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S03 E05 Raj of Sarawak transcript

Listen along to the Raj of Sarawak.

In Countries that don’t exist anymore, we often scour the world for the strange and forgotten national experiments. And this week we go to nineteenth century northern Borneo to a country founded at the height of European empire building by a man who didn’t always approve of European empire building but, by the force of his own strange ego, became a Christian king in a Muslim state thousands of miles away from his home.

Welcome to the Raj of Sarawak.

*Jurassic Park*


No, Phil you’re thinking of Jurassic Park.


Oh right.


How big was the Raj of Sarawak?

At its formation, 3,000 sq miles of jungle, swamp and river. This expanded massively over time to a high point of 48,050 sq miles by 1945. So, the Raj of Sarawak started out the size of Luxembourg and ended up the size of the Netherlands. Nice expansion, Brooke family.

Who were these Brooke family?

They were the people who ruled over Sarawak for more than a hundred years, but we’ll be focusing on the founder of the dynasty because he’s by far the most interesting and infuriating of the lot. Meet James Brooke.

Who was James Brooke?

Without doing a total This is your Life, Brooke was born in 1803 in the Indian Raj to a judge. As was common at the time, he was sent home to England to be educated but didn’t show much interest. So he went back to India, joined a regiment and showed promise as a soldier by being brave / stupid and charging at everything. This strategy worked brilliantly until he was seriously wounded in 1825 and was sent back to Blighty with a pension at the still tender age of 22.

But when James Brooke returned to his native Bath, he got bored and frustrated and tired that none of the world recognised his genius. Particularly not his father, who he was very critical of in his diary. But rich kids are often critical of their parents when they’re young, but grow closer to them as they age.


Do you think it’s because they start to understand that they’re just as fallible as their parents and see more in common as they mature.


No, it’s because of the will.


Oh yeah. Sorry, I forget because our father doesn’t have any money.


True, [threat] but you just better stay away from his milk bottle collection. I’ve seen you eyeing them up and I’ve already bagsied.

Anyway, to shut him up, Brooke’s father brought him a fully fitted out ship to start trading. So he wrote to his mates saying:

"I have a vessel afloat and nearly ready for sea - a rakish slaver brig, 290 tons burden - one that would fight or fly as occasion required."


This guy has a narcissist, fantasist L Ron Hubbard energy about him.

Anyway, the voyage was a disaster and the ship had to be sold at a loss. James Brooke learned an important lesson from the affair - it was everybody else's fault. So when he bought a new ship with his now dead father's money he promised himself not to listen to anybody else's opinions. He also decided that he would forget trade and instead end slavery and paganism in Borneo, adding:

"I have no object of personal ambition, no craving for personal reward: these things sometimes flow attendant on worthy deeds or bold enterprises, but they are at best consequences, not principal objects."


Yeeeeah right.

The voyage to Singapore was full of arguments and acrimony. Brooke wrote to his friend, "I do not think on the whole that the blame of any disagreements rests on me."

Wow. This guy. Sounds a bit like you though, Ed.


Yeah, but my life has been a mostly harmless failure.


Fair point.

James Brooke turned up in Sarawak on a heavily armed ship, flying a British ensign and wearing a naval uniform. So the local bigwig, Rajah Muda Hassan, took him to be straight from the British government and gave him a sit down dinner, entertainment and after dinner mints. Since the Rajah felt threatened my Dutch ambitions for Borneo, he thought buttering up the British might be a good idea.

Brooke got involved in a local war fought by a total of about 300 troops. He provided muskets and cannon to the Rajah but got annoyed when he wasn't allowed to be in charge, so took his toys and stropped off.

In return for Brooke's continued support in the war, the Rajah offered him the whole state of Sarawak. Or that was James' story. In reality, Hassan probably was eager to return to Brunei and thought he was doing a deal with the British. Not with a spoilt brat from Bath. Anyway, the war was won by throwing artillery at the problem and then by Brooke's favourite tactic. Charging.

And after some serious bluffing, and at the age of 38, James Brooke was made Governor of Sarawak on 24th Sept 1841. He then unlawfully assumed the title of Rajah, though locals called him Tuan Besan, which means the Big Lord.

