15th – 17th centuries
The area was controlled by the Malay Brunei Sultanate Empire. The Magellan’s fleet come to Brunei in 1521 and this is the first recorded meeting with Westerners.

Present day Sabah was part of the Sultanate of Brunei when Sultan Nasruddin (ruled 1690 – 1710, died 1710, the sultan that introduced the gold coin in Brunei) in 1704 gave over the lands east of Marudu Bay to the Sultanate of Sulu, when they sent aid against a rebellion in Brunei. Some historical sources mean that Sultan Nasruddin was forced to give over the land.

A treaty is signed between Sultan A’zim-ud-Din of Sulu and the British East India Company.

A treaty for control of most parts of North Borneo/Sabah was concluded by Baron de Overbeck, his partner, Alfred Dent and the Suku Sultan Jamal Al-Alam.

British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBC) created a small settlement on Pulau Gaya (Gaya Island) just outside today’s Kota Kinabalu, which was already inhabited by  people known as the Bajau.

The BNBC settlement was destroyed by the Bajau hero and rebel Datu Muhammad Salleh, more known as Mat Salleh.

British North Borneo Company moves just over the sound to mainland Borneo and to the fishing village Api-Api (that today’s Kota Kinabalu was at the time). The place is named Jesselton after Sir Charles Jessel, manager of BNBC.

Wesselton Point 1900, Photo: Leif Almo1900

The freedoom fighter Mat Salleh was captured by the British in Tambunan and killed later the same year.

The last major revolt against British Rule was that of the Murut people, under leadership of Ontoros Antanom (1885-1915). He was killed together with other freedom fighters in the Rundum District in 1915.

Jesselton falls into the hands of Japanese on 9th of January 1942 an is again named Api.

The Australian Army stated in the beginning of 1944 to attack Japanese positions in northern Borneo.


Towards the end of World War II the city was destroyed by allied bombings. Only three buildings were left standing. The Japanese troops retreated definitely on 15th of October 1945, even if the Instrument of Surrender was signed on 9th of September 1945 on Labuan Island, by the commander the Japanese Army, Lieutenant General Masao Baba.

North Borneo is handed over by the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBC) to the British Government and making the province formerly part of the British Dominions. A new colonial government was elected, and the rebuilding of Jesselton as capital of northern Borneo had started.

The Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-haf started to negotiate with Sabah, Sarawak Brunei and Singapore how to form one state, Malaysia.

On 16th of September, North Borneo became Sabah when it was included into the Federation of Malaysia. This day is also known as Malaysia Day.


The city is renamed Kota Kinabalu after Mount Kinabalu.


On 2nd of February 2000, Kota Kinabalu received official city status from the Malaysian Government.