Borneo and Rajah Brooke

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Borneo and Rajah Brooke
The Atlantic Monthly
Published in the December 1866 volume of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. Unattributed.

off the southeastern extremity of Asia, and separated from it by the Chinese Sea, lies a cluster of great islands, comprising that portion of Oceanica commonly called Malaysia. Of these islands Borneo is the most extensive, and, if you call Australia a continent, it is by far the largest island in the world. Situated on the equator, stretching from 7 deg. of north to 4 deg. of south latitude, and from 108 deg. to 119 deg. of east longitude, its extreme length is 800 miles, its breadth 700, and it contains 320,000 square miles,--an area seven times as great as that of the populous State of New York.

But though its size and importance are so great, though it was discovered by the Portuguese as early as 1518, though several European nations have at various times had settlements on its coasts, though it is rich in all the products of a tropical clime, and in base and precious metals, diamonds and stones, and though its climate, contrary to what might have been expected, is in many localities salubrious even to an American or European constitution, yet until recently almost nothing was known by the world of its surface, its products, or its inhabitants.

The causes of this ignorance are obvious. The very shape of Borneo is unfavorable to discovery. A lumpish mass, like Africa and Australia, the ocean has nowhere pierced it with those deep bays and gulfs in which commerce delights to find a shelter and a home. And though it has navigable rivers, their course is through the almost impenetrable verdure of the tropics, and they reach the sea amid unwholesome jungles. The coast, moreover, is in most places marshy and unhealthy, for the distance of twenty or thirty miles inland; while the interior is filled with vast forests and great mountain ranges, almost trackless to any but native feet. Besides, the absence of all just and stable government has reduced society to a state of chaos. And to all this must be added piracy, from time immemorial sweeping the sea and ravaging the land. Under such circumstances, if there were little opportunity for commerce, there was none for scientific investigations; and only by the enterprises of commerce or the researches of science do we know of new and distant countries.

Many races inhabit Borneo; but the Malays and Sea and Land Dyaks greatly preponderate. The Malays, who came from continental Asia, are the conquering and governing race. In their native condition they are indolent, treacherous, and given to piracy. The very name Malay has come to stand for cruelty and revenge. But well governed, they prove to be much like other people, susceptible to kindness, capable of affection, amiable, fond to excess of their children, and courteous to strangers. The Sea Dyaks are piratical tribes, dwelling on the coasts or borders of rivers, and subsisting by rapine and violence. The Land Dyaks are the descendants of the primitive inhabitants. They are a mild, industrious race, and remarkably honest. One hideous custom, that of preserving the heads of their fallen enemies as ghastly tokens of victory, has invested the name of Dyak with a reputation of cruelty which is not deserved. This singular practice, originating, it is said, in a superstitious desire to propitiate the Evil Spirit by bloody offerings, has in process of time become connected with all their ideas of manly prowess. The young girl receives with proud satisfaction from her lover the gift of a gory head, as the noblest proof both of his affection and his heroism. This custom is woven, too, into the early traditions of the race. The Sakarrans tell us that their first mother, who dwells now in heaven near the evening star, asked of her wooer a worthy gift; and that when he presented her a deer she rejected it with contempt; when he offered her a mias, the great orang-outang of Borneo, she turned her back upon it; but when in desperation he went out and slew a man, brought back his head, and threw it at her feet, she smiled upon him, and said that was indeed a gift worthy of her. This legend shows, at any rate, how fixed is this habit, not alone in the passions of the people, but also in their traditional regard. Yet, strange as it may seem, they are an attractive race. A missionary's wife who has known them well declares that they are gentle and kindly, simple as children, disposed to love and reverence all who are wiser and more civilized than themselves. Ida Pfeiffer concludes that the Dyaks pleased her best, not only among the races of Borneo, but among all the races of the earth with which she has come in contact. And a cultivated Englishman, with wealth and social position at command, has been so attracted to them, that he has lavished both his fortune and his best years in the work of their elevation. The social condition of the Dyaks has been sufficiently wretched. Subjected to the Malays, they have been forced to work in the mines without pay, while they were liable at any moment to be robbed of their homes, and even of their wives and children. "We do not live like men," said one of them, with great pathos. "We are like monkeys, hunted from place to place. We have no houses, and we dare not light a fire lest the smoke draw our enemies upon us."

Running along the whole northern coast of Borneo, eight hundred miles, and inland perhaps two hundred, is found Borneo Proper, one of the three great Mohammedan kingdoms into which the island was divided as early as the sixteenth century. This state is governed, or rather misgoverned, by a sultan, and, under him, by rajahs and pangerans,--officials who give to the commands of their nominal superior but a scanty obedience. For two centuries Borneo Proper has been steadily settling into anarchy and barbarism. With a government both feeble and despotic, it was torn by intestine wars, crushed within by oppression and ravaged without by piracy, until commerce and agriculture, the twin pillars of the state, were equally threatened, and not one element of ruin seemed to be wanting. What evidence of decay could be more striking than the simple fact that Bruni, its capital, which in the sixteenth century was crowded with a population of more than two hundred thousand souls, had in 1840 scarcely fourteen thousand inhabitants?


To one corner of this wasting empire came, twenty-five years ago, a young Englishman. Simply a gentleman, he had no governmental alliances to help him, and no advantages of any sort for founding empire, except such as sprang from the possession of a sagacious mind, an undaunted temper, and a heart thoroughly in sympathy with the oppressed. Alone he has built up a flourishing state, introducing commercial activity and the habits of civilized life where only oppression and misery were, and has achieved an enterprise which seems to belong rather to the days of chivalry than to a plodding, utilitarian age,--an enterprise which, in romance and success, but not in carnage, calls to mind the deeds of the great Spanish captains in the New World.

