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History Trivia

Arrival of Brooke in Sarawak

Brooke left Singapore for Sarawak on the Royalist on 27 July 1839. On 11 August, Brooke came in sight of Mount Santubong at the mouth of the Sarawak River, a wonderfully shaped mountain, very majestic, over 600 meters high, covered with a thick cloak of trees nearly to the top, with a soft sandy beach and casuarina trees below. And facing the mountain lay the low banks of the river covered with pale green mangroves. 

The Sarawak River winds for about 60 km before it reaches Kuching. Kuching at that time was known as Sarawak. Mangroves and nipah palms line the shore. Crocodiles bask, monkeys gibber, water snakes fling themselves across the river with their heads raised in the air. The heat steams up from the jungle.

Anchored at Santubong, he sent a boat upriver to Kuching to inform Pangiran Raja Muda Hashim of his arrival. Hashim was the heir to the Sultan of Brunei and was present in Kuching during Brooke’s visit. 

The next day, the boat returned accompanied by a Malay perahu. On board was Prince Aladin, one of Hashim’s brothers. Others were the Hashim’s secretary, an officer of his guard, and a well-mannered Parsee, who seemed to have been a merchant. Brooke came to the conclusion that the Parsee’s manners were the product of training, while the Malay’s exquisite deportment came from good breeding. They stayed overnight on the Royalist because of the ebb of tide that did not favour their return.

Only on 14 August, favoured by a light breeze, Brooke sailed up the Sarawak River slowly. He encountered some problems with rocks three kilometers before reaching Kuching. He dropped off anchor there and waited overnight. At first dawn, the Royalist rounded a bend in the river and at seven o’clock in the morning came in sight of Kuching.

Brooke saw for the first time the town which was to become his home and his capital. It was a very small town of brown huts and longhouses made of wood or the hard stems of the nipah palm, sitting in brown squalor on the edge of mudflats. There was one longhouse larger than the others and this was pointed out to him as the residence of Hashim.

Brooke ordered the firing of a royal salute of twenty one guns. When the smoke cleared, there came an answering salute of seventeen guns. He was very pleased with this welcome and was further pleased when a few minutes later there came a second salute of eight guns in his honour. 

It was one of those soft August mornings when everything shimmers, when the blue sky is filled with blue pigeons, and when the great blue mountain of Matang in the distance seems to have been carved out of ice. Even the small town of Kuching looked delightful in the early morning sun.

The small party from the Royalist was rowed ashore and taken to Hashim’s reception hall, a large hut erected on stilts, one side open to the river. The hall was decorated with spears, silk cloths and banners. The Malay princes were sitting impassive beside Hashim, with the senior princes in front and their younger brothers behind.

The reception was formal, and very little was accomplished. Brooke sat stiffly in a chair beside Hashim, while attendants supplied rolled tobacco leaves and small cups of tea. Musicians played, and the slow music played by the Malay orchestra proved to be strangely soothing. There was the inevitable polite inquiries about the health of Hashim and his visitor.

After half an hour all the English men left the reception hall and returned to their ship. Outwardly nothing had been accomplished. But actually a good deal had been accomplished. Brooke was able to judge Hashim well. Brooke knew he was valuable. He did not yet know what was expected of him or how he would use his newfound influence, but he knew already that his destiny was bound to Sarawak.

Brooke and Hashim became friends; what more also with his brother, Pangiran Badruddin. Together they would fight the rebels and pirates, and brought peace to Sarawak.

Adapted from “The White Rajahs of Sarawak” by Robert Payne

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