Project Canterbury

Mission to the Island of Borneo

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. I (No. I) (July 1847), pages 26-34.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


SINCE the days in which Sir Walter Raleigh first enchanted the minds of his countrymen with tales of a terrestrial paradise, no more romantic expedition has been undertaken than that on which Mr. Brooke, in October, 1838, first loosed the sails of his yacht, the Royalist, for the Indian Ocean; certainly none that has been so prosperous.

Whether we view him as the apostle of civilization to the Malayan Archipelago, to which he seems to have been impelled by motives which to ordinary men would be unintelligible, or in the more humble light of the pioneer of a future colony, his course is equally deserving of admiration. His attention was first turned to these regions during a voyage he made in search of health from Calcutta to China in the year 1830; "he then for the first time beheld these islands of vast importance and unparalleled beauty, lying neglected and almost unknown; and viewing with the eye of a Christian, a philosopher, and a patriot, he became convinced that Borneo and the Eastern isles afforded a noble field for enterprise and research, of the utmost importance not only to our colonial empire and commercial interests, but also to the cause of religion and of suffering and degraded humanity: and "to carry to the Malay races, so long the terror of the European merchant vessel, the blessings of civilization--to suppress piracy, and extirpate the slave-trade--became his humane and generous objects; and from that hour the energies of his powerful mind were devoted to this one pursuit." It was no part of his intention merely to open a way for reducing these islands to dependencies of our Indian empire; but, beholding in their oppressed and persecuted Aborigines an interesting people, capable of a superior cultivation, he hoped that, under British protection, the native governments might still flourish, while the general condition of the people was improved by the introduction of more enlightened principles and civilized habits. Before his departure, he said, "I go to awaken the spirit of slumbering philanthropy with regard to these islands; to carry Sir Stamford Raffles's views in Java over the whole Archipelago. Fortune and life I give freely; and if I fail in the attempt, I shall not have lived in vain." Imbued with these feelings, he spared no expense or trouble in equipping his yacht and selecting a fit crew for the enterprise, and in 1840 landed upon the shores of Borneo. He was welcomed indeed, at first, as to a friendly land; although he soon discovered that the welcome he received was perhaps chiefly to be attributed to the [26/27] hope which the then Rajah, Muda Hassim, entertained of obtaining his assistance in the struggle which was taking place between that prince and some of his rebellious piratical subjects. But, from the time that he was convinced of the equity of the Rajah's cause, no selfish consideration seems to have prevented Mr. Brooke from giving him his zealous assistance, and proving himself to the victors as an all-powerful ally, and to the vanquished an unlooked-for mediator.

It is not our intention to trace all the steps by which he acquired the influence and power he at present possesses, the details of which are fully given in his own journal, which has been published by the Hon. Captain Keppel, in his interesting and spirited narrative of his expedition to Borneo in the Dido, and will amply repay the perusal. It will suffice to say, that, by a grant from the Sultan of Borneo, Mr. Brooke now governs as Rajah, with undisputed authority, the fine provinces of Sarawak, where he already numbers his immediate dependants by thousands; and each later account tells us that the population of his territory is rapidly increasing, and his influence steadily extending, not only within the limits of his own territory, but throughout the whole of "Borneo proper." As the arbiter among three races inhabiting the same country--the Malay, which is the ruling race, the aboriginal Dyak, and the Chinese settler--his task must have been a difficult and delicate one. But "by steady perseverance in the principles of truth and justice, and reliance in the integrity of his purpose, and the God in whom he trusted, his influence rose and prospered, until he was besought by the native rulers to take upon himself the government of the province, where the beneficial effects of his interference first manifested themselves. Each year of his rule has been marked by new services to the cause of humanity. Under his mild and equitable sway, the rights of property are now respected, personal violence has abated; at his instigation, piracy has been attacked in its strongholds, defeated and discouraged; his subjects and his neighbours begin to understand his lessons, how much preferable are the peaceful pursuits of industry and commerce to the roving warfare in which they have hitherto placed their pride, and found their sole profit. His influence extends, far beyond the limits of his government, as widely in Borneo as his name is known."

In order to carry out his views for the permanent improvement of his people, he has expressed his readiness to encourage by every means in his power any well-devised scheme for their
education, and consequent elevation in the scale of social beings, the crowning point of which will be to bring them into the fold of Christ. And giving assurance of his earnest and hearty [27/28] co-operation, he has appealed to his brethren of the Church in his native land to give him that assistance which can alone render the good hitherto effected, or yet to be wrought by his benevolent exertions in the cause of humanity, real and abiding, viz., by sending out able ministers of the Gospel of Christ, duly qualified and commissioned, to plant in his territories a fresh branch of our own beloved and Apostolic Church, which shall by its holy influences foster and encourage the seeds of peace, freedom, order, and civilization, which he has been labouring to sow among his people, and shall cause them to take deep root
and blossom and bring forth fruit in the rich and never-failing soil of Christian grace and truth.