James Brooke, the second and only surviving son of Thomas Brooke, a gentleman who had acquired a fortune in the service of the East India Company, was born in India, April 29, 1803. At an early age he entered the employ of the same company to whose interests his father had given his best days. In 1826, as a cadet, he accompanied the British army to the Burmese war, was dangerously wounded, received a furlough, and came to England. To restore his health and gratify his curiosity he spent the year 1827 in travelling on the Continent. His furlough having nearly expired, he embarked for India, but was wrecked on the voyage, and could not report for duty in proper season. This was one of those apparently fortuitous circumstances which so often change the whole aspect of a man's life. At any rate, it was the turning-point in Mr. Brooke's career. Finding that his misfortune had cost him his position, and that he could not recover it without tedious formalities, he left the service. Uncontrolled master of himself, and endowed with sagacity and courage of no ordinary stamp, he was ready for any undertaking which his adventurous spirit or his love of research might dictate. In fact, it was during this interval of leisure that he embarked for China, and on his passage saw for the first time the Eastern Archipelago. He was painfully interested in the condition of Borneo and Celebes, those great islands, sinking apparently into hopeless decay. His sympathies were awakened by the sufferings of the helpless natives, and his indignation was aroused by the outrages of an unbridled piracy. His feelings can be best gathered from his own language. "These unhappy countries afford a striking proof how the fairest and richest lands under the sun may become degraded by a continuous course of oppression and misrule. Whilst extravagant dreams of the progressive advancement of the human race are entertained, a large tract of the globe has been gradually relapsing into barbarism. Whilst the folly of fashion requires an acquaintance with the deserts of Africa, and a most ardent thirst for a knowledge of the customs of Timbuctoo,--whilst the trumpet tongue of many an orator excites thousands to the rational and charitable object of converting the Jews or of reclaiming the Gypsies,--not a single prospectus is spread abroad, not a single voice is raised in Exeter Hall, to relieve the darkness of this paganism and the horrors of this slave-trade. Under these circumstances I have considered that individual exertions may be usefully applied to rouse the zeal of slumbering philanthropy."

The feelings thus awakened were not of a transient character. His dreams henceforth were to visit these islands, see them for himself, study their natural history, understand their social condition, and ascertain what avenues could be opened for trade, and what steps taken to redeem the oppressed native races.


In 1835 the death of his father, leaving him master of an independent fortune, enabled him to realize his dreams. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Club, as well as owner and commander of a yacht,--a position which admitted him in foreign ports to all the privileges of an English naval officer. In this little vessel he resolved to undertake an adventurous voyage of discovery. He approached his enterprise with a wary forethought. "I was convinced," he says, "that it was necessary to form men to my purpose, and by a line of steady and kind conduct to raise up a personal regard for myself and an attachment to the vessel." He cruised three years in the Mediterranean, carefully selecting and training his crew. He studied thoroughly the whole subject of the Eastern Archipelago, and acquainted himself as perfectly as possible with the minutiae of seamanship and with every useful art. And when his preparations were all complete, on the 16th of December, 1838, he set sail for Singapore, in the yacht Royalist, a vessel of one hundred and forty-two tons, manned by twenty men and officers, with an armament of six six-pounders and a full supply of small arms of all sorts. Such were the mighty resources wherewith he began an enterprise which has ended in raising him to the government of a petty kingdom, and to almost sovereign influence over the whole empire of Borneo Proper.

The reader has already had glimpses of the feelings which prompted this expedition. In a communication to the "Geographical Register" he more fully unfolds his views; and from this and from his familiar letters it is not difficult to gain a clear idea of the character and motives of the man. That his ardent mind had been fired by a study of the career of his great predecessor, Stamford Raffles, is evident. That he was himself one of those energetic, restless natures, to which idleness or mere routine-work is the severest of penalties, is equally evident. He had, moreover, a large share of that kind of enthusiasm which the cool, sagacious men of this world call romance, and which delights to fasten on objects seemingly impossible. He was like the old knights, rejoicing most when the field of their devoir was distant and dangerous. Yet not altogether like them. He was rather a man of the twelfth century, disciplined and invigorated by the hard common-sense and sharp utilitarianism of the nineteenth century. And we must not forget that he honestly wished to benefit the native races. Every page, nay, almost every line, in his journals and letters, bears witness to his profound compassion for the despised and downtrodden Dyaks. Aside from this, when we remember that he was a genuine Englishman, proud of his native land and thoughtful always of her aggrandizement, we need be at no loss to understand his motives. He went forth to gratify a love of adventure, "to see something of the world and come back again," to extend a little the realms of scientific knowledge, to suggest, perhaps, some plans for the improvement of native character, and last, but not least, to learn whether there might not be opened new avenues for the extension of British trade and British power.

That the methods by which these objects were to be attained were not very well defined even to his own mind is clear. He himself said, "I cast myself upon the waters, like Southey's little book; but whether the world will know me after many days, is a question I cannot answer." And some years after, alluding to a charge of inconsistency, he said, "I did not embrace my position _at once_; and indeed the position itself altered very rapidly; and I am free to confess before the world that my views of duty and responsibility were not so high at first as they have since been." Without doubt his direct and primary purpose was investigation. He took with him men of some scientific knowledge, himself being no mean observer; and he proposed to prosecute, wherever opportunity occurred, researches into the geography, natural history, and commercial resources of these islands. If he had ulterior ends, as yet they existed in his mind as fascinating dreams, rather than well-defined plans.


After a tedious voyage of nearly six months, the Royalist reached Singapore, June 1, 1839. While Mr. Brooke was engaged in refitting his yacht, and anxiously revolving in his mind how he should obtain permission to penetrate into the neighboring kingdom of Borneo, he learned that Muda Hassim, uncle of the Sultan, and Rajah of Sarawak, the northwestern province of Borneo, had displayed great humanity towards a crew of shipwrecked Englishmen. On receiving this information he started at once for Sarawak, hoping to get some hold upon the Rajah, and by such help to pursue his researches. But the time of his visit was most unfortunate. The whole province was in a state of open rebellion; so that, while he was received courteously, and permitted to make some local surveys, nothing of importance could be accomplished. Baffled and wearied by delay, he sailed back to Singapore, and from thence to Celebes, where he remained several months, engaged in extensive explorations, and in collecting specimens to illustrate the natural history of that island.

