James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – The Expedition

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 – The Expedition

The Rajah then tried an experiment, of which some doubted the wisdom, of supplying the place of the deposed Datu by appointing the head of the Mohammedan priesthood in Sarawak to become the third ruling Malay chief. He was brother to the Datu Bandhar a quiet, honest, good Malay. How well the Rajah judged has been shown by the subsequent history of Sarawak. The Datu Imaun has always proved the mainstay of the English in all their troubles and difficulties; and, although much over eighty, I heard of his being well and active until quite recently.

The Rajah had intended to adopt no warlike measures against the pirate Dyaks, headed by the notorious chief Rentab, until the Commission was over, but after waiting fifteen months, and finding no signs of its assembling, he determined to lead an expedition against them. Previous attempts by his officers had failed, but this expedition was so well organised that its success was assured.

Eight thousand Malays and Dyaks answered to the summons of their chief, whilst an expedition of fifteen hundred men threatened the enemy in the interior of the Rejang, and well-armed war prahus anchored in the Seribas. We pushed up the great Batang Lupar river, then ascended the Sakarang as far as our big war boats would go, built a fort for their protection, left a garrison and there the Rajah was persuaded to remain, as his state of health did not permit him to expose himself to the further hardships of the advance.

We proceeded in our light boats, or pushed through the jungle. I never saw such a go-as-you-please expedition. An enterprising enemy might have cut us off as we scattered through the woods, but fortunately they were over-awed by the reports of our numbers and of our arms. Captain Brooke, who was in command, saw the danger of this method of advance, and decided to continue the expedition in boats. Our people had found a large number of these in the jungle, hidden there by the enemy, so we soon had enough for the Malays. At first most of the Dyaks preferred to walk, but gradually they secured sufficient canoes to enable all to advance by the river.

The object of the expedition was to attack Sungei Lang a large fortified village held by Rentab and his followers, and, if possible, a stronghold he had constructed on the summit of the Sadok Mountain. After much skirmishing and firing, the fort was gallantly stormed, and before sunset was completely in our hands. And glad we were that there had been no delay, as scarcely were we housed, when a violent tempest burst, that would have effectually drenched us had we remained in the open. We stayed in this village whilst our men were employed punishing the followers of Rentab; but no attempt was made to attack his fortified post on the summit of the Sadok mountain. Natives seldom care to continue a campaign after its announced object has been accomplished, and our object was to take Sungei Lang. Sadok defied successive expeditions for eight years more. The Sakarang river was now in flood, so that on our return we passed over all natural obstructions in safety. We were heartily received by the Rajah and congratulated on our success, as the storming of Rentab’s stronghold was no mean achievement with only native followers.

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