Kingdom of Sarawak
|Kingdom of Sarawak|
|Independent Kingdom (until 1888)
Protectorate of the United Kingdom
Latin: Dum Spiro Spero
(While I breathe, I hope)
Kingdom of Sarawak in the 1920s.
|Languages||English, Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Sarawak Malay, Chinese etc.|
|Government||Absolute monarchy, Protectorate|
|•||1841–1868||James Brooke (first)|
|•||1917–1946||Charles Vyner Brooke (last)|
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
|•||Established||24 September 1841|
|•||Protectorate||14 June 1888|
|•||Japanese invasion||16 December 1941|
|•||Allied liberation||10 June 1945|
|•||Ceded to the Crown colony||1 July 1946|
|•||1945||124,450 km2 (48,050 sq mi)|
|Density||5/km2 (12/sq mi)|
|Today part of||Malaysia|
The Kingdom of Sarawak (also known as the State of Sarawak) was a British protectorate located in the northwestern part of the island of Borneo. It was established as an independent kingdom from a series of land concessions acquired by an Englishman, James Brooke, from the Sultanate of Brunei, the kingdom received recognition as an independent state from the United States in 1850, and from the United Kingdom in 1864.
Following recognition, Brooke expanded the kingdom territory at the expense of Brunei by reducing the territory of the latter. Several major rebellions occurred against his rule, causing him to be plagued by debt incurred in countering the rebellions, and the sluggish economic situation at the time, his nephew, Charles Brooke, succeeded James and normalised the situation by improving the economy, reducing government debts and establishing public infrastructure. The kingdom was made a British protectorate in 1888.
To gear up economic growth, the second Rajah encouraged the migration of Chinese workers from China and Singapore to work in the agricultural fields. With proper economic planning and stablility, Sarawak prospered and emerged as one of the world's major producers of black pepper, in addition to oil and the introduction of rubber plantations. He was succeeded by his son Charles Vyner Brooke but World War II and the arrival of Japanese forces ultimately brought an end to the Raj and the Protectorate administration, with the territory placed under a military administration on the Japanese capitulation in 1945, and ceded to Britain as a Crown Colony in 1946.
Foundation and early years
The kingdom was founded by James Brooke, an English adventurer who arrived to the banks of Sarawak River and decided to berth his schooner there in 1839. After serving in the First Anglo-Burmese War where he was severely wounded in battle, Brooke returned to England in 1825 to recover from his injury, despite his attempts to return into service, he was unable to return to his station in India before his temporary leave from the service expired. Overstaying his furlough resulting in his position in the military being forfeited, but he was awarded a pension by the government for his service. He continued on from India and went to China to improve his health.
On his way to China in 1830, he saw the islands of the Asiatic Archipelago, still unknown to Europeans generally, he returned to England and made an abortive trading journey to China in the Findlay before his father died in 1835. Inspired by the adventures stories on the success of the East India Company (EIC) where his father had been serving especially from the efforts of Stamford Raffles to expanding the company influence in the Asiatic Archipelago, he purchased a schooner named Royalist using the £30,000 left to him by his father. He recruited a crew for the schooner, training in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1836, before beginning their sail to the Far East on 27 October 1838. By July 1839, he reached Singapore and came across some British sailors who had been shipwrecked and helped by Pengiran Raja Muda Hashim, the uncle of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II of Brunei.
Brooke originally planned to sail to Marudu Bay in northwestern Borneo but the British Governor-General in Singapore asking him to thank Raja Muda Hashim in southwestern Borneo. The following month he sailed to the western coast of the island and on 14 August 1839, berthed his schooner on the banks of the Sarawak River and met Hashim to deliver the message, the Raja told Brooke that his presence in the area was to control a rebellion against the Sultanate of Brunei caused by the oppressive policies of Pengiran Indera Mahkota, a kinsman of the Sultan. Mahkota had earlier been dispatched by the Sultan to monopolise the antimony in the area; which as a result directly affecting the incomes of the local Malays there and growing frustration from the indigenous Land Dayak who had been forced to work in the mines for about 10 years. It has also been alleged that the rebellion against Brunei was aided by the neighbouring Sultanate of Sambas and Dutch East Indies who wanted to establish economic rights over the antimony, despite Hashim's efforts to stop the rebellion, it came to no avail thus leading him to seek direct help from Brooke.
Responding to the request, a force of local natives was raised and led by Brooke managed to temporarily stop the rebellion. Brooke was granted a large quantity of antimony from the local mines and authority in the Sarawak River as a reward, since then, Brooke became embroiled in Hashim's campaign to restore order in the area. Brooke returned to Singapore and spent another six months cruising along the coasts of the Celebes Islands before returning to Sarawak on 29 August 1840.
