NEUBRONNERS IN THE FAR EAST
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Summary

In 1895, Fredrick Saxby Neubronner (2.10.6. on the Family Tree) was Customs Officer, Kudat (British North Borneo) but was transferred to Gaya where he arrived on 22 Nov 1895 and was subsequently appointed Sub-Treasurer, Gaya on 1 Jan 1896.  He led a relatively uneventful life for the next 18 months apart from his kitchen being burnt to the ground around midnight on 8 Nov 1896. However, his adventure was about to begin in July 1897. The local hero and rebel, Mat Salleh, who resisted the British presence in North Borneo was about to conduct one of his many attacks on British establishments. On 9 July 1897, at 4.30 am, Mat Salleh and his followers attacked the treasury at Gaya, looted it of large sums of money and then burnt it to the ground. In the process they killed a Sikh policeman and a prisoner and wounded two others. F.S. was taken as prisoner by the raiders. Over the next 10 days, the British conducted a search and destroy mission in the jungles near the River Inanam and encountered one of Mat Salleh’s strongholds. After a brief fire-fight, the rebels withdrew into the jungle leaving F.S. behind to be rescued unharmed.

British North Borneo Herald: 16 July 1897. Extracts from page 192 under ‘Notes-Occasional

“As we were going to press news arrives per Memnon a Mat Salleh has made a sudden night attack from the River Inanam on Gaya which he has burned down. Mr. Neubronner, the clerk in charge is said to have been captured.”

“ By later advises received today, 16th, per Ranec, we learn that Mat Salleh captured all the inhabitants of Gaya except one constable who was killed. When the SS. Ranec entered the harbour, the pier and godown were still burning, the Offices of the Treasury and nearly every house having been looted and burned. Some 40 to 50 of Mat Salleh’s followers who were still on the spot ran off to capture the Ranec. She happened however, to have 50 police on board under Mr. Hewett and Mr. J. Wheatley and they were cut off. They then turned with our men in full pursuit.” 

BNBH: 1 Aug. 1897. Pages 202 & 203. The Mat Salleh Expedition. Report by G. Hewett. Acting Resident.

"We have been handed a report made by Mr. G. Hewett of the proceedings of the expedition to Gaya and the Inanam River from which we take the most interesting portions:-

On the night of Sunday the 11th (July) instant, about half past eight oclock. I received an urgent letter from Mr. Wheatley at Mempakul enclosing letters from Kwala (Kuala) Penyu and Papar reporting that Pulo (Pulau) Gaya had been attacked by Mat Salleh who had killed one Sikh policeman and one prisoner, and wounded two others, had seized all arms, ammunition, stores, boats, contents of the Treasury, looted the Chinese shops and burned down the latter, together with every Government building on the island. One letter was from Ketik, the customs clerk at Gaya, which gave similar details, adding that Mr. Neubronner, the Treasury clerk was taken away prisoner by Mat Salleh, and it was impossible to doubt the truth seeing that he was an eye-witness of most that took place. I at once went to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Companys Office which was closed for the night. Mr. Cole kindly opened the office and I was soon in communication with Mr. Wheatly, and as the Ranec was leaving at daybreak next morning, we arranged that Mr. Wheatley should meet the Ranec with as many policemen as he could spare off Pulo Daut (Pulau Daat) while I brought all the men available from Labuan. After making these arrangements by telegraph, I returned to Government House to prepare for my own departure and then went down with Mr. Horsford about 11 oclock and found the Sergeant-Major had 10 police ready to go having previously sent word to him. I then sent out and managed to rake up 28 free Dyaks, armed them, and sent them on board the Ranec. We also called up Mr. Keasberry and charted the Enterprise, had her coaled and provisioned for ten days. These arrangements occupied nearly the whole night, and we got away soon after daylight. It was my intention to send Mr. Wheatley in the Enterprise up the coast inshore to Gaya to pick up news of Mat Salleh as it was stated that he meant to attack the other outstations and destroy them as well. However, upon meeting Mr. Wheatley I found that Ketik, the Gaya clerk had arrived and was with him. He stated that Mat Salleh was still in Gaya he thought and had told him he intended to attack the Ranec, so we decided it best to go all to Gaya together.

