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Extraordinary story of the White Rajahs

Fri 2011-Mar-18 @ +08 20:22:43 pm

This bizarre and extraordinary dynasty — known as much for its eccentricity as for its benevolent rule — only came to an end this month when Anthony Brooke died at the age of 98. The family had come to power thanks to Anthony’s great-great-uncle James Brooke — a man so swashbucklingly adventurous that Errol Flynn once proposed to play him in a film about his life.

The last of the White Rajahs

In London on Friday, the Daily Mail carried a long appreciation of the life of the last White Rajah of Sarawak and of the family that established a private kingdom in Borneo. Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke, who died on 2 March in New Zealand, became Rajah Muda in 1935 and became the titular fourth Rajah in 1963 but did not succeed to the throne as his uncle, the third and last ruling White Rajah, had ceded Sarawak to the British crown in 1946.

As Rajah Muda, the designated heir, Anthony Brooke opposed cession to the Crown along with most native members of the Council Negri (the state legislature). A five-year campaign in Sarawak followed, aimed at revoking the country’s new colonial status, in part directed by Brooke from his house in Singapore. In 1948, the second British Governor of Sarawak, Duncan Stewart, was assassinated by the Sarawakian nationalist Rosli Dhobie.

Brooke came under scrutiny by MI5, the British intelligence agency, who wanted to “get wind of any other plots he and his associates might be hatching”. No evidence was found that he had known of the assassination plot. In 1951, Brooke renounced any claim to the title.

Extracts from the Daily Mail feature

A man-eating crocodile on trial for murder

As self-appointed judge, James Brooke presided over court sessions in the front room of his own house. The proceedings attracted much interest: for many, the main draw was the opportunity to place bets on the fate of those on trial including, in one most bizarre case, a man-eating crocodile.

This creature stood accused of killing a court translator who had toppled drunkenly into the river one night and, after much weighing of the arguments for and against its punishment, Brooke solemnly recorded the verdict in his journal.

‘I decided that he should be instantly killed without honours and he was dispatched accordingly; his head severed from his trunk and the body left exposed as a warning to all the other crocodiles that may inhabit these waters.’

A dish fit for a king: his wife’s pet doves baked in a pie

Charles Brooke, the second Rajah, “was something of a queer fish,” his British wife, Margaret, once said. He had lost his eye in a hunting accident and replaced it with a glass one, taken out of a stuffed albatross. Charles forbade his sons to eat jam because he deemed it effeminate and his marriage became strained after he killed his wife’s pet doves and served them in a pie for her supper one night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she spent much of his 50-year period of rule back home in England.

Sylvia would bestow her sexual favours upon anyone she found attractive

Sylvia, wife of Vyner Brooke, the third Rajah, would divide the rest of her life between battling to ensure that her daughters succeeded to the throne instead of Anthony and bestowing her sexual favours upon anyone she happened to find attractive. Her husband who made no effort to conceal his liaisons with various Sarawakian mistresses. Back in England, flaunting her exotic royal status, she would sally forth into London society in a Malay dress and yellow sarong, topping her outfit off with a snakeskin headband and a tasselled red lacquer cane.



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