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The Career and Character of Rajah Brooke

The Career and Character of Rajah Brooke

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Published by Martin Laverty
An obituary of James Brooke, the late Rajah of Sarawak, by Frederick Boyle, a journalist who had ben acquainted with him several years before
An obituary of James Brooke, the late Rajah of Sarawak, by Frederick Boyle, a journalist who had ben acquainted with him several years before

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Published by: Martin Laverty on Jun 07, 2010
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11/18/2012

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The Career and Character of Rajah Brooke
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It is no easy task to gather up our recollections, to write our personal impressions of a great manwhom one has known, and who has but just passed away
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. Inconsequential memories surge to the brain, and must be repressed; enthusiasm is apt to blind; regard and affectionate devotion strugglewith our wish to speak impartially. And in the case of Rajah Brooke these difficulties are yetfurther enhanced by the crowd of private interests and personal feelings which surrounded his position. And I would pain the sympathies of none in that brave little band of our countrymen whoruled Sarawak under the late sovereign, and now serve the new. I would speak of the rajah plainlyas I knew him, not slurring over his faults; and for the reason that those faults were so few. Notwildly eulogising his character, because the enthusiasm which his contact roused in my boyish dayshas never quite been overcome. I would give a true and dispassionate report, such as one may drawwho knew him in his Eastern home, and loved him, but was not blind.As in the case of many historical personages of the last generation, there is considerableuncertainty as to the time and place of Rajah Brooke's birth. The date is fixed by some at the 24tbof April, 1803; by others on the 29th. But I remember very well indeed drinking his health on boardthe "Rainbow" in the month of August, and on a day which he himself announced to us as hissixtieth birthday. Running back along my log-book, I make this date to be either the 24th or 25th of August, 1863
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. The place is yet more uncertain, for at least I can give the rajah's personal opinionabout the date. Some claim Bandel in Bengal as his place of birth; and this I believe to be true. Butothers
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give the honour to Combe Grove, near Bath, where his parents lived for some time. Of therajah's boyish days I have nothing to tell. He was educated at Norwich Grammar School, but hadnot time to acquire very great learning there, entering the army at fourteen years of age. Theextraordinary store of erudition he had in after years was all gathered in mature life.He served with distinction in the first Burmese war, where he gained an intimate companion,who was true to him for the remainder of life—a heavy companion, but firm,—a two-ounce bulletin his body. The retirement of Rajah Brooke from the service was owing to an accident; heoverstayed his furlough, and was superseded. His father died about this time, leaving anunencumbered fortune of [p205] thirty thousand pounds, and thereupon Mr. Brooke purchased the"Royalist" schooner, and embarked on his adventurous career. After much cruising in peaceful andwell-known waters, he finally set sail for the Farther East on the 27th of October, 1838, and in July,1839, he reached Singapore.It was on the 14th of August, 1839, that the future rajah first beheld his territory. The currentstory, doubtless spread in all good faith by some enthusiastic admirer, gives Sir James Brooke creditfor a design upon Sarawak while yet in England, and connects each incident of his voyage, the longstay in Celebes, the unwearied study of Malay, and all other details, with this ambition; but both in public and in private the rajah has denied any such intention. I remember standing once beside himon the elevated terrace of Government House, when he said, looking across the river at the busy"Chinese campong:" "Twenty-five years ago I regarded this scene with just the same indifferentcuriosity as you feel now. Who knows? perhaps twenty-five years hence you may look on it with asdeep an interest as I at this moment!" And in his speech at the London Tavern in 1852
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the rajahtook occasion to observe: "It has been said that when I set sail for the shores of Borneo I carried adeep design in my bosom to suppress piracy, and to carry civilisation to the Malayan race. This ismost flattering to my wisdom and foresight, but unfortunately it is not true. I had but one definiteobject when I left England, and that was, to see something of the world and to come back again."
 
