colonial Office that a Dominion Office amendment to the Admiralty Flag Book [1930?] altered British North Borneo (Chartered) Company to State of North Borneo.

July 1946. "Following cession of State of North Borneo, HM King included it in his colonial empire."

30th January 1947. Suggestion that the Arms of the Colony should be based on the Arms of the Company and that the letter "T" should be included, being the flash of 9th Australian Division which had liberated the territory.

8th February 1949. Royal Warrant returned. 24th October 1949. Company liquidated.

New flag badge to be crest of Arms, on white ground on Blue Ensign, surrounded by garland on Union Flag. Now that North Borneo was a colony there was no need for a defaced Red Ensign.

2nd May 1952. Change in the design of the Native Chiefs flag.

Compiled from Public Record Office documents, ADM 1/21259, ADM 1/24010, ADM 116/213, ADM 116/300, ADM 116/898B, CO 874/204 and CO 874/778.

David Prothero, 4 January 2001

British ensigns are officially prescribed to be Post Office Red and Roundel Blue, whose nearest browser-safe equivalents are respectively RGB 204-0-0 and RGB 0-0-102, much darker than in Juan Manuel Gabino's images.

António Martins, 28 January 2001

The 1882-1948 flags were used when North Borneo was administered by a governor and civil service appointed by the Court of Directors of the British North Borneo Company in London.

David Prothero, 16 April 2002

Badge of the British North Borneo Company 1882-1948

[Badge of the British North Borneo Company 1882-1948 (North Borneo, Malaysia)]
by Juan Manuel Gabino

Lion on a yellow disc until 1948 when the badge was changed to the crest from the coat-of-arms (granted 13 September 1948), which (according to Carr 1953) was displayed on a white disc, presumably until 1963.

David Prothero, 6 March 1999

In Kannik 1959 is a coloured image [of the 1948-1963 badge], and in Carr 1961 a description (including colours) and a black and white image.

Jarig Bakker, 2 January 2001

In the Admiralty Flag Book 1889 the lion faces the fly but is changed to face the hoist in a 1902 amendment. I think that this was probably to correct an error in the book and not a change in the design of the flag.

David Prothero, 4 January 2001