Kingdom of Sarawak

The Kingdom of Sarawak (also known as the State of Sarawak)[5] 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. 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 stability, 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. The area now forms the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Kingdom of Sarawak

Motto: Latin: Dum Spiro Spero[1][2]
(While I breathe, I hope)[2]
Kingdom of Sarawak in the 1920s.
Kingdom of Sarawak in the 1920s.
StatusIndependent Kingdom (until 1888)
Protectorate of the United Kingdom
Common languagesEnglish, Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Sarawak Malay, Chinese etc.
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy,[3][4] Protectorate
White Rajah 
• 1841–68
James Brooke (first)
• 1917–46
Charles Vyner Brooke (last)
Historical eraNew Imperialism
• Established
24 September 1841
• Protectorate
14 June 1888
16 December 1941
10 June 1945
• Ceded to the Crown colony
1 July 1946
1945124,450 km2 (48,050 sq mi)
• 1841
• 1848
• 1893
• 1933
• 1945
CurrencySarawak dollar
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Bruneian Empire
Sultanate of Sarawak
Japanese occupation of British Borneo
British Military Administration (Borneo)
Crown Colony of Sarawak
Today part of Malaysia


Foundation and early years

Sir James Brooke (1847) by Francis Grant
James Brooke, the founder of the kingdom

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.[6] After serving in the First Anglo-Burmese War where he was severely wounded in battle,[7][8] 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.[9] Overstaying his furlough resulting in his position in the military being forfeited, but he was awarded a pension by the government for his service.[9][10][11] He continued on from India and went to China to improve his health.[12]

On his way to China in 1830, he saw the islands of the Asiatic Archipelago, still generally unknown to Europeans.[12] He returned to England and made an abortive trading journey to China in the Findlay before his father died in 1835.[13][14] Inspired by the adventure stories regarding 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,[15][16][17] he purchased a schooner named Royalist using the £30,000 left to him by his father.[7][8] He recruited a crew for the schooner, training in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1836,[9] before beginning their sail to the Far East on 27 October 1838.[13] 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.[9][18]

Brooke originally planned to sail to Marudu Bay in northwestern Borneo, but the British Governor-General in Singapore asked him to thank Raja Muda Hashim in southwestern Borneo.[9][19][20] 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.[19] 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.[18][21][22] 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.[23][24] It has also been alleged that the rebellion against Brunei was aided by the neighbouring Sultanate of Sambas and the government of the Dutch East Indies, who wanted to establish economic rights over the antimony.[25] Despite Hashim's efforts to stop the rebellion, it came to no avail thus leading him to seek direct help from Brooke.[20]

Responding to the request, a force of local natives that was raised and led by Brooke managed to temporarily stop the rebellion.[22] Brooke was granted a large quantity of antimony from the local mines and authority in the Sarawak River area as a reward.[20] After that, Brooke became embroiled in Hashim's campaign to restore order in the area.[26] 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.[13][27]


Dayaks in their war dress
The Dayaks, who subsequently became Brooke followers and most loyal to the kingdom along with the local Malays of Sarawak[28][29]

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.[30] 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.[31] 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;[26][32] which later became Sarawak First Division.[33] 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.[27] This led Hashim to constantly delay the recognition of concession and angered Brooke. 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 granted Sarawak to Brooke on 24 September 1841.[34] Brooke issued new laws for the territory banning slavery, headhunting and piracy;[35] and by July 1842, his appointment was confirmed by Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.[27]

Flag of Sarawak (1841–1848)
The first flag of the kingdom from 1841 until 1848 with the St George's Cross
National Museum KL 2008 (54)
Pirates attacking a boat owned by Brooke in 1843

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.[36] 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).[36] 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.[37][38] Indirectly, Brooke had become involved in an internal dynastic dispute of Brunei.[39] 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;[40] where during the course of piracy suppression they encountered Mahkota, the former administrator of Kuching area who had formed an alliance with a Sea Dayak pirate chief on the Skrang River in Sarawak and captured him in the same year.[41][42]

Pangeran Raja Muda Hashim
Sketch of Pengiran Raja Muda Hashim who became the close friend of Brooke, c. 1846