The attack on Gaya took place at 4.30 a.m. on the 9th, and the burning of the shops only occurred on the 12th, as we could plainly see from Pulo Tiga by the dense column of smoke ascending.

Upon arrival at Gaya, in the Ranec we caught the Mengkabong people red-handed burning and looting. They fired the Chinese godowns on the wharf just as the Ranec came into view. They immediately ran for their prahus and endeavoured to escape. The tide was out however and they were unable to pass over the reefs, and the Ranec, steaming up to the beacons closed the exit. They then ran their six prahus ashore and jumping overboard escaped into the jungle. We at once landed all our men and followed them, but only captured one man, and the prahus which were stuffed full of loot. We then lodged all our men in the Bajau village at Gaya which was left intact as the Bajaus all joined with Mat Salleh, and the Ranec then left. Next morning, we left at 3 oclock for Ambong in the Enterprise and arrived there soon after 6, and found Mr. Ormsby all right. He had only received the report of the sacking of Gaya the previous afternoon about the time we reached Gaya in the Ranec which fact is significant of the general knowledge of the natives and their desire to keep it secret.

After consulting with Mr. Ormsby on the best course of action, we determined that inaction would be very ill-advised pending arrival of further assistance from Sandakan. We had information that Mat Salleh would destroy all the outstations. Our forces split up was possibly sufficient to protect them, but the material was poor. We then returned to Gaya bringing some twenty police and free Dyaks to add to our force.

Upon reaching Gaya, we found Ketik, the clerk, had succeeded in keeping all our people out of sight and quiet in the Bajau Campong whenever a boat was seen and in this way we had captured seven or eight men, amongst them a Sulu spy who had been sent by Mat Salleh into Gaya for about a forthnight before the attack to corrupt the Gaya Bajaus which he succeeded in doing and who also joined in the attack on the morning of the 9th instant.

The following morning therefore, we held an enquiry on these prisoners, and remanded all until the expedition was over except for the Sulu spy. Him we tried, sentenced and executed upon the spot.

There were also four of the Chinese traders from Gaya who reported that they had just escaped from Inanam. They informed us the Inanam River was strongly fortified, that there was a strong fort with two guns close to the Kwala, another a little higher up, one more at Datu Merawis village where Mat Salleh intended to make an office an carry on a Government of his own. They also told us that Mr. Neubronner was quite safe living in the Orang Kayas house and was well cared for. The Orang Kaya has always been friendly to the Company and although his men took part in the attack upon Gaya, he would have nothing to do with it and endeavoured to persuade the Inanam people against it.

Upon receiving the information we gave up all thoughts of attack from the mouth of the river as likely to cause us too serious loss and at once proceeded to Tanjong Aru where we landed and started to walk to Putatan at 1.30. We found the Putatan Office already put into a state of defence and the Gaya and Papar police collected there. We rested for an hour and then taking all the police from Putatan to add to our force we started again and walked to Babait on the Ulu Putatan reaching there about 7.30 p.m. We had now a respectable force. From Labuan and Mempakul 15 police and 33 Dyaks, Ambong some 20, and 18 were from Putatan. Total 90 men less 12 whom we left on board the Enterprise to guard the mouth of the Inanam.

The following morning, the 15th, we started at 5.30 and walked across country over the hills and through long stretches of paddy (padi) fields to the Ulu Inanam. On nearing Inanam, we found all the Dusun villages full of loot, the people scattered before us mostly running on to the Inanam. We were initially confronted by a fort on a steep hill some 4 or 500 feet high across the Inanam and we at once advanced and occupied a village on a little hill perhaps 70 feet high driving out the people killing two of them. We had barely accomplished this before we were attacked from the jungle surrounding it, the top of the hill only being clear where the village stood. No one was struck however, and we formed up the Sikhs and fired volleys into the jungle which soon drove out the enemy. We occupied the village at 12.30 after a very arduous walk of seven hours. It was mostly through paddy fields which had just been flooded and ploughed and we were up to our knees in mud and water the greater part of the way. The walk from Tanjong Aru to Babait the day before was just the same. The position we took up was about 1,600 yards from the enemy fort. A party emerged from the fort, crossed the river and took up position in a sago clump and opened fire on us. Their practice was poor but disturbing while one man was sufficient on the spot to be dangerous. We got the range at 550 yards and after a volley or two they were compelled to retire with the loss of one killed. We then set about knocking up a few defences as we were completely exposed. The Dusun and Bajow coolies who followed us from Putatan and Petagas and the prisoners from Ambong whom we had brought with us, were employed on this, whilst we sent out parties to burn out all the villages within range of us.

