Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (23 September 2011)

Date of Auction: 23rd September 2011


Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000

British North Borneo Company Medal 1897-1916, silver, 1 clasp, Punitive Expeditions (R. M. Little, Esq.) engraved naming, with original watered silk ribbon and contained in its original Spink & Son, London card box of issue, the lid inscribed in ink ‘Punitive Expeditions Silver’, the bottom also with contemporary inscription in ink ‘R. M. Little Dep. Governor’ and repeated in later ball-point, some careful restoration to box, otherwise extremely fine and of the highest rarity being one of only five original issues in silver £5000-6000


Ex Peter Minns Collection, purchased from C. A. Lusted, June 1972.

Only five silver medals with clasp ‘Punitive Expeditions’ were awarded to officers and 47 bronze medals with clasp to non-commissioned officers and men. Bronze medals were allowed to be exchanged for silver in 1905-06 and Spink records indicate that 9 silver Punitive Expeditions medals with impressed naming were supplied in 1905, and a further 12 unnamed examples were supplied in 1909.

Robert McEwen Little was born on 16 October 1860, in Singapore where his father was a doctor, and entered the service of the British North Borneo Company as a Treasury Clerk in Sandakan on 14 February 1883. In the same year he was appointed Acting Residential Secretary and a few months after this appointment was Cadet-in-Charge, Papar. In January 1884 he was Magistrate-in-Charge, Province Keppel and at the end of that year was appointed Assistant Resident, West Coast. In June 1887 he was appointed Assistant Resident, Province Dent and in January 1890 Assistant Resident, Darvel Bay. In May 1891 he received the appointment of Acting Resident, West Coast and in February 1892 was confirmed Resident, West Coast. In February 1898 he was appointed Resident, Labuan, and in April 1899 was for a short time Deputy Governor, Labuan and one of three Commissioners to Administer the Government of North Borneo. In 1902 he was appointed Resident, Province Alcock which appointment he held at the time of his death in 1905.

During the long period of nearly twenty-three years in the service of the Chartered Company, Mr Little had the most varied and interesting experiences. He accompanied the first expedition to the Interior against Puroh and Gana in October 1883, in company with Chief Inspector de Fontaine. He also took part in the Kawang expedition in May 1885, on which occasion he was wounded by a spear in the arm when several Bajaus ‘ran amok’. Despite his wound, Little ‘disposed of his opponent with his revolver’. In addition, Dr Manson Fraser was shot at point blank range, the Sikh Jemadar killed and eight other police were wounded. Chief Inspector de Fontaine pluckily pursued several of the attackers but tripped and fell just at their heels. He was speared nine times and dropped three men with his revolver but died of his wounds a week later.

Little participated in two further expeditions, firstly to the Marudu Hills in June 1894, narrowly escaping with his life when the Police post was attacked, and in the expedition up the Labuk and Sugut Rivers in September 1896. At the Durbar held at Sandakan on 28 May 1889, in celebration of Her Majesty’s birthday, Little had another very narrow escape with his life. Whilst superintending the tug of war near the conclusion of the athletic sports, a Bajow named Drah suddenly ‘amoked’, having procured a Dyak Parang, rushed upon Little who was badly cut about the head and cheek. He also succeeded in wounding two police constables before being knocked down by the Battery Sergeant-Major and secured and ironed. The prisoner was tried and sentenced to 28 years imprisonment and died in Sandakan Gaol in November 1899.

In addition to his other duties, Little served many years as a Magistrate and was appointed a Judge of the High Court in August 1904. In March 1905 he was permitted extended leave to the U.K. to attend to urgent private affairs but fell ill and died in Edinburgh on 17 December 1905, from pneumonia and pleurisy. “The Service,” it was reported, “has lost a zealous and loyal Official, and there is no doubt that his death will be mourned throughout North Borneo by Europeans and natives alike. He had served the Company faithfully and well for over twenty-two years, during which time he was more than once placed in a position of imminent danger.”

Sold with research including copied pages from The British North Borneo Official Gazette and The British North Borneo Herald.