In August 1845, Admiral Thomas Cochrane arrived at Brunei with a squadron of from six to eight ships to release two Lascar seamen who were believed to be hidden there.[39][43] 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.[39] Denying the allegation, Yusof refused to attend a meeting with Cochrane, and escaped after being 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.[39][43] 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.[44][45] 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.[45][46] 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,[43] whose presence had become unwelcome to the royal family, especially due to his close ties with Brooke that were favourable to English policy.[47] 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.[48]

Phlegethon repelling an attack from the forts of Borneo Proper
Steamer Phlegethon and the boats of Thomas Cochrane repelling an attack from the forts of Borneo Proper on 8 July 1846

By the order of the Sultan, Hashim and his brother Badruddin together with their family were assassinated in 1846.[43][47][49] One of Badruddin's slaves, Japar, survived the attack and intercepted HMS Hazard, which brought him to Sarawak to inform Brooke. Enraged by the news, Brooke organised an expedition to avenge Hashim's death with the aid of Cochrane from the Royal Navy with Phlegethon.[48] 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.[48] 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.[43][48] 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.[48]

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.[48] 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.[50] 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.[50] 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.[50]

Later years

Flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak (1848)
The second flag of the kingdom from 1848 to 1870
The barque of Rajah of Sarawak
An English barque named Rajah of Sarawak, after James Brooke (drawn by Samuel Walters, c. 1850)

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.[50] American policy at the time however made no intention to establish any solid presence in Asia and the Pacific.[51] By 1850, the United States recognised the status of Brooke's kingdom as an independent state.[52] 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.[53] The new Sultan then ceded Saribas and Skrang districts, which later became the Second Division, to Brooke in 1853 due to conflict with pirates.[33][54]

Three major rebellions led by Rentap (1853),[55] Liu Shan Bang (1857)[56][57] and Syarif Masahor (1860)[58] shook the Rajah's administration which, together with the stagnant economic conditions at the time, caused Brooke to be plagued by debt.[59] He was driven into planning to cede his kingdom to the British to settle his debt; while the idea was supported by some of Britain's members of parliament (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.[60] There were also concerns about its financial viability and probable drain on the exchequer.[61] 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.[60] Brooke's intention had already been decried by neighbouring British governors such as Labuan Governor Hennessy who, while respecting the Rajah, considered the kingdom a mere vassal state of Brunei.[62]

Sarawak territorial expansion
Territorial gains from 1841 to 1905

Prior to the ongoing piracy suppression, a major battle with the Illanuns of Moro pirates from the southern Philippines occurred in mid-November 1862.[63] In 1864, the United Kingdom appointed a Consul to Sarawak and recognised the kingdom,[52][64] while the Netherlands refused recognition.[65] Brooke then expanded his kingdom into territory of Brunei.[66] In 1861, he acquired the vast Rajang River basin, which subsequently became the Third Division.[33][54] The expansion continued after his death in 1868; when he was succeeded by his nephew, Charles Brooke.[67][68]

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.[69][70][71] He encouraged the migration of Chinese to boost the economy, especially in agricultural sectors;[72][73] where most of them settled around Kuching (mainly Hokkien and Teochew), Sibu (mainly Fuzhou) and Sri Aman (mainly Teochew).[74][75] 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.[76] Sarawak prospered under his rule and the kingdom did not seek protection from any European powers although requests for protection from the British in 1869 and 1879 were rejected.[76] Charles continued to seek protection from the British, securing Protectorate status from them on 14 June 1888.[5][76] He ruled Sarawak until his death in 1917 and was succeeded by his son, Charles Vyner Brooke.[77]

World War II and decline

Fire at Lutong oil refinery, Sarawak
Lutong oil refinery and storage facilities destroyed by the British in anticipation of Japanese invasion

Following World War I, the Empire of Japan began to expand their range in Asia and the Pacific.[78] Vyner became aware of the growing threats and began to institute reforms.[79] Under the protectorate treaty, Britain was responsible for Sarawak's defence[80] but it could do little, most of its forces having been 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.[80] 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.[80][81]

The unconditional surrender ceremony of the Japanese to the Australian forces in Kuching, Sarawak
The official surrender ceremony of the Japanese to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on board HMAS Kapunda in Kuching on 11 September 1945.

