There are a few houses of colonial design fronting the Town Padang. One of them has a high gabled roof of orange tiles with eaves and cool recesses. Four old Flame of the Forest trees stand in a square area, casting a shade over park benches and commemorative stones. They were planted by the Chinese, Malay, Indian and European communities in Labuan in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11.
There is an interesting granite slab with inscriptions done by sailors on Captain Rodney Mundy's ship 'Iris' on route to Labuan from Hong Kong. It was intended for the handing over ceremony of Labuan by the Bruneians. During the Japanese Occupation, it was tossed aside by the Japanese but was later retrieved and remounted. It is amazingly in good condition despite all this.
Opposite the Labuan Square is the Museum Square. It consists of a few old houses of colonial design. One of them has a high gabled roof of orange tiles with eaves and cool recesses. Four old Flame of the Forest trees stand in a square area, casting a shade over park benches and commemorative stones. They were planted by the Chinese, Malay, Indian and European communities in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The various stone plaques record historical events in Labuan. One announces the changing of the island's name from Labuan to Maidashima, by order of General Tojo who pass through Labuan in 1943. Another one dating from the Second World War commemorates both the landing of the 9th Division Imperial Australian Forces on 10 June 1945 at Labuan, marking the start of the Liberation of Labuan and the Borneo mainland from the Japanese.
A granite slab also commemorates the 1846 handing over of Labuan by the Brunei Sultanate to the British. The inscriptions are done by sailors on Captain Rodney Mundy's ship 'Iris' on route to Labuan from Hong Kong for the handing over ceremony of Labuan. During the Japanese Occupation, it was tossed aside by the Japanese but was later retrieved and remounted. It is amazingly in good condition despite all this.
The old colonial buildings house the Labuan Museum and a handicraft centre. There is also a memorial commemorating the formation of Malaysia. A bronze plaque is dedicated to the memory of General Maida who died in an air crash at Bintulu while en route to Labuan in 1942.
Labuan Museum is the third museum established by the Department of Museum and Antiquity in the Federal Territory of Labuan. It was opened on the 8 October 2004. The museum building is two stories pre war colonial style architecture. Its ground floor dedicated mostly to historical exhibits covering the pre historical era of Labuan, the Brunei Sultanate, British Colonial Days, World War II, Independence, and Declaration of Labuan as a Federal Territory up to the establishment of Labuan Corporation. While it’s top floor showcases the island’s socio-cultural and economic evolution of its six main communities namely the Brunei Malay, Kadayan, Chinese, Kadanzandusun, Indian and the Sikh.
The museum is well presented with graphic panels, information kiosk, moving sensors, sound and light, and other hands on display systems. The exhibits include musical instruments, monetary items, firearms, marriage accessories, costumes and artefacts’ collected from pre historical era, post British Colonial Days, World War II and Independence period. Labuan museum is conveniently located in the centre of Labuan town. It is a must visit for everyone wishing to take a quick tour of the island’s rich history and cultural past.
This Peace Park at Layang-Layangan is situated close to Surrender Point, the place where the 32nd Japanese Southern Army surrendered to the 9th Australian Imperial Forces on 9 September 1945. This park symbolizes the promise of peace and harmony for all mankind. Arched bridges over tranquil ponds and shaded gazebos create a feeling of serenity. It is dominated by a large raised mound with two prominent arched walls surrounded by landscaped gardens and pavilions. A bronze plaque signifying the renunciation of war is mounted on one of its curved walls.
The Peace Park was built as a memorial and renunciation of the horrors of the war. It is dominated by the memorial mound which is surrounded by landscaped gardens and pavilions. Small ponds with stone bridges and park seats are all Japanese-inspired. A bronze plaque commemorating the Surrender is mounted on a stone slab near the entrance.
Next to the Peace Park is Surrender Point, another historical place of interest. This is where the 32nd Japanese Southern Army surrendered to the 9th Division Australian Imperial Forces on 9th September 1945 which led to the end of World War II in Borneo. The Japanese arrived at Labuan on 1st January 1942, less than a month after they had started their campaign in Malaya at Kota Baru and took formal possession of the island on the 3rd, after facing no resistance.
They occupied Labuan for four years, even renaming it Pulau Maida, or Maidashima after General Maida, the Chief Commander of the Japanese forces in Borneo. He was on his way to Labuan from Sarawak to open the airstrip there when he died in an air crash at Bintulu. The airstrip was built by the Japanese who found it was a good location for their operations in North Borneo. For Labuan, the end of the Japanese Occupation came abruptly with the retaking of the island by the Allied forces. The capture of Labuan was seen as essential for recovering supplies of oil, rubber and timber from the mainland of Borneo. It would also serve as a base to help the Allies recapture Singapore.
A convoy of 100 ships was sent from Merotai. On 10th June 1945, Australian soldiers landed on Labuan Island and Brunei bay. The objectives were to clear the Japanese from the region, establish an advanced naval base and secure oil and rubber resources. In a well co-ordinate assault, the Australians greatly outnumbered the Japanese, resulting in the surrender of the Japanese troops.
On 10 September 1945, Lieutenant General Masao Baba, Commander of the Japanese 7 Army and Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Borneo, arrives at Labuan to surrender the forces under his command to Major General Wootten. The official surrender ceremony was held in this very spot on one afternoon of 10 September 1945 and attended by Group Captain C.W. Pearce and Squadron leader J.S. St. Heaps of Sydney representing the R.A.A.F.
