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Kingdom of Sarawak

Kingdom of Sarawak
Independent kingdom (to 1888), Protectorate of the United Kingdom





Flag Coat of arms
Dum Spiro Spero
(Malay: Berharap Selagi Bernafas)
Gone Forth Beyond the Sea
Capital Kuching
Languages English, Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Sarawak Malay, Chinese etc.
Government Monarchy
White Rajah
 •  1841–1868 James Brooke
 •  1868–1917 Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke
 •  1917–1946 Charles Vyner Brooke
Legislature Council Negri
Historical era New Imperialism
 •  Independence 18 August 1841
 •  Protectorate 14 June 1888
 •  Ceded to the Colony 30 June 1946
Area 124,450 km² (48,050 sq mi)
Currency Sarawak dollar
Today part of  Malaysia
Part of a series on the
Bruneian Empire
to 1888
House of Bolkiah
(15th century–present)
Sultanate of Sulu
to 1578
Kingdom of Maynila
to 1571
Kingdom of Tondo
to 1571
Castille War 1578
Civil War 1660–1673
15th century
to 1841
15th century
to 1846
Sabah (North Borneo)
15th century
to 1865
British protectorate 1888–1984
Japanese occupation 1942–1945
Borneo campaign 1945
Revolt 1962

The Kingdom of Sarawak was a state in Borneo established by Sir James Brooke in 1841 by receiving independent kingdom status from the Sultanate of Brunei as a reward for helping fight piracy and insurgency. Its statehood and identity as a sovereign country was first recognised by the United States in 1850 and then the United Kingdom in 1863. In 1888 Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, the successor of James Brooke, accepted a British protectorate, which it remained until 1946, when the third ruler Charles Vyner Brooke ceded his rights to the United Kingdom. Sarawak gained its independence from the British in 22 July 1963 and formed the Federation of Malaysia together with Singapore, North Borneo and the Federation of Malaya in 16 September 1963.


  • History 1
    • Japanese invasion 1.1
    • Cession to the Crown Colony of Sarawak 1.2
  • Demographics 2
  • Government 3
  • Military 4
    • Sarawak Rangers 4.1
    • Battle off Mukah 4.2
  • Economy 5
  • Culture 6
  • See also 7
  • References and sources 8


A sketch of Pangeran Raja Muda Hashim.

Sarawak was part of the Sultanate of Brunei in Borneo. During the reign of Pangeran Indera Mahkota, Sarawak was in chaos from piracy and insurgency. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II (1827–1852) the Sultan of Brunei, ordered Pangeran Muda Hashim in 1839 to restore order and it was during this time that James Brooke visited Sarawak. Pangeran Muda Hashim initially requested assistance but James Brooke refused. Brooke was by then an independent adventurer with his own ship having left military employment in India after recovering from serious battle injuries. In 1841, James Brooke paid another visit to Sarawak and this time he agreed to assist Pangeran Muda Hashim. The success in defeating the pirates and insurgents led to the signing of a treaty in 1841 ceding as a reward Sarawak and Serian to James Brooke. Thereafter, on 24 September 1841, Pangeran Muda Hashim bestowed the title Rajah on James Brooke. He effectively became the Rajah of Sarawak and founded the White Rajah Dynasty of Sarawak, later extending his administration through an agreement with the Sultan of Brunei. The uniqueness of this arrangement in becoming a Rajah without any intent of colonising or imperialism mesmerised the British public's imagination and gave further impetus to exploration and rise to "man who would be king" adventurers in exotic locales.

James Brooke, who was to become the first White Rajah, received a sizeable tract of land from the Sultan. As time went on Sarawak's size would increase tremendously as more territory was leased or acquired from the Sultan of Brunei.

The evolution of Malaysia

Japanese invasion

During World War II, Sarawak, as a British protectorate, was brought into the war against Nazi Germany, though as in World War I it had little direct involvement with the conflict aside from providing war materials. Resources for the defence of Sarawak, which was known to be a strategically important goal in the event of an expected Japanese attack, were not available because they were all needed for the defence of the home country. When the Pacific War began in December 1941, Sarawak was brought into the war against Japan on the side of the Allies as part of the British Empire. Sarawak depended upon British protection as she had very limited armed forces, although the Sarawak Rangers were mobilised. In the late 1930s, an air field was constructed near Kuching which could be used as a base for the Royal Air Force in the event of war with Japan, but this proved to be of little use due to the lack of British aircraft available in the Far East. A detachment of Indian Army infantry (2/15th Punjabi regiment) and some anti-aircraft guns were futilely dispatched to Sarawak[1] to support the Sarawak Rangers, as Sarawak was quickly overrun due to the lack of adequate protection. Rajah Vyner was visiting Australia at the time of the invasion and was unable to return to Sarawak until its liberation in 1945, despite his attempts to return and launch commando raids to fight the Japanese in the jungle. Sarawak's small merchant marine was used by the British in the Far Eastern campaign, with the sinking of the SS Vyner Brooke resulting in the infamous Banka Island massacre. A government in exile was formed, although it proved ineffectual due to the lack of contact with Sarawak. Sarawak, along with the rest of Borneo, was liberated by the Australian Army in 1945.