On 16 December 1941, a Japanese navy detachment on Japanese destroyer Sagiri arrived at Miri from Cam Ranh Bay of French Indochina.[81][82] 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.[83] The attack created panic and drove residents to the rural areas.[84] The Dutch submarine HNLMS K XVI managed to bring down the Japanese from Miri but, with the arrival of the Japanese destroyer Shirakumo together with other ships, the Japanese secured the town on 24 December.[85] 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 had surrendered in Java.[83] A steamship of the kingdom, the SS Vyner Brooke, was sunk while evacuating nurses and wounded servicemen in the aftermath of the fall of Singapore. Most of its surviving crew were massacred on Bangka Island.[86]

Hoisting the Sarawak flag, 1945 (AWM 118393)
The hoisting of the kingdom flag by the ex-internees of Allied prisoner of war (POW) compound in Kuching, 12 September 1945

Lacking air protection, the kingdom, together with rest of the island, fell to the Japanese and Vyner took sanctuary in Australia.[87] Many of the British and Australian soldiers captured after the fall of Malaya and Singapore were brought to Borneo and held as prisoners of war (POWs) in Batu Lintang camp in 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 management of the north.[88] As part of the Allied Campaign to retake their possessions in the East, Allied forces were then sent to Borneo in the Borneo Campaign and liberated the island. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) played a significant role in the mission. The Allies' Z Special Unit provided intelligence gathering which facilitated the AIF landings. Most of the major towns of Sarawak were bombed during this period.[84] 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 his kingdom but decided to cede it to the British government as a Crown Colony on 1 July 1946 due to lack of resources to finance reconstruction.[89][90][91]


Kuching, Sarawak; the Astana, a partly castellated building. Wellcome V0037394
The Astana, the palace of the White Rajahs since Charles Brooke reign; c. 1896
CO 1069-555-35 (7937605180) 01
A Datu Banddar for more than 40 years as one of the Rajah's ministers and also a member of Supreme Council, c. 1930s

Prior to the establishment of the Sarawak Administrative Service under the second Rajah, there had been no formal civil administration.[92] 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.[93] The Rajahs also encouraged the establishment of schools, healthcare services and transport.[94]

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.[95] The Sarawak Rangers was established in 1862 as a para-military force of the kingdom.[96] It was superseded by the Sarawak Constabulary in 1932 as a police force,[97] with 900 members mainly comprising Dayaks and Malays.[98]

The Kuching General Post Office building, built in 1931 with neoclassical architecture; pictured in 2015.
The Kuching General Post Office building, built in 1931 with neoclassical architecture; pictured in 2015.

As a British protectorate, all powers of governance were conducted under the purview of the British government although constitutionally remaining an independent state ruled by the Rajahs.[5] According to an agreement signed on 14 June 1888,[5] it was stipulated:

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.


Kuching, Sarawak; the Borneo Company's building. Photograph. Wellcome V0037398
The Borneo Company Limited building in Kuching, c. 1896

Upon acquisition of his first territories in the First Division, Brooke came into possession of a large quantity of antimony from mines around the area.[99] At the time of his arrival, a land tenure system known as the Native Customary Rights (NCR) had been practised by the indigenous communities.[100][101][102] Brooke's first priority was to abolish headhunting among the indigenous communities of the interior. The kingdom's authorities conducted repeated raids on Sea Dayak villages and, facing a major rebellion, ultimately forced them to practice horticulture and abandon headhunting.[103][104] Land Dayaks had also been involved in headhunting but more readily abandoned the practice[105] and became loyal followers of Brooke.[28][29] Most Malay coastal villages were also raided as part of the kingdom's policy to combat piracy and slavery.[103] Despite success in these endeavours, stagnant economic conditions persisted and the kingdom amassed huge debts.[59]

Kuching Main Bazaar shophouses
The Main Bazaar in Chinatown, Kuching, c. 1900s

Brooke promoted Chinese immigration, convinced that they would inject vigour into the economy and prove an encouragement to indigenous communities to participate.[106] Initially, most of the immigrants were miners originating from Sambas in neighbouring Dutch Borneo. These later formed a Kongsi system in Bau.[107] The second Rajah continued this policy, particularly targeting the agricultural sector.[72][73] Conflicts ensued between the government and the Chinese in 1857, believed to have arisen, inter alia, in relation to the Second Opium War.[108][109]

Borneo Company Limited was formed in 1856. It was involved in a wide range of businesses in Sarawak, including trade, banking, agriculture, mineral exploration and development.[110] The second Rajah worked to stabilise the economy and reduce government debt. The economy grew significantly under his reign, with total exports reaching $386,439 and imports $414,756 in 1863.[76]

