Up Close & Personal: The Atkinson Clock Tower
This will be a special blog entry; I consider this as one of the highlights of my life in 2012, and same goes for my blog too. I am very proud to have an up close and personal experience with one of North Borneo’s legendary landmark, the Atkinson Clock Tower.
It was just another weekend here in Kota Kinabalu, from just small town, the place evolved into a bustling city with so much colors of activities everyday.
I sat down here at Borneo 1945 Museum Kopitiam, waiting for my friend Richard of Heritage Sabah. I volunteered helping him to take photographs, architectural drawings, measuring the clock tower, and in the same time, learning about the clock tower history as well. While I’m waiting, I ordered kopi stout, local style cold coffee.
After Richard arrived, we had out chit chat and more kopi stout, and then we walked to Atkinson Clock Tower site. Finally I got the chance to get into the clock tower that survived for more than a hundred years.
Atkinson Memorial Clock Tower was the original name of this oldest standing structure in Kota Kinabalu (formerly well known as Jesselton). The clock tower was built in memory of Francis George Atkinson, Jesselton’s first district officer appointed in 1901. Atkinson died of heart failure at the age of 28, as a result of ‘Borneo Fever’ (Malaria) on December 4, 1902.
His mother, Mary Edith Atkinson presented a two-faced clock to Jesselton town as a tribute to the memory of her son, and it was later decided that a clock tower would be built in his honor. According to Patricia Regis, former Sabah Museum director, the clock tower was originally built using Mirabau (Merbau) wood. The building costs was financed by the late Atkinson’s friends and also added with additional funds channeled from shipwrights of visiting naval vessels. The structure was finally completed and commissioned on April 20, 1905.
Measuring 50 feet (15.24 meters) high x 6’3” x 6’3” at its base, the clock tower sits on the bluff along Signal Hill overlooking the seaside during the early days. This clock tower has been the navigation landmark for ships to dock at the wharf. It was also illuminated at night and used as a shipping marker right up to the 1950s, before more developments and land reclamations came in the next 100 years.
The Sabah Museum took over the care and maintenance of the Clock Tower in 1979 and the site was gazetted as a Government Reserve in August 1983. It was later designated a heritage site in 1998.
Now back to present time…
I got my way inside the clock tower’s compound. Richard showed me the way inside the base of the tower, revealing a ‘trap door’ leading the way up to the top.
As I inspect carefully, there is a simple pulley sistem that act as a balancer for the ‘trap door’.
Fit with my clothing color, its all green painted inside. A pendaflour light illuminates the insides of the clock tower, enough for me to see where I’m going next. The structure was firmly reinforced with L shaped metal brackets and big bolts & nuts.
Now this level is quite tricky, with just a small space to put my feet on, I took extra precaution. The spaces leading to the top became much tighter that I have to squeeze in or risk hitting my head or body hard. Mind you that I also brought my DSLR camera dangling on my neck, but at this part I passed the camera to Richard so I can ascend without the fear of knocking my camera.
These metal stairs are not the original stairs; the original ones are made with wood. As time progresses, the clock tower has gone through many transformation, altering its appearance in time. The clock tower you see today was a result of a major renovation and altering for Jesselton’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1959, and also the clock dial alteration in 1961.
Also not forgetting, just recently this year a repair work has been done and the tower looks brand spanking new.
This clock tower survived from the ravages of World War II in North Borneo (1941 – 1945), although it got hit from stray bullets and shrapnel. There wasn’t much damage on the clock tower itself, but it severy affected the dial and cog of the clock mechanisms. Yick Ming Watch Dealers owned by the Wah families, fixed the clock mechanism back to its running condition. They subsequently became the maintenance contractors from 1946 until today.
So far, three Wah’s family members, Mr Wah Kai Yung (Deceased), Victor Wah (Deceased), Wah Chien Chun and Tommy Wah were identified to service this historical clock tower. In this photo below, Tommy Wah works on rewinding the clock every 6 days to make sure it continues to keep time.
As you’re read the historical fact, thats where I am standing, looking at the marvel of old time engineering still running as it was supposed to do. It’s a pendulum powered clock, it uses a swinging weight as its timekeeping element.
The gears, dials and cogs are very well maintained and not a single rust was on the mechanism. This shows how the Wah families really took great care of it, the really deserve recognition for their endless and faithful effort.
Richard also showed me the clock face holes, proof that it was hit by stray bullets and shrapnel. This act as reminder about the gruesome war in the past, a reminder that it was real.
And finally, after the huff puff and sweat (its really hot inside, especially when it is mid day), I finally reached the top part of the clock tower. I witness a century old brass bell.
I took this once in a lifetime opportunity to take a photograph of me with the bell. I feel super awesome, according to Richard, I may be the youngest people (I’m 26 this year) to ever reach the top and get a look up close with the bell since its last renovation in 1959.
Let me add this up, the youngest Sabahan blogger to climb up the Atkinson Clock Tower, get up close with the bell and lived to tell (blog) the story. How cool is that right? 😀
Anyway, we continued to our original plan like I mentioned earlier, collecting data as well as photographs of the clock tower’s interior. This work is very important and we only have one day to finish it all. We did discover a few things which we do not know how and why it was there, perhaps someday that questions will be answered.
The task was not as easy as it sounds,, it was hot and I was sweating like crazy. Our clothes and bodies were all covered with soot, as you can see below.
At one time, we were startled when the bell chimed for 12 noon. It rang for 12 times while we were also in the same spot with the bell. I noticed it chimed 4 minutes earlier, but it wasn’t the clock mechanism problem, it was my digital watch. Digital watch always has this problem where you have to re-tune the time to make it more accurate.
According to Richard, if the brass bell were to be polished, it will chime much louder than what we are hearing at that time. We got down having late lunch before continuing our work again. I also got the chance record the 3 o’clock bell chime on video, using the 4 minute early as my time guide.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed helping Richard with everything, making new discoveries is what made me fired up and continue on despite the sweating and dirt.
I was overwhelmed by a sense appreciation of old historical artifact, I realized how important it is to preserve our historical landmarks and artifacts.
Its the only physical evidence we had for the generations to see, feel, believe and appreciate themselves. No matter how much technologically advanced we are, lest we forget about our old history, our forefathers, our heritage.
As the people saying, “Kalau bukan kita, siapa lagi?” (If its not us, who else will?)
I would like to give thousand thanks to Richard of Heritage Sabah for the opportunity to get up close with the clock tower, and the historical facts we talked about when we’re doing our work. I would also extend my appreciation and thanks to Sabah Museum for the rights and permission to include my clock tower photos and video to be included in this blog entry. I hope that this blog entry has given you, the reader, a more in depth story and awareness on Atkinson Clock Tower. In the same time, creating moch love towards our heritage around North Borneo.
“It’s astonishing how very few people know that the Atkinson Clock Tower still works even after 107 years. It’s a living heritage of Kota Kinabalu, the oldest city landmark since 1905. It deserves respect and protection.” ~ Richard Nelson Sokial, Heritage Sabah