Brooke, James (DNB00)

BROOKE, Sir JAMES (1803–1868), rájá of Saráwak, second son of Thomas Brooke, of the Bengal civil service, was born at Benares, and was educated at the grammar school at Norwich, under Mr. Edward Valpy, a brother of the famous Dr. Valpy of Reading. During Brooke's school days Dr. Samuel Parr, who at one time had been the headmaster, was a frequent visitor at the school. 'Old Crome' was the drawing master, while Sir Archdale Wilson, the captor of Delhi in 1857, and George Borrow were among Brooke's schoolfellows. He was a boy of marked generosity, truthfulness, and daring. On one occasion he saved the life of a school-fellow who had fallen into the river Wensum. He ended his school life somewhat abruptly by running away, and at the age of sixteen was appointed a cadet of infantry in Bengal. After serving for three years with a native infantry regiment, he was appointed to the commissariat; and on the outbreak of the first war with Burma, he formed and drilled a body of native volunteer cavalry, which he commanded in an action at Rangpur in Assam, receiving on that occasion a wound in the lungs, which led to his being invalided home with a wound pension of 70l. a year. After an absence of upwards of four years he returned to India; but being unable, owing to an unusually long voyage, to reach Bengal within the prescribed period of five years, he resigned the East India Company's service in 1830, returning to England in the ship in which he had gone out, and visiting, in the course of his voyage, the Straits settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, China, and Sumatra. During this voyage he seems to have formed the projects which determined his subsequent career. Returning to Bath, where his family resided, in the latter part of 1831, he remained in England until 1834, when he purchased a small brig, and made a voyage to China. In the following year his father died, and Brooke, having inherited a fortune of 30,000l., purchased a schooner of 142 tons, in which, after a trip to the Mediterranean, he sailed on 16 Dec. 1838 for Borneo.

Brooke's motives in undertaking this voyage appear to have been partly love of adventure, and largely the desire to introduce commerce, as well as British ascendency, into Borneo. A memorandum which he wrote upon the subject before starting upon the expedition will be found in a compilation of his private letters, edited by a friend. After a short halt at Singapore, Brooke proceeded in his yacht to Saráwak, on the north-west coast of Borneo, landing at Kuching, the chief town, on 15 Aug. 1839. Saráwak—a tract of country measuring at that time about sixty miles in length by fifty in breadth, but since considerably enlarged by territorial additions made during the lifetime of Brooke—was then subject to the Malay sultan of Brunei, the nominal ruler of the whole of the island, except a part in the south, which had come into the possession of the Dutch. At the time of Brooke's arrival a rebellion was in progress, induced by the tyranny of the officials of the sultan, who had recently deputed his uncle, Muda Hassim, to assume the government and to restore order. Brooke was courteously received by Muda Hassim. His first visit was short; but he seems to have then laid the foundations of the influence which he subsequently acquired over the inhabitants, including the Malay governor, Muda Hassim. On this occasion he surveyed 150 miles of coast, visited many of the rivers, and established a friendly intercourse with the Malay tribes on the coast, spending ten days among a tribe of Dayáks, the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. In the latter part of the same year he visited the island of Celebes. He there astonished the inhabitants, the Bujis—a race much addicted to field sports—by his horsemanship and skill in shooting.

Revisiting Saráwak in the autumn of 1840, Brooke took an active part in the suppression of the rebellion, which was still going on, impressing the natives by his gallantry and readiness of resource, and so entirely gaining the confidence of Muda Hassim that the latter voluntarily offered him the government of the country, which he assumed on 24 Sept. 1841. In July of the following year he repaired to Brunei, and obtained from the sultan the confirmation of his appointment as rájá of Saráwak, in which office he was formally installed at Kuching on 18 Aug. 1842. Sir Spenser St. John's 'Life of Brooke' gives a graphic account of the installation, which very nearly became a scene of bloodshed, owing to the excitement of some of the followers of the late rájá, and their animosity towards a chief named Makota, whose tyranny had done much to bring about the rebellion, and who had obstructed Brooke in his efforts to reduce the country to order, and to improve the administration (Spenser St. John, Life of Sir James Brooke, 1879, p. 70).

Brooke's administrative reforms were very simple, but thoroughly well suited to the people. One of the causes of the rebellion had been a system of forced trade, under which the inhabitants were compelled to buy at a fixed, and often an exorbitant, price, commodities sold to them by the chiefs. In default of payment their sons and daughters, and often their parents as well, were carried off as slaves. Brooke substituted for the forced trade a simple system of taxation in kind, and did what he could to abolish interference with the personal liberty of the people. He administered justice himself, with the aid of some of the chief persons of the country; his court, which was a long room in his own house, being essentially an open one, while he was accessible to any one who wished to see him at nearly all hours of the day. By the Dayáks he was speedily regarded with sentiments of reverence and affection. Their favourite saying was: 'The son of Europe is the friend of the Dayák.' In the earlier years of his residence at Saráwak Brooke was almost alone. His followers were a coloured interpreter from Malacca, useful, but not very trustworthy; a servant who could neither read nor write; a shipwrecked Irishman, brave, but not otherwise useful; and a doctor who never learnt the language of the country.