Writing home, he said: "I really am becoming a great man, dearest mother."

In fairness to Brooke, he did demolish the serah system.

What was the serah system?

This was a series of rules that put the local Dayak people at a major disadvantage compared with the Malay and Bruneian nobles. If these nobles wanted to take Dayak property they could.

For example, if they wanted to confiscate a Dayak boat, they'd just put a notch into it. And if someone else wanted the same boat, it was up to the Dayak owner to compensate the person who had missed out for their disappointment. If they were unhappy with the Dayak prices during trade, they could seize Dayak women and children as slaves. Not surprising that the rebellion that Brooke found was fuelled by Dayak grievances. All in all, being Dayak at this time was about as fair as _____ [2016? Insert simile]

When Brooke became Rajah, he abolished both slavery and headhunting targeted at the Dayaks, and some Dayaks actually moved closer to the capital of Kuching seeking his protection.

Headhunting, like recruitment?

No, literally headhunting - hunting people and chopping off their heads as a token of victory and status. Which I think we can agree is a bad thing.


Classic western imperialist thinking.


Well, I think there are great indigenous things, like rock art and panpipes.


You hate panpipes. You said they’re really annoying.


Yes, ok. They are quite annoying, but less annoying than having your head cut off.

Anyway, James Brooke was vocally against headhunting but in the conflicts that he fuelled, quite a lot of headhunting went on anyway.

What was Sarawak's religion?

Although James Brooke was nominally christian, the inhabitants of Sarawak were majority Muslim, making Brooke the only christian ruler of a majority Muslim population on record. Or rather perhaps the only one who didn't force his subjects to convert to anything else.

And while Sarawak did have Christian missionaries, Brooke considered pushy missionaries a bad idea. He was against trying to convert Malays, as he thought there would be opposition, but since he viewed the Dayaks as uncivilised children, he thought that a bit of Christianity might do the trick and even weed out piracy. Because there's no such thing as pirates in Christian nations.

VO: for piracy in Christian nations, check out the Republic of Pirates.

Missionaries got to work building classrooms, a library, bedrooms and a place of worship. All apparently looking like mock Tudor golf club.


It’s not civilisation without a golf club.

Frank Mcdougall, chief missionary, had a huge bell cast for the church and had it regularly tolled to clang some Jesus into everybody. This backfired when it caused the island's Muslim majority to reinstate the call to prayer, a tradition that had been previously abandoned. And would-be Dayak converts preferred magic lantern movie nights at the Rajah's house to dirgy hymn sessions at the harmonium. Funny that.

Meanwhile, Sarawak expanded. Brooke went on the offensive against pirates and scored some victories, with the help of the Royal Navy. He then suggested to the Sultan of Brunei that he could administrate his new conquests.

The Sultan looked at the poor swamp that Brooke had just heroically conquered and mainly shrugged. Unfortunately Brooke's diaries that were shared for publication back in England sounded a bit too triumphant, and he was criticised as a bloodthirsty despot who was murdering innocent natives to steal their lands.

Would-be investors in Sarawak back in Britain - who had been snubbed by Brooke - founded the Aboriginals Protection Society in an act of revenge. Humanitarianism at its best.

Sir James Brooke took all this in good humor…. No, not really. He became pissy and paranoid. Fortunately, his nephew and heir arrived in Sarawak. John Brooke Johnson - known as Brooke - changed his surname to Brooke to fit in with the dynasty and so became Brooke Brooke.

James Brooke was not the easiest character in the world. But he was definitely principled in a kind of strange way. He hated the corrupting influence of westerners on natives. So set up a western kingdom to...rule over natives? He was both protective of native peoples and yet...hostile towards them?


Phil, do you know what a criticism sandwich is?




You're a great editor.




But you're an ignorant simpleton.




Great t-shirt!


Wow, thanks!


That's a criticism sandwich. James Brooke did the same about Chinese people except the wrong way round. And racist.

[knuckle sandwich]

And that encapsulated James Brooke’s view of the Chinese. He thought them industrious but also described them as ugly barbarians. At the same time he liked taxing them. Criticism sandwich.

