4 books to read to know more about life during Crown Colony of Sarawak (1946-1963)

After World War II had ended in 1945, Sarawak was under the British Military Administration for seven months.

Then in 1946, the Crown Colony of Sarawak was established as part of the British Crown Colony.

The cession officially became effective on July 1, 1946. On the same day, the last White Rajah of Sarawak Vyner Brooke gave a speech on how he took this decision as ‘it was in the best interests of the people of Sarawak and that in the turmoil of the modern world they would benefit greatly from the experience, strength and wisdom of the British rule’.

If you want to know about life during Crown Colony of Sarawak especially from colonial officers’ point of views, here are KajoMag’s book suggestions:

1.Fair Land Sarawak: Some recollections of an Expatriate Officer by Alastair Morrison

Alastair Morrison joined the British Colonial Service in 1947 and was sent to Sarawak in the same year.

He served as a district officer for a number of years before being transferred to the Secretariat in Kuching in 1954.

In 1959, he was transferred to the Government Information Office. During his time as a District Officer, he also wrote extensively for the Sarawak Gazette.

After his wife Hedda died in 1991, Morrison busied himself writing. His first memoir is about his service in Sarawak, Fair Land Sarawak: Some recollections of an Expatriate Officer (1993).

In his word to explain about the memoir, Morrison stated wrote, “This is a book of personal recollections about nineteen happy years which my wife and I had the good fortune to spend in Sarawak. It does not attempt to provide a complete account of that period of Sarawak history but will, I hope, convey something of the way of life that we enjoyed and of some of the people, both Asian and European, whom we came to know.

“The narrative may appear lighthearted in places, but this is not due to any lack of serious side to life in Sarawak. Rather it seeks to reflect the good nature and humour which are some of the most abiding impression those who know Sarawak have always taken away with them.”

His other books include The Road To Peking (1993) and A Bird Fancier: A Journey to Peking (2001).

2.Sarawak Anecdotes: A Personal Memoir of Service 1947-1965 by Ian Urquhart

From the beginning of the book, this former British colonial service reminded readers that his book is ‘not the place to write a thesis on the evils and good points of British colonialism in the past and in my lifetime’.

He added, “I stress that what I have written NEITHER meant to convey a typical picture of this history of my life NOR of the life anyone else in Sarawak NOR to provide a balanced image of the development of that friendly country. If you want a book to give a proper picture of colonial Sarawak – this is not the book for you. I hope that ‘Anecdotes’ will leave my readers with an impression of what a delightful place Sarawak was to live and work in.”

Ian Urquhart arrived in Sarawak in 1947 and then continued spending 18 years here as a colonial officer.

Some of his views which he had written in his memoir are quite controversial, especially his criticism of both federal and state governments.

Nonetheless, it is always interesting to read different points of view.

3.A Servant of Sarawak: Reminiscences of a Crown Counsel in 1950s Borneo by Peter Mooney

In 1953, Peter Mooney was offered the appointment of Crown Counsel in Sarawak.

Here, he first became the Public Prosecutor. One of his memorable cases saw him going against Lee Kuan Yew who was then a barrister in Singapore.

The case involved violations of several section of the Forestry Ordinance and also the Customs Ordinance.

The accused, according to Mooney, was the managing director of the exporters named Mr Lau who also happened to be a timber tycoon in Sibu.

‘Mr Lau’ hired Lee to defend him but in the end, the court found him guilty of all charges.

This particular case was written in a chapter of Mooney’s memoir.

In the preface of his memoir, Mooney wrote this about Sarawak, “This was the country in which I arrived. It was happy and peaceful. I thought that I had come to civilize the people. It was they who civilized me. They were friendly, warm and most hospitable, ever willing to share what little they had. Moral standards were high. It was hardly necessary to close windows or doors at night. Theft was almost unknown.”

But obviously, customs fraud had already existed back then.

Anyway, Mooney was eventually appointed the Attorney General of Sarawak as well as serving on the Supreme Council and Council Negri.

Then in 1960, he left Sarawak for Malaya to join a law firm in Kuala Lumpur.

4.Lawyer in the Wilderness by Kenelm Hubert Digby

Kenelm Hubert Digby
Kenelm Hubert Digby

Kenelm Hubert Digby came to Sarawak to work for the last of the White Rajah of Sarawak in 1934.

He returned to England at the end of his contract in 1939.

However, Digby returned to Sarawak in 1940 where he was appointed as Legal Adviser to Brooke.

During the Japanese occupation of Sarawak, he was among the Europeans who were interned at the Batu Lintang Camp.

After the war has ended, he returned to Sarawak as Legal Adviser. Digby then rose to become Attorney-General and later a circuit judge.

In 1980, he published a memoir based on his life in Sarawak Lawyer in the Wilderness.

Although it was published in 1980, Digby pointed the content of the book was written in 1952 when ‘events were comparatively fresh in memory’.

It is based on his experience in Sarawak from the middle of 1934 to the end of 1951.

According to Digby, the period covered saw the decline and end of ‘Brooke rule’, the trauma of the Japanese occupation and the establishment of the authority of the Colonial Office.

These words are the perfect summary of what the state had gone through as the Crown Colony of Sarawak.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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