Background: James Brooke

book cover


Tags: Journey to Rai-Lay

Posted in Background Book Reviews on June 12, 2011

[caption id="attachment_24” align="alignright” width="200” caption="Sir James Brooke”]Sir James Brooke[/caption]

I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Journey to Angkor, which hopefully means I’m only a month or two away from publishing it. So, I thought it might be interesting to give you some background on the one historical figure I’ve used in this next book.

I first encountered James Brooke when I visited Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia, where he was the first “White Rajah” of Sarawak. I’ve never placed too much trust in my own gaydar, but his official portrait (right) definitely set off alarm bells. After doing a little research, I decided I had to include Brooke as a character in the sequel to Journey to Angkor.

James Brooke was born in India, the son of an English man who worked for the British East India Company. He stayed in India until he was 12, then was sent to England for his schooling. Formal education didn’t seem to suit young James, and so he enlisted in the Bengal Army. He was wounded and returned to England in 1825. On recovering he tried to return to his regiment in 1830, but arrived too late. His experiences after missing his chance to rejoin the army lead Brooke to try his hand at trade in the region. Using an inheritance from his father, Brooke purchased the Royalist, and set sail for Singapore.

After reaching Singapore, Brooke undertook a mission to Sarawak, where luck, timing and force of arms resulted in the Sultan of Brunei making him the Rajah of Sarawak. His direct rule of Sarawak was unusual in the British Empire, and was passed down through his nephew to the Brooke family until World War II.

Assigning sexual orientation to historical figures is always a bit risky, but in James Brooke’s case it seems clear that he was probably bisexual, at the very leas. He never married, although some sources say he was married to the Sultan’s daughter, but apparently there’s little evidence of this. If it happened at all, it may have simply been a way to secure his relationship to the Sultan. Brooke did acknowledge one illegitimate son. One source says the mother was his father’s maid. But James “preferred the company of men”, as the Victorians put it, and apparently professed his love of a Sarawak prince in writing. He later formed a strong attachment to the grandson of the Earl of Elgin.

James Brooke plays a supporting role in my next book, Journey to Rai-Lay. He helps get the main character, Henry, from England to Singapore.

If you’re interested in reading more historical romance featuring James Brooke, then I would recommend The White Rajah by Tom Williams. It follows Brooke from Singapore through the battles that allowed him to claim the title of Rajah and on to the difficulties of ruling a savage land full of pirates and cannibals.

The book is written from the perspective of a young man who sails with Brooke, and eventually becomes his lover. It appears to be a quite well researched tale. My only fault with it is that the author gets a bit timid when describing the romance between the narrator and Brooke. We’re given little doubt that the two have a physical relationship, but there’s not much more than hugs and kisses as evidence. I suppose the coyness is true to the Victorian era in which the narrator lives, but I for one would have forgiven the writer if he had provided a little more insight into the relationship. It would have made the romance a little more real.

The White Rajah is available from Amazon through the link above right, or you can also get it at Smashwords, which offers additional formats such as ePub.