He felt that the British were too respectful to the Chinese Emperor and, when in Beijing, got involved in a "jape" where he dressed as a Chinese person, snuck into the Feast of Lanterns in the Forbidden City where foreigners were banned, broke a load of lanterns before barely escaping with his life. What an absolute lad.

Ed: Lads bantz! etc.

And he was going to have problems down the road with the Chinese, but we’ll come to that.

Did Brooke take over Sarawak for money?

No, in fact Sarawak was a poor place - which is probably why the Sultan of Brunei let James Brooke have the place. Antimony, a material used to make bullets and cables, was the most valuable commodity but not very valuable at that.. For although there was oil seeping out of the ground, this was the mid-nineteenth century, industrial machines ran on palm oil. And imagine if things had stayed that way. Less climate change, but no orangutans.


You can’t win.

In fact, James Brooke had to often dip into his personal pension pot to pay the debts of his country, including a $2,500 actual payment to the Sultan of Brunei just to play at independence. By the end of his life, he was basically broke. When Brooke and his heirs were granted Sarawak, it specifically stated that the territory couldn't be expanded, but this bit would be forgotten in time.

Now set up in his own personal kingdom, James Brooke played at rajah-ing. He wrote some laws and turned his clapboard house, built on top of swamps, into law courts. Proceedings were almost ruined when he fell through the bathroom floor and almost drowned. The court cases were well attended, especially by Chinese settlers - who were less interested in law and more interested in gambling on the outcome of cases. One case that came before him was the trial of a man-eating crocodile and, to cut a long crocodile short, the crocodile was sentenced to death as an example to other crocodiles. True story. Snappy, too.

Brooke had some initial success against the pirates that infested the waters of Sarawak, going on a mission to subdue them. His Dayak supporters went with him, cutting off heads as they went - great currency in Dayak society. Brooke's attitude was that he was teaching the pirates a lesson, BUT apparently didn't want to go overboard with blood letting.

But James Brooke's personal bravery and strange kind of charm won over the local Royal Navy, and this helped cement him as powerful. The Navy were keenly into fighting pirates and stopping the slave trade.

Not because they were heroes, but because the bounties paid on pirates by the British government were so generous. When slaves were actually liberated, they were generally left to fend for themselves.

Despite claiming to not be into bloodletting, in the campaigns against "pirates" (i.e. anyone who was opposed to Brooke's rule) there was great slaughter, a lot more than had been seen previously - and there was much lopping off of heads.

Under James Brooke, Sarawak never seemed to be secure - with factions at home and abroad opposed to his rule. Things flared up when some of Brooke's native allies were killed, apparently by the Sultan of Brunei's agents.

Brooke asked for the British to intervene, but Brunei was a sovereign nation and the British finally sent ships from Singapore 6 months later. Although it's very easy to think of the British as "any excuse for an empire" this was the 1840s. Back in Britain, Reforming Liberals in parliament saw empire as expensive and inconvenient and were the first to make a fuss and wave bits of paper around at the prospect of natives being oppressed or Britain breaking laws.


Pfft. Woke Classical liberals.

However, when the Royal Navy stopped at Brunei to investigate, they were fired upon. This was good luck for James Brooke as now the British felt they had to intervene. So the British defeated the Sultan and got a groveling apology, an island full of coal and a more secure reign for James Brooke.

In 1847, James Brooke returned to England and was greeted as a hero. Proof that the natives of Borneo hadn't surrendered to guns but to benevolent Englishness.

The Times waxed lyrical about how Brooke had brought his people peace and civilisation, conveniently overlooking the near constant warfare under his reign. He was given loads of dinners, made Consul-General of Borneo and got to meet the Queen. But all the while he was suspicious of various offers made to him to make Sarawak into a cash cow.

It’s very easy to criticise James Brooke because he’s...very easy to criticise. But I don’t doubt that he showed an authentic but warped interest in putting people before profit, of course with the stipulation that he knew what was best for the people.

On his journey back to Sarawak, James Brooke alienated respectable people onboard by staying up late with young officers, drinking cherry brandy and dancing the polka. James Brooke would almost always have a handsome, favourite young lad who he'd lavish with gifts. He also never married and showed little interest in women. Early 20th century historians decided that he just wasn't interested in sex or love, but definitely could not entertain the idea that … maybe he was gay..


