September 16, 1963 may be known as the day Sarawak had entered into a mutual partnership with Malaya, Sabah and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia, but on July 22, it was the day Sarawak was also granted independent self-rule.
On July 22, the last British governor of Sarawak, Sir Alexander Waddell left the Astana on a white sampan, crossing the Sarawak River to witness the lowering of the Colonial flag, and the raising of the Sarawak flag with a black and red cross and a yellow crown in its centre, in a ceremony which effectively handed over the Sarawak government to its people.
The Governor appointed Stephen Kalong Ningkan, then Secretary-General of the Sarawak Alliance party, as the first Chief Minister of Sarawak as well as new Supreme Council members to form the government’s first ministerial Sarawak Cabinet.
It wasn’t until the eve of Sept 16, 1963 when the governor and his wife, Lady Jean Waddell left Sarawak’s shores, saying their final goodbye to all Sarawakians.
The final parade
The Waddells left their official residence at the Astana at 12.30pm on Sept 15, 1963 by the state sampan from Pangkalan Batu before they would board the British frigate H.M.S. Loch Killisport anchored at the Steamship Wharf.
“The Astana is all yours now” was what he said to the new Governor Datu Abang Haji Openg bin Abang Sapi’ee before he boarded the Astana sampan. Also present to say their farewells were Ningkan and Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng.
As the sampan drew knew to the frigate, three cheers of “Hip Hip Hurrah” rang though the crowd who came to witness the departure of the last colonial governor.
Lady Waddell made her final gesture of farewell by standing on the bridge of the British frigate, waving goodbye with a white handkerchief to crowds lining both sides of the riverbanks.
The frigate moved slowly along the Sarawak River and as it was sailing past Fort Margherita, the Sarawak Constabulary Band played “Auld Land Syne”.
Waddell’s last message to the people of Sarawak
At 1pm his farewell message was broadcast over the radio to the people of Sarawak, “To say goodbye is never easy but it is particularly difficult to say goodbye to Sarawak – the more so at a time of historic change and of great events.”
His words were both careful and thoughtful as he said, “Of these I will not dwell but you can be sure that tomorrow Malaysia Day and in the future our thoughts, our hearts and our prayers will be with you as you step out on the great high road of independence with the star of hope and promise before you.”
Waddell, who was appointed as the Governor of Sarawak in 1960 and spoke in Malay at his installation, reminisced over his three-and-a-half years of service, his memories visiting various rural places in Sarawak such as Rajang and Baram in his final words.
“Those are but few of the memories that come crowding in – there are millions more and of gay and tragic events none more than in the last crucial years of endeavour.
“But the sum is of a wonderful country with a charm and vigour and tradition that is unequalled in the world, with its peoples of dignity rugged individuality and warmth at heart”.
“These things you must not lose for they are Sarawak and you will add immeasurably to the strength of the new nation upon which you enter tomorrow,” Waddell reminded Sarawakians.
“You will all I know support the new government to the full in the days that lie ahead when the State flag, of revered origin, is unfurled tomorrow.”
The departure of last British governor marked the end of one chapter of Sarawak’s history which started 17 years earlier when the Act of Cession brought Sarawak under the direct rule of British constitutional monarchy.
A new chapter started the day after, on Malaysia Day when the flag of the Federation of Malaysia was first raised and the national anthem ‘Negaraku’ was first played at Central Padang, now known as Padang Merdeka.
Waddell died at Cirencester, Gloucestershire on June 14, 1999. He was 85.