In 1869, by which time total trade had reached $3,262,500,[76] the second Rajah invited Chinese black pepper and gambier growers from Singapore to cultivate their crops in Sarawak.[111][112] As a result, by the early 20th century, Sarawak became one of the world's major producers of pepper.[113] The kingdom was a relative latecomer to the natural rubber boom due to the reluctance of the second Rajah to give over indigenous farmland to European companies.[114] Only five large rubber estates were established during his reign.[115] Oil reserves were discovered in his final years.[116] From the 1930s, through the work of the Chinese businesses in the kingdom, it became a significant raw material supplier, with Singapore a major trading partner.[98][117]


Sarawak $
One Sarawak dollar, 1935

A Sarawak dollar was first issued in 1858 and remained at par with the Straits dollar. Different notes were issued by the Sarawak Government Treasury, the earliest notes using English, Jawi and Chinese characters. From the 1880s, the notes' background featured the Rajah's portrait and coat of arms.[118]



Sea Dayaks with weapons and head-dresses
Sea Dayaks with weapons and head-dresses, c. 1896.
The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo 1896
Ethnic composition map of the natives of Kingdom of Sarawak and the neighbouring British North Borneo, 1896.

In 1841, Sarawak had an indigenous population of about 8,000.[66] The Dayaks were the largest indigenous group in the interior: comprising Iban, Bidayuh and other interior tribes such as the Kayan, Kelabit, Kenyah, Lun Bawang and Penan, while coastal areas were dominated by the Sarawak local Malays, Melanau, Bruneian and Kedayan.[98] The government of Sarawak welcomed the migration of Chinese workers to boost the economy.[72][73] Following various immigration schemes initiated by the Rajahs, the population increased to 150,000 in 1848,[119] 300,000 in 1893,[120] 475,000 in 1933,[98] and 600,000 in 1945.[66]

Water transport

It was during the reign of the Second Rajah that public infrastructure began to be given attention.[121] The river systems in Sarawak are not inter-connected. As a result, coastal ships were used by the Brooke government to carry merchandise from one river system to another. The Brooke government also established a trade route from Kuching to Singapore, using its own ships such as The Royalist, Julia, and The Swift. Among the early cargoes were antimony and gold. The Borneo Company Limited bought another steamer, which they named the Sir James Brooke, to carry antimony, coal, and sago. The ships were the link between Sarawak and Singapore. Charles Brooke encouraged the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce to set up its own shipping lane to Singapore, offering to sell The Royalist to it. In 1875, the "Singapore and Sarawak Steamship Company" was formed and, shortly thereafter, bought The Royalist and the steamer The Rajah Brooke. There were complaints that the company provided irregular services to its customers and, in 1908, the Brooke government transferred another two small steamships, the Adeh and Kaka, to the company in expectation of improvement. In 1919, Chinese interests bought the company's shares, liquidated it and formed a new company named the "Sarawak Steamship Company". The company established shipping lanes linking the Rajang, Limbang, and Baram river systems. The Sibu-Singapore shipping lane was started by the company but soon abandoned, being unprofitable. The establishment of the shipping lanes by Sarawak Steamship Company allowed the indigenous people to participate in wider markets, thus narrowing the income gap between urban and rural areas in Sarawak.[122] The company suffered heavy losses in the trade depression of the 1920s and was acquired by the Singapore-based "Straits Steamship Company". The company established branches at Sibu and Bintulu and installed agents at other small river ports.[122]

Land transport

The Sarawak Government Railway locomotive named Bulan
A locomotive named "Bulan" was installed after the government railway was opened in 1915.[123]

Land transport in Sarawak was poorly developed owing to the swampy environment around rivers downstream, while dense jungles presented significant challenges to road construction inland. Most of the roads were constructed in coastal areas. Borneo Company Limited and Sarawak Oilfields also constructed a small number of short roads to serve their own economic interests. Meanwhile, in the interior, raised batang paths were made by the natives using logs to connect villages and their environs, easing access to farms and collection of forest produce. At the same time, rivers remained the most important means of transportation to coastal towns. In the first 70 years of Brooke rule, bridle paths were constructed to connect administrative posts to the surrounding districts. After the 1930s, the policy was changed to providing access from villages to navigable rivers. Road construction during the Brooke era was, however, uncoordinated. Most of the roads located near the towns were short, with the exception of the economically important Miri-Lutong road built by Sarawak Oilfields, the Jambusan road to Tegora via the Dahan estate, and Penrissen road built by the Brooke government. Together with the road developments, bullock carts were introduced together with porters, and hand carts in the mid-19th century, followed by rickshaws at the end of the 19th century, and bicycles in the early 20th century. Public motor services appeared in 1912 together with private taxis.[124] In 1915, a short railway connecting Kuching to Tenth Mile was opened to the public. Subsequent construction of a road running parallel to the railway led to substantial losses, however, and its operations were limited to transportation of rocks from Seventh Mile to Kuching.[124][125][126]