The Japanese aircraft, a Tachikawa KI54C (HICKORY) that flew Lieutenant General Masao Baba to Labuan for the official surrender ceremony is on display at the RAAF Museum, Australia.
The Once Government House
Located behind the old airport is the Botanical Garden which was formerly the site of the Government House, locally known by "Bumbung 12". Built in 1852, the house was a long and low structure with an interesting roof design. Today only the water storage tank remains, along with a small grave of a much-loved foxhound named 'Jim'.
The Botanical Garden is a recreational park with old trees and beautiful landscaping. And what fascinating tales they are!
Tales of the Government House
It was believed that Hugh Low, Colonial Secretary for many years and persistently passed over for governorship, did much of the early work on the Garden. Many of the older trees were planted by him. The house was completely destroyed during the War.
On the grounds are found two graveyards that are believed to be the oldest on the island. One of them which are very overgrown has graves dating back to 1847. These graves were transferred from Ramsey Point along the beach, where repeating tides resulted in the erosion of old naval grave sites. One of the two graves relocated was that of Commander James A. Gordan of HMS Wolf, present at the handing over of Labuan to the British on 24th December 1846 and who assisted in the construction of the grounds. Like so many at that time, he fell ill and died at the early age of 28 on board his ship anchored offshore.
The other grave is that of Sergeant Adam C. Sutherland of the Royal Marines, who died in a fight with Balanin pirates in May of the same year. Another memorial commemorates other sailors who had died, but some of the inscriptions on the stone are now illegible.
There is another interesting grave located on a ridge in front of what was the Government House and it belongs to a foxhound named Jim, and pet of M.S. MacArthur, first Resident of the Straits Settlement administration which lasted from 1906 until the outbreak of the Second World War. The date of Jim's grave reads 20th June 1908.
Life on the grounds must have been quite eventful. One evening on returning home, the then Lieutenant-Governor Commander A.S. Hamilton smelt burning coming from the direction of the house. Thinking it was on fire, he hurried the rest of the way. On reaching, he was confronted by the spectacle of a row of Dayaks smoking heads on tripods right on the lawn of Government House! They were probably Murut heads taken when the Dayak police took action against Muruts for killing four of their men. The Dayaks on the lawn were most unhappy with the subsequent confiscation of the heads, and demanded permission they get more. This they were granted provided they smoked their heads someplace else!
The ghost of a lady is also thought to be resident in the grounds perhaps that of Hugh Low's wife or some other decapitated person. After the initial sighting, it was never seen again.
The ransacking of graves by head hunters looking for an easy and convenient source of heads was a great problem for the early settlers on Labuan. Hugh Low actually dug fifteen graves the night his wife died. He buried her in one of them himself and then filled in all the others to thwart potential headhunting. People even arranged to be buried at sea to prevent this happening to them.
Labuan War Cemetry
One of the most visited places in Labuan is the World War II Memorial which located along Jalan Tanjung Batu. This beautifully landscaped memorial garden is the final resting of 3,908 war heroes who either died in battle or captivity in Borneo during World War II. Most of the soldiers were Australians and British with some from the Punjab Signal Corp, New Zealand as well as a few locals.
In February 1945, the Japanese, apprehending an Allied landing in the Sandakan area, started to force march the prisoners to Ranau on which was what came to be known as the infamous Ranau Death March. Hundreds upon hundreds perished along the way and those who were left behind at the Sandakan POW camp also died or were killed. Many of the dead were reburied here at Labuan.
On 10 June 1945, Allied troops landed at Brown beach at Tanjung Purun to begin what was to be the liberalization of Borneo from the Japanese. Prior to this, Labuan town was heavily bombed aerially to flush out the enemies. Most of the buildings were destroyed and fierce fighting also took place on land at a place known as the Pocket.
The remains of the Allied troops were gathered from all over Borneo to be interred at the Memorial Garden. The graves lie in long neat rows all bearing a plaque, mostly identified and some with messages from families while others are inscribed simple, 'Known Unto God'. Visitors can refer to the panels on the colonnade where the names of every soldier appear. The Labuan War Cemetery and Memorial is visited very regularly by War Veteran groups, especially from Australia who have included Labuan as an important destination on their battle-field tours circuit. On the first Sunday of November every year, a service to mark Remembrance Day is held here and is attended by locals and foreign visitors.
Labuan War Cemetery and Labuan World War II Memorial were built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The lawns are beautiful kept and visitors will appreciate the peace and tranquility of the place as they seek to understand the senselessness of the deaths of so many brave young men.
Tanjung Kubong Tunnel
Coal mining in 18th century Labuan: The northern tip of the island is called Tanjung Kubong. An expansive network of underground tunnels and deep wells are found in this area. This is the site of coal mining, which started in 1847. The mine was operated by various British companies for 64 years. The last one, the New Central Borneo, installed an 8 mile long railway track to Victoria Port to facilitate the export of the coal. A series of mining accidents led to the closure of the mine in 1911. The area is dotted with pits and tunnels. Old bricks and pieces of rail tracks and rusted cables can still be seen strewn on the ground. One can actually enter a low tunnel with the help of a short rope and emerge from the top. Across the road next to the Chimney, is a vertical well. It is 10 feet wide and measuring some 100 feet deep. At the bottom of this well are found entrances of more tunnels, which are yet to be explored.