HISTORY OF NORTH BORNEO CURRENCY AND NOTES SERIES
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF MR ALEXANDER COOK THE TREASURER AND AUDITOR GENERAL OF THE BRITISH NORTH BORNEO COMPANY 1880-1908
Edited by Kumis Kumis
ALEXANDER COOK was born on the 8th of September 1854 and was a British Colonial Administrator as Treasurer General in North Borneo (now Sabah) at the end of the ninetieth century.
He married the eldest daughter of Captain Robert Dudely Beeston (Commandant of the Constabulary and later the editor of British North Borneo Herald), Alice Louisa Adeline, on 4 May 1889 at St Peter Church, Sandakan.
He lived in Sandakan in a House, known as “Singaleila” where his son was born on the 26th of March 1890. His first daughter was born in Sandakan on August 18, 1891. His second daughter Kathleen Muriel Jane was born in Sandakan on March 3, 1903. She died on Jan 31, 1931, in England, aged 27.
Alexander Cook was an older institution in Sandakan than the Chartered Company itself for he joined the “Provisional Association” as Auditor’s Assistant Officer on the 15th of October 1880, and was one of the early Company Officers.
There was no “Resident, Sandakan” in those days, and the District Officer would correspond directly with the Secretariat.
With the exception of a short period as Acting Private Secretary to Governor William Treacher (first Governor of North Borneo) in December 1881- December 1882, he retained substantive appointments in the Treasury Department as a Financial Officer up to the end of his service.
Cooks, Von Donop and Treacher were named as an investor in William Clark Cowie’s coal mining at his Muara coalfield 10 years concession that he obtained on the 13th of March 1882.
On 1st January 1883, he was appointed as Treasurer General and on the 22nd of June 1883, he was appointed a member of the Council. This position accorded him the status of a senior member of the administration. He sat on the council of state.
On the 13th of February 1886, he was appointed Acting British Consular agent. Held this post up to the end of May 1886 and drew half of the Residents’ Entertaining allowance at $25 per month.
From the 1st of August 1887 to the 25th of November 1887, he Drew Extra pay as an Acting Harbour master at $17.50 per month.
On the 6th December 1883, he was promoted to a Magistrate of the 2nd Class, besides his additional duties, already mentioned, as District Officer, he was given some Magisterial duties, and was in charge of the Sandakan Customs and Farms.
On the 13th of September 1888, Alexander Cook witnessed a contract between The British North Borneo Company and Messrs W Mansfield and company Singapore on behalf of The Ocean Steamship Company to provide regular ship transport services to the North Borneo territory.
On the 1st December 1888, he was promoted to Magistrate of the 1st Class and also a Justice of Peace.
He was Chief of the Triumvirate which administered the Government in the years 1889-1890.
On the 23rd of April 1891 to the 11th of August 1892, he was the Acting Government Secretary. Draw ½ Gov’s Sec’s pay $212.50 and ½ his own $182.50 – $395 per month. On several occasions, he was Acting or Deputy Governor.
On the 24th of February 1893, he was appointed District officer, Sandakan, officer-in-charge of Native Affairs and for his main official Treasury duties.
In this capacity, Cook had to face Mat Salleh the chieftain from Sugut who arrived in Sandakan in 1895 in full force demanding to see the Governor or William Pryer, the former Resident.
Cook refused to meet Mat Salleh and thus missed the chance to talk and listen to the chieftain’s grievances against the government. His cowardly behaviour was criticised by many and his reputation suffered as a result.
On the 1st June 1896 to 31st August.1897, he was granted furlough, Extended for 3 months to 30.11.1897 and 1 month on ½ pay and 2 months on full pay. He resumed duty On the 1st of December 1897.
On the 31st of March 1901, he was appointed to West Clifford to act as governor and appointed to the post of Treasurer General on the 10th of June 1901.
On the 11th of November 1901, he was appointed as Finance Commissioner.
Mr Cook’s signature, original or lithographed, is still to be seen on some of our old currency notes of the larger denominations.
British North Borneo Company. Dollar System. 1886-1926 Issues. Paper (hand cut). No security threads. Printer: Blades, East & Blades, London. Texts in English, Chinese and Jawi. Signatures of printed Treasurer Alexander Cook at right and black handwritten Accountant at left. Description of the back: No back (uni-face note). Very rare.
The Europeans and Chinese still in Borneo who can remember him personally may now perhaps be numbered on the fingers of one hand many however of his friends and acquaintances amongst the Natives of Sandakan and the East Coast must still survive, for he was well known to great numbers of them, and a visitor to his Office would often find it crowded with parties of gaily dressed Sulus and Bajaus.
Mr Cook was a typical “Sandakanite”, as most of his time was spent there — in latter days at all events, he seldom went on a tour around the country — and his interests were mainly centered there. Officers in those days were allowed to hold private investments in the country, and Mr Cook proved his faith in its future by his ownership of some town property and the planting of a small coconut estate at Bokara, a few miles from Sandakan, a favourite destination for the afternoon riding parties of those days.
His great height and big build gave him an imposing appearance, and a cadet on his first arrival in his Office would feel rather like a pygmy before Gulliver, but the kindly manner of the giant soon dispelled this feeling, helped by the generous hospitality for which he was so well known.