Electricity and communication

1918 $1 revenue stamp of Sarawak
A $1 revenue stamp issued in 1918, featuring Charles Vyner Brooke
Kuching Electrical Power Station 1922
Belliss and Morcom engines in the coal-fired Kuching power station, 1922

In 1894, while plans for electric street lightning were being drawn up in Penang and Kuala Lumpur on the Malay peninsula, Rajah Charles Brooke refused to adopt this new technology because of his dislike of "new-fangled things". The sparse population of Sarawak also presented a logistical challenge to install power stations and connecting cables.[127] However, wired telephones were installed around Kuching in 1898 for keeping up to date communications with the outstations. Otherwise, messages from the northernmost areas of the state such as Limbang and Baram could take up to a month to reach Kuching. Besides, telephones were cheap to install and required little power. By 1908, the Mukah-Oya region was connected to telephone lines, followed by Miri in 1913, and Sibu in 1914.[128] The first wireless telegraphy station was erected in Kuching in 1917, followed by Sibu and Miri immediately thereafter.[129] It was not until 1914 that the first electrical power stations were installed in Miri by Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company and Bau by the Borneo Company Limited. The oil production boom in Miri and gold mining in Bau gave rise to the need of more efficient lightning and motor systems. Cinematography also began the same year in Miri.[130] In 1920, J.R Barnes, the manager of the Sarawak Government Wireless Telegraphs and Telephones Department, proposed an electrical lightning scheme for Kuching using a coal-fired system. In January 1923, a power station covering an area of 6,700 square feet (620 m2) was completed at Khoo Hun Yeang Street, Kuching, and started operation in June 1923, supplying Kuching with direct current (DC) system.[131] Today the road where the power station was once located is now known as the "Power Street".[132][133] Sibu's first power station was installed in 1927, followed by Mukah in 1929.[134] From 1922 to 1932, the electrical supply in Kuching was managed by the Electrical Department, under the jurisdiction of Public Works Department. This department was then privatised as the Sarawak Electricity Supply Company (SESCo).[135] From the 1930s, a telegraph line connected the country with Singapore.[136] Wireless telegraph stations were located in all major towns in Sarawak.[98] Postal service was also available throughout the administration.[137]


Sarawak General Hospital between 1900 to 1930
The Kuching General Hospital between 1900 and 1930.

The first doctor was appointment shortly after James Brooke was proclaimed the Rajah.[138] Kuching Hospital services existed in the 1800s but no records were available. The earliest record of the Kuching hospital (now Sarawak General Hospital) was available in 1910 where it was admitting 920 patients that year.[139] In 1925, a leprosy settlement was constructed in Kuching. Rajan Charles Brooke Memorial Hospital was also constructed to treat leprosy patients.[140] In 1931, a facility to treat mental illness was constructed beside the Kuching Hospital.[140] In Sibu, the construction of Lau King Howe Hospital (now Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum) was completed in 1936.[141] In 1935, there were six doctors serving the needs of the senior government servants. State Health Office (known as Medical Headquarters) was located at the Kuching Pavilion building from 1909 to 1947. There was only one assistant dental officer before the Japanese occupation. Charles Vyner Brooke had been persuading doctors from the Straits Settlements to serve in Sarawak but the response had been cold.[138] The medical service continued under the Japanese occupation. There is little records regarding the development of dentistry in the 1900s. Several accounts from the elderly people stated that there were traditional healers and roadside tooth-pullers performing palliative treatments at that time. The first government dentist was appointed in July 1925 at Kuching General Hospital. In 1932, "Sarawak Government Registration of Dentist Ordinance" was introduced. A total of 15 dentists were registered before the Japanese occupation.[142]


