Friday, September 23, 2011

The Adventures of Young James Brooke (Part 1)

Many Sarawakians and friends of Sarawak may know the story of Sarawak under the Brooke family. Even those who didn't pay much attention in class back in their schooldays would vaguely remember being told that it all started in 1839. That was when the English adventurer James Brooke sailed up the Sarawak River and first sighted the rows of attap houses that make up the city now called Kuching. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, I have often wondered about the story of James Brooke BEFORE that time ... What was he like as a child? Where did he live? What were his parents like? What kind of early education did he receive? What about his social life? Any girlfriends or boyfriends? What about the time he spent in India and England and Burma (where he fought and was wounded) and other parts he spent time in before he came to Sarawak?

I'm talking about the story before the story we all knew. In Hollywood terms, I believe it's known as a prequel. They did it for Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes, Bruce Lee  ... so why not Mr Brooke? 

So I have started a bit of research on this, and over a series of postings I'd like to share what I have found so far. I'll also need your help. I welcome any new information you have come across on this theme, so that together we may piece together what could be a most interesting story.

Anyway let's begin ...

Childhood in India

James Brooke was born on 29 April 1803 in Secrore, a suburb of Benares in India. He was the second son of English judge (of the High Court of India) Thomas Brooke, and Anna Maria Stuart, who was born in Hertfordshire. She was the illegitimate daughter of Scottish peer Colonel William Stuart, 9th Lord Blantyre, and his mistress Harriott Teasdale.

James Brooke lived in India for the first 12 years of his life. I am still looking for details of his childhood life here, which I reckon would be pretty comfortable given his father's status. I will try to delve into this in more detail in a future posting.

Anyway at age 12, he was sent back to attend school in England. 

James Brooke in School

So it was around 1815 that James Brooke started school at Norwich Grammar School (see map above to locate Norwich).  The school is a very old one and still there, apparently doing quite well. 

This is the school crest. You can find out more about Norwich School by clicking on HERE or THERE..

The school boasts some fine architecture. Below you see the school chapel, which I believe was already there during James Brooke's time.

Norwich School Chapel

Norwich Grammar School is closely associated with Norwich Cathedral
(original construction of which began in 1096, was completed in 1145,
and the final stone spire was erected in 1480)

At the time the headmaster was 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.

Among James Brooke's schoolmates was Sir Archdale Wilson, the captor of Delhi in 1857 (link to this SITE for something on their comradeship), and George Borrow, English author of novels and travelogues.

James Brooke was a boy of marked generosity, truthfulness, and courage. Apparently on one occasion he saved the life of a school-fellow who had fallen into the river Wensum.

However the young James obviously didn't like school much. He ended his school life somewhat abruptly by running away.

I can't find any records of exactly how long he stayed at Norwich School but it seems that he did not stay long - perhaps 2 years at most. We do know that at age sixteen, he was appointed a cadet of infantry in Bengal. It is also mentioed in some writings that he was tutored at home in Bath (see later) for a while after he left school.

After Norwich Grammar School, records show that James also attended Honourable East India Company Military School, Addiscombe, Surrey. This was probably the preparatory training required for his intended military career.

James Brooke the Soldier

Brooke joined the army in India on 5 May 1819, as an Ensign to the 2/6th BNI. He transferred to the 18th BNI in 1824, was promoted to Lieutenant in the 6th BNI on 25 August 1821, and to Assistant Commissary-Gen on 1 May 1822.

On the outbreak of the First Burma War (1824-1826), he formed and drilled a body of native volunteer cavalry, which he commanded in a battle at Rangpur in Assam. Unfortunately on that occasion, he was wounded - most documents record the wound was in the lungs, but a few papers mention that a bullet hit him in the private parts (which may explain why he never married). In any case, this incident led to his being invalided home with a wound pension of 70 Sterling Pounds a year. At some point in his military years, he was also awarded the India Medal.

