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How news was spread in Sarawak before there was the Sarawak Gazette

The Sarawak Gazette was a pet project by the second White Rajah Charles Brooke.

Printed by the Government Printing Office, the first issue was published on Aug 26, 1870 featuring a summary of Reuter’s telegrams on the Franco-Prussian War in a three-page leaflet.

It mostly featured information on commodity prices, agricultural information, anthropology and archaeology and history.

Sarawak (or the province of Kuching) was recognised as an independent kingdom in 1841, but the Sarawak Gazette only came to existence in 1870.

So how did news or information get passed around before 1870?

R.Pringle in The Sarawak Gazette on June 30, 1965 wrote, “It may be assumed that the tiny handful of Europeans who inhabited the Rajah’s domain depended (like everyone else) on word of mouth -on a highly sensitive jungle grapevine which could spread news almost as fast, if not perhaps so accurately, as Reuters.”

But even during the 19th century, it was not wise to depend on word of mouth for information.

Sarawak informal news bulletins

According to Pringle, there were records in London that the Sarawak government had published informal news bulletins as early as 1859.

“That was the year of the so-called Great Malay Plot, a particularly nervous time in the history of the early Brooke state. The Rajah, James, was away in England. Following the assassination of two officers at Kanowit on June 25, the Tuan Muda Charles Anthoni Johnson, later to be the Second Rajah, Charles Brooke, concluded that Sheriff Masahor of Sarikei, described in the history books as a ‘half-breed Arab’ was in league with other Malay chiefs in plot to overthrow the Brooke regime”, Pringle wrote.

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When the news of Fox and Steele murders reached Kuching, Charles immediately went to the Rajang area to punish the killers.

To prove and to inform others especially European officers that he took action on the matter, he sent out a news bulletin.

Printed on a sheet of paper about 5 by 7 inches, he sent out the news about his countermeasures on the double homicide.

This news bulletin (dated on Aug 5, 1859) was believed to be kept in the archives of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London.

Here was what was written in the news:


Despatches from the Rejang were received last night by the Government giving news up to the 28th July.

Mr Johnson (Charles Brooke), with his squadron of gunboats, arrived at Rejang on the 25th, and on the following day proceeded up to Siriki (Sarikei), taking with him Tani, who appears to have been the prime mover in the Kanowit murders.

On the 26th the Head Malays of Siriki tried and executed Si Tani, Si Deraman and six other Kanowit Malays who were in league with the Kanowits Si Kalai and Sawing.

Si Abi, one of the murderers of Mr Steele, had previously been put to death, Si Talip, his other murderer, is reported to have fled to Muka (Mukah), but there is every reason to believe that he will be delivered up to justice. The actual murderer of Mr Fox was killed on the spot by Sayong. The conduct of this fortman, who alone stood to his duty, is worthy of the highest praise.

On the following day the Datus and Head Malays of Sarawak who accompanied the expedition, convicted and executed Haji Mohammed and fiver fortmen who had basely deserted their posts and surrendered Kanowit Fort into the hands of the rebels.

Si Kalai and Sawing have located themselves at the mouth of the Amah, between Kanowit and Katibas and the Dyaks are only waiting Mr Johnson’s arrival to attack in force.

Most of the arms of the fort have been recovered. Mr Johnson, with a large force of Dyaks and Malays, was about to go up to Kanowit immediately.

As false reports arise, it is requested that no reliance be placed in news that is not published by Authority.

Then at the bottom of the bulletin, the words printed were ‘Sarawak Mission Press’.

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Before Sarawak Gazette came into the picture, Pringle believed the Brooke government may have published some kind of newspaper or proto-newspaper from time to time, just like how they informed the punitive expedition against Fox and Steele murderers.

Do you have information on Sarawak Mission Press? Let us know in the comment box.

Read more about Fox and Steele murders here:

The local version of Fox and Steele murder

The 1859 Murders of Fox and Steel in Kanowit

Patricia Hului
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 worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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