James got back in time to find out he was now Sir James. He celebrated by creating a flag for Sarawak based on his family crest topped with a noble black and white…


Lion? Stallion?



What was Sarawk’s foreign policy?

James Brooke had some initial success with foreign policy. Or rather because he had been appointed British Commissioner in the east, his pay cheque made him visit the King of Siam, who was annoyed with the British for being sold a leaky cruiser.

Brooke met the Crown Prince, who he declared "a highly accomplished gentleman for a semi-barbarian." Nice compliment. He recommended to the British that they should get rid of the King and put the Crown Prince on the throne. Either way, the two clearly got on. Later down the line, when the Crown Prince became king, he sent Rajah Brooke the Royal barge which was an extremely valuable boat. Just think Pimp my barge or MTV barges and you'll picture it.

Pimp My Barge (Ed):


Yo, check out this barge, with a lead reinforced hull, we got flip down 10 inch gas lanterns, we got a globe that opens up with bottle of grog, got the latest music boxes and you got wifi throughout!

Me: Wifi?

Ed: Er.. I mean your wife is high,... on opium!

Me: Ah yeah!

The new King would also request an English nanny, spawning the musical, the King and I.

And although factions in Britain were hostile to him (except for the Queen and Country conservatives that James Brooke ironically hated) he received a message from the US president declaring him a "great and good friend" and "your majesty." To which James reacted…

Richie: I knew I was great!

The truth was that James Brooke was a political hot potato. Conservatives that he despised supported him. Liberals that he admired reviled him. His name was brought up in parliament to boos and cheers and the threat of a government inquiry into his dealings was never far away.

Just as things seemed tenuous, Brooke was struck down with smallpox and was treated by a missionary, Rev Horsburgh. Hosburgh had read in the publication that the disease could be treated with "wine and brandy." And for colds he presumably prescribed "opium and sellotape."

But despite such medical malpractice, Brooke recovered, though instead of the dashing cavalier he had formerly been he was now "a shrunken old man with eyes as fierce as a crocodile."

With his new ferocity, Brooke denounced traitors in his midst and used his courts to dictate his grudges and vendettas as fact. Just one of the perks of absolute power.


What are the other perks?


All you can eat buffets and harems.


I think harems are overrated. What about sexually transmitted diseases?


What about a quiet night in front of the telly?


Abso-bloody- exactly.

According to Brooke everybody was against him, from native leaders in other parts of Borneo to the British government. And in his weakened state, whilst Sarawak went on further raids, he stayed home in his clapboard palace bemoaning his fate.

But despite his weakened condition, Brooke had taken on divine status to some locals - which apparently came with government in that part of the world. The injured were brought to him to heal and he was said to be able to cure sickness, make crops grow and bring the dead back to life.

The Dayaks would even bring seed for him to bless and try to steal bits of his clothing to get a taste of his power.

Sounds biblical.

"When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him."

"All right! Who did that? Come on. My miracle level is at 38% and I've got 2 more shows today."

And with this new godlike status, it was perhaps no surprise that withered Sir James Brooke was losing the common touch. During an inquiry into his conduct by a British commission in Singapore, Brooke was described by his friend, Spencer St John:

"I thought that I detected in him the same impatience of opposition which I have often observed in those who lived much alone, or in the society of the inferiors, whether in rank or intellect. Sir James had lived much alone, or with those to whom his word was law, so that he had had rarely the advantage of rubbing his ideas against those of his equals."

Did the Raj of Sarawak have a national anthem?

Actually, yes. We don't have the tune but the words, written by Brooke Brooke have been put to music by our very own Phil.

(Maybe Team America style or on recorders)

"Rix rax, filly bow bow bow bow, filly bow bow, Rix rax.

Sarawak, Sarawak, Sarawak shall win,

I see from the Dayak fleet of war. How fast!

And meet Saribu's pirate fleet, And Sarawak and Sarawak and Sarawak shall win."

Meh. It’s better than God Save The Queen. But Anything’s better than God Save The Queen.


Phil, improvise a better British national anthem right now.

