Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei were all once part of he powerful kingdom of Brunei. From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, developments in Borneo were generally separate from those on the peninsula of Malaysia, partly because of more limited European involvement in Borneo. The Dutch had a presence in southern Borneo but never established themselves on the north coast of Borneo.The eastern part of this region (now Sabah) was under the nominal control of the Sultan of Sulu, a vassal of the Spanish Philippines. The rest was the territory of the Sultanate of Brunei.

That situation changed in 1839 when James Brooke, an independently wealthy former British East India Company officer, arrived in Borneo. Brooke helped the sultan put down a tribal rebellion and emerge victorious in a power struggle with other Brunei elites. In return, the sultan allowed Brooke to govern a territory (called Sarawak) in exchange for small annual payments.

In 1841, Brooke received the title of raja and the right to govern the Sarawak River District. In 1846 his title was recognised as hereditary, and the "White Rajahs" began ruling Sarawak as a recognised independent state. Through good relations and payments to the Brunei sultan, Brooke and his descendants expanded Sarawak’s territory and governed it with substantial autonomy from Britain. The Brookes expanded Sarawak at the expense of Brunei. The ‘Rajah Brookes’ in Sarawak begged British authorities to take over the huge area of Sarawak from them for decades and were ignored.

Eventually, the British government became concerned that Sarawak’s growth could destabilize Brunei and render Borneo vulnerable to seizure by rival powers. In 1888 the British agreed to provide protection to Sarawak, Brunei, and the British North Borneo Company (which administered the territory of Sabah) in exchange for control over their foreign policy. This contributed to the consolidation of northern Borneo and its separation from the island’s southern areas, which were governed by the Dutch.

In 1881 the British North Borneo Company was granted control of the territory of British North Borneo, appointing a governor and legislature. It was ruled from the office in London. Its status was similar to that of a British Protectorate, and like Sarawak it expanded at the expense of Brunei. The Spanish Philippines never recognised this loss of the Sultan of Sulu’s territory, laying the basis of the subsequent Filipino claim to Sabah. In 1888 what was left of Brunei was made a British protectorate, and in 1891 another Anglo-Dutch treaty formalised the border between British and Dutch Borneo.

The Raja Brooke dynasty lasted 100 years. The British government eventually acquired Sarawak after WWII when the third Raja Brooke realised he couldn’t afford the area’s up-keep. In the early 20th century the British brought in Chinese and Indians, which radically changed the country’s racial make-up.

See For more details on Brookes and the British in Borneo Separate Articles JAMES BROOKE AND MAKING NORTHERN BORNEO PART OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE factsanddetails.com and FIGHTING WITH BORNEO PIRATES factsanddetails.com under Malaysia

James Brooke on Borneo

James Brooke wrote in his journal in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: By looking at the map, it will be seen that the island of Borneo extends over 11 degrees of latitude and as many of longitude, from 4̊ n. to 7̊ s., and 108̊ to 119̊ e. The n.w. coast is but thinly populated; and the natives who inhabit the banks of some of the beautiful rivers differ, as has been already stated, from each other in manners and customs, and have but little communication among themselves. The s., e., and northeast coasts of Borneo are also but thinly inhabited, and very little known. There are various divisions of Malays, as well as different tribes of Dyaks, who live in an unsettled state, and occasionally make war on one another: their principal occupation, however, is piracy. The north part of the island was once in the possession of the East India Company, who had a settlement and factory on the island of Balambangan, which was attacked in 177, when in a weak and unguarded state, by a powerful piratical tribe of Sooloos, who surprised the fort, put the sentries to death, and turned the guns on the troops, who were chiefly Buguese (or Bugis) Malays. Those who escaped got on board the vessels in the harbour, and reached the island of Labuan, near the mouth of the Borneo river; whilst the booty obtained by the pirates was estimated at 375,000. From that time to this these atrocious pirates have never been punished, and still continue their depredations. [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