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Upon his returning to Sarawak, the rebellion against Brunei's rule was still in progress, he managed to completely suppress the rebellion and pardoned the rebels for joining his side, providing positions in some administrative authority while limiting their power. Despite the initial refusal of Hashim to pardon them and wanting to execute all the rebels, Hashim was convinced by Brooke to forgive them as he had taken the major part in their suppression; in exchange for Brooke's continuous support towards the Sultanate and rental payment of £500, he was awarded the Kuching area from the Sultanate of Brunei; which later became Sarawak First Division. Hashim, however, began to think twice about giving the territory to Brooke, a doubt fanned by Mahkota who had been deprived of his power in the area in favour of Brooke, this led Hashim to constantly delay the recognition of concession and angered Brooke. On 24 September 1841, Brooke, with Royalist fully armed, went ashore to Hashim's audience chamber and called on him to negotiate, with little choice, and putting the blame mainly on Mahkota, Hashim proclaimed Brooke as the Rajah. Brooke issued new laws for the territory banning slavery, headhunting and piracy; and by July 1842, his appointment was confirmed by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.
To prevent any further dispute with Brunei, Brooke hoped to reform the administration of the Sultanate and establish a pro-British government through Hashim and his brother Pengiran Badruddin. By October 1843, Brooke returned the two brothers to Brunei, bringing along Admiral Edward Belcher of the Royal Navy in HMS Samarang and the EIC Phlegethon. The vessels anchored at the Sultan's audience chamber, requesting Pengiran Yusof's position as Bendahara to be replaced by Hashim and asking the Sultan to pledge to suppress piracy in his dominions, as well ceding the island of Labuan to the British (although the British government had not asked for this). The status of Brooke as a Rajah and consul for the British at the time also remained controversial in the United Kingdom as he was not recognised by the British government to represent the British subjects. Indirectly, Brooke had become involved in an internal dynastic dispute of Brunei, from 1844, Brooke actively assisted the suppression of piracy on the coasts of western and northern Borneo together with Admiral Henry Keppel in HMS Dido along with Phlegethon; where during the course of piracy suppression they encountered Mahkota, the former administrator of Kuching area who had formed an alliance with an Sea Dayak pirate chief on the Skrang River in Sarawak and captured him in the same year.
In August 1845, Admiral Thomas Cochrane arrived at Brunei with a squadron of from six to eight ships to release two Lascar seamen who are believed to be hidden there. Badruddin accused Yusof of being involved in the slave trade due to his close relations with a notable pirate leader Sharif Usman in Marudu Bay and the Sultanate of Sulu. Denying the allegation, Yusof refused to attend a meeting with Cochrane, and escaped after been threatened with force by Cochrane before regaining his own force in the Brunei capital. Cochrane then sailed away to Marudu Bay in pursuit of Usman, while Yusof was defeated by Badruddin. Hashim managed to establish a rightful position in Brunei Town to become the next Sultan after successfully defeating the piratical forces led by Yusof who fled to Kimanis in northern Borneo where he was executed. Yusof was the favourite noble to the Sultan and with Hashim's victory, this upset the chances of the son of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II to become the next leader. Mahkota, who had returned to Brunei in 1845 after his capture in Sarawak in 1844 became the Sultan's adviser in the absence of Yusof who had been executed, he prevailed on the Sultan to order the execution of Hashim, whose presence had become unwelcome to the royal family, especially due to his close ties with Brooke that were favourable to English policy. Beside that, an adventurer named Haji Saman, who was connected to the late Yusof, played upon the Sultan's fear of Hashim taking over his throne.
By the order of the Sultan, Hashim and his brother Badruddin together with their family were assassinated in 1846. One of Badruddin's slaves, Japar survived the attack and intercepted HMS Hazard, which brought him to Sarawak to inform Brooke. Enranged by the news, Brooke organised an expedition to avenge Hashim's death with the aid of Cochrane from the Royal Navy with Phlegethon, on 6 July 1846, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II complained through a letter about the discourtesy of HMS Hazard and invited Cochrane to ascend the capital with two boats. Phlegethon and other vessels then moved up to the river on 8 July where they were fired on from every position with slight damage. Mahkota and the Sultan retreated upriver while most of the population fled upon their arrival at Brunei's capital, leaving the brother of the Sultan's son, Pengiran Muhammad, who was badly wounded and Pengiran Mumin, an opponent of the Sultan's son who despised the decision of his royal family to be involved in conflict with the British, the British destroyed the town forts and invited the population to return with no harm to be done to them while the Sultan remained hiding in the jungle. Another expedition was sent to the interior but also failed to find the Sultan. Brooke remained in Brunei with Admiral Rodney Mundy and HMS Iris along with Phlegethon and HMS Hazard while the main expedition continued their mission to suppress piracy in northern Borneo.
