James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1841


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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.  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. Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1841

Muda Hassim immediately carried out his original promise, and in a formal document handed over the government of the district of Sarawak to Brooke. The news was received with rejoicing by the Land Dyaks, the Sarawak Malays and the Chinese, but with some misgivings by the rascally followers of the Bornean rajahs. This event took place in September [1841].

Brooke’s first act was to request Muda Hassim to return to their families the women and children who had been given as hostages after the close of the civil war. He succeeded in most cases, but as the younger brothers of Muda Hassim had honoured with their notice some of the unmarried girls, he was forced to leave ten of them in the harems of the rajahs.

Being now Governor of Sarawak, he determined to effect some reforms. One of the greatest difficulties he encountered was the introduction of impartial justice; to teach the various classes that all were equal before the law. He opened a court, at which he himself provided, aided moreover, by some of the rajah’s brothers and the chiefs of the Siniawan Malays, and dispensed justice according to the native laws, which in most cases are milder than those of European countries. When absent himself his chief officer acted for him. As long as these laws were only applied to Dyaks, Chinese or inferior Malays, there was no resistance, but when the privileged class and their unscrupulous followers were touched, there arose some murmurings.

Brooke saw at once that to ensure stability to his rule he must govern the people through, and with the aid of, the chiefs to whom they were accustomed. He therefore proposed to Muda Hassim to restore to their former positions the men who had been at the head of the late rebellion, and who certainly had been more sinned against than sinning. To this the rajah agreed, which added much to the Englishman’s influence, not only among the Malays, but also among the Dyaks, who were accustomed to be ruled, and, it must be confessed, to be plundered by these chiefs. But the tribes thought that it was better to pay exactions to one than to be exposed to the persecutions of many.

Although Muda Hassim had made over to Brooke the government of the country, it was necessary that this grant should be ratified by the Sultan. Brooke therefore proceeded to Brunei in the ‘Royalist,’ accompanied by Pangeran Budrudin. It was also very necessary to pave the way for Muda Hassim’s return to the capital, with his rapacious followers, before Sarawak could really prosper. Everything succeeded; the Sultan not only ratified the grant, but sent a strong invitation to his uncle to return to his old position of being the prime minister, whose absence they all deplored. His Highness sent letters to that effect, and when the ‘Royalist’ arrived at Sarawak there was very general rejoicing.

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


Further Reading and External Links

James Rajah Brooke on Wikipedia

The Royalist Schooner