10 books to read to know more about the White Rajahs of Sarawak

Patricia Hului

The history of the White Rajahs of Sarawak seems like a boy’s adventure book come to life. Basically, an Englishman with his topsail schooner receives a kingdom to rule as a reward for helping the local king fight off pirates.

Of course, history is more complicated than that, but that is roughly how James Brooke and his family came to found and rule the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946.

He was succeeded by his nephew Charles and grandnephew Vyner before the latter ceded the throne to the United Kingdom after World War II.

Plenty of books based on the Brooke dynasty have been written over the years analysing and giving different accounts on Brooke reign.

Here are 10 books to read to know more about the White Rajahs of Sarawak:

1.The White Rajahs of Sarawak by Robert Payne

Robert Payne was a well-known author for his biographies of prominent historical figures such as Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin and Gandhi.

For his book on the White Rajahs, he based it on Vyner’s and his father’s letters, the Ranee Margaret’s letters as well as other documents.

2.The Name of Brooke by R.H.W. Reece

Dr. Bob Reece first came to Sarawak as a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1969. He then wrote his doctorate on the cession of Sarawak.

His book The Name of Brooke is considered the only detailed scholarly study of the end of Brooke rule in Sarawak.

3.Power and Prowess: The Origins of Brooke Kingship in Sarawak by John Walker

This book explores Brooke’s power among the local Malay, Iban and Bidayuh as well as Sarawak’s network of power and economy.

4.The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946 by Steven Runciman

The Sarawak government was said to have sponsored the publication of this book. It is also worth mentioning that Runciman, an English historian best known for his A History of the Crusades was already fascinated with the Brooke family.

5.The White Rajahs of Sarawak: A Borneo Dynasty by Bob Reece

Another book by Reece, he also specialises in Australian aboriginal and colonial history and the Irish in Australia.

6.My Life in Sarawak by Margaret Brooke
A visitors looking at Ranee Margaret’s painting at The Brooke Gallery.

The first Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Brooke recorded her accounts on living in Sarawak in this book.

My Life in Sarawak, the Ranee tells stories about her friends in Kuching, her expeditions to different parts of Sarawak with her husband Charles and how she copeD living in the Astana.

7.Queen of the Headhunters by Sylvia Brett

Unlike Margaret’s autobiography, Sylvia Brett wrote in a more candid tone on her life as the last Ranee of Sarawak.

Brett told the stories about her considerably open marriage to Vyner and what she thought how and why the Brooke dynasty ended. She also published another book on the Brooke family entitled The Three White Rajahs.

8.Bishops and Brookes by Graham Saunders

While most books listed here are about the Brookes,  this book is mainly about the Anglican mission in Sarawak.
It explores the up and down relationship between the mission with the Brooke family from 1848-1941. Another book about the Anglican mission during the White Rajah dynasty is Twenty Years in Sarawak by Max Saint. This book is more about James’ friend and first Anglican Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak Francis McDougall.

9.White Rajah: A Dynastic Intrigue by Cassandra Pybus

Pybus, an Australian historian and writer published this book in 1996. She is the professor of history a the University of Sydney.

10.The End of the Brooke Raj in Sarawak by Colin Crisswell

Crisswell wrote about how the White Rajahs’ rule came to an end in Sarawak and the events leading up to it.

Apart from The End of the Brooke Raj in Sarawak, Crisswell also published Rajah Charles Brooke: Monarch of All He Survived.

Besides these books, other books worth mentioning are Rajahs & Rebels: The Iban of Sarawak under the Brooke Rule by Robert Pringle, Ten Years in Sarawak by Charles Brooke and The Life of Sir James Brooke by Spenser St. John.