Upon finding that Haji Saman was living in Kimanis and that he was involved in the plotting that caused Hashim's death, Brooke departed there and destroyed his house although Saman still managed to escape. Brooke returned again to Brunei and finally managed to induce the Sultan to return to the capital where the Sultan finally regretted the killings of Hashim, his brother and their family members by writing a letter of apology to Queen Victoria. Through his confession, the Sultan recognised Brooke's authority over Sarawak and mining rights throughout the territory without requiring him to pay any tribute as well granting the island of Labuan to the British. Brooke departed Brunei and left Mumin in charge together with Mundy to keep the Sultan in line until the British government made a final decision to acquire the island. Following the ratification agreement of the transfer of Labuan to the British, the Sultan also finally agreed to allow British forces to suppress all piracy along the coast of Borneo.
The following year, 1847, Brooke asked the Sultan of Brunei to sign another treaty to prevent the Sultanate from engaging in any concession treaty with other foreign powers especially after the visit of USS Constitution in 1845. American policy at the time however made no intention to establish any solid presence in Asia and the Pacific. By 1850, the United States recognised the status of Brooke's kingdom as an independent state. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II died in 1852 and he was succeeded by Mumin, which already proved a success in Brooke's efforts to establish a pro-British government in Brunei, the new Sultan then ceded Saribas and Skrang districts, which later became the Second Division, to Brooke in 1853 due to conflict with pirates.
Three major rebellions led by Rentap (1853), Liu Shan Bang (1857) and Syarif Masahor (1860) shook the Rajah's administration which, together with the stagnant economic conditions at the time, caused Brooke to be plagued by debt. he was driven into planning to cede his kingdom to the British to settling his debt; while the idea was supported by some of Britain's member of parliaments (MPs) and businessmen, it was rejected by Prime Minister Lord Derby who feared that the introduction of a British taxation system would shock the population more than exercising their own system under the Rajahs. Brooke then thought to sell his kingdom to Belgium, France, Russia or to Brunei again or also to other European powers rather than to the neighbouring Dutch who were ready to retake his kingdom. Brooke's intention had already been disliked by neighbouring British Governors such as Labuan Governor Hennessy, who had expressed his feeling that although he keep a high respect towards the Rajah he considered the kingdom as only a vassal state of Brunei as its status for being independent from the British could be sold by Brooke or turn to be a protectorate of other European nations by the owner wish.
Prior to the ongoing piracy suppression, a major battle with the Illanuns of Moro pirates from the southern Philippines occurred in the mid November 1862. In 1864, the United Kingdom appointed a Consul to Sarawak and recognised the kingdom, while the Netherlands refused to recognise the state. Following the recognition from Britain, Brooke expanded his kingdom at the expense of Brunei by reducing the territory of the latter; in 1861, he acquired the vast Rajang River basin, which subsequently became the Third Division. The expansion continued after his death in 1868; when he was succeeded by his nephew, Charles Brooke.
Under Charles' administration, the kingdom's economy grew rapidly, especially later on with the discovery of oil, introduction of rubber, and the construction of public infrastructure as his main priorities to stabilise the economic situation and reduce government debts. He encouraged the migration of Chinese to boost the economy, especially in agricultural sectors; where most of them settled around Kuching (mainly Hokkien and Teochew), Sibu (mainly Fuzhou) and Sri Aman (mainly Teochew). Charles was trusted and respected for his fairness and strict order, although he was not so popular among the local Malays as his uncle, while being a close friend to the Dayaks. Sarawak prospered under his rule and the kingdom did not seek protectorate from any European powers although requests for protection from the British in 1869 and 1879 were rejected. Charles continued to seek protectorate from the British for the greater security of protection on the west coast of Borneo, until the British finally decided to give a Protectorate status on 14 June 1888, he ruled Sarawak until his death in 1917 and was succeeded by his son, Charles Vyner Brooke.
World War II and decline
Following World War I, the Empire of Japan began to expand their range in Asia and the Pacific. Vyner became aware of the growing threats and begun to institute reforms. Under the protectorate treaty, Britain was responsible for Sarawak's defence. However, as they did not have adequate resources to mount effective defence due to most of its forces being deployed to the war in Europe against Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy; the defence of the kingdom depended on a single Indian infantry regiment, the 2/15 Punjab Regiment together with the local forces of Sarawak and Brunei. As Sarawak had a significant number of oil refineries in Miri and Lutong, the British feared that these supplies would fall to the Japanese and thus instructed the infantry to carry out a scorched earth policy.
