James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1856 – Secret Societies

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 – 1856 – Secret Societies

CHINESE colonists are the mainstay of every country in the Further East; but they carry with them an institution which may have its value in ill-governed countries, but which in our colonies is an unmitigated evil. I refer to their secret societies. A secret society is ostensibly instituted under the form of a benevolent association, but actually its members are banded together to obey no laws but their own, to carry out the behests of their leaders without question, and to afford protection to each other under all circumstances. If a member of the secret society commit a crime he is to be protected or hidden away; if he be taken by the police, the society is bound to secure him the ablest legal assistance, furnish as many false witnesses as may be required, and if he be convicted, pay his fine, or do all in its power to alleviate the discomforts of a prison. Therefore, flogging is the most deterrent form of punishment, as it cannot be shared. Should the society suspect any member of revealing its secrets, or from any cause desire to be rid of an obnoxious person, it condemns the individual to death, and sentence is carried out by its members, who, through fear of the last penalty, always obey their oath. On these occasions the mark of the society is put on the victim to show who has ordered the deed. In our colonies we have not been altogether successful in putting down these pernicious associations.

For many years the Chinese living in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, had attempted to form secret societies, but the Rajah’s vigorous hand had crushed every attempt, and it appeared as if success had attended his policy. This was the case so far as the Chinese of the capital were concerned; but in the interior, among the gold workers, the Kungsi performed the functions of a secret society, and its chiefs carried on extensive correspondence with their fellow-countrymen in Sambas and Pontianak, the neighbouring Dutch possessions, and with the Tien-Ti-Hue (Heaven and Earth Secret Society) in Singapore.

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