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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 one of the books in our library called Rajah Brooke by Sir Spenser St John published in 1899.
James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – Third Visit to Sarawak
IN SARAWAK PEACE being again restored to the country, Brooke was enabled to study the position. Muda Hassim occasionally mentioned his intention of rewarding his English ally for his great services by giving him the government of Sarawak; but nothing came of it, as when the document for submission to the Sultan was duly prepared it proved to be nothing but ‘permission to trade.’ However unsatisfactory this might be, Brooke accepted it for the moment, and it was agreed that he should proceed to Singapore, load a schooner with merchandise, and return to open up the resources of the place. In the meantime the rajah was to build a house for his friend, and prepare a shipload of antimony ore as a return cargo for the schooner.
While in Singapore Brooke wrote to his mother concerning his plans, and he now added,
‘I really have excellent hopes that this effort of mine will succeed; and while it ameliorates the condition of the unhappy natives, and tends to the promotion of the highest philanthropy, it will secure to me some better means of carrying through these grand objects. I call them grand objects, for they are so, when we reflect that civilisation, commerce and religion may through them be spread over so vast an island as Borneo. They are so grand, that self is quite lost when I consider them; and even the failure would be so much better than the non-attempt, that I could willingly sacrifice myself as nearly as the barest prudence will permit.’
Many, perhaps, could write such words, but Brooke really felt them, and fully intended to carry out his views, whatever obstacles might stand in his way; and they were many, for on his return to Sarawak in the ‘Royalist,’ with the schooner ‘Swift’ laden with goods for the market, he found no house built and no cargo of antimony ready. A house in Sarawak could be built in ten days or a fortnight, as the materials are all found in the jungle and the natives are expert at the work.
The antimony was procurable, but, as Brooke afterwards found, it was the product of forced labour, almost always unpaid. One cannot but smile at Brooke’s first attempt at trade. Without sending up to see whether the antimony was ready, he accepted Muda Hassim’s word, and then handed over to him the whole of the cargo of the ‘Swift.’ What might have been expected followed. No sooner had the Malay rajah secured the goods than the most profound apathy was shown as to the return cargo. The same system was followed with regard to the government of the country; every attempt to discuss it was evaded, and I believe that Makota did his best to persuade Muda Hassim that the Englishman was but a bird of passage, who would soon get tired of waiting, and would sail away without the return cargo, and drop all thoughts of governing the country.
Excerpt from Rajah Brooke, published in 1899 by Sir Spenser St John
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