Apparently James Brooke was "struck off" on 13 Dec 1827 (not sure what this term means, but I reckon it suggests he was no longer fit for duty).

After an absence of upwards of four years he returned to India. It was an unsually long voyage, and he was unable to reach Bengal within the prescribed period of five years. He decided to resign from 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.

This is an intriguing period in young James Brooke's life that warrants further research, so I will probably return to it in a future posting.

Widcombe Crescent, Bath

Returning to Bath, where his family resided at No.1 Widcombe Crescent, in the latter part of 1831, James remained in England until 1834

Widcombe Crescent in Bath, Somerset, England is a terrace of fourteen Georgian houses built in 1808 by Thomas Baldwin, and designated a Grade I listed building. 

No. 1 Widcombe Crescent, Bath

We know that in 1834, James Brooke purchased a small brig, and made a voyage to China. I am in search of material on his travels in China, but so far have not been able to find much.
In 1834, his mother Anna Maria died (aged 61), and in the following year his father Thomas Brooke also died (aged 75). James Brooke inherited a fortune of 30,000 Pounds Sterling, purchased a schooner of 142 tons, in which, after a trip to the Mediterranean, he sailed on 16 Dec. 1838 for Borneo. He named his vessel "The Royalist".

[A version of this article appeared in the "Josephians of the Seventies" blog in May 2011]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The First White Rajah

I guess I should really begin with a posting on James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. You will find that I will jump around a bit in this blog, depending on what material I have on hand.

Let's first quickly run through the basic facts about the First White Rajah, as covered in most textbooks ...

Born in Benares, India in 1803, and schooled in England, James Brooke became a soldier and was badly injured in the First Anglo-Burmese War.of 1825. After recuperating in England, he tried to rejoin his army unit but was too late, so he made a visit to China before returning to England. When his father died, he inherited a small fortune and bought a schooner which he named "The Royalist". He sailed for the Far East and arrived in Sarawak in August 1839. On request by Raja Muda Hashim (uncle of the Sultan of Brunei), he helped quell a local rebellion, and for that he was made Rajah of Sarawak on 24 September 1841. By most accounts he was a fair ruler with affection for his subjects. He quelled piracy, tried to stop the practice of headhunting and put in place a good legal and administrative system for Sarawak. He also gradually expanded the region called Sarawak (at the expense of Brunei). James Brooke was knighted in 1847. He ruled Sarawak until his death in 1868. His nephew Charles Johnson-Brooke succeeded him.

And there you have it ... the concise history of the First White Rajah's reign. Now this blog will go deeper into the history and try to reveal more interesting details ...

Sources of Information

For all my postings, I will of course refer to the usual textbooks for the usual information. But I will go further and try to get information from sources which may not be as readily available.

For example, I recently got hold of some (incomplete) compilations of Sir James Brooke's private letters written from before the time he came to Sarawak (the first letter was dated 7 December 1838), up until a few years before he left Sarawak for good (the last letter was on 28 September 1953). There were supposed to be three volumes of letters, but so far I've only got Volume I and Volume III. I will hunt around for the missing volume.

In addition to these, I also have another smaller volume  under the title of "A Vindication of his Character and Proceedings in Reply to the Statements Privately Printed and Circulated by Joseph Hume, Esq. M.P. addressed to Henry Drummond, Esq. M.P.". This was printed in 1853 and this coincides with the period where some British politicians criticised certain of his expeditions as being unfair and cruel to some of the natives.

Fig 2

Fig 3

Fig 4

Fig 5

Fig 6

Finally, a couple of months back, I ordered an old book which comprised letters James Brooke wrote to a lady friend (some say they had a romantic relationship) named Baroness Angela Burdett Coutts.  In fact Burdett Coutts also helped fund some of James Brooke's projects in Sarawak, so I think Sarawakians should know more about her and even be somewhat grateful to her.

