On 27 February 1912, Captain Tucker Wardrop, the chief police officer at the Central Police Station in Beaufort, British North Borneo, wrote a letter to the chief police officer at the Central Station in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) and had a Japanese woman deliver it.
This woman, whom Wardop referred to as “Mrs. Ah Quai” (this appears to be a generic way of referring to someone – like saying “Mrs. X”), reportedly had two Japanese men living at her house. Mrs. Ah Quai claimed that these men lived by selling and purchasing Japanese women in the Philippines, and she wanted them gone from her house.
The two men, whom Wardop referred to as the “Mr. Ah Quais” (although they were not related to “Mrs. Ah Quai”), reportedly knew Spanish, and would buy (Japanese?) girls in places like British North Borneo and then sell them at twice the price to a brothel in the Philippines.
One of the men who was staying at Mrs. Ah Quai’s house had recently purchased a girl for $500. He had also gotten into a drunken fight and had been thrown into jail, but apparently he was subsequently released, and was now at Mrs. Ah Quai’s house preparing to take the girl to the Philippines.
This letter that Wardop wrote is damaged, but it looks like Mrs. Ah Quai’s house was in Jesselton. However, she had been afraid to go to the Central Station there, and had instead contacted a certain Major Raidullah Khan, who had then directed her to Wardop.
Since, however, Mrs. Ah Quai’s house was in Jesselton, Wardop wrote this letter for Mrs. Ah Quai to take with her to the Central Station there.
The next day Captain Wardop sent a letter to the American consul in Sandakan on the other side of the island. Wardop included a copy of the letter that he had sent to the chief police officer in Jesselton, and noted that “These two Japanese men will no doubt apply to you for papers on their way to the Philippines with these women.” This makes sense given that the Philippines was at that time under American colonial rule.
Wardop also informed the American consul that “I am informed that these two men are dealing in Japanese women in the Philippines, buying outside and reselling the girls on arrival.”
Captain Wardop then added a handwritten postscript to his typed letter that said, “They are not the class of men I would recommend to have in the Philippines.”
Hopefully the American consul was smart enough to understand this final point without having to be told.
In any case, these two letters are very interesting. It is well known that women were one of Japan’s biggest “exports” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and that many Japanese women went to Southeast Asia at that time to work as prostitutes. James Warren’s Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 deals with that topic in detail.
What I find interesting is that these guys were supposedly buying Japanese women in British North Borneo. If this is true, what were Japanese women doing there?
In his letter to the chief police officer at Jesselton, Wardop reports that “Mrs. Quai complains that [one of the men] is using his evil influence on the women in the house telling them what thousands they can make in the Philippines by prostitution and offering to pay their debts to the Master.”
Who was “the Master”? And what exactly was this house of Mrs. Quai’s?
I was confused when I first read this letter, but I’m guessing that Mrs. Quai ran a Japanese house of prostitution in Jesselton and was upset because two Japanese men arrived and tried to buy off some of her girls.
This perhaps explains why she was reluctant to take her case to the police. Perhaps she knew Major Raidullah Khan and told him about her situation thinking that he would not turn her in.
In the end, apparently she had nothing to worry about. Wardop did not seem to be concerned that she was running a brothel in the capital of his colony. He was concerned though that the Americans not let “the class of men” who traffic women into the Philippines.
Yea, that makes sense. . .