An Oriental Queen - A Life in Fairyland - The Only Englishwoman Holding the Title of Ranee The Romance of Sarawak - A Terrifying Experience - The Ranee's Striking Courage - Winning the Affection and Admiration of Primitive Races - Homely Life in Kuching - The Charm and of Malay Women - The Ranee's Tribute - "A Mad Englishman"
Forty-two years of married life among wily Chinese, fiery Malays, and dreaded Dyaks-the "head-hunters" of Borneo, who still adorn their houses with the heads of enemies, although the barbarous custom of systematic head-hunting is dying out. To the majority of readers, doubtless, such a life would seem to hold few pleasant memories or enviable associations, yet her Highness the Ranee of Sarawak, the wife of Sir Charles Brooke, who, since 1868, has ruled this small state on the north-west of the island of Borneo, has frankly confessed that it has been "a life in fairyland."
To her there is no more beautiful place in the world than Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, where she has spent her married life, while the charm, devotion, artistic skill, and picturesque ways of her husband's dusky subjects have been described by her in terms of the greatest enthusiasm and praise. And the women of Sarawak adore this refined, cultured Englishwoman who has spent so many years amongst them, and who often wears the Malay costume in order that she may be as one of themselves.
To understand fully the position of this Oriental queen-the only Englishwoman holding the title of Ranee-who was received at Windsor by Queen Victoria with the honours due to a sovereign, it is necessary to recount briefly the story of Sarawak and Sir Charles Brooke-a story unequalled for thrilling interest even in the annals of fiction. Sir Charles is the second Rajah of Sarawak, a kingdom about the size of Scotland and Wales put together, which has its own army and navy, flag, currency, and postage-stamps.
The Sarawak flag is a black and red cross on a yellow ground, the coinage and postage-stamps bearing the head of Sir Charles. Sarawak is 8,700 miles distant from London, and an idea of the climate may be gathered from the fact that the Equator runs right through the capital, Kuching.
The Great Sir James Brooke
It was in 1868 that Sir Charles succeeded his uncle, Sir James Brooke, the first Rajah. The latter was a man of restless disposition and adventurous spirit, who, after fighting gallantly for the East India Company in the Burmese War, embarked on a roving tour among the islands of the Indian Archipelago. These islands were continually at war with one another, and carrying on a system of piracy unequalled for its daring and ferocity. It was a situation that appealed to Sir James. He fitted out a yacht, and, with a handful of picked men, arrived at Borneo just in time to save the Rajah Muda Hassim from the results of a formidable insurrection. After a series of terrible battles, the rebellion was crushed, and the grateful Rajah bestowed upon Sir James a vast slice of territory, with Sarawak as the centre, as a reward for his services. In 1841 Sir James was formally installed-the first white Rajah in the history of the world. And for twenty-seven years he ruled wisely and well, although the English Government were obliged to send out ships to co-operate with him in subduing the pirates. Many battles, however, had to be fought, and even within recent years Sir Charles and his son, known as the Rajah Muda, who will in due course inherit his father's title, have been obliged to make periodical expeditions to put down piracy and head-hunting. A year before his death, in 1868, Sir James's house at Kuching was attacked by pirates, and he was forced to evacuate the capital. With a small force, however, he recaptured the town.
It was about this time that his nephew, the present Rajah, then a lieutenant in the Navy, joined his uncle in Sarawak, and a year after he had succeeded his uncle he married Margaret de Windt, the only sister of Mr. Harry de Windt, the famous explorer. How many women would have cared to spend
H.H. the Ranee of Sarawak, wife of Sir Charles Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak.
Though she dwells among wild tribes she describes existence in her husband's kingdom as " a life in fairyland " Photo, Esine Collings their honeymoon in such a strange country and under such strange conditions? For it must be remembered that this was over forty years ago, and although much of the turbulence of Sarawak had by that time been quelled, there was still smouldering under the surface hidden fires which might break out at any time on the least provocation. As a matter of fact, the Ranee, not long after her marriage, had a very unpleasant experience, which might have ended in tragedy. The story is graphically told by Mr. Harry de Windt, who was for a time aide-de-camp to his brother-in-law, in his interesting book, " My Restless Life," and it illustrates in a striking manner the courage and resource of his sister.
A Thrilling; Experience
The Ranee had accompanied her husband on a punitive expedition, and it was arranged that she should await her husband's return from the scene of-operations at a fort about sixty miles away. The rebels were expected to make a stubborn resistance, and consequently every available man was taken, the result being that the Ranee was left with but a Malay chief, over seventy years of age, and her female companions as a bodyguard. "Life in a Sarawak out-station is dull and uneventful," says Mr. de Windt, "and my sister soon began to suffer from its deadly monotony. There was not even a piano to beguile the time, and the Ranee, having read and re-read her stock of French and English literature, set to work to study Arabic, under the tuition of the septuagenarian, who had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and was, therefore, a learned man."