It all began on 15 August 1839 when a young English adventurer, James Brooke, later Sir James Brooke, sailed in his schooner The Royalist into the little town of Sarawak (as Kuching was then called). For helping the Brunei Sultanate to settle a local revolt, James was rewarded the Government of Sarawak in 1841 and in following year he was proclaimed Rajah of Sarawak in Brunei. In order “to bring health and happiness and new light to his subjects and to set them free from those fears which were suppressing and dominating them” the new Rajah appealed for help from his Church friends in England.
As neither the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) nor the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) could undertake to send missionaries to Borneo at the time, a Committee was formed in 1846 to organise and finance what was to be called the Borneo Church Mission Institution. Francis Thomas McDougall, a thirty-year-old surgeon and priest was chosen to lead the Borneo Mission. After sailing six months from England, the party arrived in Sarawak on St. Peter’s Day, 29 June 1848.
The Mission started by establishing the first medical clinic and a school. A gothic wooden Church was soon erected and consecrated in 1851. As more missionaries arrived, evangelistic endeavours were undertaken to areas considered friendly to the Rajah e.g. Lundu, Banting, Quop, etc., and so mission centres were established. It was realised that if the Church was to be planted and to grow it could only be by the creation of a diocese and the appointment of a bishop. The creation of the diocese created a problem at the time, as Sarawak was not under the King of England. However, the difficulty was overcome by giving the new diocese originally the name of a little island off Brunei, called Labuan, which was then a British possession. Thus on 6 August 1855 the Diocese of Labuan was erected by Royal Letters Patent to comprise the “Island of Labuan and its Dependencies”.
There was no difficulty about the choice of the first bishop; there was no one else who could have been consecrated as the first bishop except McDougall. So in 1855 he journeyed to Calcutta and there on the Feast of St. Luke, 18 October 1855, he was consecrated as Bishop of Labuan. Of this historic event, the chief consecrating bishop, Daniel Wilson, wrote, “The presence of three Bishops in the heart of Heathen India, setting apart a Missionary Bishop for the immense field of Borneo, was an event almost miraculous”.
Thus, until the consecration of Bishop Nigel Cornwall in 1949, after the end of Brooke rule in Sarawak, the Borneo bishopric was strictly twofold:
(1) Labuan – the official diocese to which McDougall was consecrated bishop in 1855. (This diocese grew to include Brunei and British North Borneo, as Anglican work spread there, and also the Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore, from 1869, when they were transferred from Calcutta, until a separate diocese of Singapore was set up in 1909, after the resignation of Bishop Hose.)
(2) Sarawak – which was a bishopric rather than a diocese, as there was no territorial jurisdiction, the Bishop exercising his functions by licence from the Rajah.
After his consecration, Bishop McDougall was appointed by Letters Patent from the Rajah, Sir James Brooke on 1 January 1856, and so became Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak. The bishopric of Sarawak became larger with the growth of the State to its present size in 1905. In 1853 the S.P.G. took over this “new and struggling mission” under its care. After twenty years of dedicated labour in a Mission, in the words of Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta, “the most extraordinary in the face of the earth”, McDougall resigned his see in 1868. By this time it was said that there were 1,000 Dayaks and Chinese Christians in Sarawak.
Walter Chambers was consecrated Bishop of Labuan on 29 June 1869, with the approval of both James and Charles Brooke. He was using the signature “Walter Labuan and Sarawak” before his return to Sarawak as Bishop in 1870, when he was installed on 5 June 1970. After twenty-eight years of faithful labour in Borneo, Chambers resigned in 1879, his health now quite broken down.
George Frederick Hose, who was consecrated on 26 May 1881, wished to change the name of the colonial diocese from “Labuan” to “Singapore”, as Labuan was now an insignificant place and Singapore was then the capital of the Straits Settlements, but Archbishop Tait persuaded him not to drop the original name, so he called himself “Bishop of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak”. He was issued Letters Patent for Sarawak on 17 January 1882 after having earlier been installed in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore on 27 November 1881. For no less than thirty years Hose reigned in this vast diocese until he resigned in 1908.
