Status: British Crown Colony (1848–1908)
Area: 35 square miles
Population: 2,500 (in 1890)
Currency: Straits Dollar ($1 = 100¢)
Labuan is a small island about the size of Miami off the coast of North Borneo. Uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it in 1497, its harbor served as a safe anchorage for ships waiting to enter port of Brunei back when the region was a haven for pirates.
Labuan stamps from 1879 to 1894 showed Queen Victoria’s profile, as on this 1880 5¢ stamp, Scott 5.
James Brooke, “the white Rajah of Sarawak,” aggressively expanded British control over the Sultan of Brunei’s lands on the northern coast of Borneo. He and the British Navy decided Labuan would be a valuable coaling station as well as a base for fighting piracy. In October 1844, when they sailed into Brunei harbor to ask the sultan to give Labuan to Queen Victoria, the Sultan reluctantly agreed. The fact that a British warship near the Sultan’s palace lined up with cannons ready to fire enhanced the persuasiveness of their proposal.
In 1895, a $1 Coat of Arms used chiefly as a revenue was overprinted to supply needed lower values, as on this 4¢ surcharge, Scott 58.
Labuan became a Crown Colony in 1848, hoping it might one day rival Singapore as a trading center, but these hopes did not bear fruit. The colony survived on grants in aid until 1869, going deeper into debt each year, until administration was transferred to the British North Borneo Co. January 1, 1890. That did not work out well either, and on January 1, 1906, Straits Settlements assumed responsibility for the colony, incorporating Labuan entirely two years later.
The 1896 “JUBILEE” overprint on this 2¢ stamp, Scott 67, marked Labuan’s 50th anniversary.
World War II was disastrous. On January 3, 1942, the Japanese easily occupied Labuan, making it headquarters of its 32nd Southern Army. The island was liberated September 9, 1945. The Australians erected a tent for the Japanese surrender because no suitable structure remained.
Many canceled-to-order Labuan stamps display the heavily barred marking seen on this 6c North Borneo Arms stamp of 1897, Scott 78.
Few relics remain of Labuan’s colonial era. The site of the stately old Government House is now a public park. On July 15, 1946, Labuan was transferred to the newly created British North Borneo Colony. In 1963, North Borneo — renamed Sabah, including Labuan — became part of Malaysia. In 1990, it became a federal district with aspirations as a global financial center.
This time in 1899 an 8¢ Dhow stamp receives a 4¢ surcharge, creating Scott 89.
traits Settlements stamps were used in Labuan prior to 1879. In May 1879, four stamps by De La Rue in London bearing Victoria’s image were released in the Colony. These first designs were reprinted on different papers and in new values for 15 years, with later surcharges in 8c and 2c denominations. In 1883, when $1 stamps were needed, Labuan Treasurer and Postmaster A.S. Hamilton used a pen to create the necessary values.
Labuan Scott 107 is this handsome 1902 25c greenish blue and green Crown stamp.
In 1894, the British North Borneo Company began to overprint its pictorials “Labuan.” Catering to the philatelic trade, the company released large quantities of canceled-to-order stamps, which gave Labuan stamps a bad name with collectors. Labuan stamps were replaced by those of the Straits Settlements in 1906.