First North Borneo Airmail Postmark


This article is no longer maintained. An updated version on First North Borneo Airmail may be found in my new North Borneo stamps site.

North Borneo Airmail Postmark (June 1930)


These mails were brought by two R.A.F seaplanes on survey or training flights (S1149 and S1419) under the command of Squadron Leader G.E. "Gerry" Livock. The mails that boarded the flights were mainly of souvenir nature, due to the rarity of such flights with the accompanying postmark. Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo all produced specific airmail postmarks for the flights. The Sarawak postmark being circular with the town name inscribed on the top half and "AIR MAIL" inscription on the lower half. The date is inscribed at the centre. The Brunei airmail postmark is somewhat similar to North Borneo, just without the plane symbol at the centre of the rectangular postmark. The North Borneo postmark incorporates both the plane symbol and the inscription of "AIR MAIL NORTH BORNEO".

The North Borneo airmail postmark was used in the following towns:

Jesselton (2 June - 3 June 1930),
Kudat (4 June- 5 June, 25 June 1930),
Sandakan (9 June and 21 June 1930),
Tawao (13 June - 14 June 1930 ); and
Lahad Datu (18 June 1930).

As the dates imply, the route may have been from Jesselton to Kudat then to Sandakan, to Tawao and to Lahad Datu. From Lahad Datu the plane went to Sandakan and then to Kudat, before returning to Jesselton. That's the route in North Borneo. The two planes actually started their voyage in Singapore in 26 May 1930 to Kuching, Sarawak. From Kuching, the planes flew to Sibu and Miri in 30 May 1930. From Miri they then continued to Kuala Belait and Brunei capital in 1 June 1930. From there the flights then went to Jesselton in 2 June 1930.


R.A.F. Southampton Flying Boat S1478

Southampton Flying Boat N225

RAF Seaplane J9060

Airmail Rate

In 1930, the normal surface rate for letters in inland North Borneo and Labuan was 3c for the first ounce and 2c for the next additional ounce. Postcard rate was 2c. For foreign address the rate was 12 c for the first ounce and 10c for each subsequent ounce. Postcard rate was 4c.  To board the RAF seaplanes, an additional charge of 25c is applied for every half ounce of a letter in addition to the normal surface rate. This is not entirely bad, because in return, not only that your mail reach faster, but you will also get a special and rare airmail postmark, specifically designed for the flight. That's why most of the mails that boarded the planes were souvenir covers. In 1933, three seaplanes made similar surveying journeys (S1479, S1420 and S1151), but unfortunately did not carry any mail.


 Sandakan Airmail Postmark (9 June 1930)

This cover was listed in ebay in 14 February 2010 and ended in 21 February. It is franked with 3 stamps - 1cent, 16 cents and 24 cents; and tied with a clear airmail postmark. The upper part of the cover shows the town and date of postage - Sandakan (9 Jun 1930).Guess how much it went for? $762 or £494!!!

Note that the cover is addressed to H.A. Dabell Esq in wireless station , Tawau. This is quite interesting because a number of airmail covers of North Borneo are sent to this person as the Jesselton and Kudat covers below.

Jesselton Airmail Postmark (2 June 1930)

This cover appeared in SSS auction in autumn 2009 bearing the first North Borneo Airmail Postmark dated 2 June 1930. The stamps used in this particular cover is 28 cents rather than the normal 3c per ounce for normal surface mail in inland North Borneo (Nov 1921 rate). Dated 2 June 1930, the earliest possible date for such a service. Sold for £210.

I think the address should have been:
"H.A. Dabell Esq,
C/O A.J. B. Broodbank Esq,
Sandakan, British North Borneo".
I think the collector is Mr. Dabell himself, trying to get the airmail postmark from all five towns of North Borneo.



Kudat Airmail Postmark (5 June 1930)

This cover was sent from Kudat to Sandakan on the 5th of June 1930. 5 airmail postmarks were used to cancel the set of 13 stamps from 1cent to 25 cents.