*He does*


I’d literally rather sing that.

But did Sarawak always win?

Not really. One time things got very sticky was during the Chinese Insurrection. In 1856, the Chinese population of Sarawak was 4,000 and they weren't best pleased with Rajah James, who heavily taxed their opium imports as one of his few dependable revenue streams.

Since British protection had all but been withdrawn and with James Brooke permanently under the weather, or maybe because of the taxation thing, the Chinese population into revolt.

This didn't come as a surprise to Brooke Brooke who had heard rumours and readied the militia. But ever the stubborn git, Sir James told him it was a load of old piffle and to stand down.

Sir James was caught so off guard that when Chinese rebels stormed his house that he heroically climbed out of his bathroom window in his nightgown before jumping into a river, swimming to the opposite bank and there passing out.

In fairness to the Rajah, one of his beloved 18 year old officers had just been beheaded, so I'm not sure I'd be any braver in the situation.

The rebels then went on the rampage with a spot of killing and burning, then celebrated by setting up shop in the courthouse - assuming that they were now in charge of Sarawak.

Ever the hero, Sir James said: (muttering)

"Offer the country at any price to the Dutch."

At this point, Charles Johnson (Sir James' nephew and younger brother of Brooke Brooke) returned with a Dayak force armed to the teeth. Sir James took this as a great show of loyalty by his beloved Dayaks, but in fact many Dayaks had personal emnity against the Chinese and wanted to take the opportunity to add some heads to the trophy cabinet.

And sadly the Chinese Insurrection quickly turned into a massacre. Surviving Chinese forces crossed the border into Dutch territory, got into an argument amongst themselves and started killing each other - thus bringing the Chinese death toll to 1500 - almost half the Chinese population in Sarawak.

The Dutch disarmed them and gamely sent all their captured loot and booty back to Sarawak.

Sir James returned to Kuching but found it mostly burned to the ground, including his house and library. The church was ransacked and its harmonium filled with earth. But knowing the dirge they sang at Victorian church services, perhaps some good came out of it.

To help restore the place, the Dutch sent a steamer full of troops. And the Borneo Company chipped in with weapons, supplies and money. The Royal Navy even turned up but were unable to officially do anything to help, but some sailors tipped the harmonium upside down and emptied out the earth. Leaving locals to say, "aww man!"

And the Europeans found that the Chinese had stolen all their silver cutlery so they had to share one spoon and fork at mealtimes.


No one suffers like the white man.

And with everybody doing their bot and chipping in to help, for a minute it was like Live Aid for Sarawak:

(Sort of a version of Do they know it’s Christmas)

"And there won't be church in Kuching this Christmas time.

the harmonium's upside down.

So buy Sir James a new nightshirt because he’s flashing all the time.

And when you sit down for dinner,

Give thanks for your nice life

Cos you'll be eating turkey with a fork and a knife.

Help out Sarawak, did you know this place exists at all?

Help out Sarawak, did you know this place exists at all?

James Brooke blamed the whole thing on "the madness of the Chinese" rather than, say, taxing them to death. Because it's not like any rebellions happened because of tax.


Right, 38% of our listeners who are American?

Phil: (quickly)

Support us on Patreon or leave a review on Apple Podcasts.

But after being a bit down in the mouth, Rajah Brooke bounced back to his usual level of nonsense.

"A dead Chinaman is no more to be apprehended than a dead dog, and we have taught the miscreants such a lesson that they will not play their tricks for many a year."


Yep. You running and jumping in the river sure showed them.


The weird thing is that Brooke specifically didn't like imperial attitudes to native peoples and yet his making the Chinese rebels sound like a naughty dog who objectively needed to be taught a lesson is textbook imperial playbook.


Ah yes, the imperial playbook textbook.

Weirdly, when the Indians went into mutiny in 1857, James Brooke blamed it on European colonisation. Correct answer. But he couldn't see the fault of his own mismanagement for the Chinese Insurrection. But to Sir James that was totally different. The Indians were fine and noble, whereas the Chinese were sly and untrustworthy.


British racism. Best in the world!

