The White Rajahs were a dynastic monarchy of the English Brooke family, who founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, from 1841 to 1946. James Brooke – as a reward for helping the Sultanate of Brunei fight piracy and insurgency among the indigenous peoples, he was granted the landmass of Sarawak in 1841 and received independent kingdom status. Based on descent through the male line in accordance with the Will of Sir James Brooke, the White Rajahs’ dynasty continued through Brooke’s nephew and grandnephew, the latter of whom ceded his rights to the United Kingdom in 1946.
The First Rajah, James Brooke, son of Thomas Brooke, Judge in the East India Company’s Civil Service, was born in Bengal in 1803. He entered the Company’s Army ins 1819 but, wounded in the Burmah War of 1825 and honourably mentioned in despatches, resigned his commission and travelled in the Far East. On his father’s death he bought the schooner Royalist. Arriving at Singapore in 1839, he was commissioned by the Governor to convey thanks and gifts to the Rajah Muda Hassim of Sarawak for kindness to some shipwrecked British sailor, and, after surveying over seventy miles of uncharted and almost unknown coast, he sailed into the Sarawak River and was graciously received. He found a country torn by insurrection and ravaged by pirates. After venturing along the coast and up rivers, learning to know the people and their problems, he was able to help and advise the local administrators that they implored him to stay and become their Rajah. He was formally installed on September 24th 1841 and from then he began, with a few British friends, the task of fostering peaceful trade and just dealing to subjects of many different races whom he was to rule, with sympathy and understanding for twenty-two years. He endeavoured to suppress piracy, head-hunting and slavery and greatly reduced inter-tribal warfare. To the native laws and customs, which he respected, he added a simplified British Code of Justice which he administered personally, making himself available to anyone seeking his counsel. He devoted his fortune to the needs of his people. In 1848 he visited England and was created K.C.B. by Queen Victoria and appointed Gorvernor of Labuan. When he returned to Sarawak he brought with him his nephew Captain John Brooke Johnson, who changed his surname to Brooke, and whom he created Rajah Muda and his heir. In their unremitting and selfless work they endured many dangers but succeeded in bringing peace to their country and development without exploitation. Sarawak was recognized by America as an independent State in 1850 and by Great Britain in 1864. In 1859 the Rajah bought Burrator in Sheepstor to which he retired in 1863 and where he died on 11th June 1868. John Brooke Brooke died in England in the same year as his Uncle.
The Second Rajah, Charles Anthoni Brooke, second son of the Rev Francis Charles Johnson and his wife, Emma Brooke, was born at Berrow Vicarage, Somerset in 1829. He entered the Navy in 1842. With Captain the Hon. Henry Keppel – a close friend of James Brooke – he visited Sarawak for the first time in 1844, and in 1852 obtained leave of absence for two years to help the Rajah administer the country. In 1854 he resigned from the Navy and was granted the title of Tuan Muda, and a few years before his uncle retired, changed his surname to Brooke. By his courage, resource and integrity in many hazardous encounters he won the trust of the Sarawak people to whose service and the laws laid down by the First Rajah he dedicated himself. Inheriting a country considerably in debt, he lived for many years with great frugality. During his reign many more tribes in Borneo sought protection under his sovereignty so that the boundaries of the State were much extended. Ruling it like his uncle with only a handful of British assistants and a small force of Sarawak Rangers founded in 1846, he continuously travelled its 50,000 square miles, consulting with th chiefs of many different tribes of diverse race, language and custom and making himself accessible to all. Austere, direct and autocratic, he was also radical and far-sighted with clear perception of what was likely to happen to colonial possessions in the twentieth century. He sailed his own ships. He established a sound economy and an effective Civil Service and introduced many Public Works. Agriculture and trade prospered; medical services schools and Christian missions were established. In 1888 Queen Victoria created him G.C.M.G and Sarawak was recognized as a fully Independent State under the Protection of Great Britain. In 1869 he married his cousin, Margaret de Windt. Their first three children died of cholera, but three further sons, Charles Vyner, Bertram and Harry, were born to them. Sir Charles Brooked died aged eighty-eight at his house in Cirencester on 17th May 1917. He had been Rajah for nearly fifty years.
The Third Rajah, Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke, eldest surviving son of the Second Rajah, was born in London on 26th September 1874 and taken as an infant to Sarawak where he stayed for three years. At birth he was granted the title of Rajah Muda. He was educated in England and, on leaving Winchester, returned to Sarawak to tour the country and be introduced to the people before going to Magdalene College, Cambridge. He entered the Sarawak Service at the age of twenty-three, working in out-stations and taking part in expeditions. From 1904 he was in charge of the country when the Rajah was absent, and in 1916 the administration of Dayak Affairs was formally entrusted to him. He was in Sarawak when Sir Charles died and one week later he was proclaimed Rajah. The years that followed the First World War were prosperous and revenues increased. Public Works were further developed and included the making of roads, much rebuilding and extension of the wireless service. The Officer Personnel was enlarged and the Legal System reformed. In 1923 the Rajah went up-country in his yacht to preside over a reconciliation ceremony that virtually ended the inter-racial troubles of the interior. In 1939 Anthony Brooke, the Rajah’s nephew, was appointed Rajah Muda. In 1941 the Centenary celebrations of the State, the Rajah proclaimed his intention of divesting himself of his absolute rule and establishing a Constitution. This accomplished, he was on leave in Australia when his country was engulfed by the Japanese War and Occupation in December 1941. Engaged in its life and death struggle with Germany the British Government was unable to protect Sarawak which, like the rest of Borneo, suffered great devastation. After the liberation in 1945, feeling that his resources were unequal to the task of restoring the country, the Rajah ceded Sarawak to Great Britain. Anthony Brooke was disinherited as Rajah Muda by the British Government for an alleged failed coup, under the Will of Sir James Brooke any member of the Brooke family is eligible to be appointed heir. In 1963, after eighteen years as a Crown Colony, its people joined with Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo in the Federation of Malaysia. The Third Rajah was created G.C.M.G in 1927 by King George V. He married the Hon. Sylvia Brett, younger daughter of the second Lord Esher, by whom he had three daughters. He died in London on 9th May 1963.