I wrote below about some materials that I came across in British Colonial Office records regarding some British citizens who sought a license to lease some islands in the East/North Borneo/Western Philippine/South China Sea in the early twentieth century. I wasn’t sure if this was new information or not, but a friend and scholar who is an expert on this topic just let me know that this is an episode which apparently has not been reported before.

So to follow up on what I wrote below, I did find some later documents. In particular, on the third of January 1920 a certain Commander G. V. Rayment of the Intelligence Division of the British Admiralty wrote a letter to H. Beckett of the Colonial Office to inquire about this issue.

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Commander Rayment wrote the following:

“Some considerable time ago a British Company in Singapore applied for permission to raise capital with a view to starting a company to exploit certain small islands in the South China Seas. There was correspondence between the Colonial Office and the Admiralty on this subject: the latter proposing that the enterprise should be quietly and discreetly encouraged.

“Do you know whether anything really happened? Unfortunately I have lost track of the papers in the Admiralty, and as I cannot remember the name of the island I am at a loss to pick up the track! As you will no doubt realize, our interest in this particular affair is strategical.”

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On the seventh of January 1920 H. Beckett responded as follows:

“Your letter of the 3rd of January – South China Sea Islands. The Admiralty reference is Admiralty letter of the 14th of December, 1917, [?].80146.

“Since that time we have had a good deal of correspondence with which I need not trouble you, the upshot of which has been that in September last we sent out a license to the Governor of the Straits to issue Messrs. Gudgeon, Bell and Shelley-Thompson to work the Islands. The license is on similar lines to others which have been granted in the case of unoccupied Islands.”

Beckett then listed the islands, and they are the same as in the previous communications (see the blog posts below).

A day later on the eighth of January 1920 Commander Rayment responded to H. Beckett by stating:

“Many thanks for your letter of 7th January. It gives me just what I want and has enabled me to get hold of the paper dealing with the subject.”

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Ok, so that’s jolly good that Rayment got his information, but what actually happened? Did Messrs. Gudgeon, Bell and Shelley-Thompson actually do anything? I haven’t found any evidence of that.

Nonetheless, I find these documents interesting in the way that they suggest that those “islands in the Sea” were still very much a “no man’s land” at this time.

CO 273 57957