One of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Kota Kinabalu is the Atkinson Clock Tower. Located along Signal Hill Road adjacent to the old Police Station, this antique landmark has been standing there since 1903, a silent witness to the passing of time through the best and worst days of Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu or KK is the capital city of Sabah, Malaysia’s second largest member-state. Located between lush rainforests and South China Sea, KK is a city of exciting contrasts from virgin forests to a rocking nightlife, white-sand beaches to modern high-tech infrastructure. Those who think that Borneo is a backward jungle populated by headhunting tribes are in for a big surprise. KK is one of the most important cities in Southeast Asia, along the ranks of Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta and Manila.
KK is a historic city, beginning in 1881 as a tiny British settlement that moved to its present location in 1899. It was then called Jesselton settlement after Charles Jessel, vice chairman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company. Some locals refer to Jesselton as Api-Api. In 1903, the Atkinson Clock Tower was constructed in memory of Francis George Atkinson, a well-loved first district officer from the same company as Jessel’s. Atkinson died from a tropical disease when he was only 28 years old. The clock tower was made out of pure wood with no nails, and it has remained that way until today.
In World War II, the Japanese took control of Jesselton and all of Sabah in the island of Borneo. To free North Borneo from Japanese control, Allied Forces bombed and completely destroyed Jesselton. After the war, the only remaining original structures were the Sabah Tourism Building, Land and Survey Building (which was burned down in 1992), the Sikh Temple and, of course, the clock tower. After the war, North Borneo became a British Crown Colony, and Jesselton was chosen as its capital city, since the old capital, Sandakan, was also completely destroyed during the war.
On September 30, 1968, Jesselton was renamed Kota Kinabalu primarily for the majestic Mount Kinabalu located a few kilometers from the city center. The 4,095-meter tall Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in Southeast Asia and the 20th in the world. Post-war reconstruction actually made the capital city much better. Today, KK is Sabah’s most progressive and industrialized city, most of which stands on reclaimed area, and today the clock tower earns the distinction as the oldest standing structure not only in KK but also in all of Sabah. It is presently being managed by the Antiquity and History section of the Sabah Museum.
At first glance, the clock tower may not be that much but there’s so much history and national significance to it that both local and foreign tourists should come see it and pay its due respect. KK is a small city, just 3 kilometers long and one kilometer wide. Tourists could easily stroll from end to end, and from one tourist attraction to another. Atkinson Clock Tower is visible from the city center.