The suppression of piracy in the Malayan Archipelago does not appear to have been among Brooke's first objects, but it formed one of the main achievements of his useful life. In Borneo piracy had been the common pursuit of the tribes along the coast from time immemorial. It was resorted to in Borneo, not only for purposes of plunder, but for the possession of human heads, for which there was a passion among the Dayáks and among many of the tribes in the archipelago. Brooke had become aware of the practice at an early period of his residence in Saráwak, and had done what he could to impress the chief people of the country with its enormity; but it was not until 1843 that he was in a position to take an active part in its suppression. Early in that year he made the acquaintance, at Singapore, of Captain the Hon. Henry Keppel (now (1886) Admiral the Hon. Sir Henry Keppel, G.C.B.), then commanding H.M.S. Dido, with whom he speedily contracted a mutual and lasting friendship. Returning to Saráwak in the Dido, in company with Keppel, he joined in an expedition against the most formidable of the piratical hordes, the Malays and Dayáks of the Seribas river, taking with him as a contingent a number of war-boats manned by natives of Saráwak. The expedition was extremely successful. The pirates were attacked in their strongholds on the banks of the river by the boats of the Dido and the Saráwak war-boats, and compelled to undertake to abandon piracy. In the following year he was again associated with Keppel in an attack upon the pirates of the Sakarran river, which, though inflicting heavy loss upon the pirates, was attended with severe fighting and some loss to the assailants. Captain Sir Edward Belcher, Captain Rodney Mundy, Captain Grey, and Captain Farquhar were all at different times employed in conjunction with Brooke in operations against the pirates. The last of these operations, which took place in 1849, and dealt a crushing blow to piracy in that part of the Bornean seas, was made the ground of a series of charges of cruel and illegal conduct, preferred against Brooke in the House of Commons by Mr. Hume, and supported by Mr. Cobden, and in some degree by Mr. Gladstone, who, while eulogising Brooke's character, voted for an inquiry into the charges, on the ground that the work of destruction had been promiscuous, and to some extent illegal. The motion for inquiry was discountenanced by the government of the day, that of Lord John Russell, and was rejected by a large majority of the house, Lord Palmerston declaring that Brooke 'retired from the investigation with untarnished character and unblemished honour.' The attacks, however, being continued, the government of Lord Aberdeen subsequently granted a commission of inquiry, which sat at Singapore, but failed to establish any of the charges of inhumanity or illegality which had been made against Brooke.

In 1847 Brooke revisited England, where he met with a most gratifying reception. He was invited by the queen to Windsor, and was treated with great consideration by the leading statesmen of the day, as well as by various public bodies. London conferred upon him the freedom of the city, and Oxford the honorary degree of D.C.L. In connection with his visit to Windsor, it is related that the queen, having inquired how he found it so easy to manage so many thousands of wild Borneans, Brooke replied: 'I find it easier to govern thirty thousand Malays and Dayáks than to manage a dozen of your majesty's subjects.' On his return to Borneo he was appointed British commissioner and consul-general in that island, as well as governor of Labuan, which the sultan of Brunei had ceded to the British crown. He was also created a K.C.B.

The commission of inquiry not only caused Brooke very great annoyance, but for a time introduced some embarrassment into his relations with the natives under his rule, who not unnaturally conceived the impression that he had forfeited the favour of his own government. The incident is also generally regarded as having, in combination with other circumstances, had some connection with a very serious outbreak on the part of the Chinese immigrants into Saráwak, in which Brooke narrowly escaped being murdered. This outbreak occurred in 1857, when the Chinese, having formed a plot to kill Brooke and the other Englishmen serving under him, attacked the government house and other English residences, and murdered several of the English. Brooke escaped in the darkness by jumping into the river, diving under the bow of a Chinese barge, and swimming to the other side. After having occupied the capital for a few days, and destroyed a good deal of property, including the rájá's house and his valuable library, the Chinese retired, followed by a large body of Malays and Dayáks, who stood by their rájá, and, intercepting the Chinese in their retreat, destroyed a considerable number of them. The attitude of the Malays and Dayáks on this occasion furnished a signal proof of the affection and confidence with which Brooke had inspired the great majority of his native subjects.

Brooke finally left Saráwak in 1863. Shortly after his return to England a wish long cherished by him, that the British government should recognise his territory as an independent state, was gratified, and a consul was appointed to represent British interests. He died at Burrator in Devonshire in 1868, at the age of sixty-five, after a series of paralytic attacks, brought on doubtless by the fatigues and exposure of a laborious and adventurous life, spent, the greater part of it, in a tropical climate. He was succeeded as rájá by his nephew, Mr. Charles Johnson, who had previously assumed the name of Brooke, and under whose firm but benevolent government, based upon the principles introduced by his illustrious relative, Saráwak, now comprising a territory of 28,000 square miles and a population of a quarter of a million, is a flourishing settlement. Trade has expanded, agriculture is advancing, piracy and head-hunting have been rooted out, education is in demand, and, as a result of the efforts of Christian missionaries, Saráwak now numbers nearly three thousand native Christians. When this state of things is compared with that which existed on the north coast of Borneo less than half a century ago, it will readily be admitted that among the benefactors of humanity a high place must be accorded to Sir James Brooke.

[Sarawak, 1876; Spenser St. John's Life of Sir James Brooke, 1879; Private Letters of Sir James Brooke (edit. John C. Templer), 1853; Captain Mundy's Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes, 1848; Ann. Reg. 1851, pp. 135, 136; Quarterly Review, vols.lxxxiii., cxi.; S. P. G. Report, 1884; Harriette McDougall's Sketches of our Life at Saráwak, London.]

A. J. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.37
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