James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1856 – Chinese Insurrection

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 – Chinese Insurrection

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When Mr Fox and I made a long tour, in July [1856], among the Chinese settlements of the interior, we became convinced that opium smuggling was being carried on to a great extent, as however numerous might be the newcomers, the revenue from that source had a tendency to decrease.

At last it was discovered that opium was sent from Singapore to the Natuna Islands, and from thence it was smuggled into Sarawak and the Dutch possessions of Sambas and Pontianak. It was proved that the Kungsi had been engaged in this contraband trade, and it was fined £150, a very trifling amount, considering the thousands it had gained by defrauding the revenue, and measures were immediately taken to suppress the traffic. This, and the punishment of three of its members for a gross assault on another Chinaman, were the only grounds of complaint which could be alleged against the Sarawak Government.

But these trivial cases were not the real cause of the Chinese insurrection in Sarawak. Before that date all the Celestials in the East had been greatly excited by the announcement that the English had retired from before Canton, and that the Viceroy of the province had offered a reward of £25 for every Englishman slain. The news had been greatly exaggerated. It was said we had been utterly defeated by the Chinese forces, and now was the time, the Gold Company thought, to expel the English from Sarawak and assume the government themselves. The secret societies were everywhere in great excitement, and the Tien-Ti-Hue sent emissaries over from Singapore and Malacca to incite the gold workers to rebellion, and used the subtle, but unfortunately cogent argument, that not only were the English crushed at Canton, but that the British Government was so discontented with the Rajah that it would not interfere, if the Kungsi only destroyed him and his officers, and did not meddle with private English interests or obstruct trade. Here we see another disastrous effect of the Commission.

It was also currently reported that the Sultan of Sambas and his Malay nobles offered every encouragement to the enterprise; and the Chinese listened much to their advice, as these noblemen can speak to the Celestials in their own language, and are themselves greatly imbued with Chinese ideas. To explain this curious state of things, it may be mentioned that the children of these nobles are always nursed by girls chosen from among the healthiest of the daughters of the Chinese gold workers. Further, about that time there was a very active intercourse carried on between the Malay nobles of Sambas and Pangeran Makota, the Rajah’s old enemy and the Sultan of Brunei’s favourite minister, and the latter was constantly closeted with an emissary of the Tien-Ti-Hue of Singapore, to whom I am about to refer.

To show that this was not a mere conjecture I may state that on the 14th of February [1857], four days before the insurrection in Sarawak, a Chinese named Achang, who had arrived at Brunei from Singapore a few days previously, and had a year before been expelled from Sarawak for joining a secret society, came to my house to try and induce my four Chinese servants to enter the Hue, adding as a sufficient reason that the Gold Company of Sarawak would by that time have killed all the white men in that 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