James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1857 – Hostile Operations

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.

James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1857 – Hostile Operations

I was sitting one day reading in my verandah, in the Consulate at Brunei, when a Malay hastily entered and said, “I have just arrived from Singapore. Whilst detained by very light winds we approached a schooner coming from Sarawak, and one of the crew called out to us, “The Chinese have risen against the Rajah and killed all the white men.” He knew no more. This, coupled with what I had previously heard of the conversations of the Hue leader, made me feel very uncomfortable. I would have left for Sarawak at once, but there was no means of direct communication. In a few days a hurried note from a friend who had escaped to Singapore told me part of the catastrophe, but it was not for two months that I had the full particulars in a letter from the Rajah himself.

It appears that when the Kungsi saw their professions of loyalty accepted, they began to prepare for hostile operations, and on the morning of the 18th of February [1857] six hundred of their followers at Bau, their most important station, and placing all the available weapons in their hands, marched them down to their principal wharf at Tundong, where a squadron of their large cargo boats was collected. It is now known that until they actually began to descend the river none but the heads of the movement were aware of its true object, so well had the secret been kept. To account for the preparations, it was given out that an attack was meditated on a Dyak village in Sambas, whose fighting men had in reality killed some Chinese.

During their slow passage down the river, a Malay, who was accustomed to trade with the Chinese, overtook them in a canoe, and actually induced them to permit him to pass under the plea that his wife and children lived in a place called Batu Kawa, eight miles above the town, and would be frightened if they heard so many men passing, and he was not there to reassure them. Instead of returning home, he pulled down as fast as he could till he reached the town of Kuching, and going straight to his relative, a Malay trader of the name of Gapur, a trustworthy and brave man, told him what he had seen; but Gapur said, “Don’t go and tell the chiefs or the Rajah such a tissue of absurdities” yet he went himself over to the Datu Bandhar and informed him. The chiefs answer was, “The Rajah is unwell; we have heard similar reports for the last twenty years; don’t go and bother him about it. In the morning I will tell him what your relative says.” This great security was caused by the universal belief that the Chinese could not commit so egregious a folly as to attempt to seize the Government of the country, considering that, with agriculturists included, they did not number above four thousand, while at that time the Malays and Dyaks within the Sarawak territory amounted to two hundred thousand at least. It was strange, however, and unpardonably negligent on the part of the Datu Bandhar not to have sent a fast boat up the river to ascertain what was really going on. Had he done so, the town and numerous lives would have been saved, and punishment would only have fallen on the guilty.

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