Mr. Brooke returned from Celebes worn out and sick, and was obliged to remain at Singapore several months to recruit his strength. In August, 1840, he made a second visit to Sarawak, intending to tarry there a few days, and then proceed homeward by the way of Manilla and China. "I have done fully as much as I promised the public," he writes. He found things in much the same state as when he left. No progress had been made in the suppression of the rebellion. Few lives indeed had been lost, but the most bloody war could hardly have produced worse results. The country was filled with combatants. Every straggler was cut off. Violence and rapine were the law. Trade and agriculture languished. A rich province was fast relapsing into a wilderness; and all its people were beginning to suffer alike for shelter and sustenance. As our hero was about to set sail, the Rajah opened his whole heart to him. His prospects were anything but flattering. He found himself unequal to the reduction of the rebels. He was surrounded by traitors. At the court of the Sultan, a hostile cabal, taking advantage of his ill-fortune, threatened his power and his life. In this strait, he besought his visitor to remain and give him aid, promising in event of success to confer upon him the government of the province. After a few days' reflection, Mr. Brooke, believing, as he declares, that the cause of the Sultan was just, believing also that what the whole people needed most was peace, and that peace would place him in a position to render them the greatest service, acceded to this request, without, however, be it observed, binding Muda Hassim to any precise stipulations concerning the government.

Many pages of his journal are devoted to an account of this war; and a most curious story it is of cowardice, bravado, and inefficiency. It was advance and retreat, boastful challenge and as boastful reply, marching and countermarching, day after day, and month after month. "Like the heroes of old, the adverse parties spoke to each other: 'We are coming, we are coming; lay aside your muskets and fight us with your swords'; and so the heroes ceased not to talk, but always forgot to fight";--the sum of all their achievements being to lay waste the country, to interrupt honest industry, and to put in peril the lives of the unoffending. Mr. Brooke soon tired of this farce. Gathering a motley force, consisting of Malays, Dyaks, Chinese, and his own crew, he prepared for an assault. Then, planting his cannon where they commanded the stronghold of the enemy, with a few well-directed volleys he brought its walls tumbling about their ears. The insurgents, driven to the open country, and altogether amazed by this specimen of Saxon energy, surrendered at discretion. At one blow a desolating war was ended.


Peace being restored, Mr. Brooke did not insist on the literal fulfilment of the terms which Muda Hassim had in his extremity been so ready to proffer. He chose to occupy a position of influence, rather than one of outward authority. A contract was entered into by which he became Resident of Sarawak. The conditions of the agreement were, that the Rajah on his part should repress piracy, protect legitimate commerce, and as far as possible remove from the Dyaks unjust burdens; while his ally, in return for these concessions, should open trade, sending a vessel to and fro between Singapore and Sarawak, exchanging foreign luxuries for native products, and more especially for antimony, of which article the Rajah had the monopoly. In fulfilment of his part of the treaty, Mr. Brooke proceeded to Singapore, purchased a schooner, loaded her with an assorted cargo, returned to Sarawak, and at the earnest request of Muda Hassim landed and distributed his goods.

But auspicious as was the commencement of this alliance, soon grave causes of complaint arose. On every point the deceitful Malay came short of his agreement. Having obtained valuable property, he showed no alacrity in paying for it; weeks and months passed without bringing him apparently any nearer to a pecuniary settlement. So far from repressing piracy, he encouraged it; and a fleet of one hundred and twenty prahus, with his tacit consent, actually put to sea. When a crew of English seamen were enslaved and carried to Bruni, under the most frivolous pretexts he refused to intercede with the Sultan for these unfortunate men. And so this strange friendship cooled. It was no slight proof either of his courage or his humanity to despatch at this very time, as Mr. Brooke did, his yacht to Bruni, to attempt something in behalf of his enslaved countrymen, and to remain himself with only three men at Sarawak. The yacht came back, however, having effected nothing.

By this time the patience of the creditor was exhausted. Despoiled of his goods, finding that, despite his remonstrances, the Dyaks were cruelly oppressed, and that piracy was encouraged, he resolved to try the effect of threats. He repaired on board his yacht, loaded her guns with grape and canister, and brought her broadside to bear upon the Rajah's palace. Then taking a small, but well-armed guard, he sought an interview with Muda Hassim. The terror of that functionary was extreme. The native tribes openly sided with their English friend. The Chinese residents remained obstinately neutral. The Malays, between cowardice and treachery, afforded him no efficient support. To crown all, his resolute and incensed ally had only to wave his hand to bring down upon him swift destruction. "After this demonstration, things went cheerily to a conclusion." Muda Hassim, finding that his creditor was inflexible, and being unable or unwilling to pay for the goods which he had fraudulently obtained, offered in payment of all debts to surrender the government. The offer was accepted, the agreement drawn up, signed, sealed, guns fired and flags waved, and on September 24, 1841, Mr. Brooke became Rajah of Sarawak. In August of the following year the Sultan solemnly confirmed the agreement.

The territory thus strangely passing into the hands of a private English gentleman was a tract of country bordering upon the sea sixty miles, and extending inland from seventy to eighty miles. Situated at the northeastern extremity of Borneo, pierced by two small, but navigable rivers, its position is most favorable for commerce. Its soil is deep and rich, yielding under any proper culture large crops of all tropical products. Its forests are filled with trees fit for shipbuilding, and abound in that variety from which is obtained the gutta percha of commerce. The hills are rich in iron and tin of the best quality. The mountain streams wash down gold. In the beds of smaller rivers are found diamonds, in such profusion that most of the Malays wear them set in rings and other ornaments. From this single province comes nearly the whole supply of antimony in the world. "I do not believe," says a resident, "that in the same given space there can be found so great mineral and vegetable wealth in any land in the whole world."


With what sentiments the new Rajah entered upon his duties can be best understood by a perusal of his familiar letters. He writes to his mother: "Do not start when I say that I am going to settle in Borneo, that I am about to endeavor to plant there a mixed colony amid a wild but not unvirtuous race, and to become the pioneer of European knowledge and improvement. The diffusion of civilization, commerce, and religion through so vast an island as Borneo, I call a grand object,--so grand that self is quite lost when I consider it; and even failure would be much better than the non-attempt." "A few days ago I was up a high mountain and looked over the country. It is a prospect which I have rarely seen equalled; and sitting there, lazily smoking a cigar, I called into existence the coffee plantations, the sugar plantations, the nutmeg plantations, and pretty white villages and tiny steeples, and dreamed that I heard the buzz of life and the clang of industry amid the jungles, and that the China Colins whistled as they went, for want of thought, as they homeward bent."

