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James Brooke became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in 1841 after inheriting £30,000 and investing it in the schooner ‘The Royalist’ and sailing for Borneo.
We are publishing a blog series that covers his adventures – taken from one of the books in our library called Rajah Brooke by Sir Spenser St John published in 1899.
The episode below covers a time when Captain Henry Keppel – during his voyage on the Dido – visited the Rajahs residence in Sarawak.
Captain Keppel and the Dido
Captain Keppel, in his Voyage of the Dido has given us a very good account of the house in which Mr Brooke lived in , and of which I have already introduced its occupant’s own description. Captain Keppel says that the English Rajah’s residence, although equally rude in structure with the abodes of the natives, was not without its English comforts of sofas, chairs and bedsteads. It was larger than any other house in the place, but, like them, was built on nibong piles, and to enter it it was necessary to make use of a ladder. The house consisted of but one floor; a large room in the centre, neatly ornamented with every description of firearms in admirable order and ready for use, served as audience hall and mess room, and the various apartments around it as bedrooms, most of them comfortably furnished with matted floors, easy-chairs, pictures and books, with much more taste and attention to comfort than bachelors usually display. But, the fact is, you could never enter any place where Brooke had passed a few days without being struck by the artistic arrangement of everything. His good taste was shown even in trifles, though comfort was never sacrificed to show. The house was surrounded by palisades and a ditch, forming an enclosure, in which were to be found sheep, goats, pigeons, cats, poultry, geese, ducks, monkeys, dogs, and occasionally a cow or two.
Then, as later, the great hour of meeting was sunset, when, after the preliminary cold bath to brace the nerves, relaxed by the heat of the day, all the party met to dine. When Keppel was at Kuching all the officers of the Dido were welcome, and many a merry evening was passed at Brooke’s house. I have often heard him speak of that glorious time. Then the future was all hope, no disappointments had depressed the mind, and the cheerfulness of the host was infectious. I have never met anyone who in his playful mood was more charming. He told a story well, he was animated in discussion, fertile in resource, and, when beaten in argument, would shift his ground with great dexterity, and keep up the discussion to the entertainment of us all. An appreciative observer once wrote,
‘The Rajah has certainly a most uncommon gift of fluency of language. Every subject derives an additional interest from his mode of discussing it, and his ideas are so original that to hear him speak is like opening out a new world before one. His views about Sarawak are so grand that it is with real pain one thinks how very little has been done to aid him in his noble efforts.’
Captain Keppel was also a capital storyteller, so that between the two, with occasional assistance from the others, the time passed gaily, and it was often well on in the small hours before the party broke up.
It was a great disappointment to all that Captain Keppel now received orders to proceed to China, as he had intended before his departure to complete his work by attacking the Sakarangs, who lived in the interior of the Batang Lupar river, and who were powerfully supported by Arab and Malay chiefs.
Excerpt from Rajah Brooke, published in 1899 by Sir Spenser St John
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