James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – Heads of Inquiry

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 – Heads of Inquiry

In spite of the instructions to the Commissioners, which were remarkable for their hostile spirit, these gentlemen reported favourably on all those points on which the public felt any interest; the Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks were declared pirates, and it was found and placed on record that Sir James had not been a trader whilst in the service of the Crown. On matters of opinion they differed, and did not accept Sir James’s claim of the complete independence of Sarawak de jurey though it was so de facto. The other questions were of no practical importance.

Although we did not receive the report of the Commissioners until the end of the following year, I may now notice the findings, and then close this unfortunate story of ministerial weakness and bad faith.

There were four heads of inquiry.

First – Whether the position of Sir James Brooke at Sarawak was compatible with his duties as Commissioner and Consul-General?

It was decided to be incompatible; but Mr Devereux added, ‘It may be stated as regards the past that the junction of the two positions has had beneficial results.’ As the British Government had appointed Sir James to the post without any solicitation on his part, with a full knowledge of his position at Sarawak, any blame would be theirs and not his. As, however, he had resigned his posts, this point had only an academic interest.

Second – Whether the interests of Sir James Brooke as a holder of territory, and as a trader in the produce of that territory, were compatible?

It was found that Sir James was not a trader in the true sense of the term any more than the Governor General of India.

Third – Personal complaints against Sir James Brooke.

Two were made, but not entertained by the Commissioners.

Fourth – What were the relations of Sir James Brooke with and towards the native tribes on the north-west coast of Borneo, with a view to ascertain whether it was necessary that he should be entrusted with a discretion to determine which of these tribes were piratical, or, taking into account the recent operations on the coast, to call for the aid of Her Majesty’s forces for the punishment of such tribes.

Mr Devereux remarked, ‘It appears most desirable that there should be an authority empowered to call for the aid of Her Majesty’s naval forces for the suppression of piracy.’

‘I have already declared my opinion that the Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks are piratical tribes; it was therefore most just and expedient, and in conformity with the obligations of treaty, that punishment should be inflicted on them with the view to the suppression of their atrocious outrages. The exact measure of punishment which should have been inflicted is a question which does not belong to me to decide, but I may say that it was essential that the thing should be done, and done effectually. So far as regards the loss of life inflicted on them, there does not appear any reasonable ground for sympathy for a race of indiscriminate murderers.’

I have thus shortly summed up the proceedings and findings of the Commission. I have not thought it necessary to enter into any details, as the questions are dead, and no one feels any interest in the mendacious statements of a W.N. or a Chameroozow. The Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks are now some of the best subjects of Sarawak, so faithful that they are enlisted as soldiers and garrison the principal forts.

The Commission closed, and we returned to Sarawak towards the end of November with a feeling of great relief. As a ship of war had fetched the Rajah from Sarawak, so a ship of war took him back, and Captain Blaine of H.M.S. Rapid showed him every courtesy, and treated him officially as a prince in his own country.

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