James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1857 – Borneo Company Steamer

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 – Borneo Company Steamer

In the meantime the Rajah arrived opposite the Chinese quarter, and found a complete panic prevailing, and all those Malays and Dyaks who had preceded him flying in every direction. Having in vain attempted to restore order, he drew up his boat on the opposite bank to cover the retreat, and after a sharp exchange of musketry fire he returned to Samarahan to carry out his original intention.

The Rajah joined the fugitives, and his first care was to see to the safety of the English ladies, the children, the non-combatants and wounded, and to send them off, under the charge of Bishop Macdougall and others, to the secure and well-armed fort of Linga. He now felt somewhat relieved, as he knew that there his charges would be in perfect safety, as they were surrounded by faithful and brave men, who could have defended the fort against any attack. There were no enemies at Linga, except such as existed in the imaginations of the terror-stricken runaways from Sarawak, who had not yet recovered from their panic.

The Rajah prepared on the following day to take the same route, in order to obtain a base of operations and a secure spot where he could rally the people and await a fresh supply of arms. It was sad, however, to think of the mischief which might happen during this period of enforced inaction, particularly as the Datu Bandhar and a chosen band were still in Kuching on board the large trading vessel, which was surrounded by lighter war prahus. Here was our gentle Bandhar, a man whom no one suspected of such energy, showing the courage of his father, Patingi Ali, who was killed during Keppel’s Sakarang expedition, and directing attacks on the Chinese whenever an opportunity offered. Thus harassed, the rebels were dragging up heavy guns, and it was evident the Malays could not hold out for many days, particularly as there was now little to defend; the flames which reddened the horizon, and the increasing volumes of smoke, told the tale too well that the Malay town was being completely destroyed.

With feelings of the most acute distress the Rajah gave the order for departure, and the small flotilla fell down the river Samarahan, and arriving at its mouth put out to sea, when a cry arose among the men, “Smoke! smoke! It is a steamer” And sure enough there was a dark column rising in the air from a three-masted vessel. For a moment it was uncertain which course she was steering, but presently they distinguished her flag she was the Sir James Brooke, the Borneo Company’s steamer, standing in for the Muaratabas entrance of the Sarawak river. The crew of the Rajah’s prahu, with shouts, gave way, and the boat was urged along with all the power of their oars, to find the vessel anchored just within the mouth.

“The great God be praised” as the Rajah said. Here, indeed, was a base of operations. The native prahus were taken in tow, and the reinforcements of Dyaks, who were already arriving, followed up with eager speed. What were the feelings of the Chinese when they first saw the smoke, then the steamer, it is not necessary to conjecture. They fired one wild volley from every available gun and musket, but the balls fell harmlessly; and when the English guns opened on them, they fled panic-stricken, pursued by the rejoicing Malays and Dyaks.

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