Readers of a later time may feel but scant interest in such ancient recollections, such raking over of the dim embers of the past, but in those few who do still remain in England or in Borneo, who were his contemporaries even if not for a year or two, memories may still be fanned once more into a glowing flame and even the modern generation may hope that should occasion arise, they too would be capable of showing the enterprise, the ready decision and the patience of an early pioneer.
At the time of Wooley’s arrival, Cook was Financial Commissioner and Acting Governor since the departure of the former Governor Hugh Clifford (BNBH 16 April 1901). Wooley and Cook did not get well together.
On the 28th of May 1903, he was granted 2 months leave on full pay and 12 months on ½ pay and on the 22nd of September 1903 he was granted a gratuity of £ 100.
On the 29th of July 1904, reported his return from furlough and resumed his duties.
On the 23rd of February, 1906 – Granted 2 months’ vacation leave and on the 22nd of April Granted 25 days extension.
On 12th February 1907 appointed Acting Governor during Mr Gueritz’s absence and He was again Acting Governor in March – Oct 1907 while Gueritz was on leave.
Alexander Cook never made Governorship, unlike his rival Gueritz. Cook was known to be pompous and petty, he whined to Governor Treacher in 1886 after being roughed up by de Lissa, a logging pioneer of North Borneo.
He was the founding member and director of the North Borneo State Rubber Company Limited in November 1908 and on the 1st of January 1909 managed to secure a concession of 5,000 acres of land for 999 years for the cultivation of Para Rubber.
Based on local accounts by the name of Hajjah Saadiah @ Suki Weedon, her mother Fatimah of Suluk’s descent married Alexander Cook in 1907. They have 3 children from the marriage, 2 daughters TERESA COOK, MOIRA COOK and a son LEWIS COOK.
The Herald of the 16th November 1908 announced the approaching retirement of Messrs. Cook and Walker, both of whom were then on furlough, in Mr Cook’s case this was to take effect on the 7th December 1908, after some 28 years’ service. The Herald wished both of them “a long enjoyment of their pension” and though Mr Henry Walker died some years ago, it will be agreed that for Mr Cook the wish has been fulfilled, in spite of the fact that when he actually left Borneo he was in very bad health, so much so that many doubted whether he would even live to reach England.
When they divorced, Fatimah married William Charles Moores Weedon who was an English Resident of Tawau in 1917. William adopted the children from Fatimah’s first marriage. Fatimah had 3 more children with William namely Suki Weedon @ Hajah Saadiah, her siblings Didie Weedon @ Hajah Sarbanum and John Weedon @ Hj. Baharum. Photos of Moira Cook and Louis Cook were not available as they might have been destroyed during the Japanese occupation in WW2.
TERESA COOK the first born married a man from Sandakan named Larkins @ Amir Basha. They have a daughter named Freda Larkins @ Amir Basha (deceased). Freda Larkins married a Bruneian Almarhum Pengiran Hj. Radin Hanafi Pengiran Hj. Muhammad.
They have 3 children, 2 daughters and a son. When Teresa Cook divorced with her first husband, she married again with a Brunei man Allahyarham Hj Ahmad Sagap. They have a daughter named Hajah Sarah Hj. Ahmad. Hajah Sarah Hj. Ahmad married a Bruneian Hj. Majid Hj. Abdulrahman. They have 9 children, 4 daughters and 5 sons. The children and grandchildren of Teresa Cook all lived in Brunei.
MOIRA COOK married a man named Raden from Sumatra, Indonesia. They have 2 children, a daughter Arpiah Raden and a son Muhammad Raden. The son passed away when still in his infancy. The husband went back to Sumatra and for unknown reasons failed to return back to Tawau.
When Moira Cook passed away, her daughter Arpiah Raden was adopted by my family. Arpiah Raden married a local Tawau man Allahyarham Mohd. Noor Baki. They have 13 children, 5 daughters and 8 sons. The daughter and grandchildren of Moira Cook mostly lived in Tawau.
LEWIS COOK the youngest of the siblings married a Suluk girl. They have 2 sons Alexander Douglas Cook (deceased) and George Cook who used to work with Sabah Port Authority. (deceased). During the war, Lewis Cook was captured by the Japanese after being betrayed, then executed and buried somewhere in Bombalai, Table, Tawau.
The wife known as Makcik Mina passed away in Kota Kinabalu with my late mother and myself in attendance. The eldest son Alexander Douglas Cook married a Filipino girl. They have 4 children, 3 sons and a daughter. The other son George Cook first married a Filipino girl and they have 2 daughters. George Cook married a second time with a Chinese girl, they have 2 sons. The children and grandchildren of Lewis Cook all lived in Kota Kinabalu. They used the surname Cook.
It is with great regret that we record the death of Mr Alexander Cook, which took place at his home in Bedford on the 16th of June 1938. He leaves a widow to whom we offer our respectful condolences.
Source and Credit to:
1. British North Borneo Herald (1883-1938)
2. Prof Danny Wong and Stella Moo, The Diaries of George C Wooley, Sabah State Museum
3. Ross Ibbotson, The Building of North Borneo Railway and The Founding of Jesselton
4. Uwe Aranas, The North Borneo Archives
5. Dayang Naimah Maidin, The Generations of Alexander Cook in North Borneo (SNBS)
6. Daily Express, 3.4.2021
7. J Nimmo Wardrop
8. Sabah State Archives
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