A History of Sarawak Under its Two White Rajahs, 1839-1908 is authored by S. Baring-Gould and C.A. Bampfylde, retell the deeds of the first rajah, adopting a substantially biographical approach and thus restating that part of Sarawak’s history in heroic mode. The history of Sarawak is indelibly associated with its White Rajahs, the Brookes. The first rajah was Sir James Brooke and the second was his nephew Sir Charles Brooke who took over in 1868. He had engaged in famous contests with the Governments of his day, in which public opinion had been mobilized to a greater or lesser degree, the policy of the Colonial Office and the Residency system. Only one-third of the book is devoted to the second rajah’s reign.
Less disposed to the flamboyant type of combat his uncle favours, he had devoted himself single-mindedly to Sarawak. He gave it a more regular administrative structure, outlining the main principles behind ‘the gradual establishment of a government suitable to the country and its people’: the full but subordinate participation of the native chiefs in the administration; respect for the laws and customs of the natives, ‘modified where necessary in accordance with the first principles of justice and humanity’; and the avoidance of ‘sudden and wholesale changes disquieting to the native mind’.
For the work of the first rajah, the history offers little new, although certain errors in earlier accounts are corrected. The story of Brooke’s first relations with Sarawak, of the grant from the sultan of Bruni, the fierce struggles with the pirates, the attack on Brooke by the so-called humanitarians in England led by Cobden, Hume, Sidney Herbert, and later Gladstone, and the commission appointed to investigate his conduct, on these points, there is little new. It was during the latter period, when a hostile ministry withdrew all support of his endeavours against the pirates, that he wrote, “It is a sad thing to say, but true as sad, that England has been the worst opponent to the progress of Sarawak, and is now the worst enemy of her liberty.”
Then came the Chinese rebellion, which almost destroyed the little state, followed by constant struggles with pirates, head-hunters, disaffected Malay sherips and Dayak outlaws. During these dark days the rajah felt that Sarawak could not stand alone, and, England failing, Holland and France were sounded, fortunately, his nephews advised against carrying the latter negotiations to any conclusion.
The first rajah died on June 11, 1868, and since that time the state has been ruled by his nephew, Rajah Charles Brooke. The forty years have seen a great expansion of the state in area and in prosperity. Cession after cession was made by the powerless sultans of the wretched state of Bruni until only a remnant remained to become a British protectorate in 1888, the year in which Sarawak also passed under British protection. Before the present rajah’s accession, piracy along the Sarawak coast had been almost entirely stamped out. He turned his attention to the trouble-makers of the interior and along the borders. Under his wise restrictions slavery disappeared without direct enactment, agriculture began to flourish, and the only disorders were those of head-hunting Dayaks of the far interior. And the story of the accomplishment of these results makes good reading.