James Brooke

Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, KCB, was a British soldier and adventurer who founded the Raj of Sarawak in Borneo. He ruled as the first White Rajah of Sarawak from 1841 until his death in 1868. Brooke was raised under the Company Raj of the British East India Company in India. After a few years of education in England, he served in the Bengal Army, was wounded, resigned his commission, he bought a ship and sailed out to the Malay Archipelago where, by helping to crush a rebellion, he became governor of Sarawak. He vigorously suppressed piracy in the region and, in the ensuing turmoil, restored the Sultan of Brunei to his throne, for which the Sultan made Brooke the Rajah of Sarawak, he ruled until his death. Brooke was not without detractors and was criticised in the British Parliament and investigated in Singapore for his anti-piracy measures, he was, however and feted in London for his activities in Southeast Asia. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was one of many visitors whose published work spoke of his hospitality and achievements.

Brooke was born in Bandel, near Calcutta, but baptised in Secrole, a suburb of Benares. His father, Thomas Brooke, was an English Judge in the Court of Appeal at Bareilly, British India. Brooke stayed at home in India until he was sent, aged 12, to England for a brief education at Norwich School from which he ran away; some home tutoring followed in Bath before he returned to India in 1819 as an ensign in the Bengal Army of the British East India Company. He saw action in Assam during the First Anglo-Burmese War until wounded in 1825, was sent to England for recovery. In 1830, he arrived back in Madras but was too late to rejoin his unit, resigned his commission, he remained on the ship he had travelled out in, the Castle Huntley, returned home via China. Brooke was not successful. In 1835 he inherited £ 30,000, which he used as capital to purchase Royalist. Setting sail for Borneo in 1838, he arrived in Kuching in August to find the settlement facing an uprising against the Sultan of Brunei. Impressed with the Malay Archipelago, in Sarawak he met the sultan's uncle, Pangeran Muda Hashim, to whom he gave assistance in crushing the rebellion, thereby winning the gratitude of the Sultan, who in 1841 offered Brooke the governorship of Sarawak in return for his help.

Rajah Brooke was successful in suppressing the widespread piracy of the region. However, some Malay nobles in Brunei, unhappy over Brooke's measures against piracy, arranged for the murder of Muda Hashim and his followers. Brooke, with assistance from a unit of Britain's China Squadron, took over Brunei and restored its sultan to the throne. In 1842 Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II ceded complete sovereignty of Sarawak to Brooke, he was granted the title of Rajah of Sarawak on 24 September 1841, although the official declaration was not made until 18 August 1842. In 1846 Brooke presented the island of Labuan to the British government, he was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Labuan in 1848. During his reign, Brooke began to establish and cement his rule over Sarawak: reforming the administration, codifying laws and fighting piracy, which proved to be an ongoing issue throughout his rule. Brooke returned temporarily to England in 1847, where he was given the Freedom of the City of London, appointed British consul-general in Borneo and created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

Brooke pacified the natives, including the Dayaks, suppressed headhunting and piracy. He said that only Dayaks can kill Dayaks. Brooke became the centre of controversy in 1851 when accusations against him of excessive use of force against natives, under the guise of anti-piracy operations led to the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry in Singapore in 1854. After investigation, the Commission dismissed the charges but the accusations continued to haunt him. Brooke wrote to Alfred Russel Wallace on leaving England in April 1853, "to assure Wallace that he would be glad to see him at Sarawak." This was an invitation that helped Wallace decide on the Malay Archipelago for his next expedition, an expedition that lasted for eight years and established him as one of the foremost Victorian intellectuals and naturalists of the time. When Wallace arrived in Singapore in September 1854, he found Rajah Brooke "reluctantly preparing to give evidence to the special commission set up to investigate his controversial anti-piracy activities."During his rule, Brooke faced threats from Sarawak warriors like Sharif Masahor and Rentap, an uprising by Liu Shan Bang in 1857, but remained in power.

Brooke ruled Sarawak until his death following three strokes over ten years. All three White Rajahs are buried in St Leonard's Church in the village of Sheepstor on Dartmoor. Having no legitimate children, in 1861 he formally named Captain John Brooke Johnson-Brooke, his sister's eldest son, as his successor. Two years the Rajah reacted to criticism by returning to the east: after a brief meeting in Singapore, John was deposed and banished from Sarawak. James increased the charges to treasonous conduct and named John's younger brother, Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, as successor. Brooke was influenced by the success of previous British adventurers and the exploits of the British East India Company, his actions in Sarawak were directed at expanding the British Empire and the benefits of its rule, assisting the local people by fighting piracy and slavery, securing his own personal wealth to further th

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