“The remainder of the coast on the n.w. is now called Borneo Proper, to distinguish it from the name that custom has given to the whole island, the original name of which was Kalamantan, and Bruni that of the town now called Borneo. The latter was probably the first part of the coast ever visited by Europeans, who consequently extended the appellation to the island itself. The town of Borneo, situated on the river of that name, was, until the last few years, a port of some wealth, and carrying on an extensive trade, which has been ruined entirely by the rapacity of the Malay chiefs, who have now but little control over that part of Borneo Proper which lies to the northward of the river.-

James Brooke on Sarawak

The province of Sarawak is situated at the southwest end of Borneo Proper, and was formally ceded in perpetuity by the Sultan in 1843 to Mr. Brooke, who, indeed, had possessed the almost entire management of the district for the two previous years.-

James Brooke wrote in his journal in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: Sarawak “extends from Tanjong Datu to the entrance of the Samarahan river, a distance along the coast of about sixty miles in an e.southeast direction, with an average breadth of fifty miles. It is bounded to the westward by the Sambas territory, to the southward by a range of mountains which separate it from the Pontiana river, and to the eastward by the Borneon territory of Sadong. Within this space there are several rivers and islands, which it is needless here to describe at length, as the account of the river of Sarawak will answer alike for the rest. There are two navigable entrances to this river, and numerous smaller branches for boats, both to the westward and eastward; the two principal entrances combine at about twelve miles from the sea, and the river flows for twenty miles into the interior in a southerly and westerly direction, when it again forms two branches — one running to the right, the other to the left hand, as far as the mountain range. [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

“Besides these facilities for water- communication, there exist three other branches from the easternmost entrance, called Morotaba, one of which joins the Samarahan river, and the two others flow from different points of the mountain range already mentioned. The country is diversified by detached mountains, and the mountain range has an elevation of about three thousand feet. The aspect of the country may be generally described as low and woody at the entrance of the rivers, except a few high mountains but in the interior undulating in parts, and part presenting fine level plains. The climate may be pronounced healthy and cool, though for the six months from September to March a great quantity of rain falls. During my three visits to this place, which have been prolonged to eight months, and since residing here, we have been clear of sickness, and during the entire period not one of three deaths could be attributed to the effects of climate. The more serious maladies of tropical climates are very infrequent; from fever and dysentery we have been quite free, and the only complaints have been rheumatism, colds, and ague; the latter, however, attacked us in the interior, and no one has yet had it at Sarawak, which is situated about twentyfive miles from the mouth of the river.-

“The soil and productions of this country are of the richest description; and it is not too much to say, that, within the same given space, there are not to be found the same mineral and vegetable riches in any land in the world. I propose to give a brief detail of them, beginning with the soil of the plains, which is moist and rich, and calculated for the growth of rice, for which purpose it was formerly cleared and used, until the distractions of the country commenced. From the known industry of the Dyaks, and their partiality to rice-cultivation, there can be little doubt that it would become an article of extensive export, provided security were given to the cultivator and a proper remuneration for his produce. The lower grounds, besides rice, are well adapted for the growth of sago, and produce canes, rattans, and forest-timber of the finest description for ship -building and other useful purposes. P The Chinese export considerable quantities of timber from Sambas and Fontiana, particularly of the kind called Balean by the natives, or the lion-wood of the Europeans! and at this place it is to be had in far greater quantity and nearer the place of sale. The undulating ground differs in soil, some portions of it being a yellowish clay, whilst the rest is a rich mould; these grounds, generally speaking, as well as the slopes of the higher mountains, are admirably calculated for the growth of nutmegs, coffee, pepper, or any of the more valuable vegetable productions of the tropics. Besides the above-men tioned articles, there are birds-nests, bees-wax, and several kinds of scented wood, in demand at Singapore, which are all collected by the Dyaks, and would be gathered in far greater quantity provided the Dyak was allowed to sell them.-

