James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1850 – Amusing Scene

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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.

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

James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1850 – Amusing Scene

Early in August we left Singapore for Siam in the Sphynx, attended by the Company’s steamer Nemesis, and were soon at our destination. Captain Brooke and I were sent in to the forts at the mouth of the river to make arrangements for the Envoy’s suitable reception.

We found the people on shore in great alarm, and we heard that a heavy boom had been placed across the river to prevent the steamers proceeding to the capital. When we had settled our business we returned to Sir James, and it was arranged that he should enter the river next morning in the larger ship. It appeared to a landsman that no sufficient precautions were taken to mark the deepest passage, but we trusted to a native pilot, who speedily ran us on a sandbank. There was no help for it, as the Sphynx could not be moved, but to be transferred to the Nemesis and we then steamed on to the forts.

The minister charged with foreign affairs had come down to receive us, so the first meeting between him and the English Envoy took place at the village close to the mouth of the river.

It was an amusing scene. The arrogance of this half-civilised people was extreme, and the minister, to show his disdain, had the seats intended for the English Envoy and his suite placed in a position of marked inferiority. He himself was seated on a divan, with soft cushions, and surrounded by his gold betel boxes and tea service, whilst his followers crouched behind him, and no native approached, except on his hands and knees, crawling like an insect along the floor. The minister rose as we entered, and pointing to some chairs, motioned us to be seated, but Sir James passed them by. He approached the minister and shook hands, and sat down opposite to him; we all followed suit, and did the same, placing our chairs beside that of our chief. The minister was breathless with astonishment, but he resumed his seat, and in a short time recovered his composure, and the usual routine of questions and answers followed. He said that the Government had built a house for the reception of the mission, and that state barges were being prepared to convey the Envoy and his suite to the capital. Had the Sphynx been able to enter the river, we might have insisted on going to the capital in the Nemesis but it was settled that we should proceed in the state barges. Captain Brooke and I went first to inspect the temporary house allotted to us, but finding it unsuitable, we accepted the offer of an English merchant to take his house for the mission, and use the other for our escort and for visitors from the ships.

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