Labuan’s museum delights history buffs

Captain Mundy receiving the island on behalf of Queen Victoria.

The Labuan Museum is a good place to view the territory’s colourful history and learn about the cultures of the various local communities.

The museum was opened in 2004 and is housed in a two-storey building in the heart of town facing Dataran Merdeka.

The ground floor gallery is dedicated to the chronological history of the island from pre-history, through the British colonial era, Japanese occupation, the post-war period and the development of Labuan as a Federal Territory.

The museum is a two-storey, air-conditioned building.

Over the past 160 years or so Labuan has had many changes in administration:

  • 1846 – 1890: Labuan was ceded to Great Britain by the Sultan of Brunei as a base to control piracy and was run as a British Crown Colony.
  • 1890 – 1906: Taken over by the British North Borneo Company.
  • 1906 – 1942: Became part of the Straits Settlements, together with Singapore, Penang and Melaka.
  • 1942 – 1945: Japanese Occupation. Labuan was renamed Maidashima.
  • 1945 – 1946: British Military Administration.
  • 1946 – 1963: British Crown Colony.
  • 1963 – 1984: Became part of Malaysia, together with Sabah.
  • 1984: Declared a Federal Territory.
The outer courtyard is full of markers and plaques.

Interesting exhibits in the museum include a stone quern (a hand mill for grinding spices) from the Neolithic period which was found on Burong Island.

There are also many old photos, a collection of wartime weaponry, currency and stamps from the colonial era.

Upstairs is an exhibition on the social, cultural and economic lives of the main ethnic groups making up the island’s population, namely the Brunei-Malays, the Kedayan, the Kadazan-Dusun, the Sikhs, Indians, and the Chinese.

Labuan’s flag has changed half a dozen times over this period and the territory’s interesting history makes Labuan’s postage stamps a fascinating topic for philatelists.

There is a replica of a Kedayan house made from bamboo, traditional wedding costumes and an interactive diorama of a water village depicting the daily life of the Brunei-Malay community who live in Labuan’s kampung air.

The Prince of Wales visited Labuan on board the HMS Renown.

Outdoor exhibits

Immediately in front of the museum is a small square with a number of stones and plaques of historical importance including:

  • A carved stone commemorating the possession of the island on December 24, 1846 by Captain GR Mundy in the name of Queen Victoria.
  • A stone commemorating the 1922 visit by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) on board the HMS Renown.
  • A memorial commemorating the landing of the 9th Division Australia Imperial Forces on June 10, 1945 which led to the liberation of Labuan and Sabah from the Japanese.
  • A plaque marking the renaming of Labuan as Maida Island (Maidashima) in memory of Japanese General Maida who was killed in an air crash on September 5, 1942 while en route to Labuan.

Each corner of the square has a flame-of-the-forest tree planted in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

This is quite a good museum, particularly if you are interested in history. It is air-conditioned and gives a welcome respite from the sweltering heat.

Entry is free and the Tourist Information Office is located next door.

Labuan Museum:

UO364, Jalan Dewan
87008 WP Labuan

Tel: 087 – 414135

Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm daily.

This article first appeared in Malaysia Traveller