“Turning from the vegetable to the mineral riches of the country, we have diamonds, gold, tin, iron, and antimony-ore certain; I have lately sent what I believe to be a specimen of lead-ore to Calcutta; and copper is reported. It must be remembered, in reading this list, that the country is as yet unexplored by a scientific person, and that the inquiries of a geologist and a mineralogist would throw further light on the minerals of the mountains, and the spots where they are to be found in the greatest plenty. The diamonds are stated to be found in considerable numbers, and of a good water; and I judge the statement to be correct from the fact that the diamond- workers from Sandak come here and work secretly, and the people from Banjarmasim, who are likewise clever at this trade, are most desirous to be allowed to work for the precious stone. Gold of a good quality certainly is to be found in large quantities. The eagerness and perseverance of the Chinese to establish themselves is a convincing proof of the fact; and ten years since a body of about 3000 of them had great success in procuring gold by their ordinary mode of trenching the ground.-

“The quantity of gold yearly procured at Sambas is moderately stated at 130,000 bunkals, which, reckoned at the low rate of 20 Spanish dollars a bunkal, gives 2,600,000 Spanish dollars, or upwards of half a million sterling. The most intelligent Chinese are of opinion, that the quantity here exceeds that at Sambas; and there is no good reason to suppose it would fall short of it, were once a sufficient Chinese popidation settled in the country.-

"Antimony-ore is a staple commodity, which is to be procured in any quantity. Tin is said to be plentiful, and the Chinese propose working Viti but I have had no opportunity of visiting the spot where it is found. Copper, though reported, has not been brought; and the iron-ore I have examined is of inferior quality. The specimen of what I supposed to be lead-ore has been forwarded to Calcutta, and it remains to be seen what its value may be. And besides the above-mentioned minerals, there can be little doubt of many others being discovered, if the mountain range was properly explored by any man of science. Many other articles of minor importance might be mentioned; but it is needless to add to a list which contains articles of such value, and which would prove the country equal in vegetable and mineral productions to any in the world.-

On British Development of Island Off of Borneo

James Brooke wrote in his journal in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: Labuan. An island of about fifty feet high; twenty-five miles in circumference; woody; timber good; water from wells and a few small streams, which, after a drought, are dry; natives say, water never fails. Anchorage good for the climate; well protected from the northeast; not extensive; situation of contemplated town low; climate healthy, i. e. the same as Borneo; soil, as far as seen, sandy or light sandy loam. Coal found near the extreme northeast point: by native reports it is likewise to be found in many other places; traces of coal are frequent in the sandstone strata. Anchorage not difficult of defence against an European enemy; entrance sufficiently broad and deep between two islands, with a shoal: vide chart. [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

“The island of Labuan, for the purposes of refuge for shipwrecked vessels, of a windward post relative to China, for the suppression of piracy, and the extension of our trade, is well suited; it is no paradise; and any other island, with good climate, wood, and water, would suit as well. Its powerful recommendation is its being in the neighbourhood of an unwarlike and friendly people. There is no other island on the n.w. coast; and the abandoned Balambangan, to the northward of Borneo, is the only other place which could by possibility answer. The comparison between Balambangan and Labuan may be stated as follows. Balambangan, as a windward post relative to China, is superior; and it commands in time of war the inner passage to Manilla, and the eastern passages to China by the Straits of Makassar. Of its capabilities of defence we know nothing. It was surprised by the Sooloos. Its climate was not well spoken of. The island is larger than that of Labuan, and, as far as we know, has no coal. The great, and to me conclusive consideration against Balambangan is, that it is in the very nest of pirates, and surrounded by warlike and hostile people; and that to render it secure and effective, at least double the force would be necessary there that would suffice at Labuan. If Labuan succeeds and pays its own expenses, we might then take Balambangan; for the next best thing to a location on the main is to influence the people thereon by a succession of insular establish- ments. Yesterday we made an agreeable excursion to the n.e point of Labuan; near the point it is picturesque, the cliffs are bold and cave-worn; the trees hang over the cliffs, or encroach on the intermediate sands, till they kiss the wave. Near a small cavern we discovered a seam of coal, which afforded us employment whilst Captain Bethune and Mr. Wise walked to obtain a view of the southern coast of the island.-

