Sunday, March 06, 2011

Anthony Brooke - The last White Rajah Muda of Sarawak Borneo

Anthony Brooke, who died on March 2 aged 98, was heir to the throne of Sarawak and briefly ruled the romantic jungle kingdom on Borneo with the powers of the last White Rajah.

Brooke's English family had been the absolute rulers of Sarawak for three generations. Popularly known as the White Rajahs, they had their own money, stamps, flag and constabulary, and the power of life and death over their various subjects – Malays, Chinese and Dyak tribesmen, a few of whom still indulged in the grisly custom of headhunting.

The founder of the Brooke Raj was Anthony's great-great-uncle, James, who in 1839 sailed to the East with dreams of extending British influence throughout the Malay Archipelago. At Singapore, the Governor asked him to take a present to the ruler of Sarawak, then under the suzerainty of the Sultan of Brunei, to thank him for saving some shipwrecked British sailors.

When he got there, Brooke found Sarawak's Dyak tribesmen in revolt against an unfair system of taxation, and by 1841 the desperate ruler was prepared to give him the government and revenues of Sarawak if he could suppress the uprising, which he did.

On his return to London, Brooke was presented to Queen Victoria as Rajah of Sarawak, and knighted. In Sarawak, meanwhile, he won a devoted following with his integrity and frank exuberance. Each day he would stroll about the Malay kampungs, Chinese shophouses and Dyak longhouses, chatting to his subjects, and he was always open to visits at his bungalow. He introduced a just code of laws and enlisted the help of his friend Admiral Henry Keppel to clear up the piracy along Sarawak's coastline.

Among those serving in Keppel's ship, Dido, was James Brooke's nephew, Charles Johnson, who soon entered his bachelor uncle's service and eventually succeeded him as Rajah in 1868, whereupon he took the name of Brooke. A austere character – he deemed jam "effeminate" and replaced his lost eye with a glass one from a stuffed albatross – Rajah Charles nevertheless proved a notably effective and benevolent ruler. He extended Sarawak into the interior (it was eventually the size of England), abolished slavery, rebuilt the capital Kuching and constructed roads, waterworks and even a short railway.

Charles's first three legitimate children all died within a week from cholera while sailing up the Red Sea on their way back to England on leave, but his wife subsequently bore him three more sons, the eldest of whom, Charles Vyner Brooke, known as Vyner, was destined to become the third Rajah of Sarawak. The couple's second son, Bertram, was Anthony's father.

Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke, always known in his family as Peter, was born on December 10 1912, the fourth child and only son of Bertram and his wife Gladys, the only daughter of Sir Walter Palmer, first and last Baronet – and thus heiress to a sizeable slice of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit fortune.

Anthony's mother was a restless exhibitionist who went through a number of religious conversions. In 1932 she converted to Islam while on a flight from Croydon to Paris, after which she went by the name of Khair-ul-Nissa (Fairest of Women).

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Anthony Brooke - The last White Rajah Muda of Sarawak Borneo

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