One does not care wantonly to overthrow one pillar which supports a doubtful reputation; but RajahBrooke will only stand the firmer when all aid of exaggeration or credulity is stripped from hisfame.I do not design to give more than a sketch of the rajah's political career. If we believe nativeopinion, the Malay viceroy, Mudah Hassim, conceived the idea of ceding his territory at their veryfirst meeting; but this seems too precipitate. However it be, he suffered Mr. Brooke to make a shortvoyage to the interior, and to set sail again for Singapore in the following September, without broaching the subject to him. Much conversation passed upon the chances of trade, and Mr. Brookeseems to have been struck with the governor's eagerness in this matter; but, with that caution whichlay at the root of his sanguine character, he answered only in generalities.For six months the "Royalist" cruised along the coasts of Celebes, and on the 29th of August,1840, Mr. Brooke returned to Sarawak. To understand, in any measure, the motives of MudahHassim's subsequent conduct, a very slight review of the internal affairs of the Bruni empire, of which Sarawak at that time formed part, is necessary. The island of Borneo was divided betweenthree powers, the Dutch in the south, the Sultan of Sambas in the west, and the Sultan of Bruni tothe north and east. Sambas was [p206] merely a nominal state under Dutch "protection;" but cruelas was, and is, that government, it was still so far superior to the Bruni system that the people of Sarawak, lying on the eastern frontier of Sambas, were painfully anxious for annexation. Thenorthern sultan was naturally opposed to this desire, and at the time of Mr. Brooke's arrival, a war was raging in the interior between the rebels and the Bruni troops. So important the crisis wasdeemed, that the Pangaran Makota, governor of Sarawak, was temporarily superseded by an officialof no less dignity than Mudah Hassim, the uncle of the sultan, and prime minister of the empire. Butthis general failed to achieve greater success than the deposed Makota, and Mr. Brooke's arrival inthe "Royalist" was a real god-send to the Malay government. Straightway Mudah Hassim causedrumours to circulate that the stranger was an envoy from England, and his yacht was magnified intoa three-decker 
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, come to overawe the rebels. Such a report had great success for awhile; but when itreached Mr. Brooke's ears how his name and presence were misrepresented by the astute viceroy, heinstantly prepared to leave. This resolution—and none could doubt the inflexibility of the futurerajah's will who had once looked in his face—reduced Mudah Hassim to despair. He prayedabjectly for a little longer use of the Englishman's prestige, and at length, whether on impulse or after long consideration, offered to Mr. Brooke the viceroyalty of Sarawak, at a yearly tribute of five hundred pounds. This was in November, 1840. Neither accepting nor declining the proposal,the owner of the "Royalist" proceeded up the river with twelve sailors, and instantly suppressed arevolt which had defied the sultan's power for four years. After which he returned to Kuching, as thecapital of Sarawak is termed, and opened negotiations with Mudah Hassim, who, apparently, beganto think he had been precipitate.On the 14th of February, 1841, Mr. Brooke sailed for Singapore, loaded a vessel with Englishgoods, and returned to Kuching in April. The cargo was unladed under the viceroy's guarantee, andMr. Brooke waited patiently until August for the cargo of antimony
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promised in repayment. MudahHassim and the Malay chiefs grew daily more arrogant in their manners, and the ore came so slowlyas to show no good will on their part. Becoming bolder with time, they organised a fleet of piraticalDyaks, to punish, as they said, the former rebels, and openly paraded it in the Sarawak river, under Mr. Brooke's eyes. Makota attempted to poison him with arsenic, Mudah Hassim refused to pay thevalue of the goods received, and the Pangarans established a blockade of the "Royalist." Under these insults Mr. Brooke was driven to bay. He loaded the vessel's guns with grape, brought her  broadside to bear upon the Residence, and then proceeded, amidst the acclamations of all the population, to present his ultimatum to Mudah [p207] Hassim. Not more than twenty mensupported the viceroy, and, under these circumstances, the promised deed of cession was drawn up,
 