The first duty which claimed attention was the relief of the native Dyaks. A shrewd Dyak once defined the Malay government as "a plantain in the mouth and a thorn in the back." A plantain giving to their poor subjects a little to keep life in them; a thorn stripping them to the skin and piercing them to the bone. The description is pithy, and it is true. The exactions of the Malay chiefs were almost beyond belief. Seizing and monopolizing some article of prime necessity,--salt perhaps,--they would force the natives to buy at the rate of fifty dollars' worth of rice for a teacup of salt; until the wretched cultivator, who had raised a plentiful crop, was brought to the verge of starvation. They reserved to themselves the right of purchasing the articles which the Dyaks had to sell, and then affixed to those articles an arbitrary price, perhaps less than a five-hundredth of their real value. They would send a bar of iron two or three feet long, and having an intrinsic worth of a few cents, to the head mart of a tribe, demanding that his village should give for it a sum equal to five, ten, or twenty dollars. Another was sent in the same way, and another, and another, until the rapacity of the chiefs was satisfied, or the wretched natives had no more to give. Often, when the latter had been robbed of everything, the Malays would seize and sell their wives and children. It is recorded of one tribe, that there was not so much as one woman or child to be found in it. All had been swept off by these remorseless slave-hunters. Nor did their wrongs end here. If a Dyak killed a Malay "under any circumstances of aggression," he was put to death, often with every possible addition of torture. If he accidentally injured one of the ruling caste, he was fortunate to escape with the loss of half or two thirds of his little savings. On the other hand, a Malay might kill as many Dyaks as he pleased, and if perchance justice were a little sterner than usual, he might be fined a few cents or a few dollars. Volumes are contained in this one statement, that in the ten years from 1830 to 1840, the Dyaks in the province of Sarawak dwindled from 14,000 to 6,000 souls.

A blow was immediately struck at the root of this black oppression. As soon as the new government was fairly established, a few simple enactments were published. They declared that every man, Dyak as well as Malay, should enjoy unmolested all the gains of his toil; that all exactions of every name and nature should cease, and that only a small tax, evenly distributed, should be levied for the support of government; that all roads and rivers should be free to all; that all molestation of the Dyaks should be punished with severity. The proclamation which contains these laws concludes with exhorting all persons who are disposed to disturb the public peace to take flight speedily to some other country, where they can break with impunity the laws of God and man. These enactments were firmly executed, without fear and without partiality. Wonderful were the results! Internal violence ceased. The confidence of the natives was awakened. Industry and enterprise sprang up on every hand as by magic. Sarawak became a city of refuge. Sometimes as many as fifty fled thither in a day. In 1844, in the short space of two months, five hundred families took shelter in the province. In 1850, three thousand Chinese fled from Sambas to Sarawak. The Dyaks returned the good-will of their Rajah with love and reverence. During one of his tours in the interior, delegations from tribes numbering six thousand souls came to seek his protection. "We have heard," said they, in simple but touching language, "that a son of Europe has arrived, who is a friend of the Dyaks." When he visited the native hamlets, the women would throw themselves on the ground and clasp his feet, and the whole tribe would spend the night in joyful feasting and merriment. It is soberly affirmed by a credible witness, that on one occasion messengers came fifteen days' journey from a distant province to see if there were such a phenomenon as Dyaks living in comfort.


Mr. Brooke soon found that all his efforts for internal reform must be in a comparative sense futile so long as piracy, that curse of Borneo, was permitted to ravage unchecked. "It is in a Malay's nature," says the Dutch proverb, "to rove on the seas in his prahu, as it is in that of the Arab to wander with his steed on the sands of the desert." No person who has not investigated the subject can appreciate how wide-spread and deep-seated this plague of piracy is. The mere statistics are appalling. It was estimated, in 1840, that one hundred thousand men made freebooting their trade. One single chief had under control seven hundred prahus. Whole tribes, whole groups of islands, almost whole races, despising even the semblance of honest industry, depended upon rapine for a livelihood. "It is difficult to catch fish, but it is easy to catch Borneans," said the Soloo pirates scornfully; and, acting upon that principle, they fitted out their fleets and planned their voyages with all the method of honest tradesmen.

This piracy was divided into two branches,--coastwise piracy and piracy on the broad seas. The Sea Dyaks built boats called bangkongs, sixty to a hundred feet long, narrow and sharp, propelled by thirty to fifty oars, and so swift that nothing but a steamer could overtake them. These freebooters were the terror of all honest laborers and tradesmen. Skulking along the coast, pushing up rivers and creeks, landing anywhere and every where without warning, they mercilessly destroyed the native villages and swept the inhabitants into captivity. Or else, impelling with the force of fifty men their snaky craft, which were swift as race-boats and noiseless as beasts of prey, they would surprise at dead of night some defenceless merchantman, overwhelm their victims with showers of spears, and with morning light a plundered boat, a few dead bodies, were the silent witnesses of their ferocity. On the other hand, the Illanum and Balanini tribes, infesting the islands to the northeast of Borneo, undertook far grander enterprises. Putting to sea, prepared for a long voyage, in fleets of two or three hundred prahus, propelled by wind and oars, armed with brass cannon, and manned by ten thousand bold buccaneers, they swept through the whole length of the Chinese Sea, and, turning the southernmost point of Borneo, penetrated the straits and sounds between Java and Celebes, never stopping in their ruthless course until they came face to face with the sturdy pirates of New Guinea, and returned, after a voyage of ten thousand miles and an absence of two years, laden with spoils and captives. How hapless was the fate of the poor Dyak! If he stayed at home, cultivating his fields, his Malay lord fleeced him to the skin. If, thinking to engage in gainful traffic, he hugged the shore with his little bark, the river-pirate snatched him up. If he stood out upon the broad waters, he could scarcely hope to escape the Northern hordes who swarmed in every sea.