Well, I'll go into these areas more in a future posting. That's it for today. Do feedback what you think.

So with these and other sources (some of which I hope YOU the reader can provide), I think we should be able to write a more complete history of James Brooke's rule of Sarawak.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Perspectives of Sarawak History

I came across this familiar looking book in the library recently ...

It brought back memories of my history lessons in Form 2 or Form 3. I'm sure most of my generation in Sarawak went through this book during that time. I recall reading stories of exciting battles and uprisings and rebels and pirates.

Of course at that time, the White Rajahs and the British were portrayed as the good guys, and the baddies were Rentap (the Iban chief of Bukit Sadong fame), Sharif Masahor (the Melanau warrior) , Liu Shan Bang (leader of the 1857 Chinese Uprising) and Rosli Dhobi (who assasinated the second British governor Sir Duncan Stewart in 1949).

Nowadays the history books, written during the post-Malaysian independence era, tell a slightly different story. The White Rajahs and British are exposed as imperialist exploiters of our innocent land and people, whilst Rentap, Masahor, Liu and Rosli Dhobi are local heroes, fighting for their people and way of life.  I found some interesting website links on Rentap , Sharif Masahor, Liu and Rosli Dhobi that you might want to check out ...

All this goes to support two important lessons that I've heard from different people: "History is written by the eventual victors" and also "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".  Both good points to remember to give yourself greater perspective as you read about events of the past, and even as you observe current happenings around the globe.

On Sarawak history, I suppose the truth - if there's any such thing - lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Few people are really 100 percent good just as no one is ever totally evil. It's usually not a case of simply black or white, but many shades in-between.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Welcome to 'The Story of Sarawak'

Welcome to this blog on "The Story of Sarawak".

I am a Sarawakian, born in Miri (my birth certificate states that I was born in the Shell Oilfields Hospital). My family moved around the state when I was very young (so I've stayed in Bintulu, Sebuyau etc). Eventually I did my schooling years in Kuching, before going abroad for further education. Even though I'm now based outside Sarawak, I try to go back as often as I can ... and one day I will go home for good.

I've always liked History back during my schooldays, but over the past few years I have taken a special interest in the colourful history of Sarawak. Few places tell such a riveting story that includes pirates, headhunters, explorers, rebellions, war, love & enmity, colonisation, occupation and independence. This blog is intended to bring some of those stories to others who may not be as familiar. Even Sarawakians may learn something new about their glorious past.

Recently one of my schoolmates mentioned a certain textbook in a Facebook discussion. It was called "The Story of Sarawak" and written by Vernon Mullen. I remember that this book was used when I was in primary school back in the 60s.. I wish I had preserved my copy for posterity ... especially since I'm quite sure my old textbook was a First Edition (the one shown below is the Second Edition).

A lesson to schoolchildren today ... don't be too hasty to throw away your old textbooks after exams are over. They might be valuable one day.

For those who know this book, have you ever wondered who Vernon Mullen was? Well, I did some investigation. Apparently he was a Canadian educator who did some teaching of English in different parts of the world, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Sarawak and China. Mullen was in Sarawak from 1957-1963 and again from 1965-1968. Apart from the familiar history book above, he also published his memoirs "Them Lions Will Eat Them Up: Teaching English Around the World" (Voyageur Pub, 1999). I'm still looking for a copy for my collection so if anyone has any ideas where I can find one ...

So inspired by Mullen's textbook, I've decided to also call my blog "The Story of Sarawak". Well, once again welcome to this blog. Check back frequently as there will be regular postings. My name is James Yong and I will be your Website Jaga (Malay for "Guardian of the Website"), to guide you on this journey through the annals of Sarawak history. 

I also urge you to contribute whatever you know about Sarawak history and traditions. Send me info, photos, clippings and anything interesting. I can be reached at . If relevant, I promise to post your contributions. Together we can create a rich tapestry on the story of Sarawak, beyond what any static textbook can offer.