Tawao Airmail Postmark (14 June 1930)

Very interesting cover franked with British North Borneo 1c, 10c definitives + 20c on 18c surcharged stamp. Tied with boxed "Air Mail/ North Borneo" cancellation depicting the single engine airplane, endorsed in manuscript at upper left, "1st Air Mail/ from N. Borneo" to Scotland; On the reverse shows Tawao 14 Jun 1930 origin postmark, then transit to Sandakan in 20 Jun 1930 and arrives in Jesselton on 25 Jun 1930. Good condition, cancellation ink offset and smears on front and back.

This cover appeared in ebay in 12 Oct 2009. I can't remember exactly how much the winning bid was but I think it's more than $200.

Sandakan Airmail Postmark (21 June 1930)

Another nice airmail postmark of Sandakan. The cover is franked with a $1 stamp of 1925-1928 stamp issue, tied neatly with the boxed airmail postmark. The top centre of the cover shows the Sandakan town postmark, dated 21 Jun 1930. The cover was auctioned in the Spink Singapore auction in 25 June 2000. The estimated price was $240 - $300, and sold for $223.

The cover is again addressed to H.A. Dabell Esq, now in Kudat address. It is difficult to establish who Mr. Dabell really was. Nonetheless, there's a good chance  that other airmail covers addressed to H.A. Dabell may exist out there, waiting to be discovered.


Sandakan Airmail Postmark (21 June 1930)

A very interesting cover franked with 1c, 3c, 6c, 8c, 10c, 16c, 20 cent on 18c and 24 cents stamps of "Malaya-Borneo Exhibition 1922.". These stamps are tied with the boxed airmail cancellation, and adressed to Kudat. The date of postage is written at the bottom left of the cover as "21-6-1930" and next to it with "By Airmail" inscription. The cover was posted from Sandakan on 21 June 1930 to Kudat. The Malaya-Borneo Exhibition stamps are rarely found on cover, and combined with the airmail postmarks, this got to be one of the rarest airmail covers. It appeared in Argyll Etkin Stamps auction in Sept 24, 2009 with an estimated price of £350-400. The hammer price is unknown.


Sandakan Airmail Postmark (9 June 1930)

Cover carried on the First Flight from Sandakan to Tawao. Franked  with 1909-22 4c, 8c and 1925-28 1c, 2c, 3c, 5c, 6c and 10c cancelled by three strikes of boxed "AIR MAIL / NORTH BORNEO", with datestamps of Sandakan and Tawao. Dated 9 June 1930. Appeared in Argyll Etkin Stamps auction in Sept 24, 2009 with estimated price of £250-350. Hammer price is unknown.


1.Apparently there is a third airmail flight from Jesselton on the 6 June 1949. The second airmail trip in April 1933 did not carry any mail.

2. There are many airmail covers sent to (or collected by) Mr. H.A Dabell as above. His grandson emailed me about who Mr. Dabell was; apparently he was a postmaster general of British North Borneo in the 1930s and retired in 1940. He was presented with silver platter and a certificate as tokens of appreciation for his hard work and dedication from Jesselton telegraphs and post department. It was believed that he was a wireless telegraph officer on merchant ships in the South Atlantic just after the 1st World War and may have intercepted communications which brought him to the attention of the British Government and perhaps he was then offered a posting there. Thanks to Mr. Robert Dabell for the information.

This article is no longer maintained. An updated version on First North Borneo Airmail may be found in my new North Borneo stamps site.


Richard Ker said...

Nice! I was wondering if we can feature some of the Tawau-related mails on

Marcel said...

Sure, not a problem! Nice site by the way...

Richard Ker said...

Thanks Marcel! I'll let you know soon! :)

Anonymous said...

Nice North Borneo airmails! Borneo airmails constitute my major collecting interest.
g-matang, Kuching, Sarawak

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