Friday, 9 January 2015

The White Rajah's of Sarawak

Sometimes an unusual thing you see on a general walk, can open up the most interesting fact finding adventures.

Houses of Historic Significance around London have a blue circular plate with the names of historic figures who used to live there. What a wonderful way to keep history alive.

Saw this on a house today when wandering around near Hyde Park.


I was quite surprised to see a distinctly British sounding name, with a "Raja" title attached, so I obviously had to look it up as soon as I got home. Turns out the Brookes numbered among a couple of other Englishmen who were known as the "White Rajah's", this term also included the Englishman Alexander Hare in Borneo, Scot John Clunies Ross in the Cocos Islands and Dane Mads Lange in Bali.

As a reward for helping the Sultanate of Brunei fight piracy and insurgency among the indigenous peoples, Englishman James Brooke was granted the landmass of Sarawak in 1841 and received independent kingdom status from the grateful rulers.

While the plaque says that Sir Charles Vyner Brooke 1874-1963 was the last Rajah of Sarawak, his brother Bertram was heir presumptive - a claim he relinquished in favour of his son Anthony on 25 August 1937. Anthony held the title of "Tuan Muda" (literally "Little Lord") and the style of "His Highness" and succeeded to the title of Rajah in 1963 on the death of his uncle, Rajah Charles Vyner of Sarawak - the third and last of the ruling White Rajahs.

Granted a knighthood in 1927, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke ran a hands-off and relatively popular administration that banned Christian missionaries and fostered indigenous traditions (to an extent; headhunting was outlawed). He continued as Rajah, until 1 July 1946 when he ceded Sarawak to the British government as a crown colony, thus ending White Rajah rule in Sarawak.

His nephew Anthony Brooke, who had served since 1937 as the Rajah Muda (Crown Prince) of Sarawak because Vyner had three daughters but no son, opposed cession to Britain as did majority of the native members of the Council Negri (Parliament), and they campaigned against it for five years. Astand that was backed by the Malays who were close to the Brookes.

The anti-cession movement came to head in 1948 when the second British Governor to Sarawak, Sir Duncan Stewart, was assassinated by a young nationalist Rosli Dhoby in Sibu.

Suspicion fell on Anthony that he orchestrated the killing of the governor but declassified documents from the British National Archive later showed that he had no connection to the plot. In 1951, Anthony finally renounced his claim to Sarawak’s throne

The White Rajahs are buried at Sheepstor Churchyard, Devon.

Today this area of Sarawak is part of Malaysia.

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