The British North Borneo Company was assigned to administer the affairs of North Borneo in 1881 (a protectorate of the British Empire) 3 Bars applicable to this medal – Punitive Expedition, Punitive Expeditions and Rundum
Punitive Expedition 1897 – given for a small expedition against one Mat Saleh.
Only 13 silver and 75 Bronze Medals were initially produced.
At midnight on 9 July 1897, Mat Salleh successfully led his followers to attack the Company’s settlement on Gaya Island. They raided and torched the Gaya compound before escaping with loot estimated to be worth Straits $100,000. They also took hostage F. S. Neubronner, the treasury clerk. The success of this attack increased his reputation as a local hero. This helped to further widen his reach, influence and support. After this attack, the Company proceeded to seek compensation from the Brunei Sultanate. The Managing Director, William Clarke Cowie and the Governor, L. P. Beaufort, visited the Sultan of Brunei seeking compensation, claiming that some of the attackers were from regions under his jurisdiction. These areas were also claimed to have had been used as bases by Mat Salleh. The negotiations brought the Mengkabong, Menggatal and Api-Api districts (opposite of Gaya Island) under the Company’s administration.
After the successful attack on Gaya Island, Mat Salleh and his followers moved on to a fort on the Soan on the Labuk, then Parachangan on the Sugut, then proceeded to attack and burn down the government residency at Ambong in November 1897.
Following this, he established his next fort at Ranau. On 13 December 1897, the Company attacked this Fort. They were defeated and lost about 10 men, including an Officer Jones, who had led the attack. On 9 January 1898, they attacked the fort for a second time with a bigger troop and captured it. However, by then, Mat Salleh and his men had already abandoned the fort and established a new one in the interior of Tambunan.
The Tambunan fort was stronger and more stable than his previous fort. It was reported to have been …”very difficult to attack as the fort was built from stones, wood and bamboo which prevented the bullets from penetrating the walls of the fort. Each corner of the fort was guarded and there were many secret underground tunnels for them to seek assistance for firearms and food from outside the fort. These secret underground tunnels were also used for retreat when they were surrounded by the enemies”
This was also the last fort he used for defence in his struggle to rebel against the British.
The 1900 medal version was awarded for an expedition in Jan / Feb 1900 against Mat Saleh who incited the Tegas tribe against the Tiawan Dusans in the Tambunan Valley. The company forces stormed and captured Saleh’s stronghold on February 1 and Saleh was killed during the action
1 Bar only Tambunan with initial numbers issued only 7 Silver and 116 Bronze.
1900-1905 (Mat Salleh’s Defeat)
The Company sent a force to retaliate. They reached Tambunan 31 December 1899 and fighting commenced the next day. On 10 January 1900, the Village of Laland was lost to the Company. Mat Salleh lost 60 men. On 15 January 1900, the Company proceeded to acquire Taga villages and the fort of one of Mat Salleh’s chief lieutenants; Mat Sator was burned by shell-fire. They then cut the water supply to Mat Salleh’s fort by diverting the Pengkalian river to the Sensuran.
On 27 January 1900, Mat Salleh’s own fort was seized and shelled continuously for the next four days. The seemingly impenetrable fort finally fell due to a massive onslaught by the Company, and with this, Mat Salleh’s final defences were finally broken.
On 31 January 1900, Mat Salleh was killed by shell-fire by mid-day. A chance shot from a maxim gun had hit Mat Salleh in the left temple, killing him instantly. Also killed in the battle were about 1000 of Mat Salleh’s followers who fought from the neighbouring villages of Lotud Tondulu, Piasau, Kitutud, Kepayan and Sunsuron
It was, however, another five years before the remnants of Mat Salleh’s men surrendered, were killed or captured by the Company, marking the end of the rebellion in 1905
Tambunan Mat Salleh Memorial Stone – marking the former location of Mat Salleh’s fort and also the place where he met his death in 1900