Ammunition by Telegraph in Nineteenth-Century Labuan


Having recently read Alfred McCoy’s Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, I’m interested in pursuing further his claim that the “information revolution” brought about by such technologies as the typewriter, the telegraph and the telephone played an important role in enabling the Americans to bring the Philippines under their control by looking at the role that these technologies played across Southeast Asia at that time.

Mat Salleh

At the end of the nineteenth century, the British North Borneo Chartered Company faced a series of conflicts against its rule that came to be collectively referred to as the Mat Salleh Rebellion, named after the figure who initiated the hostilities (supposedly the guy below the X in the above picture). This conflict lasted from 1894 to 1905. Mat Salleh, however, was killed at the end of January 1900.

In reading the Wikipedia entry on the Mat Salleh Rebellion, we see that in early January of 1900, the Company captured some villages held by Mat Salleh and his supporters, and that at the end of the month Mat Salleh’s fort was captured and Mat Salleh was killed.

What Wikipedia doesn’t tell us is that in the middle of the month an important telegram was sent.

Labuan Map

On 15 January 1900, the deputy-governor of the British-controlled island of Labuan (off the northern coast of Borneo) sent a telegram to the governor of North Borneo, Hugh Clifford, who was at the time in Singapore. The deputy governor informed Clifford of the recent successes in capturing “enemy villages,” and then informed him of the following request from the commandant in the field:

“Commandant expects long struggle. Orders Flint to wire Singapore Ordnance store for Martini ammunition, percussion fuzes, shrapnel, double shell, gunpowder friction tubes for 7-pr. mountain howitzer.”

The deputy-governor went on to add that “We are quite ignorant regarding quantities, but recommend good supply.”

ammunition telegram

I found another document which indicates that Governor Clifford set sail for Labuan the next day, January 16, with “a supply of ammunition,” and arrived in Labuan on 20 January.

At the end of January, Mat Salleh’s fort was captured, and he was killed.

Without the benefit of the telegraph, would that have happened?

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