In 1854, Alfred Russel Wallace arrived in Kuching as a guest of James Brooke. In 1855, he wrote a paper entitled "On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species", also known as the "Sarawak Law", which anticipated aspects of Darwin's theory of evolution.[143] It is said, albeit without any evidence, that Charles Brooke approved the construction of Sarawak State Museum in 1888, the oldest museum in Borneo, with endorsement from Wallace. [144] Charles Hose, who served under Brooke as an administrator in the Baram region, was an avid photographer, naturalist, ethnologist, and author. He is credited with the discovery of various mammal and bird species endemic to Borneo: some of his specimens are now housed in London's Natural History Museum (catalogue). His ethnological collections are in, amongst others, the British Museum.[145]


The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (since 1820), the Sarawak Gazette (since 1870),[146] and the Sarawak Museum Journal (since 1911) hold a significant amount of information on Sarawak before and during the Rajahs administration.

See also


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  10. ^ Boyle 1868, p. 204.
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  14. ^ anon 1836, p. 207.
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  17. ^ Knapman 2016, p. 156.
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  19. ^ a b Hilton & Tate 1966, p. 79.
  20. ^ a b c Ring, Watson & Schellinger 2012, p. 160.
  21. ^ Miller 1970, p. 48.
  22. ^ a b Leake 1989, p. 27.
  23. ^ Chang 1995, p. 15.
  24. ^ Walker 2002, p. 26.
  25. ^ Walker 2002, p. 29.
  26. ^ a b Webster 1998, p. 130.
  27. ^ a b c Saunders 2013, p. 74.
  28. ^ a b anon 1862, p. 110.
  29. ^ a b Morrison 1993, p. 11.
  30. ^ Andaya 2016, p. 134.
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  • Uncle DI (2017). "Nibbling at land rights of indigenous peoples". The Borneo Post. Archived from the original on 6 August 2017.
  • Tawie, Sulok (2017). "Sarawak Museum to close until 2020 for restoration". Malay Mail Online. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  • Sarawak Health (2012). Heritage in Health: The Story of Medical and Health Care Services in Sarawak. Sarawak State Health Department, Kuching. ISBN 978-967-10800-1-6.

Further reading

External links

1941 constitution of Sarawak

The 1941 constitution of Sarawak is the first known written constitution in the Kingdom of Sarawak Borneo. The objective of this constitution was to approve and fulfill the promise upheld by the third white rajah of Sarawak, Charles Vyner Brooke — to give self-governance of Sarawak to the locals. However, his constitution was not implemented due to the Japanese Occupation. With the devastation and financial struggle of Sarawak, Charles Brooke without the discussion and approval of the local Malay and Dayaks leaders decided to submit Sarawak to the British. This caused huge dissatisfaction among the locals, who would later form a protest about the cession of Sarawak to the United Kingdom.

Among the contents are:

1. Charles Vyner Brooke handing absolute power to the Supreme Council and the Council of State

2. Sarawak kings ruled with the advice of the Supreme Council

3. The State Council is authorised to approve laws and financial management

4. The King has the power to overturn legislation passed by the State Council

5. The King appoints most of the members of the Supreme Council and the Council of State

Anti-cession movement of Sarawak

The anti-cession movement of Sarawak (Malay: Gerakan Anti-Penyerahan Sarawak) was a movement in Sarawak to fight against the British attempt to govern Sarawak as a crown colony rather than a protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs. The movement lasted from 1 July 1946 until March 1950.

Battle off Mukah

The Battle off Mukah was a naval engagement fought in 1862 between the navy of Sarawak and pirates. After the kidnapping of Sarawakian citizens some time before, their navy dispatched two small warships which encountered the pirates off Mukah on the northern coast of Borneo. In an unusual action, the Rajah Muda, Captain John Brooke, then the heir apparent to be White Rajah of Sarawak, led his force in the defeat of six pirate ships and the rescue of captured civilians.

British Borneo

British Borneo comprised the four northern parts of the island of Borneo, which are now the country of Brunei, two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Malaysian territory of Labuan. During the British colonial rule before World War II, Sarawak was known as the Kingdom of Sarawak (1841–1946), Sabah was known as North Borneo (1881–1946), and Labuan was known as the Crown Colony of Labuan (1848–1946). Between World War II and their independence from Britain, Sarawak became the Crown Colony of Sarawak (1946–1963) whereas Sabah and Labuan combined to form the Crown Colony of North Borneo (1946–1963). The Kingdom of Brunei (1888/1906-1984) was a protectorate of the United Kingdom since the 1888/1906 Protectorate Agreement, and was known as British Protectorate State of Brunei.

