James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1853 – The Patingi Chief

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 – 1853 – The Patingi Chief

Upon our return to Sarawak we heard of Lord Clarendon’s instructions to the Commission which was to inquire into Sir James Brooke’s conduct and position. As I propose to devote a few pages to it later on, I need not dwell upon them now.

The Rajah had long meditated a scheme to bring the Land Dyaks of Sarawak, Samarahan and Sadong under the direct rule of the Government. Up to the year [1853] the Dyak tribes had been apportioned among the three Datus or Malay chiefs, which was the immemorial custom; but it was found in practice to work badly, particularly in the hands of the Datu Patingi. He was an ambitious man, fond of parade, and kept up two large establishments for his principal wives. To support the expense, he not only exacted all that was legally due to him, but carried on a system of forced trade, preventing the Dyaks from buying, except of him and his agents a truck trade on an extended system and in its worst form. The complaints which reached headquarters were numerous. After he had married his daughter to one of the Arab adventurers on the coast, who pretended to be a descendant of the Prophet, his extortions knew no bounds.

The Rajah determined to pay the Datus fixed salaries, fifty per cent, beyond their legal dues, and to insist on the trade with the Dyaks being as free in practice as it was in theory. The Malay chiefs were pleased with the arrangement; but gradually the old abuses of forced trade were reintroduced by the Patingi, and the Rajah was often obliged to interfere to protect the Dyaks.

The Patingi became dissatisfied when he found his evil courses checked, and began to conspire against his benefactor, who had saved his life after the civil war was ended; and when he heard that a Commission had been appointed by the English Government to try the Rajah, he became very active in his intrigues, and proposed to the other chiefs to expel the English from Sarawak. None joined him, and though they kept a watch on his proceedings, they never breathed a word of the nascent conspiracy either to the Rajah or to any of his officers. When the whole executive Government, English as well as Malay, were away on an expedition, a brave young chief, Abong Patah, came to me (I was then Her Majesty’s acting Commissioner) and revealed all the details of the plot. I instantly sent off the news to the Rajah, who did not doubt its truth for a moment. He had himself observed very suspicious movements of the Patingi’s armed vessels, and had also noticed that whenever that chief anchored near the English war prahu, where all the Rajah’s officers assembled every evening, the other chiefs would, apparently by accident, allow their prahus to drop alongside. The Rajah communicated the discovery to some of his most trustworthy followers, both English and Malay, but left the Patingi in ignorance, though judicious precautions were taken to frustrate his machinations.

As soon, however, as the Rajah returned to the capital, he summoned a meeting of all the chiefs and principal men of the country, and in open court accused the Patingi of all his crimes and misdemeanours. He told him that on account of the respect he had for his family he would not try him for high treason; but that all his arms and ammunition must be handed over to abide the decision of the Government. The Patingi was too surprised to deny his guilt; in fect, he knew that every chief present was aware of his criminal intentions. It ended by his being permitted to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Rajah’s leniency, though judging by subsequent events misplaced, was so natural that it met with general approval, except among the more far-seeing of the Malays, who predicted that this ungrateful chief would yet do the English an ill turn.

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