In 1858, Rajah Brooke returned to Britain to see if he couldn't piss off anyone else. At 54, he was riddled with smallpox and malaria, disillusioned and lonely. He said:

"The devil has laid his claw upon my visage and some injustice had eaten at my heart."

So while he popped off for a holiday, he left Brooke Brooke to watch the shop. By now Brooke Brooke - who was heir after all - was under the impression that he should be running things, but James Brooke wasn’t having any of it.

Fortunately for Sir James, word had got around about the Chinese Insurrection and he was greeted with sympathy back in Blighty. Even Queen Victoria had him round for crumpets and opioids.

The British government even offered to make Sarawak a protectorate (which Sir James had actually wanted) but he took so long haggling over the terms (i.e. trying to claw some money back) that the government changed and the new administration told him to do one.

This was tremendously bad news for James Brooke because he was penniless. #GoBrookeGoBroke.

Fortunately he sucked up to millionaire, Angela Burdett-Coutts, who was the wealthiest woman around and friend of both Charles Dickens and the Duke of Wellington, who had once proposed to her.

Burdett-Coutts seemes to have great sympathy for James Brooke, so lent him 5 grand to pay back the Borneo Company (who he'd been borrowing from) and bought him an armed ship called The Rainbow.

Possibly the most misleading for a warship ever.

When returning to Sarawak, he couldn't even afford the ticket, so Angie gave him the money and also some second hand guns and rockets. Presumably what you could take in your carry on luggage was way more lax back then.

Brooke spent his time between England and Sarawak but seemed unwilling to hand over government to an increasingly frustrated Brooke Brooke, instead sending him proteges (i.e. young lads he took a shine to).

Brooke Brooke was even more frustrated when he was disinherited in favour of Charles Johnson (his younger brother) in a weird coup mostly done by post. Like the dumping by text of its time.

Once power had been past off, Sir James retired to Torquay where he continued to live out homoerotic fantasies, once "rescuing" some naked boys from the sea. His diary entry can't seem to get over how naked they were. They were sooo naked. Obviously too excited by all this, Sir James died of a stroke in 1868.

His nephew, Charles, would go on to be Rajah for 50 years!


And that's the end of the story.


Ed, can I give you a criticism sandwich.




I don't think you did a very good job researching.


That's criticism toast.


What can I say? I'm a toast man.

The Raj of Sarawak technically survived until 1946 and expanded its territory, but became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in 1888. So we’ll cover some of that history just for the completionists out there.

The problem with Sarawak under Sir James Brooke was mainly that it was always on the verge of bankruptcy. Under Rajah Charles, that situation improved with the discovery of oil and the introduction of rubber plantations. And unlike James, Charles didn’t seem to hate the Chinese - encouraging their immigration to develop the agricultural economy. By the early 20th century, Sarawak was one of the world’s foremost pepper producers.

No longer being quite the money sinkhole it used to be, Charles successfully lobbied the British to gain Protectorate status, as Sir James had spectacularly failed to do.

Rajah Charles Brooke also beefed up Sarawak's defences, constructing Fort Margherita in 1879, which still stands. Incidentally the fort was named after his wife. I'm sure she would have preferred a fur coat.

"Oh, you've got me...a fort."

What was Protectorate status?

In short it meant that internal affairs were left to the Rajahs whereas foreign affairs were the business of the British government. Kind of a Home Rule deal. It also opened up Sarawak to British subjects.

So the Raj of Sarawak was commercially viable, it expanded and under Rajah Charles rule, it got a railway, became a parliamentary democracy and oil was discovered and exploited. Charles opened Sarawak’s first museum, its first boys school… and this wasn’t for snooty British kids… this was teaching Malays in their own language.

For a white Rajah who probably had no legitimate right to rule a chunk of Borneo in the first place and definitely one who had no right to expand, Charles was perfectly… competent. Compared with Rajah James’ general shitshow, Charles was fairly good at it and Sarawak was pretty well established.

When he died in his late 80s, his son Vyner took over the family business. Where Charles was bullish and got things done, Vyner was shy and spent much of his childhood hiding in a cupboard. He was also forbidden from eating jam, which his father deemed effeminate.


Daddy, can I have a crumpet?


Taken an interest in crumpet eh? We'll make a man of you yet. What do you want on top?




