Project Canterbury


no place of publication: Borneo Church Association, no date.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


A Priest Visiting at Merdang Gayam

Asiatic Children Betong Sarawak

Dayaks in Their Boat

Bond Street, Tai-i

The Bishop



NOT counting New Guinea, the island of Borneo is the largest of the group lying between the Continents of Asia and Australia, and known as the East Indies or the Malay Archipelago. The area of the island is 289,000 square miles--more than twice the size of Great Britain and Ireland.

Two-thirds of Borneo belongs to the Dutch. The remaining third is under British control, Sarawak and North Borneo being Crown Colonies and Brunei being a British Protectorate. The diocese of Borneo includes the whole island, but our church at present only has missions within the British territories.

Though the Equator passes through Borneo the climate is remarkably equable, and on the whole compares favourably with that of other tropical countries. There are numerous mountains in the interior of the island, the highest being the beautiful ridge of Mount Kinabalu (13,500 feet). From the mountain ranges innumerable streams flow down to the coast, swelling into magnificent rivers which form the highways of the country, the towns and villages being situated on their banks. Inland travelling is largely along jungle paths, through streams and marsh land, up and down steep hills, crossing rivers by bridges formed of tree trunks thrown from one bank to the other.


The romantic story of the first white rajah of Sarawak--Sir James Brooke--is now well known. Arriving at Kuching in 1839, he was instrumental in putting down a rebellion at that time being waged against the Malay Prince, Rajah Muda Hassim. After long delay and troublesome negotiations, the [1/2] promise to install Mr. Brooke as rajah was carried out in 1841. For twenty-six years he governed the country in the true interests of the people, suppressing piracy and head-hunting, relieving the oppressed, and restoring order and peace among the tribes of Land Dayaks who had been ruthlessly tyrannized over by the Malays. Sir James was succeeded by his nephew, Sir Charles Brooke, and he in turn by his son, Sir Vyner Brooke. The beneficent rule of the Brookes brought peace and prosperity to a country of various races, and the people were encouraged to take a responsible interest in its development. In 1946 Sarawak came under the control of the Colonial Office.


The people of Borneo are of many races and languages. The MALAYS have been in the island for many centuries; they are Mohammedans, and the one stipulation made by the Sultan when Sir James Brooke became rajah was that he should not interfere with the customs or religion of the Malay people. Though not particularly hostile to Christianity, they are but little affected by it.

A certain number of Europeans are resident in the country. These are chiefly Government officials and their families, or members of the staffs of the oilfields, the banks, or commercial houses. There are also in North Borneo a small number of European planters. Although few in number the Europeans have in some parts of the diocese been a great strength to the Church.

Many CHINESE have settled in Borneo, largely for trading purposes. They are industrious, thrifty and patient, and most of the business of the country is in their hands. The Chinese speak a variety of dialects, and it often happens that Chinese from different provinces are unable to understand one another. There are also TAMILS from India and Ceylon, JAPANESE and PHILIPPINOS. There are also many jungle tribes indigenous to the country, the most important of which are the MURUTS and DUSUNS in the north, and the LAND DAYAKS and SEA DAYAKS in Sarawak.

The Sea Dayaks are an attractive people, both in appearance and manners. They are warm-hearted, hospitable, unselfish, and exceptionally intelligent. The Land Dayaks are much like the Sea Dayaks in appearance, though they have a quieter, more thoughtful expression, and are of singularly mild disposition.

Dayaks live in long houses which may accommodate as few as six or as many as thirty families. Each family has a room which serves as kitchen, living room, and bedroom for the married people. There is a common passage and a verandah where the people sit and work in the day, and where the unmarried men and boys sleep at night. The missionary camps out on this verandah when he stays in a Dayak village.

[2/3] There is a loft above the room, in which things are stored, and where the girls and unmarried women sleep. The standard of honesty is so high that it has never been found necessary to fix any legal penalty for theft, and the good nature of the Dayaks enables them to live at the close quarters resulting from the system of long houses with a minimum of friction.

