James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1838



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James Brooke was the first White Rajah of Sarawak. After inheriting £30,000 in 1833 he invested it in the schooner ‘The Royalist’ and sailed for Borneo; he made a diversion to Sarawak to deliver a letter, and had great success suppressing piracy in the area. In 1841 he became the Rajah of Sarawak. Below is an excerpt from a book in our library called Rajah Brooke by Sir Spenser St John published in 1899; this piece covers the beginning of his voyage and adventures when leaving England in 1838.


First Voyage to Sarawak – 1838

James Brooke Rajah of Sarawak 1847BROOKE sailed from Devonport on December 16, [1838], in the Royalist, belonging to the Royal Yacht Squadron, which, in foreign ports, admitted her to the same privileges as a ship of war, and enabled her to carry a white ensign. As the Royalist is still an historic character in the Eastern Archipelago, I must let the owner describe her as she was in [1838].

‘She sails fast; is conveniently fitted up; is armed with six six-pounders, and a number of swords and small arms of all sorts; carries four boats and provisions for four months. Her principal defect is being too sharp in the floor. She is a good sea boat, and as well calculated for the service as could be desired. Most of the hands have been with me for three years, and the rest are highly recommended.’

Whilst the Royalist is speeding on prosperously towards Singapore, and calling at Rio Janeiro and the Cape, let me sum up in a few words the object of the voyage.

The memorandum which Brooke drew up on the then state of the Indian Archipelago [1838], shows how carefully he had studied the whole subject. He first expounds the policy which England should follow if she wished to recover the position which she wantonly threw away after the peace of [1815] ; he then explains what he proposed to do for the furtherance of our knowledge of Borneo and the other great islands to the East. Circumstances, however, as he anticipated might be the case, made him change the direction of his first local voyage.

The Royalist arrived in Singapore in May [1839], and remained at that port till the end of July, refitting and preparing for future work. There Brooke received news which induced him to give up for the present the proposed voyage to Marudu Bay, the northernmost district of Borneo, and visit Sarawak instead. Rajah Muda Hassim, uncle to the Sultan of Brunei, was then residing there, and being of a kindly disposition, had taken care of the crew of a shipwrecked English vessel, and sent the men in safety to Singapore. This unlooked-for conduct on the part of a Malay chief roused the interest of the Singapore merchants, and Brooke was requested to call in at Sarawak and deliver to the Malay prince a letter and presents from the Chamber of Commerce.

This was a fortunate diversion of his voyage, as at that time Marudu was governed by a notorious pirate chief. The bay was a rendezvous for some of the most daring marauders in the Archipelago, and nothing could have been done there to further our knowledge of the interior.

All being ready, and the crew strengthened by eight Singapore Malay seamen, athletic fellows, capital at the oar, and to save the white men the work of wooding and watering, the Royalist sailed for Borneo on the 27th of July, and in five days was anchored off the coast of Sambas. All the charts were found to be wrong, so that every care had to be taken whilst working up the coast. A running survey was made, and on then 11th August Brooke found himself at the mouth of the Sarawak river.


Excerpt from Rajah Brooke, published in 1899 by Sir Spenser St John


Further Reading and External Links

James Rajah Brooke on Wikipedia