“On Proposed British settlement on the north-west coast of Borneo, and occupation of the island of Labuan. John Crawford, an early governor of Singapore wrote: " I am of opinion that a settlement on the north-west coast of Borneo, — that is, at a convenient point on the southern shore of the China Sea — would be highly advantageous to this country, as a coal-depot for steam — navigation; as a means of suppressing Malayan piracy; as a harbour of refuge for ships disabled in the China Sea; and finally, as a commanding position during a naval war.-

“The island of Labuan has been pointed out for this purpose; and as far as our present limited knowledge of it will allow me to judge, it appears to possess all the necessary qualities for such a settlement. "The requisite properties are, salubrity of climate, a good harbour, a position in the track of steam-navigation, conveniency of position for ships disabled in typhoons, conveniency of position for our cruisers during war, and a locality strong and circumscribed by nature, so as to be readily capable of cheap defence.-

"Labuan lies in about 6̊ of north latitude, and consequently the average heat will be about 83̊ of Fahrenheit; the utmost range of the thermometer will not exceed ten degrees. In short, the year is a perpetual hot summer. It is, at the same time, well ventilated by both monsoons; and being near twenty miles from the marshy shores of the Borneo River, there is little ground to apprehend that it will be found unhealthy, even if those shores themselves had been ascertained to be so, which, however, is not the case; for, in proof of their salubrity, it may be stated, that the town of Borneo is healthy, although it stands, and has stood for centuries, on the flooded banks of the river; the houses being built on posts, and chiefly accessible by boat.-

"With respect to harbour, a most essential point, I do not perceive that the island is indented by any bay or inlet that would answer the purpose of one. The channel, however, which lies between it and the mainland of Borneo, is but seven miles broad, and will probably constitute a spacious and convenient harbour. The name of the island itself, which means ' anchorage, I have no doubt is derived from the place affording shelter to native shipping, and those probably, in most cases, fleets of pirate prahus. This channel is again further restricted by four islets, and these, with four more lying to the south-west, will afford shelter in the southwest or mild monsoon; protection is given in the north-east, the severest monsoon, by Labuan itself: and I may add, that the island is, by four degrees of latitude, beyond the extreme southern limit of the typhoons of the Chinese Sea.-

"In the channel between Labuan and the main, or rather between Labuan and the islets already mentioned, the soundings on the Admiralty chart shew that vessels drawing as much as eighteen feet water may anchor within a mile of the shore, and the largest vessels within a mile and a half; a convenience for shipping which greatly exceeds that of Singapore. One of the advantages of Labuan will be, that it will prove a port of refuge for shipping disabled in the storms of the Chinese Seas.-

Proposal for a Colony in Borneo

On the establishment of a colony on the island of Labuan. John Crawford, an early governor of Singapore wrote: "Labuan lies nearly in the direct track both of steam and sailing navigation from India to China, during the north-east, the worst and severest of the two monsoons; and is as intermediate a position between Singapore and Hong Kong as can be found, being 700 miles from the former, and 1000 from the latter. The insular character and narrow limits of Labuan will make it easily and cheaply defensible. The extreme length of the island appears to be about six miles, its greatest breadth about four and a half, and probably its whole area will not be found to exceed thirty square miles.-

"From the rude tribes of the immediate vicinity no hostile attack is to be apprehended that would make the present erection of forts or batteries necessary. No Asiatic enemy is at any time to be feared that would make such defences requisite. In five-and-twenty years it has not been found imperative to have recourse to them at Singapore. It is only in case of war with a naval power that fortifications would be required; but I am not informed what local advantages Labuan possesses for their erection. A principal object of such fortifications would be the defence of the shipping in the harbour from the inroads of an enemy's cruisers. At one point the soundings, as given in the Admiralty chart, are stated nine fathoms, within three quarters of a mile of the shore: and I presume that batteries within this distance would afford protection to the largest class of merchantmen. In Singapore Roads no class of shipping above mere native craft can lie nearer than two miles of the shore; so that in a war with an European naval power, the merchant shipping there can only be defended by her Majesty's navy.-

