Banjarmasin was the largest city in Borneo (1902)


One sentence alone cannot describe the sheer diversity of Borneo. And early 20th century Borneo was to this one man’s observation, co-habited by various peoples, from tribesmen, to sultanates and to Western influenced economic dominions keen to tap the ‘great island’s’ great wealth and the result was emerging towns and cities that dot the rivers and seasides of Borneo. There are several lines of quotes that I find interesting regarding the author’s observation of some Bornean cities as it was back then:

“It (North Borneo) has a number of excellent harbors and especially Sandakan, is one of the best along the Pacific….Sandakan has about 7,000 people, of whom half are Chinese. There are only a few hundred Europeans, but they have all the institutions of an Asiatic colonial port. They have a club, a museum, a scientific society and a racing association.”

“I learned much about the Dutch possessions during my stay in Java and at Soerbaia was within a short distance by steamer of Bandjarmassin, the largest city in Borneo and the capital of the Dutch part of the island.”

“Today Brunei is still ruled by the sultan under the English. He has a capital city built upon piles in a bend in the river about fifteen miles from the sea. His capital is surrounded by hills, and standing upon these you can see the houses apparently floating upon the water.”

“The capital of Sarawak is Kuching, a town of 20,000 people,….The place is well fortified. It has public gardens, good roads and many comfortable homes. The English live in bungalows and they have all the surroundings of civilization.”

“The Dutch steamers call at Kotei, and one can go on up that river to the capital of the sultan. The first town of any size is Samarinda….The capital of the sultan is at Tangarung, still farther up, where his majesty has two-storied palace roofed with galvanized iron. This structure is said to be the only two storied building in the country, and it is lighted by electric lights.”

Indeed, this news article is the best yet so far in describing Borneo as one island. A must read!

Article source: The Deseret News, 11 January 1902

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