The Somerset Rajahs of Sarawak

17 May, 2017 - 19:30
Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton, TA2 6SF
Sarawak stamp





On Wednesday the 17 May at the Somerset Heritage Centre. John Page gave us a fascinating insight into the extraordinary lives of the Brooke family, the white rajahs, descendants from the Vyners, London goldsmith bankers in the 17th century. Having been brought up in India James Brooke spent most of young adult life in Bath in between service in the Indian army as a scout and sea voyages as far as China. Following his father’s death in 1837 he was a wealthy man and bought the ship Royalist, a vessel entitled to carry arms, and sailed to Kuching, Sarawak. John detailed his adventures and the was in which he was able to ingratiate himself with the Sultan of Brunei and his extended family. James later bought a house at Burrator on Dartmoor and when he died was buried at Sheepstor as were his successors.

            James appointed his nephew Charles Johnson, who had taken the name Brooke, as his successor. Charles, son of the vicar of Berrow, built the palace or Astana, at Kuching, which remains in use. He was more efficient than his uncle and a man of fairly regular habits. His wife got on well with local people especially the Dayaks but the marriage was not a success and she spent most of her life in Europe. Charles also spent a lot of time in England where he enjoyed hunting and had a house in Cirencester. Both uncle and nephew had obtained additional grants of land enlarging Sarawak considerably at the expense of Brunei.

Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, son of Charles, ceded Sarawak to Britain in 1946 and the extraordinary reign of the white rajahs came to an end. The heritage of the Brooke era is remembered not only in books, both fictional and factual, but also in the building of a replica of the Royalist and the making of a film.