James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – Smallpox

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.

Catch-up with earlier posts in the James Rajah Brooke series here.

James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – Smallpox

No ships of war were now at his disposal, and I doubt whether in his then state of mind he would have accepted their services. He returned to Sarawak in a small merchant brig, the Weeraff commanded by a cheerful little Frenchman.

His reception in his adopted country might have consoled him for the injustice of his own Government, for never had he received a more sincere welcome. The whole population was astir, and the hill on which Government House stood, as well as the house itself, was crammed with his joyous subjects; but he soon complained of being tired. We noticed that the Rajah’s face looked swollen, and I heard a native say he had purunasi, but none of us understood the word, which meant smallpox in the language of the north. Fever came on, and I used to sit for hours with him. At last it was manifest to everyone that it was smallpox. No sooner did he hear this than he insisted that all those who had not suffered from that disease should leave the room, and he chose his attendants among the Malays and submitted to native treatment. His cousin, Arthur Crookshank, watched over him, and all would have braved the danger of contagion, but he would have none of us with him. A Mr Horsburgh, a missionary, who thought he had passed through the ordeal, joined those who were nursing him.

By the Rajah’s express order our hill was tabooed, and all were forbidden to approach for fear the disease might spread; but this rule was afterwards relaxed in favour of those who had already suffered from it, and as most of the Malays were in that case, they came every day to inquire. There was no doubt of the intense feeling of anxiety that oppressed the people. There were prayers in the mosques, votive offerings by Klings and Chinese, and as for the Dyaks, they were in despair. However, the crisis passed, and then the Rajah was overwhelmed with presents, Scented water was brought for his bath; delicate dishes, to tempt his appetite, came from the native ladies; and the rejoicing was true and heartfelt. We all remained near the Rajah, and as soon as we were permitted eagerly joined in nursing him. The attack had been most severe, and it would have been difficult for a casual acquaintance to have recognised the same man in our chief, who had just escaped from the very jaws of death.

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

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Further Reading and External Links

James Rajah Brooke on Wikipedia

The Royalist Schooner