The Kingdom of Sarawak was a state established by Sir James Brooke in 1842 by gaining independence from the Sultanate of Brunei. In 1888 Charles Anthony 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. Since 1968, Sarawak has been a state of Malaysia.
Sarawak was part of the Sultanate of Brunei. During the reign of Pangeran Indera Mahkota, Sarawak was in chaos. 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 arrived in Sarawak. Pangeran Muda Hashim initially requested assistance but James Brooke refused. In 1841, James Brooke paid another visit to Sarawak and this he agreed to assist Pangeran Muda Hashim signed a treaty in 1841 surrendering Sarawak and Sinian to James Brooke. Thereafter, on 24 September 1841, Pangeran Muda Hashim bestowed the title Governor to 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.
James Brooke, who was to become the first White Rajah, received a sizable tract of land from the Sultan. As time went on Sarawak's size would increase tremendously as more territory was leased or annexed from Brunei.
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 Sarawak Service which recruited European, mainly British officers to run district outstations. James retained many of the customs and symbols of Malay monarchy and combined them with his own style of absolute rule. The Rajah had the power to introduce laws and also acted as chief judge in Kuching.
While the manner of his departure was controversial, 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.
A small paramilitary force, Sarawak Rangers, was formed by Rajah Charles to police and defend the expanding state. This small army also manned a series of forts around the country, performed ceremonial duties and acted as the Rajahs' personal guard.
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.
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 1930's, 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.
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 to assist in managing the economy. The Borneo Company 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 has been demolished, including the offices and warehouses of Borneo Company.
The period of Brooke rule is generally looked upon favourably in Sarawak, although successive post-federation Malaysian governments have attempted to downplay and to a certain extent, denounce the Brooke Raj. However, modern Kuching still boasts many businesses and attractions which capitalise upon the era of the White Rajahs. 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 Schooner, pay tribute to the Brookes.