[4] The Dayaks are animists, and they live in a perpetual state of fear of the spirits who are believed to be powerful in every department of life. No important undertaking is entered upon without consulting the omen of the birds, and a journey will be given up or a new house deserted if a bird of ill-omen is heard. Illness of almost every sort is thought to be the work of an evil spirit, and the haunting terror of a life ruled by omens is never far away.

The Dayaks believe in a future life, but merely one which continues the conditions of the present life, with its toil and suffering. The Christian message of love and freedom is a veritable release from bondage, and there are a number of districts where the Dayaks are begging for priests or catechists to go and teach them.

There are two main Sea Dayak districts--that of the Batang Lupar river, with headquarters at Simanggang, and that of the Saribas and Krian rivers, with headquarters at Betong. In the Batang Lupar area the Church is expanding in many directions under the energetic and gifted leadership of the Ven. A. W. Stonton. In 1937 the new Church of St. Luke (built to a great extent through offerings given by the King's Messengers) was consecrated at Simanggang. It is the largest church in the diocese, and is both beautiful and dignified. Between four and five hundred Christians came from far and near, many facing long, exhausting walks through the jungle, some spending three or four days on the journey, to show their joy in the completion of their church. All up and down the river, and in-land for miles, little Christian centres have been established, with their own chapels, these in turn serving other smaller centres.

The Saribas and Krian district has four important centres--Betong, [4/5] Debak, Saratok and Ruban,--situated thirty to fifty miles up different rivers from the sea and connected across country by jungle paths. In all these Dayak districts Christians often leave home before dawn and paddle their boats up and down the river to make their Communion in the nearest chapel at 7 o'clock.

The Land Dayak district has its headquarters at Quop. Here for many years a Chinese priest, the Rev. Chung Ah Luk, forgetting all racial antagonism, served the Land Dayaks and trained a young Dayak, Si Migaat, to help him. Si Migaat was ordained after a long testing period and has for many years worked as priest in the Quop area.

Great advance in many directions has recently been made in the Land Dayak Mission, under Fr. F. H. H. Howes, now stationed at Tai-i and assisted by a young Dayak deacon. Besides three main centres, each having its own Church and School with a catechist in charge, there are a number, ever-increasing, of small Christian communities to be shepherded.

Besides all this, Fr. Howes has translated a large part of the New Testament into the vernacular and has produced text-books for use in the schools.


Work in North Borneo is almost entirely among the Chinese and Europeans. At Sandakan there are flourishing schools both for boys and girls. Jesselton is the centre of an immense district supervised by one European with the help of one Chinese priest. The European priest not only acts as headmaster of a school for 200 boys, but also undertakes the pastoral care of this enormous area. St. Agnes' School for girls is also doing important work at Jesselton. The mission schools are greatly appreciated by Chinese parents and the principals are usually faced with more applications than they can accept.


The Church sent its first missionary to Borneo in 1847, at the request of Sir James Brooke. The Rev. Francis McDougall, who was chosen for this pioneer work, was an ideal man for the task, and was supported in his undertaking by an ideal wife. McDougall, who was a doctor as well as a priest, quickly won the people's confidence [5/6] by his medical skill, and in a few years a school, a church, and a mission house were built, the money being provided by a committee in England. Up to 1851, McDougall was working single-handed, taking services in English, Chinese and Malay, doing medical work, teaching both Dayak and Chinese children, visiting among the Dayaks, and planning to extend the mission work to the jungle. From that time a succession of helpers came to work in the diocese, and, home funds having failed, the S.P.G. agreed to adopt Borneo as one of its spheres of work.

Francis McDougall was consecrated first Bishop in 1855, and was succeeded in turn by two able and devoted men--Bishop Chambers and Bishop Hose--both of whom had the oversight of the Straits Settlements as well as of Borneo. In 1909, when Bishop Mounsey was consecrated, Singapore was made a separate see. During Bishop Mounsey's seven years as Bishop the staff was strengthened from England, and the Borneo Mission Association was formed, partly to raise funds and partly to stimulate prayer and interest on behalf of Borneo in this country.