Charles Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak

Charles Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, GCMG (Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke; 3 June 1829 – 17 May 1917), born Charles Anthoni Johnson, ruled as the head of state of Kingdom of Sarawak from 3 August 1868 until his death. He succeeded his uncle, James Brooke, as the second White Rajah of this small country on the coast of Borneo.

Flag of Sarawak

The flag of the Malaysian state of Sarawak is based on the flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak of the White Rajah, and includes the yellow of Southeast Asian royalty — a similar yellow and diagonal black are in the flag of Brunei, although Brunei's yellow is of a brighter shade.

Gone Forth Beyond the Sea

"Gone Forth Beyond the Sea" was the anthem of the Kingdom of Sarawak.

It was composed in 1872 by Margaret of Sarawak, in honour of Charles of Sarawak, and was in use until the Kingdom was ceded to the United Kingdom in 1946.

The tune is identical to that of the post-1946 anthem, "Fair Land Sarawak".

History of Sarawak

History of Sarawak can be traced as far as 40,000 years ago paleolithic period where the earliest evidence of human settlements is found in the Niah caves. A series of Chinese ceramics dated from 8th to 13th century AD was uncovered at the archeological site of Santubong. The coastal regions of Sarawak came under the influence of the Bruneian Empire in the 16th century. In 1839, James Brooke, a British explorer, first arrived in Sarawak. Sarawak was later governed by the Brooke family between 1841 and 1946. During World War II, it was occupied by the Japanese for three years. After the war, the last White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke, ceded Sarawak to Britain, and in 1946 it became a British Crown Colony. On 22 July 1963, Sarawak was granted self-government by the British. Following this, it became one of the founding members of the Federation of Malaysia, established on 16 September 1963. However, the federation was opposed by Indonesia, and this led to the three-year Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation. From 1960 to 1990, Sarawak experienced a communist insurgency.

List of British representatives in the Kingdom of Sarawak

This article lists the British representatives in the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1888 to 1946. They were responsible for representing British interests in the Kingdom of Sarawak during the period of a British protectorate (from 14 June 1888 to 1 July 1946), until the country was ceded to the United Kingdom and became the Crown Colony of Sarawak.

List of Malaysian flags

This is a list of flags used in Malaysia.

List of heads of government of the Kingdom of Sarawak

This article lists the heads of government of the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1843 to 1946, when the Kingdom was ceded to the United Kingdom and became the Crown Colony of Sarawak.

Liu Shan Bang

Liu Shan Bang (simplified Chinese: 刘善邦; traditional Chinese: 劉善邦; pinyin: Liú Shànbāng) (1800-1857) was a Chinese gold miner in Bau, Sarawak. He is now known as the leader of the 1857 Chinese Uprising against the White Rajahs .

Revenue stamps of Sarawak

Sarawak issued revenue stamps from 1875 to 1942 when it was an independent kingdom as well as when it was under Japanese occupation.

The country's first revenue stamps were issued in 1875. A 3c black inscribed Sarawak Receipt Stamp portraying Sir Charles Brooke was issued, and ten years later in 1885 this was reprinted in red. The first issue in black is scarcer than the red stamp, but neither of them is particularly rare.

Around 1887, various postage stamps were overprinted with a large R to specify fiscal use only. Some were also additionally overprinted REVENUE ONLY. apart from the initial overprint to confirm this. All overprinted issues were withdrawn on 30 June 1900, the day before a new vertical design was issued, again portraying Sir Charles Brooke. These remained in use until the Rajah's death, and in 1918 this set was reissued with the portrait of the new monarch, his son Sir Charles Vyner Brooke. Some of these were also overprinted with provisional surcharges in 1934. The 1900 and 1918 sets also exist overprinted CUSTOMS diagonally.Japanese forces overran Sarawak in February 1942. Initially, revenues from the 1918 issues were handstamped in Japanese, but these were quickly replaced with postage stamps overprinted in various Japanese characters. These were used until Sarawak was liberated by Australian forces in 1945. After the war, postage stamps were used for fiscal purposes. Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya and North Borneo to form Malaysia in 1963. Since then Malaysian revenue stamps have been used in Sarawak.

