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British North Borneo Co.'s Medal, with bar for Punitive Expeditions, awarded to an officer in the Company's forces, 1898

British North Borneo Co.'s Medal, 1898

Obverse, the British lion passant looking out, before a Union Jack flagstaff and wooded background; in the exergue, a laurel wreath with Spink & Sons engraved left and London engraved right

British North Borneo Co.'s Medal, 1898

Reverse, arms of couped shield with galleasse at sea base, lion passant chief, shield flanked by native warriors one with shield and other with machete, above arms holding flagstaff, below motto on scroll over antlers

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British North Borneo Company's Medal, 1898

The state of North Borneo, which is now part of the Malaysian state of Sabah, began independent existence as a United States possession leased from the Sultan of Brunei, and then passed through the hands of various trading companies, US, Austro-Hungarian and British, before the formation of the British North Borneo Co. in 1882. It became a British Protectorate in 1888. Under the company the terms of the lease were considerably expanded, and new settlement organisation and taxation systems emplaced. This, while boosting the country's productivity, also caused resentment among the local population.
Datu Muhammad Salleh (Mat Salleh) became a figurehead of this opposition feeling, and the Company's burning of his village in 1897 failed to quell his increasing power. His destruction of the Company's harbour at Pulau Gaya in 1897 led to a more determined reprisal against his new fort of Ranau in 1898, after which Mat Salleh had to retreat into the hinterland. He was eventually killed in 1900.
The bar to this medal indicates that it was awarded to participants in the expedition against Ranau. Forces in these actions were so small that only fifty-two of these medals were issued, and of these only five in silver, of which this unnamed example is one. Lester Watson purchased it from the London dealer Baldwin in 1933.