Friday, 6 July 2012

In search of the white Rajah


In search of the White Rajahs: Actress Joanna Lumley beside the memorial to Sir Charles Brooke, during the filming of a BBC documentary about the kingdom

The antics of Princesses Gold, Pearl and Baba, as they were nicknamed by locals, fascinated the press in both Britain and America — and by the Thirties Sarawak had become something of a music-hall joke.

As he grew older, Vyner appeared to lose interest in the day-to-day business of government and considered abdicating. Since his brother Bertram had suffered a nervous breakdown and was incapable of rule, his natural successor was his nephew, Anthony.

In 1939, during one of Vyner’s annual pilgrimages to England for the flat-racing season, the 23-year-old heir apparent was left in charge of the country for six months.

He made a good impression on the British Colonial Office, despite his aunt Ranee Sylvia accusing him of inflated self-importance. She reported, among other things, that he had attached a gold cardboard crown to his car and ordered ox-carts and rickshaws to draw aside as he passed.

He denied these charges, but he was never allowed to inherit the rule of Sarawak because in 1946 Vyner agreed to cede it to the British Crown in return for a substantial financial settlement for him and his family. So it became Britain’s last colonial acquisition.

After failing in a long legal battle to have the sale of Sarawak reversed, Anthony began a second career as a self-styled ‘ambassador-at-large for the people of the world’, travelling the globe and campaigning for peace.

This put an increasing strain on his marriage to Kathleen Hudden, the sister of a Sarawak government official. They had three children but eventually separated, not least because of his increasingly bizarre beliefs.

At one point, he joined a New Age Commune in North-Eastern Scotland and adopted their belief that flying saucers would one day bring ‘peace on earth and to the brotherhood of man’.

He and Kathleen finally divorced in 1973 when he told her he was about to be contacted by extra-terrestrials and did not want her caught up in whatever dramas ensued.

He went on to marry a peace campaigner from Sweden who was 18 years his junior. Together they travelled the world, producing a newsletter which focused on issues, including environmental protection and the rights of indigenous people, before finally settling in New Zealand, 5,000 miles from the land he once dreamed of ruling.

We will never know how Sarawak would have fared if he had ruled for longer than those brief six months, but these details of his later life suggest one thing. When it came to continuing his family’s tradition of idiosyncratic government, history would not have been disappointed in Anthony Brooke, the last of the White Rajahs.

source : BBC Documentary archive
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