sealed, and delivered on the 24th of September, 1841. And not an honest man throughout the province but rejoiced to hear the news. That cargo of antimony, however, remains a debt to this day.I have been thus lengthy in describing the origin of Sir. Brooke's raj, because no point in hiscareer is so little understood in England. "How did he come to be rajah?" is a question constantlyasked of all those who are supposed to know anything of Sarawak. And very few indeed are awarethat the government is held as a sort of feudal dependency of Bruni, independent indeed, in itsinternal affairs, by the deed of cession, and practically beyond the sovereign's control in everyrespect, but charged with a yearly tribute of two thousand dollars for Sarawak proper, threethousand dollars for the territory of Muka, and as much for Bintulu; a conquest made in 1860, under circumstances much resembling those of Sarawak in 1839.From 1841 to 1847 Mr. Brooke was incessantly occupied with the suppression of piracy and theinternal reforms of his new sovereignty. He visited Bruni in 1842, and there released numerouscaptives. In 1843 he took a first cruise in H.M.S. "Dido," and harried the pirates from Malludu toSeribas. In 1844, at Bruni, he obtained the cession of Labuan to the British Crown, and, in 1846, theformal ceremonies were performed, and the Union Jack hoisted on that important island, the possession of which we owe entirely to Rajah Brooke. The year 1845 was occupied in punishing theIllanun, Sakarran, and Seribas pirates. In 1846 Mr. Brooke accompanied the fleet which exactedreparation from the sultan for his massacre of the "English party" at the capital, and in the assault of Bruni he was wounded for the seventh time. In June, 1847, he assisted, on board the "Nemesis," atthe most important action which had yet taken place with the pirates of Balanini, and, while yet thelaurels of this victory were green, he set sail for England, after an absence of nine years. At homethe rajah was lionised almost to the measure of his deserts: the Queen received him at Windsor,made him K.C.B., and appointed him Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Labuan, with unusual powers; London presented him with the freedom of the City; Oxford granted him an LL.D.; and theoutside public gave him a subscription dinner whenever they could catch him. But all the honoursthat civilisation could pay—though no man valued such recognition more highly— could not detainRajah Brooke from the care of his little sovereignty. In 1848 he returned to the East, and entered onhis duties at Labuan. As his own strong sense had feared, order in Sarawak suffered in its rajah'sabsence; the pirates raised their heads, and the Malay Pangarans intrigued in every direction. 1849was a busy year; from Labuan to Sarawak, from Sarawak to Sulu, from Sulu back to Labuan,[p208] Rajah Brooke hurried, fighting pirates, releasing captives, threatening sultans, and makingtreaties; always at work in that great object of restoring peace to the lovely Eastern seas. In Englandhe was attacked before Parliament and before the public; Mr. Hume
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 accused the relentless foe of  piracy of being himself "a pirate and a successful buccaneer." Mr. Wise
published his opinion thatSir James Brooke's proceedings were unjustifiable on the ground of justice and humanity, unwise,impolitic, and mischievous, but not more inconsistent with his previous professions as a Christian philanthropist than," &c. And the result of many intrigues and much personal hatred was the finalremoval of Sir James Brooke from the government of Labuan. In 1850 he was appointed envoy toSiam; in May, 1851, the violent and unceasing clamour of Messrs. Cobden, Hume, and SidneyHerbert compelled his return to England, where he was feted and denounced alternately, lauded tothe sky as our Christian champion, or bitterly rebuked as a bloodthirsty filibuster, according to theknowledge or ignorance of every speaker. The storm lasted long; but Rajah Brooke maintained hiscourage and kept his temper until April of 1853, when he returned to the country he had saved,where every honest soul worshipped him. Here, after recovering from a fearful attack of smallpox,he dwelt in peace till the great Chinese insurrection of 1857— an event so curious in itself, socharacteristic of the three nationalities engaged—the Chinese, Malay, and Dyak—that it welldeserves a paper to itself in "Temple Bar." After the suppression of this senseless revolt, which was,however, a terrible blow to the young state, things went well until 1860, when a vast conspiracy of the Malay nobility, the old pirates of Seribas, and the Kyan tribe called Kennowits, broke out

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