Early Sketches of North Borneo from William Pretyman’s Collection

William Pretyman was the first Resident of Tempassuk (now Kota Belud) and these were some of his collection of sketches and watercolours of North Borneo.

In the early days, when photography was still at its infancy, sketches and illustrations were the only reliable methods to create “pictures” to be shown and share to other people.

Pretyman was born in Aylesbury, England in 1849 and travelled widely in his youth. He then served in North Borneo from May 2, 1878 to Feb 5, 1880. During his time here, he kept a diary of all his encounters and made several sketches of the people and scenes in North Borneo.

His diary is believed to be as one of the earliest historical records related to North Borneo; which is prior to the formation of British North Borneo Chartered Company in 1881. In the sketch above – “Three Pirates and Chinese Witness” at Labuan court. No other details accompanied or explained in this sketch.


Pretyman even travelled to the East Coast of North Borneo where the watercolour above shows the Kinabatangan river and the native dwellings along the bank of the river. The sketch below says “Pirate craft captured in Tampassuk River.” Piracy was indeed rampant during those days.

If you’ve been to the Tamu in Kota Belud, Pretyman was the one who initiated it on Dec 13, 1878.

Judging by all the sketches above, one can tell that he was a talented artist. After spending his time in North Borneo, he moved back to England, got married to Jenny Remington and then the couple moved to Chicago, USA where he designed interiors for a number of Chicago houses and churches.

The Sabah State Archives will publish the reprinted version of his diary, and it’s a must read for everyone who would like to know the early history of Sabah.

There are plenty more impressive collection at National Archives, UK.

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Richard Ker

I love the history of North Borneo (Sabah) and strive to digitally archive any related information on this website. I'm also the author of LifeinMy.com and CyberjayaCity.com. Follow me on Twitter @richardker.

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