James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – The Commission

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 Commission

On our arrival at Sarawak we had news of the Commissioners being expected at Singapore, and H.M.’s. brig Lily arrived to convey Sir James Brooke and his followers to our Straits Settlements, but the Rajah had to go alone, as Grant, Brereton and myself were down with fever, the result of over-exposure to sun and rain and the cold watches of the night. Brereton did not recover, and in him the Rajah lost a most efficient and devoted officer.

No one now cares for the Commission sent to inquire into the position and conduct of Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, and Commissioner and Consul-General in Borneo; but as its results were so disastrous I must devote a few pages to it.

As I have before mentioned and here I am obliged to repeat some observations I have previously made when Sir James Brooke found that his agent in England, Mr Wise, was trying to involve him in schemes which he considered doubtful, he endeavoured to check him, and used strong language about his projects, looking upon them as designs to defraud the public by false representations. Mr Wise accidentally came to know the energetic expressions used by his employer, and decided to have his revenge, but he held his hand until the right moment had arrived. He still continued to press Sir James to join his gigantic companies, but failed in his attempts. Other events occurred which excited him still more, such as the Rajah’s handing over to the British Government, instead of directly to himself, the grant of the coal seams in certain portions of the Sultan’s dominions which Sir James had received whilst Her Majesty’s Agent. At length, when his employer called upon him to produce his accounts, as a very large balance was due to him, Mr Wise began to denounce him publicly. The Farquhar expedition furnished him with the opportunity, and he now posed as a humanitarian, and furnished certain members of the press with garbled information. We may imagine how unscrupulous he was when Lord Clarendon stated, ‘It had been detected in the Foreign Office that Mr Wise’s “Papers printed for use in the Government Offices” could not be relied on, and that some were “simple forgeries.’

Mr Wise, however, managed, as I have said, to persuade Mr Joseph Hume to enter into his projects, who found an ally in Mr Cobden, and they both commenced a campaign in the House of Commons against the Rajah. This continued until the Coalition Ministry, under Lord Aberdeen, came into power in [1853]. To secure the Parliamentary support of the Free Trade party, Lord Aberdeen weakly consented to issue a Commission on the lines suggested by Mr Hume, Sir James’s vindictive adversary.

The Commission might have been issued with the concurrence of both parties, as Sir James was anxious for a full inquiry; but the Government, whilst informing Mr Hume of their intention to accede to his demand, thought it becoming- to keep Sir James ignorant of it, and he found it out by accident.

Forty-five years have passed since this event occurred, and yet I cannot write of it without a flush of indignation. Mr Gladstone made this observation: His (Sir James’s) language respecting Mr Hume and Mr Cobden, two men of the very highest integrity; is for the most part quite unjustifiable. Mr Hume’s integrity, by his own confession, was not above suspicion, and Mr Cobden may be judged by the following extract: ‘Sir James Brooke seized on a territory as large as Yorkshire, and then drove out the natives, and subsequently sent for our fleet and men to massacre them.’ The insolence and ignorance displayed in the latter statement, as I have elsewhere observed, are about equal.

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