“One of the most striking national advantages to be expected from the possession of Labuan would consist in its use in defending our own commerce, and attacking that of opponents, in the event of a naval war. Between the eastern extremity of the Straits of Malacca and Hong Kong, a distance of 1700 miles, there is no British harbour, and no safe and accessible port of refuge; Hong Kong is, indeed, the only spot within the wide limits of the Chinese Sea for such a purpose, although our legitimate commercial intercourse within it extends over a length of 2000 miles. Everywhere else, Manilla and the newly opened ports of China excepted, our crippled vessels or our merchantmen pursued by the enemy's cruisers, are met by the exclusion or extortion of semibarbarous nations, or in danger of falling into the power of robbers and savages.-

“Labuan fortified, and supposing the Borneon coal to be as productive and valuable in quality as it is represented, would give Great Britain in a naval war the entire command of the China Sea. This would he the result of our possessing or commanding the only available supply of coal, that of Bengal and Australia excepted, to he found in the wide limits which extend east of the continents of Europe and America.-

“The position of Lahuan will render it the most convenient possible for the suppressing of piracy. The most desperate and active pirates of the whole Indian Archipelago are the tribes of the Sooloo group of islands lying close to the north shore of Borneo, and the people of the north and north eastern coast of Borneo itself; these have of late years proved extremely troublesome both to the English and Dutch traders; both nations are bound by the Convention of 1824 to use their best endeavours for the suppression of piracy, and many efforts have certainly been made for this purpose, although as yet without material effect in diminishing the evil.-

"From Labuan, these pirates might certainly be intercepted by armed steamers far more conveniently and cheaply than from any other position that could be easily pointed out: indeed, the very existence of a British settlement' would tend to the suppression of piracy. " As a commercial depot, Labuan would have considerable advantages by position; the native trade of the vicinity would of course resort to it, and so would that of the north coast of Borneo, of the Sooloo Islands, and of a considerable portion of the Spice Islands. Even for the trade of the Philippines and China, it would have the advantage over Singapore of a voyage by 700 miles shorter; a matter of most material consequence to native commerce.-

"With all the countries of the neighbourhood lying west of Labuan I presume that a communication across both monsoons might be maintained throughout the year. This would include a portion of the east coast of the Malay peninsula, Siam, and part of Cochin China. " Labuan belongs to that portion of the coast of Borneo which is the rudest. The Borneons themselves are of the Malay nation, originally emigrants from Sumatra, and settled here for. about six centuries. They are the most distant from their original seat of all the colonies which have sprung from this nation. The people from the interior differ from them in language, manners, and religion, and are divided into tribes as numerous and as rude as the Americans when first seen by Europeans.-

“From such a people we are not to expect any valuable products of art or manufacture, for a British mercantile depot. Pepper is, however, produced in considerable quantity, and the products of the forests are very various, as bees- wax, gum-benjamin, fine camphor, camphor oil, esculent callows' nests, canes and rattans, which used to can the staple articles of Borneon import into Singapore. The Borneon territory opposite to Labuan abounds also, I believe, in the palm which yields sago, and indeed the chief part of the manufactured article was thirty years ago brought from this country. The Chinese settlers would, no doubt, as in Singapore and Malacca, establish factories for its preparation according to the improved processes which they now practise at those places.-

“There may be reason to expect, however, that the timber of the portion of Borneo referred to may be found of value for ship-building; for Mr. Dalrymple states that in his time, above seventy years ago, Chinese junks of 500 tons burden used to be built in the river of Borneo.; As to timber well suited for boats and house -building, it is hardly necessary to add that the north-west coast of Borneo, in common with almost every other part of the Archipelago, contains a supply amounting to superfluity.-

“I may take this opportunity of stating, as evidence of the conveniency of this portion of Borneo for a commercial intercourse with China, that down to within the last half century a considerable number of Chinese junks were engaged in trading regularly with Borneo, and that trade ceased only when the native government became too bad and weak to afford it protection. With out the least doubt this trade would again spring up on the erection of the British flag at Labuan Not a single Chinese junk had resorted to the Straits of Malacca before the establishment of Singapore, and their number is now, of one size or another, and exclusive of the junks of Siam and Cochin China, not less than 100.-

