James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – Hostile Witnesses

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 – Hostile Witnesses

Grant and I soon followed the Rajah to Singapore, and found the Commission sitting. It was composed of Mr Prinsep and Mr Devereux, the former suffering from a malady which was beginning to show itself at intervals, and quite incapable of conducting the inquiry with dignity; the latter everything which could be desired a man of marked ability, impartial and painstaking.

When the Commission opened its sittings, only two complainants came forward the ex-Lieutenant Governor of Labuan, and an editor of a newspaper. Both of these were informed that their cases were beyond the scope of the Commission. As, however, above fifty inhabitants of Singapore had signed an address to Mr Hume, supporting his demand for an inquiry into the character of the tribes of Seribas and Sakarang, the Commissioners naturally thought that they would be prepared with some evidence of their assertion that these tribes were not piratical, and that they had been massacred under false pretences; but all the memorialists who were called by the Commissioners denied having any knowledge on the subject, and many had signed under the impression that they were aiding the cause of Sir James Brooke. The Commissioners waited day after day for hostile witnesses, but none came.

While we were all waiting for that testimony which was not forthcoming, a gentleman who was sitting next me said, wish should like to give evidence’ I mentioned his to the Commissioners. He was then called forward, and stated that his name was Boudriot; that he was in the Civil Service of the Dutch Government; that he had resided four and a half years in Borneo. He knew of the Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks; he had always known them as pirates, killing and murdering all along the coast. They came down in large, armed boats, holding each a crew of from eighty to ninety, killing the men they met and carrying off the women and children as slaves. In one excursion they killed about four hundred men. This happened in the Dutch possessions. They had ravaged the Dutch settlements; probably the recorded instances would number one hundred.  As every one in Borneo knows them (as pirates), I am surprised that anyone should question their existence.

When it is remembered that this evidence was given unsolicited by a high and experienced Dutch official, who, on his way home on furlough, happened to be passing through Singapore, and that the Netherlands Government had shown itself exceedingly jealous of Sir James Brooke’s position in Borneo, no further evidence would seem to have been required. Mr Boudriot’s coming forward to bear testimony in favour of a political opponent was as honourable to the Dutch official as to his Government, which he knew would not object to his testifying in favour of the truth.

The witnesses called by the hostile memorialists came to curse, but remained to bless. Reluctant as they were to tell all they knew, enough was dragged out of them to show the true character of the Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks. One was the dismissed Lieutenant Governor of Labuan, the second a man of German extraction, who had lived on Sir James Brooke’s bounty for many years, and the third the banished Patingi of Sarawak; but he showed no animus against Sir James Brooke. In point of fact, they did not prove hostile witnesses, as the testimony of the first two, apart from the feeling displayed, was quite satisfactory. Mr Devereux and Mr Prinsep observe in their reports that the memorialists or their agent did what they could to prevent the native witnesses from appearing, but enough came forward to prove to both Commissioners the piratical character of these Dyaks, and Mr Devereux pointedly remarks that no undue severity was exercised.

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