Mr. Brooke's most terrible assailants were the Sakarran and Sarebus pirates, two tribes of freebooters whose seats of power were on the Sarebus and Batang Lupar rivers, two streams fifty or sixty miles east of Sarawak. These tribes were encouraged and secretly helped by his own Malay chiefs, and insolently defied his power, continuing their depredations, capturing every vessel which ventured out, and ravaging all the adjacent coasts. The strength of these confederacies was so great, that it was no unusual thing for them to muster a hundred war-boats; and they had built, on the banks of the rivers which they infested, strong forts at every point which commanded the channel. That the new Rajah was not able with his slender resources to curb these sea-robbers is not surprising. The only wonder is, that he was able to protect his own capital from the assaults which they often threatened but never dared to attempt.

But efficient aid was at hand. In the summer of 1843 the British ship Dido anchored off the entrance of Sarawak River. She was commissioned to suppress piracy in and about the Chinese Sea. Her commander readily entered into the views of the English Rajah. A boat expedition against the strongholds of the Sarebus pirates was projected. Mr. Brooke assisted with seven hundred Dyaks. A curious incident occurred, showing how clearly the natives appreciated their dependence on their English friend. When he asked their chiefs if they would aid him, they besought him not to risk his life in so desperate an enterprise. But when he assured them that his purpose was fixed, that he should go, alone if necessary, they replied: "What is the use of our remaining behind? You die, we die; you live, we live. We will go too." The expedition was perfectly successful. Three fortified villages were stormed, many guns spiked, many boats destroyed, and their defenders driven to the jungles. This chastisement not sufficing, in the following year another expedition from the same vessel attacked the Sakarran pirates and inflicted upon them a punishment even more severe than that which had fallen to the lot of their Sarebus brethren. Six forts, one mounting fifty-six guns, scores of war-boats, and more than a thousand huts, were burned. These lessons, though sharp, did not permanently subdue.

The blow which broke the power of these confederacies was inflicted in 1849. News came to Sarawak that the pirates had put to sea, marking their course by fearful atrocities. At once Mr. Brooke applied to the English Admiral for assistance, and the steamer Nemesis was despatched to the scene of action. The Rajah joined her with eighteen war-boats, to which were afterwards added eleven hundred Dyaks, in their bangkongs. On the 31st of July, at night, they encountered the great war-fleet of the Sarebus and Sakarran pirates, numbering one hundred and fifty bangkongs, returning home laden with plunder. The pirates found the entrances of the river occupied by their enemies,--the English, Malay, and Dyak forces being placed in three detachments, while the Nemesis was fully prepared to assist whenever the attack should begin. "Then there was a dead silence, broken only by three strokes of a gong, which called the pirates to a council of war. A few minutes afterwards a fearful yell gave notice of their advance, and the fleet approached in two divisions. In the dead of the night there ensued a terrible scene. The pirates fought bravely, but they could not withstand the superior forces of their enemy. Their boats were upset by the paddles of the steamer. They were hemmed in on every side, and five hundred men were killed sword in hand, while twenty-five hundred escaped to the jungles, many of them to perish. The morning light showed a sad spectacle of ruin and defeat. Upwards of eighty prahus and bangkongs were captured, and many more destroyed." The English officers would have gladly saved life; but the pirates would take no quarter, and the prisoners were few. It was a striking fact, that one of the war-boats under Mr. Brooke was manned by some thirty Malays, every one of whom had lost during the year a near relative, killed by these same pirates. The confederacy has never risen from this defeat, and for years the tribes composing it have returned to the labors of peaceful life. Writing twelve months afterwards to a friend, Rajah Brooke says: "Pray keep the 31st of July apart for a special bumper, for during the last year not a single innocent life has been taken by these pirates, nor a single prahu fallen into their hands." Many a victory, famous in story, has accomplished less.

The next year a fleet of sixty-four prahus, manned by northern pirates, and carrying 1224 guns, was destroyed by British gunboats in the Gulf of Tonquin. This was followed by an attack of the Spaniards upon the haunts of the Soloo pirates. A lull ensued. For three or four years almost nothing was heard of freebooting; but it was a deceitful calm, not a final cessation of the storm. The freebooting spirit was not taken out of the blood of the Malay. Now piracy is said to be on the increase again. Only three years since six Balanini pirates had the audacity to sail into Sarawak Bay and commence depredations along its coasts. But not one returned to tell the tale. The whole six were captured or destroyed, and their crews killed or taken prisoners. The only permanent remedy for the evil is just, settled, and efficient government, such as has been established at Sarawak, destroying not simply the fleets, but breaking up the piratical haunts, and with firm hand forcing their people back into the habits and pursuits of civilized life.


Being delivered for a time at least from these perils, the new Rajah was at liberty to devote himself to the welfare of his subjects. It is not possible, in a brief notice, even to hint at all the events and efforts of the next fifteen years of his government,--to say how he repressed the cupidity and lawlessness of the Malay chiefs; how he encouraged and protected the poor Dyaks; how he opened new channels for trade; how, from year to year, he resisted the fierce pirates, who, coming from the neighboring islands with strong fleets, sought to sweep the adjacent seas. Of course the prime need was to restore confidence, and to assure to all honest workers, of every race, the gains of their industry. The first question, indeed, of the Chinese emigrant was, "Will you protect us, or will our plantations, so soon as they are worth anything, be stripped by your chiefs?" It has been beautiful to behold order coming out of chaos, peace out of violence, whole districts redeemed from anarchy, simply by giving efficient support to the orderly part of the population. Another object of not less importance was to create in this people something of the feeling of nationality, and to make them comprehend that they were citizens, with the duties of citizens. It certainly was no easy task to awaken much of the sentiment of lofty patriotism in the minds of those whose only common memories were of lawless misrule and oppression. Every possible effort has been made in this direction. The struggle has been, not to plant an English colony, but to create a Bornean state. The laws are not English, nor built upon English precedents. They are simply the old Bornean statutes, made conformable to the principles of equity, and administered with just regard to the customs and traditions of the people. The offices of government are filled to the least possible degree with foreigners; while native chiefs and even reclaimed pirates are associated with them, and thus habituated to all the forms of a civilized state. Mr. Brooke, with a rare courage and wisdom, has always trusted for his safety to the good-will of his native subjects. He has never been sustained by mercenary bands. At a time when piratical violence was most threatening, when disorders were yet rife in his own state, and when his subjects but poorly appreciated his benevolent purposes towards them, his whole English force was twenty-four men. It is pleasant to add, that this confidence was not misplaced. A younger generation is now springing up, with larger views of life, and with a better appreciation of the workings and value of equitable government. To sum up all in a brief sentence, it may be said with truth that the administration has been marked by rare sagacity, firmness, and comprehensiveness of view, and that it has been crowned with success.