Over my dead body. You'll eat a manly spread. Like steak or Lynx Africa.

But manly or not, Rajah Vyner presided over a fairly successful spell, possibly because there was a more formal administration in place than in Sir James' day. The economy continued to grow, the population reached a highpoint of 600,000 and a penal code was introduced. Vyner took a hands off approach to the government, forbad Christian missionaries and had native traditions protected with little attempt to westernise local culture.

So wait. Stable, prosperous, no rebellions? Why did Sarawak end then?

Although proficient in head chopping and amateur artillery, Sarawak's defense was in no position to handle any serious invasion, which happened when the Japanese empire rocked up in 1941 and occupied the country for 3 years. Rather than hiding in a cupboard, Rajah Vyner hid in the much more spacious Australia. By the time the Japanese had cleared out, the country was in a mess. And do Rajah Vyner got Britain to take the territory under its colonial wing. Making it the last territory to join the British Empire when it was very much winding down.

Sean Bean in Golden Eye:

Last orders at the bar, James.

And there ended the Raj of Sarawak.


So, stupid Brookes stop running Sarawk and everybody is glad to see the back of them?

Actually, not quite.

See, the end of the Raj of Sarawak meant annexation by the British and this led to massive protests in the Raj of Sarawak, with Malays and Dayaks alike refusing to accept colonial status - and instead demanding the return of Anthony Brooke as Rajah. This led to a pretty bitter 5-year long protest which, at its height, saw the assassination of the hard line British governor in 1949.

This didn’t end until 1951 - when Crown Prince Anthony Brooke gave up his claim, ostensibly because he feared the rise of communism min the region. Because, whatever you think about the Brooke family, they generally tried to take a light touch approach to governing and not interfere too much in the culture and religion of the locals. So upon being put under British rule, the people of Sarawak generally seemed to prefer the rule of the Brooke family.


Better the podgy, sunburnt Brit you know.

What was the legacy of the Raj of Sarawak?

Yes, there was short term resistance after the Raj came to an end. But in the long term? Actually, not much.

Go to Borneo today, and you can find some odds remnants of the Raj of Sarawak. Fort Margherita still stands and there’s a museum dedicated to the Brooke family. But most Malaysians don’t know much about the history of the place or just kind of shrug when it’s mentioned.

Although the Raj of Sarawak lasted long after James Brooke’s death, and was at its territorial height and most successful after Brooke was buried in his family plot, it really was an invention of his own misguided ambitions. One that he thought that made him “a great man” at its founding but was just a cause of depression and displeasure to him has he grew old and embittered.

Unlike with the legacy of Willoughbyland, Brooke didn’t find a paradise and make it hell. He just squatted in a swampy backwater that its traditional rulers couldn’t be bothered to oversee. And although he justified his rule as the fulfillment of noble ends (attempting to end piracy, slavery and headhunting) in attempting to achieve these ends, life under his rule was just as bloody as it had ever been.

James Brooke’s ambition was his crime, it was also was his punishment.

Two potential songs.

In Sarawak

I built a shack

Bath was boring, I'm glad to be back

Yes, it seems odd

Not being a God

Crocodiles are hanged in my law courts

I am Rajah, rock star

British courts can't get me cos I'm too far

I got Dayaks

In kayaks

Chopping off heads and running wild

'Cause I'm back

Yes, I'm back

In Sarawak

Yes, I'm back

Well, I'm back, Sarawak

Well, I'm back in Sarawak

Yes, I'm back in Sarawak!

Bonus song?

James Rajah

He's the man, the man who ran Sarawak

Tried to give it back

Such a lame rajah

Beckons you to notice his heroic acts

And ignore the facts

Just remember when rebels attacked

And he jumped out a window and collapsed

For zero girls will ever be kissed by

Only homosexual denial from

Mister James Rajah

Chinese folk beware of his tax raising plans

It's an opium scam

He'll decide to make Brooke Brooke his heir

And then change his mind without care

And then move to Torquay

Rescue nude boys

It's the kiss of death from

Mister James Rajah

Pretty boy beware of this charlatan's rule

This man’s a fool

He runs on ego

His own ego

He runs on ego

His own ego.

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