Part of a series on the
Malaysia portal

Cession to the Crown Colony of Sarawak

After the World War II, Vyner Brooke ceded Sarawak to the Colonial Office for a sizeable pension for him and his three daughters. Charles' nephew, Anthony Brooke, who as designated heir bore the title of Rajah Muda, initially opposed cession to the Crown along with a majority of the native members of the Council Negri, or parliament. Duncan Stewart, the second British governor of Sarawak, was assassinated in the resulting unrest. As of now there is no serious movement for the restoration of the monarchy.


Sarawak is notably different from peninsular Malaysia and even Sabah in that its ethnic groups are more varied due to the large proportion of tribal peoples such as Dayaks. Chinese migration was encouraged at various times by the Brookes.


The three White Rajahs of Sarawak were:

When James Brooke first arrived in Sarawak it was governed as a vassal state of the Sultanate of Brunei. When he assumed control of the original area around Kuching in the 1840s much of the system of government was based on the ineffective Bruneian model. James set about reforming the government and eventually creating a civil service known as the Sarawak Service which recruited European, mainly British officers to run district outstations. He invited the Anglican Mission to set up church and schools, the diocese of Borneo with its own Archbishop. Particularly, the mission through Father McDougall set up the St. Thomas Anglican School, ( See:SMK St. Thomas) in 1848, still the oldest established European school in Southeast Asia. Thus, the residents became exposed to and trained in many British and European methods and culture. However, James retained many of the customs and symbols of neighbouring Malay monarchies and combined them with his own style of absolute rule. James Brooke was very particular in ensuring the local customs and beliefs of local indigenous races like the Dayaks, Ibans, etc. were maintained and respected. As the Rajah, he had the power to introduce laws and also acted as chief judge in Kuching. He selected his successor, his nephew, Charles Brooke who became the Second Rajah. Charles Brooke was responsible for acquiring more land from the Sultan of Brunei which basically led to the land size of Sarawak today.

He was succeeded by Charles Vyner Brooke as the Third Rajah. While the manner of his departure was controversial, Charles Vyner nonetheless instituted significant political reforms, including ending the absolute rule of the Rajah in 1941 ahead of the Japanese invasion by granting new powers to the Council Negri.


Sarawak Rangers

The Sarawak Rangers were a para-military force founded in 1872 by the second Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Anthony Johnson Brooke. They evolved from the fortmen which were raised to defend Kuching in 1846. The Sarawak Rangers were commanded by a former British Army Officer, Sir William Henry Rodway, and were highly skilled in jungle warfare and general policing duties, being equipped with various western rifles, cannons and native weaponry. This small force also manned a series of forts around the country, performed ceremonial duties and acted as the Rajahs' personal guard.

Aside from protecting Sarawak's borders, they were used to fight any rebels and were engaged in a number of campaigns during their history. The Sarawak Rangers were disbanded for a few years in the 1930s, only to be reformed 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, the Sarawak Rangers became a colonial unit under direct British control and saw action in both the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation.

Battle off Mukah

Jolly Bachelor engaging pirates off T.Datu, Sarawak, 1843

In November 1862 two Sarawakian warships under the Rajah Muda, Captain Brooke Brooke, attacked a force of Moro Pirates in six large proas when they raided the town of Mukah. Over the course of two or three hours, Brooke with his steamer Rainbow, and his gunboat Jolly Bachelor, sank four of the pirate ships either by cannon fire or by ramming them. Another was damaged by near hits and abandoned by her crew. In the end only a few Sarawakians were killed or wounded while the Moros lost several killed or wounded.[2]


By and large the Brookes pursued a policy of paternalism, aimed at protecting the 'native peoples' from capitalist exploitation but also preventing the same levels of development which were evident in some other parts of the British Empire. While James laid much of the groundwork for the expansion of Sarawak, it was his nephew Charles who was the great builder, both in terms of public buildings, forts and extending the borders of the state.

The Brookes were determined to prevent the peoples of Sarawak from being exploited by Western business interests and formed The Borneo Company Limited to assist in managing the economy. The Borneo Company Limited was also to provide military support to the Brookes during events such as the Chinese Rebellion when one of the company Steamers, The Sir James Brooke was used to assist in the recapture of Kuching.

The architectural legacy of the dynasty can be seen in many of the country's nineteenth century and colonial heritage buildings. In Kuching these include The Astana, or governor's residence, the Old Sarawak Museum, Fort Margherita, the Square Fort, the Old Courthouse and Brooke Memorial. Several key buildings from the Brooke period have been demolished, including the offices and warehouses of Borneo Company.


Modern Kuching still boasts many businesses and attractions which capitalise upon the era of the White Rajahs like The Astana, Fort Margherita, St. Thomas's Cathedral and School, and the world famous Sarawak Museum. The Brooke Dockyard, which was founded in the period of Rajah Charles, is still in operation, as is the original Sarawak Museum. The James Brooke Café and the "Royalist", a pub named after Rajah James's Schooner, pay tribute to the Brookes.

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Klemen, L (1999–2000). "The Invasion of British Borneo in 1942". Dutch East Indies Campaign website. 
  2. ^
  • Runciman, Steven, The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946, Cambridge University Press, 1960
  • Brooke, Ranee Margaret, My Life in Sarawak, 1913.
  • Sylvia, Lady Brooke, Queen of the Headhunters, 1970.
  • Reece, R.H.W., The Name of Brooke: The End of White Rajah Rule in Sarawak, 1993.
  • Eade, Philip, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: A Biography of Lady Brooke, the Last Ranee of Sarawak London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007

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