In 1845, Mr. Brooke came for the first time into official relations with the British government, by accepting the office of confidential agent in Borneo. We have already alluded to his warm love of his native country. As early as 1841, he had expressed a willingness to sacrifice his large outlays, and to relinquish all his rights and interests to the crown, if a guaranty could be given that piracy would be checked and the native races protected in all their proper rights and privileges. He accepted gladly, therefore, a post which promised to increase his power to benefit his people, and entered upon its duties with vigor. Immediately upon his appointment, he was requested to make investigations as to the existence of a harbor fit for the shelter and victualling of ships bound from Hong-Kong to Singapore. He reported that Labuan, a small island north of Borneo, was in every way suitable; that it was about equidistant from the two parts; that it had a fine harbor, or rather roadstead; that it was healthy; that it abounded in coal of the best quality; that, finally, the Sultan stood pledged to convey it upon reasonable terms.

But before legal papers could be drawn, the whole policy of the court of Bruni had changed. The Sultan was a monarch with "the head of an idiot and the heart of a pirate." All his sympathies were with violence and robbery. Under the influence of others, he had agreed to use his power against piracy, and had even been brought to say, in fawning phrase, that "he wanted the English near to him." But he suddenly repented of his good purposes. In a fit of Oriental fickleness he caused Muda Hassim and all who favored the English alliance to be put to death, despatched a messenger secretly to administer poison to Mr. Brooke, and entered into even closer friendship than before with the piratical tribes. A confidential servant of Pangeran Budrudeen, the brother of Muda Hassim, with difficulty escaped, and fled to Sarawak. He related that his master had bravely resisted, but, overpowered by numbers and desperately wounded, had committed to his charge a ring, bidding him deliver it to Rajah Brooke as a dying memento, and to tell him that he died faithful to his pledges to the Queen; then, setting fire to a keg of powder, he blew himself with his family into the air.

These tidings filled Mr. Brooke with grief and indignation. Every passion of his fiery and energetic nature was aroused. He repaired on board the British fleet, which, upon receipt of this news, had put into Sarawak. Without delay the fleet sailed for Bruni. An immediate explanation was demanded of the Sultan. The reply was a volley from the forts which commanded the river. Without ceremony the ships returned the fire. In a brief time these strongholds were stormed, and Bruni itself was at the mercy of the enemy. The Sultan fled to the swamps. Sailing out of Borneo River, the fleet swept along the whole northern coast, taking in rapid succession the forts of the Illanum pirates who had instigated the murders at Bruni, and inflicting upon them a signal chastisement.

By this time the Sultan wearied of jungles and sighed for his palace. He wrote a cringing letter, promising amendment, agreeing to ratify all his former engagements, and as a sign of his true penitence was ready even to pay royal honors to the memory of the men whom he had slain. There was no further difficulty in respect to the cession of Labuan, and it was taken possession of December 24, 1846,--Mr. Brooke being appointed governor. It is said that the possession of this island goes far to make England mistress of the Chinese Sea,--a statement easily to be credited by any one conversant with English policy. At any rate, he who observes how, at apparently insignificant stations,--on little islands, on a marshy peninsula,--mere dots on the map,--England has established her commercial depots,--at Hong-Kong in the north, at Labuan in the centre, and at Singapore in the south,--will gain new respect for the sagacity which in the councils of the mother country always lurks behind the red-tapism of which we hear so much.


After an absence of nine years, Rajah Brooke revisited England in the year 1847. He was the hero of the hour. Every honor was showered upon him. He was invited to visit Windsor Castle, received the freedom of London, and then or soon after was knighted. Owing to his representations of the readiness of the Dyaks to receive instruction, a meeting was held in London, at which funds were obtained to build a church and school-houses. Two missionaries and their families were sent to Sarawak. The buildings were erected long since, and these Christian means are in full activity. Brooke's language upon the proper qualifications of a missionary exhibits in a striking light his straightforward resolution and enlarged liberality. "Above all things, I beg of you to save us from such a one as some of the committee desire to see at Sarawak. Zealots, and intolerants, and enthusiasts, who begin the task of tuition by a torrent of abuse against all that their pupils hold sacred, shall not come to Sarawak. Whilst our endeavors to convert the natives are conducted with charity, I am a warm friend of the mission. But whenever there is a departure from the only visible means God has placed at our disposal,--time, reason, patience,--and the Christian faith is to be heralded in its introduction by disturbances and heart-burnings and bloodshed, I want it not; and you are quite at liberty to say, that I would rather that the mission were withdrawn."


