Sabah (formerly known as British North Borneo) came under British administrative rule in 1881 when Royal Charter gave the North Borneo Chartered Company authority to rule and administer the colony. Some year later, the British north Borneo museum was established in Sandakan. This museum was discontinued and revived a couple of times until Sabah Museum was opened in 1965.
The Sabah Museum, located in the shop houses at Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, was officially opened in July 15, 1965. The establishment of the Museum was to a large extent due to the efforts of the Sabah Society. In fact, the famous Woolley Collection, which formed the foundation collection of the incipient museum, belonged to Mr. G.C. Woolley, the executive officer designate of the proposed society (died in 1947). The first Curator of the Sabah Museum was Mr. E.J. Berwick. The Sabah Museum grew and expanded rapidly while still located at Gaya Street. It was reflective of the State Government's commitment to the Sabah Museum when a much larger (43 acres), permanent and prestigious site for the purpose-built museum was chosen where the old Government House (and later the State Legislative Assembly buildings) used to be.
The official opening of the Sabah Museum, located at its present site was officiated by His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong on April 11, 1984. In 1985, the post of Curator was upgraded to the Director of Sabah Museum. Presently, the Museum comes under the State Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.