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'Finding Jesselton' an important record of history

17th April, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: The first time George Jessel set foot in Kota Kinabalu in 2011, he was left marveling at the bustling modern city once known as Jesselton.

He knew by then that the city was named after his great-grandfather, Sir Charles James Jessel who was vice- chairman of the North Borneo Chartered Company during British Colonial Rule.

Recollecting his family’s rich history and connection to Sabah, the first book on ‘Finding Jesselton’ authored by the great-grandson of Sir Charles James Jessel was launched yesterday by Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

“This truly has been an extraordinary journey of rediscovery and I feel it’s important to reestablish my family’s history and its connection to Sabah,” said George, who was last here in 2011.

George recalled that it was during the flight back to England when his wife, Vicki Jessel, convinced him to write a book to share their family history and his experiences being in Kota Kinabalu.

“This is a city that’s really building itself up and a country that’s poised to make a mark in the world, she says – that’s how it was all set up to write this wonderful book which I’m sure will become a treasured part of history for the people here,” he said.

George also served as High Sheriff of Kent from 2017-2018 in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Sir Charles and his grandfather Sir George who were also High Sheriff in 1903 and 1953 respectively. The High Sheriff which heads the judicial, police and military proceedings in England is almost a thousand year old tradition with the first High Sheriff of Kent appointed about 995 years ago.

Being the eldest of his three siblings, George is the first Jessel to have visited Sabah as his great-grandfather never really set foot in Jesselton.

“This wonderful book will be greatly appreciated by all Sabahans and is a deeply meaningful contribution from the great grandson of Sir Charles James Jessel,” said Publisher Datuk CL Chan, adding that the 120-page book contains many priceless vintage photographs of North Borneo dating back to the British Colonial era.

Kota Kinabalu was formerly named Jesselton by the British North Borneo Chartered Company. The town was founded at the mainland in 1899 after the first settlement on Gaya Island was destroyed by fire in 1897 by local Bajau leader, Mat Salleh. The small trading town soon flourished into a major trading port and was connected to Beaufort, Tenom and Weston via the North Borneo Railway

During the Second World War, Jesselton was captured by Japanese forces who reinstated the name Api, which is still being used to refer to the city among the Chinese community. The town was then renamed Kota Kinabalu after the iconic Mount Kinabalu by Sabah’s first governor, Tun Mustapha Bin Datu Harun. Kota Kinabalu received its official city status from the Malaysian Government on Feb 2, 2000, with Datuk Abdul Ghani Rashid appointed as the first mayor of KK City. The current mayor, Datuk Yeo Boon Hai is the fourth.

Meanwhile, Masidi in his remarks lauded the launching of the book which would serve as an invaluable opportunity to reestablish ties with one of the families whose heritage and history is linked to Sabah.

“We hope this relationship can help promote Kota Kinabalu City in England and encourage more British tourists to visit Sabah especially among those who are older and still familiar with Jesselton, the old name of Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

He also hoped that the book can help spur interest among local historians to conduct further research on the history of Kota Kinabalu City.

‘Finding Jesselton’ retails at RM95. The book is available at the State Library. –By Mohd Izham B. Hashim

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