James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1843 – Singapore



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James Brooke was the first White Rajah of Sarawak. After inheriting £30,000 in 1833 he invested it in the schooner ‘The Royalist’ and sailed for Borneo.  In 1841 he became the Rajah of Sarawak. Below is an excerpt from one of the books in our library called Rajah Brooke by Sir Spenser St John published in 1899. Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

Visit to Singapore in 1843

In [1843], after an almost unbroken stay of nearly two years in Borneo, Brooke again visited Singapore, and found welcome news. The British Government had decided to inquire into the Bornean question, and it was stated that Sir Edward Belcher had been ordered to visit Sarawak in H.M.S. Samarang; but what was of much greater importance, and proved of incalculable benefit to Sarawak and to British interests in Borneo, was that Brooke made the acquaintance of Captain the Hon. Henry Keppel, who was in command of H.M.S. Dido. As I have elsewhere remarked, Keppel, with the instincts of a gentleman, at once recognised that he had no adventurer but a true man before him, and henceforward exerted all his energy and influence to further his friend’s beneficent projects. They were indeed genuine Englishmen, and looked to what would advance the veritable interests of their own country to increase its prestige in Borneo and clear the seas of the pirates who destroyed native commerce on its way to our settlements.

The Dido in the first days of May [1843] sailed from Singapore for Sarawak, and on the 13th anchored off the Moratabus entrance of the river. When the natives heard that their Governor had arrived, they swarmed down to the ship in their boats, delighted at his return among them; and the sight of the beautiful frigate, so powerful in their eyes, assured them that she would not leave before some measures had been taken against the pirates. Rajah Muda Hassim eagerly seized on this opportunity to obtain some security for native trade, and earnestly entreated Captain Keppel to attack the pirates of Seribas and Sakarang, who were especially dangerous to the coast traffic. Having satisfied himself of the truth of the allegations against the marauders, Keppel determined to act, and, having announced his intention, he was soon assured of the support of a native contingent, who decided to follow their English chief wherever he went, although with many misgivings as to the result of an attack on these much-feared corsairs, who had plundered their coasts with impunity for several generations.

I need not describe this expedition against the pirates, as the details have been often published; and as Admiral Keppel is now engaged in writing his memoirs, we shall have full particulars at first hand.  The Dido anchored off the Seribas river, and being joined by a native force of five hundred men, the English boats put off with crews of about eighty seamen and marines, and carried in the most dashing style every fort or obstruction placed in their way. No obstacles daunted them, and their enemies, numbering many thousands on each branch of the river, were so astonished by this novel mode of fighting in the open that they fled on every occasion, abandoning their towns and forts, which were promptly destroyed by our native allies, now trebled in number. The Seribas considered themselves invincible, and had collected their means of resistance in well-chosen spots, their guns covering the booms across the river, but to no purpose, and the towns of Paku, Padi and Rembas all shared the same fate.

It is a very remarkable circumstance that as soon as each section recognised the hopelessness of resistance, they entered freely into communication with their assailants, and under cover of the white flag, and often unarmed, approached their English conquerors with perfect trust and confidence. They all agreed to visit Sarawak, and promised amendment for the future.

The complete collapse of the defence astonished everyone, and those natives who had taken part in this memorable campaign began to acquire confidence in themselves, and were ever ready to follow their white leaders in all future expeditions.

Excerpt from Rajah Brooke, published in 1899 by Sir Spenser St John


Further Reading and External Links

James Rajah Brooke on Wikipedia

The Royalist Schooner