James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1855 – Despatches

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 – 1855 – Despatches

In October [1855] Captain Brooke and Charles Grant left us for a visit home, and Arthur Crookshank was still absent in England, so that much work fell on the Rajah. We had scarcely settled down to a quiet life when we were disturbed by the arrival of despatches from Lord Clarendon, enclosing the Blue Book containing all the documents relating to the Commission, and expressing a cold approval of Sir James Brooke’s conduct. I also received despatches, one appointing me Consul General in Borneo, and the other containing an Order in Council directing me to send to the nearest English colony all British subjects accused of crimes and misdemeanours within the Sultan’s dominions, including Sarawak. The absurdity of such an Order in Council appears never to have struck the Foreign Office. In the first place, it was in direct opposition to our Treaty with the Brunei Government; secondly, the sending for trial to Singapore of a prisoner and all the witnesses would have entailed an expenditure of hundreds of pounds, possibly on account of a thief who had stolen the value of a shilling. It was no difficult matter to point out to our Government that it was wiser to let well alone; that the courts of Sarawak had always exercised jurisdiction over British subjects, and that no complaints of injustice had ever been made. I consequently suggested that the system then at work should be continued.

Any other solution would have been felt to be intolerable, both by the Rajah and by the native chiefs. Fortunately wise counsels prevailed in England, and the proposed arrangement, which was founded on ignorance, was reversed. I was authorised to inform the Sarawak Council that Her Majesty’s Government had no desire whatever to interfere with them, or to prevent them choosing what form of government they pleased; and I added that the British Government accepted the plan suggested for settling the question of jurisdiction. In fact, the Sarawak courts were authorised to continue to try British subjects as before.

The Rajah was deeply mortified by Lord Clarendon’s despatches. After all the promises the latter had made to the late Lord Ellesmere, that if the Commission reported in Sir James Brooke’s favour the Government would be prepared to do all that he desired, to receive a bare statement of approval of his conduct was very disheartening. After all the mischief which arose from the mere appointment of the Commission, the loss of prestige which produced the Patingi’s abortive plot, and later on the Chinese insurrection, such treatment was inexplicable to him. He was sore and indignant. He only asked for a steamer to be placed on the coast to check piracy. Even this was refused.

However, when Lord Clarendon agreed to recognise the jurisdiction of the Sarawak courts, the Rajah was greatly mollified. He wrote, “The Government has done far more than I expected, and our misunderstanding is at an end.” The strong expressions of good-will contained in the same despatch had a very tranquilising effect upon him, and he almost thought he had forgiven the Government their great injustice.

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