About the year 1850, Mr. Brooke became the object of a virulent attack, continued several years, both in the public prints and in Parliament. Prompted originally by the petty malice of those whose tool for the advancement of their personal schemes he had refused to become, this attack was taken up by a few persons of influence, who seem to have misunderstood utterly both his character and work. He has been termed a mere adventurer. He has been accused of avarice, of wringing from the natives great sums, and receiving from England large salaries as Consul at Borneo and as Governor of Labuan. It has been asserted that he has been guilty of wholesale slaughter of the innocent, interfering with tribal wars under the pretence of extirpating piracy. None of these charges have been sustained. On the contrary, it has been conclusively shown that he has sunk more than L20,000 of his private fortune in this enterprise. The piracy, so mildly called intertribal war, is undoubtedly robbery, both on the sea and on the land, and conducted with all fitting accompaniments of cruelty and bloodshed. This persecution has not been borne by its object with much patience, and, indeed, like Rob Roy's Highlander, "he does not seem to be famous for that gude gift." "I am no tame lion to be cowed by a pack of hounds. These intertribal wars are such as the wolf wages against the lamb. I should like to ask the most peaceable man in England what he would do if a horde of bandits frequently burst forth from Brest and Cherbourg, ravaging the shores of the Channel, and carrying women and children into captivity, with the heads of their decapitated husbands and fathers? Would he preach? Would he preach when he saw his daughter dishonored and his son murdered? And then would he proclaim his shame and cowardice among men? What do some gentlemen expect? They particularly desire to suppress piracy. Do they really imagine that piracy is to be suppressed by argument and preaching?"

Mr. Brooke's enemies have three times pressed their accusations before the House of Commons, and three times have been defeated by overwhelming majorities,--the last vote being 230 to 19. Finally, to end the controversy, a royal commission was appointed to visit the scene of these transactions, and upon the spot to decide their merits. The report of this commission has not reached us, if indeed it has ever been made public; but the practical results of it are certain. Mr. Brooke has severed his official connection with the British government by a resignation of the offices which he held under it; while he retains his sovereignty at Sarawak, with the undiminished love of his subjects and an unimpaired influence over the native tribes. There seems to be no doubt that the intelligent public opinion of England fully sustains him. And it is safe to predict that with that opinion the final verdict of history will coincide. That, placed in circumstances of great difficulty, he may have taken steps not to be squared with the nicest morality, is possible; for that is what must be said of every man who has borne the burden of great public responsibility. Neither is it surprising that a man of such boldness of speech and such almost Cromwellian vigor in action should have enemies; that is a necessity. But that he has been a true and sagacious friend of the natives, and that his career has been for the increase of human happiness, are facts as certain as any can be.

His best defence is his works. In 1842, when he took the government of Sarawak, it was a feeble province, torn by dissension, crushed by slavery, and ravaged by lawless violence. Now it is a peaceful, prosperous commonwealth. In 1842, its capital, Kuching, was a wretched village, whose houses were miserable mud huts or tents of leaves, and containing but fifteen hundred inhabitants. Now it numbers fifteen thousand,--an increase almost rivalling that of our Western cities. In 1842, no boat put to sea without terror. As a result, the amount of trade was contemptible. Now Sarawak has enterprising native merchants, owning vessels of two hundred tons, having regular transactions with Singapore and all the neighboring ports. This trade, as early as 1853, employed twenty-five thousand tons of shipping, and the exports for the year were valued at more than a million of dollars. In 1842, deaths by violence were of almost daily occurrence. Twelve years later, a resident could boast that for three years only one person had lost his life by other than natural causes. How would American cities appear in comparison with this poor Dyak and heathen metropolis? Well does Rajah Brooke proudly ask, "Could such success spring from a narrow and sordid policy?" Mrs. McDougall, the missionary's wife, says: "We have now a beautiful church at Sarawak, and the bell calls us there to worship every morning at six, and at five every evening. Neither is there anything in this quiet, happy place to prevent our thus living in God's presence."

Mrs. McDougall adds a story which shows the estimation in which the natives hold their Rajah. "Pa Jenna paid me a visit at Sarawak. The Rajah was then in England. But Pa Jenna, coming into my sitting-room, immediately espied his picture hanging against the wall. I was much struck with the expression of respect which both the face and attitude of this untutored savage assumed as he stood before the picture. He raised his handkerchief from his head, and, saluting the picture with a bow, such as a Roman Catholic would make to his patron saint's altar, whispered to himself, 'Our great Rajah.'" And this man was a reclaimed pirate.

This reverential love of the natives is the one thing which does not admit of a doubt. The proofs are constant and irresistible. Some years since a lady with a few attendants was pushing her boat up a Bornean river, many leagues away from Sarawak, when she encountered a wild Dyak tribe on a warlike expedition. The sight of more than a hundred half-naked savages, crowning a little knoll which jutted into the river a half-dozen rods in advance of her boat, dancing frantically like maniacs, brandishing their long knives, and yelling all the while like demons, was not cheering. Yet at the sight of the Sarawak flag raised at the bow of the boat, every demonstration of hostility ceased. She was overpowered by their noisy welcome, and received from them the kindest attention. A dozen years ago, at the very time that the accusations of cruelty and wholesale slaughter of innocent people were most recklessly made, a party of Englishmen, and among them the adopted son of the Rajah, went on an exploring expedition to the extreme northeast corner of Borneo, more than six hundred miles from Sarawak. While they were seated one evening around their fire, the whole air resounded with the cries, "Tuan Brooke! Tuan Brooke!" and presently the natives drew near and expressed their joy at seeing a son of the great Rajah, and wondering that he who had so blessed the southern Dyaks did not extend his protection to their northern brethren. One anecdote more. During the Chinese insurrection, of which we shall soon speak, a Malay chief, fighting desperately against the insurgents, was mortally wounded, only lingering long enough to be assured of the Rajah's victory, and to exclaim with his dying breath, "I would rather be in hell with the English, than in heaven with my own countrymen."


The loyalty of the native population was thoroughly tested in the year 1857. It was the time of the second British war against China. Now the Chinese are in one sense the most cosmopolitan of races. Wherever bread is to be won, or gold amassed, there they go, thus becoming scattered all through Southeastern Asia and the adjoining islands. In one aspect they are a great blessing. They are a most laborious and thrifty race, of almost incalculable benefit in the development of the material resources of a country. But in some respects they are also an element of danger. They never identify themselves with the country in which they dwell. They simply come to get a living out of it. They band themselves in secret societies or other exclusive organizations, and seem to get no real love for the land which gives them bread, or the people among whom they live. Under a peaceful rule, this race had greatly multiplied at Sarawak. Some branches of industry had indeed almost fallen into their hands. Especially in all mining operations was their help a positive necessity. For the Dyak, though industrious enough on his little plantation, will not work, except on compulsion, in the mines. These places are bitter to him with the memory of forced labor and unrequited misery. Besides, he believes that the bowels of the earth are filled with demons, and no amount of pay gives him courage to face these. As a result, the conduct of the mines was left to the Chinese, and they were unwisely permitted to work them in large companies of several hundred, under their own overseers. This gave them the advantages of a compact organization: to a dangerous degree they became a state within the state.