[7] The next Bishop was Bishop Danson, and perhaps the outstanding feature of his episcopate (1917-1931) was the progress made in the training of Asiatic priests. Through Archdeacon Mercer's efforts money was raised to build a college for the training of Chinese clergy, and in 1923 the College of the Holy Way was opened at Kudat. There five men were prepared for ordination, each by a four-year course, 4 of whom are now working in various stations of the diocese. It was not possible to maintain the College as a permanent institution, and it was closed in 1930.

The short but very fruitful episcopate of Bishop Noel Hudson (1931-1937) saw a further extension of the Asiatic ministry. An Ordination Test School at Kuching was opened under the supervision of the Fathers of the Community of the Resurrection, and during the four years that the Community was at work in the diocese two Dayak and two Chinese priests were ordained. Another Dayak, Jamban, who had served for some time as catechist at Betong, was made deacon in 1938 and ordained to the priesthood in 1947, and there is good reason to hope that the Asiatic ministry will continue to increase. These years also saw great activity in the building of new churches, chapels and schools in every part of the diocese. Building is only undertaken when it is demanded by the spiritual vitality of the people, so that it may be regarded as real evidence of progress.

The Rev. Francis Septimus Hollis was consecrated in June, 1938, having already spent twenty-three years in Borneo. He was for ten years Principal of St. Thomas's School, Kuching, and it is largely due to him that the school has reached its high standard, both educationally and spiritually.

During his episcopate came the hard years of the Japanese occupation. The Bishop, together with the Archdeacon of North Borneo, five of the European priests and four of the women workers, were interned. The Asian clergy were severely restricted in their work and one of them was executed for succouring a Dutch airman who had made a forced landing.

Of the 14 permanent churches in the diocese, all except two were either destroyed or badly damaged and looted. Schools and mission houses suffered to a like degree.

But the worst blow of all was the execution by the Japanese of so many of the leading Chinese members of the Church in Sandakan and Jesselton.

After the liberation Bishop Hollis valiantly set about reviving the work of the Church. But increasing blindness, the result of privation during internment, necessitated his retirement in 1948.

[8] On All Saints' Day, 1949, the Reverend Nigel Edmund Cornwall was consecrated eighth bishop of the diocese, now renamed Borneo instead of Labuan and Sarawak. Soon after his arrival in Kuching he ordained the Reverend Chong En Shin to the priesthood and Ewiim Jaboh (a Land Dayak) to the Diaconate.

It may be truly said of the diocese of Borneo "The work is great and large." Almost limitless opportunities lie waiting to be seized; door after door is opened, and the mission is forced to remain inactive outside, because it has not the men or the money to respond.


Borneo is one of the many overseas dioceses in which the S.P.G. is at work. To a large extent the work in Borneo owes its existence to S.P.G., which supplies the essential funds for support of the missionaries and other vital needs. It is backed up by the Borneo Mission Association, which is a fellowship of people who promise to support mission work in Borneo by their prayers and gifts. The minimum subscription is one shilling, and all members receive regularly the quarterly Borneo Chronicle and an intercession paper issued with it. As a shilling hardly even covers the cost of the Chronicle, all who can do so are asked to subscribe a larger sum.

There are local secretaries in many parts of the country, to whom subscriptions and donations may be paid, and from whom the Borneo Chronicle can be obtained. A list of them will be found on the back of the Chronicle. If there is no local secretary, applications for membership should be addressed to the Secretary, the Rev. C. J. Collis, Milton Abbas Vicarage, Blandford, Dorset.


BORNEO: The War & After Series . . . 1/-
BORNEO: Handbook Series . . . 1/-
NGIPA'S QUEST . . . 4d.
THE NEW HOUSE . . . 1d.
BORNEO CHRONICLE (Quarterly) . . . 3d.

Obtainable from
Milton Abbas Vicarage, Blandford, Dorset
S.P.G. House, 15 Tufton Street, Westminster, S.W.I.

Project Canterbury