On 16 December 1941, a strong force of Japanese navy detachment through a Japanese destroyer Sagiri arrived on Miri from Cam Ranh Bay of French Indochina. The Japanese then launched an air attack on Kuching on 19 December, bombing parts of the town airfield while machine-gunning people in the town streets, the attack created panic and drove residents to the rural areas. A Dutch submarine HNLMS K XVI managed to bring down the Japanese from Miri but with the arrival of another Japanese destroyer Shirakumo together with other ships, they secured the town on 24 December. From 7 January 1942, Japanese troops in Sarawak crossed the border of Dutch Borneo and proceeded to neighbouring North Borneo, the 2/15 Punjab Regiment were forced to withdraw to Dutch Borneo and later surrendered on 9 March after most of the Allies have surrendered in Java. A steamship of the kingdom, SS Vyner Brooke was sunk during its duty of evacuating nurses and wounded servicemen after the fall of Singapore where most of its surviving crews were massacred in Bangka Island.
Without air protection, the kingdom together with rest of the island fell to the Japanese and Vyner took sanctuary in Australia. Many of the British and Australian soldiers captured after the fall of Malaya and Singapore were brought to Borneo and held as prisoner of war (POW) in Batu Lintang camp of Sarawak and Sandakan camp in neighbouring North Borneo. The Japanese military authorities placed the southern part of Borneo under the navy, while its army were responsible for the management in the north, as part of the Allied Campaign to retake their possessions in the East, Allied forces were then sent to Borneo in the Borneo Campaign to liberate the island. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) played a significant role in the mission, the Allies Z Special Unit provided intelligence gatherings and other information from the Japanese that could facilitated the AIF landings. Most of the major towns of Sarawak were bombed during this period, the war ended on 15 August 1945 following the Japanese surrender and the administration of Sarawak was undertaken by the British Military Administration (BMA) from September. Vyner returned to administer the territory but decided to cede the entire kingdom to the British government as a Crown Colony on 1 July 1946 due to the lack of resources to finance the reconstruction cost.
The kingdom was governed by three generations of White Rajahs without any British government intervention as during the period of the first Rajah, it was already facing difficulties to gain Britain's financial support due to the lack of recognition as well constant challenges from the locals, it was only under the second Rajah the government administration began to be reformed after the kingdom been recognised, when a civil service known as the Sarawak Administrative Service began to be established. The civil service recruited Europeans, mainly British officers, to run district outstations where the residents became exposed to and trained in many British and European methods and culture, while retaining the customs of the indigenous people, after the acquisition of more territory, the kingdom was divided into five divisions, each headed by a Resident. The Rajahs also encouraged the establishment of schools, healthcare services and transport.
The government worked to restore peace where piracy and tribal feuds had grown rampant and its success depended ultimately on the co-operation of the native village headmen, while the Native Officers acted as a bridge, the Sarawak Rangers was established in 1862 as a para-military force of the kingdom. It was superseded by the Sarawak Constabulary in 1932 as a police force, with 900 members mainly comprising Dayaks and Malays.
Under the protectorate governance, all powers are conducted under the purview of the British government although it is governed as an independent state by the Rajahs with British protection. According to an agreement signed on 14 June 1888, the treaty stipulated:
Agreement between the British Government and the Rajah of Sarawak for the establishment of a British Protectorate. —Signed at London, 14 June 1888.
I. The State of Sarawak shall continue to be governed and administered by the said Rajah and his successors as an independent State under the protection of Great Britain; but such protection shall confer no right on Her Majesty's Government to interfere with the internal administration of the State further than is herein provided.
II. In case any question should hereafter arise respecting the rights of succession to the present or any future Ruler of Sarawak, such question shall be referred to Her Majesty's Government for decision.
III. The relations between the State of Sarawak and all foreign States, including the States of Brunei and North Borneo, shall be conducted by Her Majesty's Government, or in accordance with its directions; and if any difference should arise between the Government of Sarawak and that of any other State, the Government of Sarawak agrees to abide by the decision of Her Majesty's Government, and to take all steps necessary to give effect thereto.
IV. Her Majesty's Government shall have the right to establish British Consular officers in any part of the State of Sarawak, who shall receive exequaturs in the name of the Government of Sarawak. They shall enjoy whatever privileges are usually granted to the Consular officers, and shall be entitled to hoist the British flag over their residences and public offices.