" From the cultivation of the land I should not be disposed to expect any thing beyond the production of fresh fruits and esculent vegetables, and, when the land is cleared, of grass for pasture, 'The seas, in this part of the world, are prolific in fish of great variety and great excellence; and the Chinese settlers are found every where skilful and industrious in taking them.-

“Some difficulty will, in the beginning, be experienced with respect to milk, butter, and fresh meat: this was the case at first in Singapore, but the difficulty has in a good measure been overcome. The countries of the Archipelago are generally not suited to pasture, and it is only in a few of them that the ox and buffalo are abundant. The sheep is so no where, and, for the most part, is wanting altogether. Cattle, therefore, must be imported.-

"As to corn, it will unquestionably be found far cheaper to import than to raise it. Rice will be the chief bread-corn, and will come in great abundance and cheapness from Siam and Cochin China. No country within 700 miles of Singa pore is abundant in corn, and none is grown in the island: yet, from the first establishment of the settlement to the present time, corn has been both cheap and abundant, there has been wonderfully little fluctuation, there are always stocks, and for many years a considerable exportation. A variety of pulses, vegetable oil, and culinary salt, will be derived from the same countries, as is now done in abundance by Singapore.-

“The mines of antimony are 300 miles to the south-west of Labuan, and those of gold on the west and the south coasts; and I am not aware that any mineral wealth has been discovered in the portion of Borneo immediately connected with Labuan, except that of coal — far more important and valuable, indeed, than gold or antimony. The existence of a coal-field has been traced from Labuan to the islands of Kayn-arang — which words, in fact, mean coal-island — to the island of Chermin, and from thence to the mainland, over a distance of thirty miles. With respect to the coal of Labuan itself, I find no distinct statement beyond the simple fact of the existence of the mineral; but the coal of the two islands in the river, and of the main, is proved to be — from analysis and trial in steam-navigation — superior to nearly all the coal which India has hitherto yielded, and equal to some of our best English coals. This is the more remarkable, as it is known that most surface-minerals, and especially coals, are inferior to the portions of the same veins or beds more deep-seated.-

“Nearly as early as the British flag is erected, and, at all events, as soon as it is permanently known to be so, there may be reckoned upon with certainty a large influx of settlers. The best and most numerous of these will be the Chinese. They were settled on the Borneo river when the Borneo government, never very good, or otherwise than comparatively violent and disorderly, was most endurable.-

“The distance of Hong Kong is about 1000 miles, and that of the island of Hainan, a great place for emigration, not above 800; distances which to the Chinese junks — fast sailers before the strong and favourable winds of the monsoonsdo not make voyages exceeding four or five days. The coasts of the provinces of Canton and Fokien have hitherto been the great hives from which Chinese emigration has proceeded; and even Fokien is not above 1400 miles from Labuan, a voyage of seven or eight days. Chinese trade and immigration will come together. The northwest coast of Borneo produces an unusual supply of those raw articles for which there is always a demand in the markets of China; and Labuan, it may be reckoned upon with certainty, will soon become the seat of a larger trade with China than the river of Borneo ever possessed.-

“I by no means anticipate the same amount of rapid advance in population, commerce, or financial resources for Labuan, that has distinguished the history of Singapore, a far more centrical position for general commerce; still I think its prospect of success undoubted; while it will have some advantages which Singapore cannot, from its nature, possess. Its coal-mines, and the command of the coal-fields on the river of Borneo, are the most remarkable of these; and its superiority as a postoffice 1 station necessarily follows. Then it is far more convenient as a port of refuge; and, as far as our present knowledge will enable us to judge, infinitely more valuable for military purposes, more especially for affording protection to the commerce which passes through the Chinese Sea, amounting at present to probably not less than 300,000 tons of shipping, carrying cargoes certainly not under the value of 15,000,000. sterling.-

