James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1848 – Sulu Sultan

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.

Catch-up with earlier posts in the James Rajah Brooke series here.

James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1848 – Sulu Sultan

The Meander soon sailed from Sulu, and after calling at Samboangan, the Spanish penal settlement in the island of Mindanau, we returned to our colony of Labuan, where we were pleased to find that all the officers were well, and that they had removed from the swampy plain to the higher land behind it. There was, however, but little progress visible, as the fever panic still prevailed. We did not stay long here, as the Rajah was anxious to begin operations against the Seribas and Sakarang pirates, who had again commenced to ravage the coast. We reached Sarawak on the 16th February. A daring attack of the Seribas Dyaks on the Sadong district, when they captured over a hundred heads, made us move out with our native fleet to pursue them, but a return of the north-east monsoon drove us to shelter. Later on, accompanied by the boats of the steamer Nemesis, we destroyed some of their inland villages, and thus kept them quiet for a time.

To crush these pirates, however, we required a stronger force, and had to wait for the arrival of one of Her Majesty’s ships. In the meantime, in order to save the independence of Sulu, threatened both by the Dutch and the Spaniards, Sir James determined to proceed there in the steamer Nemesis and negotiate a treaty. After calling in at Labuan, we continued our course to the Sulu seas. We were received by the Sultan and nobles in the most friendly manner, and Sir James had no difficulty in negotiating a treaty which, had it been ratified and supported, would have effectually preserved the independence of the Sultan. Our intercourse with these people was most interesting. Preceded by his fame, Sir James soon made himself trusted by the brave islanders, and one proof was that the Sultan asked him to visit him in a small cottage, where he was then staying with a young bride. I was among those who accompanied our Rajah, and on the darkest of dark nights we groped our way there. The Sultan was almost alone, and he soon began to converse about his troublesome neighbours, the Dutch and the Spaniards, expressing a strong hope that the English would support him.

Sir James explained to him our position in Labuan, and cordially invited his people to come and trade there, assuring him that the English had no designs on the independence of their neighbours, but that they only wanted peace and the cessation of piracy. One or two nobles dropped in, and the conversation turned on the subject of hunting, and our hosts proved themselves eager sportsmen, and invited us to return when the rice crop was over and they would show us how they hunted the deer, both on horseback and on foot. The Sultan, during the evening, took a few whiffs of opium, whilst the rest of the company smoked tobacco in various forms. The women were not rigidly excluded, as they came and looked at us whenever they pleased; but we could not see much of them, and it is a form of politeness to pretend not to notice their presence. After a very enjoyable evening, we bade farewell to the Sultan, as we were to sail the following day.

Sir James Brooke had intended to return there, establish himself on shore for a month, and join the nobles in their sports, and thus acquire a personal influence over them. He thought he could wean them from intercourse with the pirates and turn them into honest traders. It must be confessed that when we were there we had abundant evidence that the Balignini and Lanun pirates did frequent the port to sell their slaves and booty and lay in a stock of arms and ammunition. Sir James was, however, persuaded that if British war steamers showed themselves every now and then in Sulu waters, the pirates would abandon these seas. The moment was propitious; the Spaniards had just destroyed the haunts of Balignini, capturing many and dispersing the rest. The sanguinary defeat of eleven of their vessels in [1847], by the Nemesis, was not forgotten, and it required but a little steady patrolling to disgust the nobles with this pursuit; in fact, many had sold their war vessels and guns, saying, that now the English steamers were after them, it was no longer the profession of a gentleman. I never met natives who pleased me more; the young chiefs were frank, manly fellows, fond of riding and hunting, and our intercourse with them was very pleasant. It was always a matter of regret with me that I never had an opportunity of visiting them again.

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