Like Bishop Hose, his four successors and all bearing the title “Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak”, were appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who consecrated them Bishop of Labuan, with the approval of the Rajah of Sarawak who then issued Letters Patent which were read at the bishops’ enthronements in Kuching. (William Robert Mounsey, consecrated on 25 March 1909, enthroned on 4 July 1909; Ernest Denny LogieDanson, consecrated on 21 September 1917, enthroned on 19 May 1918, but the Letters Patent had been issued on 1 November 1917; Noel Baring Hudson, consecrated on 28 October 1931, enthroned on 14 February 1932; Francis Septimus Hollis, consecrated on 7 June 1938, enthroned on 28 August 1938).
When Nigel E. Cornwall became Bishop, a simpler, more comprehensive title was chosen, and he was consecrated Bishop of Borneo on 1 November 1949, and enthroned on 20 December 1949.
By 1960, the growth and development of the huge diocese made it unwieldy and it became increasingly clear that it ought to be divided. As a first step after protracted negotiations to establish the necessary financial security – an Assistant Bishop was appointed. James Wong Chang Ling was consecrated in Kuching on 4 February 1960 and took up residence in Jesselton and was given responsibility for North Borneo. He later became the first Bishop of the newly created diocese of Jesselton.
When the diocese was divided, in 1962, the names of the dioceses capital towns were used. The Diocese of Jesselton covering the whole of North Borneo and a part of Indonesian Borneo and came into being on 24 July, and the Diocese of Kuching on 13 August covering the whole of Sarawak, Brunei and another part of Indonesian Borneo. In the Sarawak Gazette of 31 August 1962, Bishop Cornwall wrote: “The past variety of names shows the weakness of using a defined area as the name, and we are now going to follow the more usual custom of adopting the name of the city where the Bishop has his “Seat” or “Throne” – in his Cathedral. This will avoid the necessity of any change of nomenclature in the future”. The name of Jesselton has already (1986) been changed to Kota Kinabalu, and the diocese is now called the Diocese of Sabah.
Bishop Cornwall resigned on 31 October 1962, after serving for a few weeks as the bishop of the newly inaugurated diocese of Kuching, and returned to England the next day. Nicholas Allenby, a member of the Society of the Sacred Mission, was consecrated bishop on 30 November 1962 and enthroned in Kuching on 13 January 1963. He resigned on 31 October 1968, paving way for the diocese’s first local bishop. Basil Temenggong was consecrated bishop on 6 December 1968 and enthroned two days later. He was the first Sarawakian and the first Iban to be made bishop. He died suddenly in Simunjan in the midst of administering the Sacrament of Confirmation on 22 September 1984. His episcopacy of sixteen years was the longest to date in the diocese. He was succeeded by John Leong Chee Yun who was consecrated bishop on 17 May 1985 and enthroned in the Cathedral two days later. He retired on 15 August 1995 and was succeeded by Made Katib, who earlier had been consecrated as assistant bishop 23 February 1992. Bishop Made was enthroned at the Cathedral on 30 November 1995. He retired on 23 January 2007 after 39 years of ministry, the last twelve years as the Bishop of Kuching. Made Katib was succeeded by Bolly Lapok, who had earlier been consecrated bishop on 5 September 1999 and had been serving as assistant bishop for seven years. He was enthroned as the 13th Bishop of Kuching at St. Thomas’s Cathedral on 15April 2007. Bishop Bolly retired on 10 August 2017 after serving ten years as Diocesan Bishop. Danald Jute has been appointed to succeed him as the 14th Bishop of Kuching on 4 July 2017. His enthronement is scheduled for 13 August 2017.
Both the Diocese of Kuching and the Diocese of Sabah were under the metropolitan of Canterbury until 2 February 1996 when the Province of South East Asia was formed which incorporated the four dioceses of Kuching, Sabah, West Malaysia and Singapore.
The Rt. Revd. Aeries Sumping Jingan
Vicar-General & Assistant Bishop