"Labuan ought, like Singapore, to be a free port; and assuredly will not prosper if it is not. Its revenue should not be derived from customs, but, as in that settlement, from excise duties: upon the nature of these, as it is well known, it is unnecessary to enlarge. They covered during my time, near twenty years ago, and within five years of the establishment of the settlement, the whole charges of a small but sufficient garrison (100 Sepoys), and a moderate but competent civil establishment.-

"The military and civil establishments have been greatly increased of late years; but the revenue, still in its nature the same, has kept pace with them. During my administration of Singapore, the municipal charges fell on the general fund; but they are at present amply provided for from a distinct source, chiefly an assessment on house-property. If the military and civil charges of Labuan are kept within moderate bounds, I make no doubt but that a similar excise revenue will be adequate to cover the charges of both, and that in peace at least the state need not be called on to make any disbursement on its account; while during a naval war, if the state make any expenditure, it will be fully compensated by the additional security which the settlement will afford to British commerce, and the annoyance it will cause to the enemy.-

"As to the disposal of the land, always a difficult question in a new and unoccupied colony, the result of my own inquiries and personal experience lead me to offer it as my decided conviction, that the most expedient plan — that which is least troublesome to the government, most satisfactory to the settler, and ultimately most conducive to the public prosperity — is to dispose of it for a term of years, that is, on long leases of 1000 years, or virtually in perpetuity; the object in this case of adopting the leasehold tenure being, by making the land a chattel interest, to get rid of the difficulties in the matter of inheritance and transfer, which, under the administration of English law, and in reference more particularly to the Asiatic people who will be the principal landowners, are incident to real property. Town allotments might be sold subject to a considerable quit-rent; but allotments in the country for one entirely nominal. Those of the latter description should be small, proportionate with the extent of the island, and the time and difficulty required in such a climate to clear the land, now overgrown for the most part with a stupendous forest of evergreen trees, and the wood of which is too abundant to be of any value, certainly for the most part not worth the land-carriage of a couple of furlongs.-

"A charter for the administration of justice should be as nearly as possible contemporaneous with the cession. Great inconvenience has resulted in all our Eastern settlements of the same nature with that speculated on at Labuan, from the want of all legal provision for the administration of justice; and remembering this, it ought to be guarded against in the case of Labuan.-

“Whether in preparing for the establishment of a British settlement on the coast of Borneo, or in actually making one, her Majesty's ministers, I am satisfied, will advert to the merits and peculiar qualifications of Mr. Brooke. That gentleman is unknown to me, except by his acts and writings; but, judging by these, I consider him as possessing all the qualities which have distinguished the successful founders of new colonies; intrepidity, firmness, and enthusiasm, with the art of governing and leading the masses. He possesses some, moreover, which have not always belonged to such men, however otherwise distinguished; a knowledge of the language, manners, customs, and institutions of the natives by whom the colony is to be surrounded; with benevolence and an independent fortune — things still more unusual with the projectors of colonies. Towards the formation of a new colony, indeed, the available services of such a man, presuming they are available, may be considered a piece of good fortune.-

Audience with the Sultan of Brunei

James Brooke wrote in his journal in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: Borneo, or Bruni city. Left the Driver at 9 a.m. in the gun-boat, with the pinnace and cutter in company: a fine breeze carried us to Pulo Chermin, and nearly the whole way to Pulo Combong, where we met with the state-boat bearing the letter. We entered the town straggling, and the letter having been received with firing of guns, banners displayed, and all the respect due to a royal communication, we were dragged in haste to the audience; the Sultan on his throne, Muda Hassim, and every principal Pangeran waiting for us — Pangeran Usop to boot. The letter was read; twenty-one guns fired. I told tbem in all civility that I was deputed by her Majesty the Queen to express her feelings of good will, and to offer every assistance in repressing piracy in these seas. The Sultan stared. Muda Hassim said, "We are greatly indebted; it is good, very good." Then, heated, and sunburnt, and tired, we took our leave, and retired to the house prepared for us. [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

"March 1st. — A long conference with Budrudeen, when, I believe, we exhausted all the important topics of Borneo politics: subsequently we visited Muda Hassim and the Sultan. The latter was profuse in his kind expressions, and inquired of the interpreter when the English would come to Labuan adding, " I want to have the Europeans near me," On this head, however, he gained no information. The presents were given to the Sultan and Rajah.-