When the war in China broke out, the Chinese residents at Sarawak, sympathizing with their countrymen, were naturally greatly excited; and when tidings came that the English fleet had been repulsed from before the Canton forts, they were emboldened to take the desperate step of attempting to put to death or to drive out of the country Rajah Brooke and the rest of the English people, that they themselves might take possession of it. About dusk on a February night, six hundred of them gathered under their chiefs, armed themselves, went on board cargo-boats, and began to float down the river towards the capital. At midnight they attacked the Rajah's house. Its inmates were forced to flee to the jungles. The Rajah rose from a sick-bed, ran to the banks of the stream, dove under one of the Chinese boats, swam the river, and took refuge with the Malays. Several of his countrymen were murdered. His own house, filled with the priceless collections of a lifetime, together with a costly library, was burned.

It was a gloomy morning which succeeded the night of this catastrophe. Though he did not doubt for a moment the ultimate suppression of the rebellion, what ruin might not be wrought in the few days or weeks which should elapse before that event! And where, now that he had been driven from his capital, he should find a base of operations to which he might gather the scattered native forces, was the perplexing question of the hour,--when, joyful sight, he beheld a merchant steamer sailing up the river! He hailed her, went on board, and with a sufficient force steamed up to Sarawak. With his appearance the last vestige of hope for the insurrection disappeared.

Meanwhile stirring events had taken place. At first the natives were stunned. They were roused at dead of night, to find the Chinese in possession of the town, their Rajah's house in flames, the Rajah missing, while the rumor was that he had been killed. For a time they wandered about listlessly, vacantly staring each other in the face, and it seemed as though they were about to submit without a struggle. In the midst of this gloom and uncertainty, up spoke a Malay trader, whose veins, despite his peaceful occupation, were full of the old pirate blood: "Are we going to submit to be governed by these Chinese, or are we going to be faithful to our Rajah? I am no talker, but I will never be governed by any but him, and to-night I commence war to the knife with his enemies." This broke the spell. Both Malays and Dyaks, in city and country alike, rose _en masse_, and after a severe fight, prolonged till the reappearance of Mr. Brooke, drove the Chinese to the forests, and pursued them with unrelenting fury. Many of the insurgents perished by the sword. Many more wandered about till they died of starvation. Some threw themselves down in their tracks, expiring from fatigue and utter wretchedness. Some hung themselves to escape their misery. In despair and exasperation, they even turned their arms against each other. Of the six hundred who made the original attack, sixty escaped. Of the four thousand who composed the Chinese population, a forlorn and wearied remnant of two thousand took refuge in the Dutch part of the island. This lamentable destruction was the result neither of the order nor the permission of the Rajah. It was accomplished by the unreasoning fury of an outraged people. In a few days the formidable insurrection was ended. The places of the insurgents were filled as rapidly as they had been vacated. Scarcely a trace was left of the ravages of the rebellion; and it accomplished nothing, save to convince all doubters that the government of the province rested, as all stable government must rest, on the good-will of the subject.

At the height of the insurrection a striking incident occurred. While their brethren were being hurled in utter confusion across the Dutch borders, several hundred Chinese fled from those very Dutch territories and sought refuge in Sarawak. Though harassed by care, the Rajah did not neglect their appeal, but sent trustworthy men, who piloted them safely through the incensed Dyaks, who on their part by no means appreciated the virtue of such a step, but thought rather that every man "who wore a tail" ought to be put to death, though they bowed to the better judgment of their chief.


The latest accounts represent the province as continuing in a state of unabated prosperity. Its bounds, by more recent cessions, have been so largely increased, that its shore line is now three hundred miles long, and the whole population of the state two hundred and fifty thousand. The haunts of the Sarebus and Sakarran pirates are included in the new limits; and these once-dreaded freebooters have learned the habits of honest industry. Indeed, during the days of the insurrection the state found no more faithful or courageous defenders than they, although their old corsair blood was visible in the relentless tenacity with which they tracked the flying foe. Sir James Brooke, with increasing years, has retired somewhat from the active care of the government, leaving the conduct of affairs very much to his nephew, Captain Brooke, whom he has designated as his heir and successor, and who is represented as being also heir in a large degree to his uncle's principles, courage, and sagacity.

Rajah Brooke sought persistently for many years to give perpetuity to his life's work by placing Sarawak under British protection. He made repeated offers to surrender to the Queen all right and title which he had acquired, on any terms which would secure the welfare of the natives. But these offers have been definitely rejected; the seeming protection which Sarawak enjoyed through the position of its ruler as Governor of Labuan has been withdrawn, and the little state left to work out unaided its destiny. What shall be the final fate of this interesting experiment, whether there shall arise successors to the founder wise enough to maintain the government so bravely established, or whether the infant state shall perish with the man who called it into existence, and become only a memory, it is impossible to foretell; but, living or dead, its annals will always be a noble monument to him whose force of character and undaunted persistency created it.


The earlier portraits we have of Rajah Brooke depict him as a man of a peculiarly frank, open, and pleasing exterior, yet with a countenance marked by intelligence, thought, and energy; but underneath all a certain dreaminess of expression, found often in the faces of those born for adventure and to seek for the enterprise of their age fresh fields, new El Dorados hidden in strange lands and unfamiliar seas.

The later portraits give us a face, plain, sagacious, yet full of an expression of kindly benevolence. The exigencies of a busy life have transformed romance into reality and common-sense; the adventurer and knight-errant has but obeyed the law of his age, and become a noble example of the power of the Anglo-Saxon mind to organize in the face of adverse circumstances a state, and to construct out of most unpromising elements the good fabric of orderly social life.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).