V. British subjects, commerce, and shipping shall enjoy the same right, privileges, and advantages as the subjects, commerce, and shipping of the most favoured nation, as well as any other rights, privileges, and advantages which may be enjoyed by the subjects, commerce and shipping of the State of Sarawak.
VI. No cession or other alienation of any part of the territory of the State of Sarawak shall be made by the Rajah or his successors to any foreign State, or the subjects or the citizens thereof, without the consent of Her Majesty's Government; but this restriction shall not apply to ordinary grants or leases of lands or houses to private individuals for purposes of residence, agriculture, commerce, or other business.
Since the acquisition of Sarawak first territory in the First Division, Brooke gained large quantity of antimony from mines around the area; although it was leased in 1846 as freedom of trade is guaranteed by a treaty of the territory with the local natives are freely to operate the mines. By the time of his arrival, a land tenure system known as the Native Customary Rights (NCR) have been practised by the indigenous communities. As Brooke's main priority is to abolishing headhunting among the indigenous communities in the interior, the kingdom authorities conduct persistent raids to Sea Dayak villages and forcing them to practice horticultural modes as a new method to sustain their lives. This was done as most of the Sea Dayak at the time refused to abandon the culture and only agreed after been stopped through their major rebellion. Other Dayaks like the Land Dayak were also previously involved in headhunting, but most of them are peaceful people who abide by the laws and only attacking if attacked by other tribes; which subsequently became Brooke loyal followers as they agreed to leaving the former culture. Most Malays coastal villages were also raided as part of the kingdom's policy to combating piracy and slavery, these policy turned to be successful but the kingdom was plagued by high debt as a result from several major rebellions in response to the ongoing supression campaign especially with the stagnant economic situation at the time.
A large number of Chinese began to settled in the kingdom during the reign of the first Rajah, which encouraged by Brooke to boost the kingdom economy and influencing the indigenous communities to abandoning their previous activities (like headhunting, piracy, slavery etc.) by participating in the modern economic activities. Most of those who come from the first migration are miners and originated from Sambas in neighbouring Dutch Borneo where they later formed a Kongsi system in Bau. The immigration were continued under the second Rajah, who encourage more Chinese to migrate and boosting the kingdom agricultural sectors; although there were also conflict occurred between the Brooke's government and the Chinese in 1857 which are believed to be related with the Second Opium War, or several other reasons. The second Rajah working to stabilise the economy and reducing government debts, with the kingdom economy grew significantly under his reign; with total exports of $386,439 and imports of $414,756 in 1863.
By 1869, the total trade value reached $3,262,500. Along the same year, the second Rajah also invited Chinese pepper and gambier-growers from Singapore to cultivate black pepper and gambier in Sarawak. By the early 20th century, Sarawak became one of the world major producer of pepper, the kingdom was a relative latecomer to natural rubber boom as the second Rajah preferred to develop the cultivation of lands for the good of its inhabitants than offering the land to European companies. During his reign, there were only five large rubber estates around Sarawak. While oil began to be discovered in his final years, from the 1930s, the kingdom became the centre of production for raw materials with Singapore as the main trade partner as most Chinese businesses in the kingdom relied the island as an outlet for their commodity.
A dollar was made from 1858 and remained at par with the Straits dollar. Different notes had been issued by Sarawak Government Treasury throughout the administration with the earliest notes are embedded with English, Jawi and Chinese characters, from 1880s, the notes background featuring the Rajahs portrait and their arms.
In 1841, Sarawak has a number of indigenous people around 8,000, the Dayaks are the largest indigenous group in the interior: comprising Iban, Bidayuh and other interior tribes like the Kayan, Kelabit, Kenyah, Lun Bawang and Penan, while coastal areas are dominated by the Sarawak local Malays, Melanau, Bruneian and Kedayan. The government of Sarawak welcoming the migration of Chinese workers to boost the economic sectors. Following various immigration schemes initiated by the Rajahs, the population increase to 150,000 in 1848, 300,000 in 1893, 475,000 in 1933, and 600,000 in 1945.
Public service infrastructure
It was during the reign of the Second Rajah where public infrastructure are given attention, from the 1930s, telegraph line were available to connecting the kingdom with Singapore. Wireless telegraph station are located throughout all major towns in Sarawak. A railway system known as the Sarawak Government Railway was established in 1915 although it was ordered to closed by the third Rajah in the 1930s as it had made substantial losses. Postal service were also available throughout the administration.
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (since 1820), the Sarawak Gazette (since 1870), and the Sarawak Museum Journal (since 1911) hold a significant amount of information on Sarawak before and during the Rajahs administration.
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- The Brooke Trust – More information on heritage of the Brooke dynasty