"5th. — In the evening visited Muda Hassim, and heard news from Malludu, which, divested of exaggerations, amounted to this: that Seriff Houseman was ready to receive us; was fortified, and had collected a fleet of boats and that if the English did not come and attack him, he would come and attack Borneo, because they were in treaty with Europeans. After leaving Muda Hassim, paid the Sultan a visit.-

Sultan of Brunei in 1846

Captain Mundy visited the Sultan in state on the 19th of September, and thus describes the interview: "Early on that morning I despatched all the boats, armed, under Lieutenant Heath, taking with him the detachment of marines, and gave him orders to moor the force in line of battle in front of the Sultan's new palace, and land the marines on the platform commanding the entrance of the hall of audience, and there wait my arrival. I left the Iris at 7 h 30 m a.m., and pulling the seventeen miles in three hours and a half, found all ready for my reception. As I stepped on shore I was received under a salute of fifteen guns by Pangeran Mumim, and the Sultan met me at the threshold of the hall. Here the marines were drawn up, directly enfilading the divan; and as they presented arms, I observed the old monarch tremble in his slippers; for he evidently entertained some slight suspicion that, as he well merited punishment, I would act as his highness would certainly have done in my place — namely, kidnap him by treachery. [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

“The Sultan appeared about sixty years of age, his countenance denoting imbecility, not untinctured with hypocrisy. He has two thumbs on his right hand, is five feet five inches in height, thin, and meagre of limb. He was well dressed, and his manner and deportment thoroughbred; and he was treated with gre tt respect by the numerous princes and magnates who thronged the salle. After presenting my officers, I told him that I had words for his private ear, and must speak with him alone. He led me immediately to an antechamber commanding a view of the river. He then ordered a large wax taper to be lit and placed before us, explaining that this light was witness of the purity of his heart, and of the oath which he was ready to make of his good-will towards his sister the Queen of England. I then gave him, through my interpreter, the following information: that England would insist upon his ministers being good men, favourable to Europeans and to lawful commerce, exact in the observance of treaties, and active in discountenancing piracy; that a grave outrage had been committed by firing on the British flag, and that I could not say what redress would be considered sufficient. The Sultan assured me in reply, that he was ready to submit to any terms which the Admiral might dictate; that he would deliver up four of the princes who had been active in the late hostilities against us; and that for the future his government should be strictly just. I told him he was sure to receive justice from our government, and that all depended upon his own conduct; and I ended by remarking that it would be much more agreeable for me to protect his new palace and capital, than to receive orders to inflict upon it the same chastisement with which we had visited Tampassok, Pandassar, and Mamhacoot.-

“The Sultan again swore by the Prophet, in honour of whom he had just fasted thirty days, that his heart was in the right place; that he had never forgotten the kindness of the Admiral to him last year; and that he had given positive orders to Hadgi Samod, who commanded the forts, not to fire on us, but that that chieftain would not obey him.-

“After a few more words I took my leave, and re-embarked; and I will now only add, that it is my firm opinion that he will hereafter submit to any demands made by Mr. Brooke, who is, indeed, de facto, sultan of the whole territory from Point Api to Malludu, a coast of seven hundred miles. What an extraordinary position for an English gentleman to be placed in ! And how has he managed to receive the homage of so vast a population? By unremitting kindness and attention to the natives of every description, during a six years' residence. What could be more extraordinary than the gathering of the Kajahs off Kimanis, last month, just before we attacked Mambacoot? people who had never seen him, and who had only heard from others of his benevolence and good government at Sarawak. Then how romantic his march against the Sultan into the interior! — ending by the total submission of the most ancient Mahomedan sovereign of the East, who, I forgot to mention, told me that his family had supplied the last twentyfive reigning princes, of whom his highness was exceedingly proud, and which he hoped would be considered by our government as a reason for supporting him on the throne."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vanity Fair magazine, Brunei Tourism, Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam, Government of Brunei Darussalam, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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