James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – A New Era



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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 – A New Era

A new era was about to dawn on Sarawak by the advent of the British navy. Before dwelling on the change which took place in consequence, let me glance briefly at Brooke’s position. He had been granted the government of the country by Rajah Muda Hassim, a grant confirmed by the Sultan; he had gained the confidence of the former, who leaned on him for support, and who hoped through his influence to recover his former paramount position in the capital; he was cordially supported by the Siniawan Malays, and was fully trusted by the Land Dyaks. He was also aided to a certain extent by those useful but troublesome subjects the Chinese, who then only dreamt of making themselves supreme in the interior. He was supported by three English followers, and the occasional presence of his yacht, the ‘Royalist’. How was it possible for anyone, therefore, to declare that he had seized the country by force, and held it by force, as was afterwards affirmed by a small English faction? His only enemies were Pangeran Makota and a few discontented Borneans, who dreaded the reign of justice and order. Though secure of the support of the inhabitants of Sarawak, he was opposed by his neighbour the Sultan of Sambas, backed by the Dutch, and he had the mouths of his rivers almost blockaded during eight months of the year by the fleets of Lanun and Balignini pirates who cruised along the coast during the fine season.

His people were also in constant peril from the expeditions organised by Sherif Sahib, the chief of the neighbouring district of Sadong, the rendezvous of every species of pirate; and all coast trade was stopped by the constant presence of the Seribas and Sakarang Dyaks, led by their warlike Malays, who foraged along the whole western coast of Borneo. He was saved simply by his great prestige, as he had in reality no force with which he could cope with a large pirate fleet a prestige acquired by his bravery, his tact, his great kindness, and the just and benevolent rule which he was striving with all his energy to introduce into his adopted country.

And what were his chief objects? How well the following lines express them:

“It is a grand experiment, which, if it succeeds, will bestow a blessing on those poor people, and their children’s children will bless my name.”

Again, “If it please God to permit me to give a stamp to this country which shall last after I am no more, I shall have lived a life which emperors might envy. If by dedicating myself to the task I am able to introduce better customs and settled laws, and to raise the feeling of the people, so that their rights can never in future he wantonly infringed, I shall indeed be content and happy.”

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