Sarawak Rangers

The Sarawak Rangers were a para-military force founded in 1862 by the second White Rajah of the Kingdom of Sarawak, Charles Anthony Johnson Brooke. They evolved from the fortmen which were raised to defend Kuching in 1846. The Sarawak Rangers were first commanded by William Henry Rodway, briefly in 1862 and again from 1872 to his retirement in 1881, and were highly skilled in jungle warfare and general policing duties, being equipped with various western rifles, cannons and native weaponry.

They were based in a number of forts constructed at strategic locations in towns and at river mouths. Aside from protecting Sarawak's borders, they were used to fight any rebels and were engaged in a number of campaigns during their history. In times of emergency or war, they could depend on the support of the local population and tribespeople.

The Sarawak Rangers were disbanded for a few years until 1932, only to be reformed as Sarawak Constabulary and mobilised for the Second World War in which they attempted to defend Sarawak from Japanese invasion in 1942 at the start of the Pacific War. After the abdication of Charles Vyner Brooke in 1946 and the creation of the Crown Colony of Sarawak, the Sarawak Rangers became a colonial unit under direct British control and saw action in both the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation.In 1963, upon the formation of Malaysia, the Sarawak Rangers became part of the Royal Ranger Regiment.

Sarawak dollar

The dollar was the currency of Sarawak from 1858 to 1953. It was subdivided into 100 cents. The dollar remained at par with the Straits dollar and its successor the Malayan dollar, the currency of Malaya and Singapore, from its introduction until both currencies were replaced by the Malaya and British Borneo dollar in 1953.

During the Japanese occupation period (1942–1945), paper money was issued in denominations ranging from 1 cent to 1,000 dollars. This currency was fixed at 1 dollar = 1 Japanese yen, compared to a 1:2 pre-war rate. Following the war, the Japanese occupation currency was declared worthless and the previous issues of the Sarawakian dollar regained their value relative to sterling (two shillings four pence).

Straits dollar

The Straits dollar was the currency of the Straits Settlements from 1898 until 1939. At the same time, it was also used in the Federated Malay States, the Unfederated Malay States, Kingdom of Sarawak, Brunei, and British North Borneo.

Sultanate of Sarawak

The Sultanate of Sarawak (Malay: Kesultanan Sarawak Darul Hana; Jawi:كسلطانن سراوق دارول هان) was a traditional Malay kingdom, precursor of the present-day Kuching Division, Sarawak. The kingdom was founded in 1599 and witnessed the reign of a sole Sultan, Sultan Tengah, Prince of Brunei, known as Ibrahim Ali Omar Shah of Sarawak. The state established close relationship with Brunei, Johor and forged dynastic rules to the surrounding Malay kingdoms in western Borneo including Sambas, Sukadana and Tanjungpura-Matan. The kingdom was dissolved following Sultan Tengah's assassination in 1641. The administration of the territory was then replaced by the local Malay governors appointed from Brunei, reunifying the area into Brunei prior to the White Rajah era.

Syarif Masahor

Sharif Masahor bin Muhammad Al-Shahab, also written as Syed Mashhor and commonly known as Syarif Masahor, or Sharif Masahor in Malayan contexts, (died 1890 in Selangor) was a famous Malay rebel of Hadhrami descent in Sarikei, Sarawak state, Malaysia during the Brooke White Rajahs era in that state. Later, he played an important role in the Klang War.

White Rajahs

Other men sometimes referred to as White Rajahs include Englishman Alexander Hare in Borneo, Scot John Clunies Ross in the Cocos Islands, and Dane Mads Lange in Bali. For the book by Nigel Barley, see Nigel Barley (anthropologist)The White Rajahs were a dynastic monarchy of the British Brooke family, who founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak, located on the north west coast of the island of Borneo, from 1841 to 1946. The first ruler was an Englishman James Brooke. As a reward for helping the Sultanate of Brunei fight piracy and insurgency among the indigenous peoples, he was granted the province of Kuching which was known as Sarawak Asal (Original Sarawak) in 1841 and received independent kingdom status.

Based on descent through the male line in accordance with the Will of Sir James Brooke, the White Rajahs' dynasty continued through Brooke's nephew and grandnephew, the latter of whom ceded his rights to the United Kingdom in 1946. His nephew had been the legal heir to the throne and objected to the cession, as did most of the Sarawak members of the Council Negri.

Kingdom of Sarawak
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