Labuan was ceded to Great Britain by the Sultan of Brunei in 1846 and became a Crown Colony in 1848 under the governorship of Sir James Brooke. From 1st January 1890, it was incorporated with North Borneo but on the 30th October 1906, it was placed again under the Colonial Office and administered by the Straits Settlements. It was re-incorporated with North Borneo on the 15th of July 1946 after the Japanese Occupation and after the military administration of the region ended.
Labuan issued its own stamps in 1879. Despite this, as an important naval base in the region since 1846, some means of communication must have been devised. The first known definite use of Labuan datestamp is based on the Harvey cover dated 24 Feb 1858 which was discovered in eBay in late 2010. The letter was sent by John Harvey – the first Managing Director of the Borneo Company Limited – to his wife in Singapore.
Until the first definitive stamps appeared, the postmasters provided stamps of Straits Settlements, Hong Kong and India for franking overseas mail.
Covers of 1864 and 1865 are known from this colony franked with stamps of India or Hong Kong. The Stafford cover is the earliest known cover bearing Hong Kong stamps on Labuan cover (dated 27 July 1864). The earliest usage of India stamps on Labuan cover is also on a cover addressed to Stafford in New Zealand dated 3 Nov 1864.
On 16th April 1877, Labuan joined the General Postal Union being the only member among other British possessions without any postage stamps. Under the Union it was necessary to issue them prompting the council to consider its first postage stamp issue.
The Queen Heads issue (1879-1894)
Between 1879 to 1894, definitive stamps of Labuan incorporate the engraving of Queen Victoria head. The design is somewhat uncommon and quite unique because of the incorporation of Arabic manuscript in Malay language (Jawi), Chinese and English manuscript, similar to North Borneo stamp issues.
De La Rue despatched the first postage stamps to Labuan on January 3rd 1879 and were officially issued in May 1879. Frequent shortages and lack of regular supplies from England necessitated various surcharges especially on the early 1880s issues.
Incorporation with North Borneo (1890-1907)
From 1 January 1890 until January 1907, while remaining a Crown Colony, Labuan was administered by the British North Borneo Company.
Like most North Borneo stamps, a vast majority of stamps from this period were sold to the stamp trade by the Company as cancelled-to-order (CTO), necessitating a third column for pricing reference in major stamp catalogues.
The last stamps specifically produced for the colony was issued in 1902-03 depicting a crown as the vignette (1¢ -$1). These stamps were later overprinted with Straits Settlements overprint when the island was administered by the Straits Settlements in 1907.
Straits Settlements Administration (1907-1939)