Following up on the previous post, I found some more information about the case of certain British citizens wishing to lease some islands in the East/North Borneo/Western Philippine/South China Sea in the early twentieth century.

In particular, I came across a draft of a contract (“indenture”) that was sent to various British officials in 1919 for them to approve or amend.

This contract was between King George the Fifth and two rubber planters from Johore, Louis Wilfrid Wilsford Gudgeon and Wilfrid Carruthers Bell, and Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlement Albert James Shelley-Thompson.


There are more documents relating to this case that I have not read yet, so I don’t know what ultimately happened, but this contract itself is fascinating.

It begins by stating the following:

“WHEREAS it has been represented to His Majesty by the said Licensees that they are now by themselves or their agents in occupation of (or they are desirous of occupying certain coral Islands belonging to His Majesty and not any Colonial Government situated in the China seas between Singapore and Hongkong respectively called and lying in or about the degree of latitude and longitude next mentioned (that is to say). . .”


The document then goes on to list the names of various islands and cays (a sandy island over a coral reef, also written as “key”) and their locations. For the islands that have latitude and longitude coordinates provided, I mapped them out, and here is where they appeared:


I don’t know the exact location of all of the islands and cays/keys that belong to the Spratly Islands, however it is obvious that the islands and cays/keys that are mentioned in this contract were either in the Spratly Islands or just to the west of the Spratly Islands.


So how could British officials in 1919 think that there were no claims to these islands? It is interesting to see that the contract says that no “colonial government” had claimed these islands.

This gets to the heart of this convoluted topic. The historical claims to sovereignty over these and other islands are so problematic because 1) the idea of sovereignty as we know it today did not exist in the past and 2) there have been many changes in government in the region over the past few centuries, from empires to colonies, to nations, to occupied territories, to communist nations, etc.

This leads to an important question: Can any claim or contract survive all of those changes?

If it can, then why isn’t Loai-ta Island or Itu-Aba Island or Low-kiam cay British today?

Your Majesty, are you listening??

Here is the document I am referring to: Indenture