The following morning another fort which we had seen some way to our right was carried, the enemy losing two killed and about a dozen villagers found full of Gaya loot were destroyed. In the afternoon it rained hard and nothing more was done. The following morning, the 17th, there was still no advance, but a party went out to reconnoitre the Bajow Campongs on the river, they returned saying that though the villages were empty, and that the Government boats stolen from Gaya were lying there. During their absence, we observed a large party climbing the hill slowly to the main fort and with the glass made out that they were carrying up a gun. Upon this I declared that we must advance at once but our reconnoitring party were so long returning that they mounted the gun and fired it off at us before they turned up. It was agreed that Mr. Wheatley with 30 Dyaks, the prisoners and coolies should occupy Datu Merawis village down the river and seize the boats, whilst Mr. Ormsby and myself took the Sikhs and the remainder of the Dyaks marched down the paddy fields facing the fort and occupied the Orang Kayas village immediately below it. We then fired our camp and broke down our defences.

A move was made and the two villages occupied the fort opening fire on both parties. The party under Mr. Ormsby and myself entered by back of the village across open paddy fields in view of the fort. The village was deserted excapt for the row of Chinese shops. The Dyaks promptly ran to cover in the jungle when the fort opened fire but the Sikhs were steady and lay down behind one of  the paddy field dykes. I then crossed the fields and turned out all the Chinese from the shops for safety and returned to the Sikhs and hearing brisk firing going on below at Mr. Wheatleys village, we ordered the Sikhs to fire volleys at the fort. Considering the position to exposed, we then proceeded to join Mr. Wheatly at Datu Marawis village we at once put in a state of defence by dark. We had no further trouble from the enemy and they maintained dead silence all night.

Mr. Wheatley then went down the river to the Enterprise to bring up provisions that we were in need of. He returned at 3.45 a.m. accompanied by His Excellency. The Governor, Capt Reddie and Mr. Wathen with more police from Sendakan and Kudut, the maxim and the mountain gun. The Governor, Capt Reddie and myself at once proceeded with the mountain gun and placed it on the edge of the paddy field behind the upper village just by day-break. Word was sent back to the others to advance at once against the fort which still maintained silence. Two shells were thrown into it and there was no reply and shortly after it was occupied by Messrs Wheatly, Ormsby and Wathen the enemy having deserted it.  We then retired to the lower village for breakfast after which His Excellency, the Governor with Capt Reddie, Mr Ormsby and Mr. Wathen ascended to the fort and pursued the enemy overland through Menggatal whilst Mr. Wheatley and myself with the Enterprise and Normanhurst guarded the two exits from Menggatal leaving a guard in the camp at Inanam. In the afternoon the overland party emerged in boats bringing with them Mr. Neubronner who had been taken out of the Inanam fort and cared for by Pangeran Kahar of Menggatal. We then landed all men and stores etc.. from both steamers at Gaya and the following morning after trying all prisoners captured, Mr. Wheatley and myself with the Labuan police returned to Labuan by the Normanhurst arriving about 10 p.m. on the 19th instant.

I must not omit the mention the conduct of Sergeant Tara Singh of the Labuan police which was beyond all praise from start to finish. He worked splendidly all through seeing to everything keeping the police in order all day and was both willing and anxious to stay up all night and we had to order him to turn in and sleep and I sincerely trust that he will receive some substantial recognition of his services which were invaluable."

 

(Data from BNBH contributed by Andrew Lo Vun Bin)

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