He Died at 28 – His Mother Loved Him So Much that She Built Him a Clock Tower

The Atkinson Clock Tower in Kota Kinabalu (then Jesselton), was built by Mary Edith Atkinson in 1905 in memory of her son Francis George Atkinson, the first district officer of Jesselton who died of malaria at the aged of 28.

His passing in December 1902 was officially announced on The Straits Times newspaper on 10th January, 1903. Mr. Atkinson was popular among the government and his colleagues.

This is an illustration of Victoria College in Jersey, UK where Mr Atkinson spent his college years.

He was fondly known as “West Coast Atky”.

The article below was published in the said newspaper:

Mr. F. G. Atkinson, the District Officer at Jesselton in British North Borneo, died there suddenly of heart failure following an attack of fever on the 4th December. Mr Atkinson was a son of the Rev. F. H. Atkinson of Jersey, was born in 1874 and educated at Victoria College, Jersey (Channel Islands).


After experiencing some life in Australia, he joined the Borneo service in March 1898 and was appointed to be District Officer, Jesselton in January 1901.


The British North Borneo Herald pays the following tribute to his memory:-


By the death of Mr. Atkinson the Government is robbed of one of its best officials and each member of the service loses a friend and companion; for everyone knew “West Coast Atky” and all loved him.


Amongst the Juniors of the service service – and, like those whom the gods love, he died young, – Mr. Atkinson was regarded with a species of hero worship, as the mainliest of them all, and his fine physique and handsome presence were their pride and admiration.


It is no mere assertion to say he had no enemies, and it is equally true that he was the most popular official in the service.


Like most physically strong men his good temper and generosity of heart were proverbial and many a time has his heavy hand been stayed by dint of those good qualities from punishing the evil-doer.


There’s very little history written about Mr. Atkinson’s probably due to his premature death.

The Atkinson Clock Tower is one of the few structures in Kota Kinabalu that survived World War II, despite the heavy bombardment by the Allies just before the end of the War in 1945 as shown in this photo archived at the Australian War Memorial.

We worked with a local artist to produce this vintage poster of Jesselton in 1930’s. Please contact us if you wish to buy a beautifully framed poster of Atkinson Clock Tower.

Despite this shortcoming, it is great that his memories live on the Atkinson Clock Tower which had witnessed the place changed from a small British outpost to a bustling city.

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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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