We will now proceed to give some account of the success which has attended Mr. Brooke's appeal, and to show the extent (trifling indeed compared with the occasion) to which preparations are making in order to occupy the ground, here opened to us, of establishing amongst the heathen a new and promising Mission. We ought first to mention, that by the praiseworthy exertions of a much-respected and zealous clergyman, the Rev. C. D. Brereton, (who first called public attention to the subject in an able address, which he published about a year ago,) an influential committee has been formed to raise the necessary funds to endow and equip a Mission, which is about to proceed to Sarawak, in furtherance of Mr. Brooke's enlightened and truly Christian intentions, which the words of his stirring appeal, as quoted in Mr. Brereton's pamphlet, will best explain; he says:--

"After residing among the people, and becoming intimately acquainted with their characters and many virtues,--after witnessing their sufferings and patience, and very firmly convinced of the facilities with which they might be improved,--after struggling to protect them, and after acquiring their slowly bestowed confidence, it cannot be a matter of surprise that I appeal in their behalf, to that generosity which I am led to think aids the distressed, and commiserates the sufferings of our fellow-creatures. If a case of misery ever called for help, it is here; and the act of humanity, which redeems the Dyak race from their condition of unparalleled wretchedness, will open a path for religion, and for commerce, which may in future repay the charity, which ought to seek no remuneration.

"The protection of the Dyak race in Sarawak would quickly follow the residence of Europeans, and, indeed, already their condition has been improved in some measure; and in future, the residence of Missionaries amongst them would give them confidence to resist the unjust demands which they are now forced to comply with. In the present day, I know no field for the Missionary which promises such a harvest as the Dyak tribes."

[29] "Finally," he concludes, "if I appeal, it is not in my own name, but in the name of the oppressed and enslaved Dyaks. I appeal to those, whose views of policy lead to the extension of commerce, to the religious body in England, who may here find a field of Missionary labour too long untried. If the British public be indifferent to the sufferings of this unhappy race, now for the first time made known to them,--if, when the means of ameliorating this inhuman state of things, and alleviating the miseries of an innocent and much-abused people, are pointed out, they turn a deaf ear to the appeal, they are not what I believe them to be, and what they profess themselves."

The fundamental principle of the Borneo Church Mission, now established in answer to Mr. Brooke's appeal, as declared in a resolution of the Provisional Committee, is,

"That this, being an Institution of the Church of England, be placed under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, and that the appointments and regulations for discipline and jurisdiction shall receive the sanction of their authority, until it shall seem good to them to transfer the same to some other Episcopal authority of the Church of England."

And we feel sure that it will obtain the hearty concurrence and support of every right-minded and reflecting Churchman. For the want of a Missionary spirit, evinced by the reluctance to listen to appeals of this kind, and the misdirected and inefficient manner in which our few Missions were so often conducted,--not from want of zeal and devotion on the part of those employed, but owing to the difficulties of management, and especially to the want of Episcopal guidance and support, both in this country, and at the various scenes of action,--was, until a very recent period, the too just opprobrium of our Church, as well as the strongest argument of the Romanist and others against us, which they well knew how to wield. We trust, however, that the day has come when this objection will be obviated; and while we look upon the establishment of the Borneo Church Institution, and the conduct of the committee in making their arrangements for providing this new Mission with Episcopal superintendence, as a most pleasing evidence, that this cause of reproach is being removed from us; we also hope, that the right principles on which it is founded, the liberality of the faithful in contributing to its support, and their hearty prayers for its prosperity,--together with a well-directed and well-supported plan of operation, carried out with zeal and self-devotion on the part of the clergy employed,--will, with the blessing of God, ensure such success as to afford a further and a brighter proof of the revival of a Missionary spirit amongst us, and of the efficiency of the [29/30] same, when giving full force to the principles of our Church .
and deriving strength from her authority.

Two clergymen, the Rev. F. T. McDougall, M.A. of St. Mary Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and the Rev. W. B. Wright, formerly of Queen's College, Oxford, have already been appointed; of the former, to whom the charge of the mission is confided, we read in the published report of the mission--

"It is anticipated that the great benefit, in regard to the objects of the mission, will be derived from the medical knowledge of Mr. McDougall, who is a member of the College of Surgeons, and was, before he entered into Holy Orders, Demonstrator of Anatomy in King's College, London. He will be prepared to avail himself of any opportunities that may offer of conciliating in this way the good-will of the natives, and conferring upon them those temporal benefits which may lead the way to the communication of spiritual knowledge."

This, without doubt, will be a great advantage; and when we remember the miraculous gifts of healing conferred on the first Missionaries of our blessed religion, and consider medical
science, in its present advanced state, as one of the best gifts of the great Physician, the appropriateness of such an acquisition to the Missionary must be most evident,--especially among Mahomedans, where surgical and medical skill has ever been the ready passport to their confidence and esteem;--and the establishment of an hospital, with its school of medicine and surgery, in connexion with the Mission, will, it is believed, prove a most powerful accessory, and add greatly to its prospects of success. For this, the funds at the disposal of the committee are as yet too limited. There is no reason, however, to complain of the present state of the subscription list, as hitherto has been kept almost private. [1] [The Societies for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and for the Propagation of the Gospel, have both contributed very liberally.] And now that so good a beginning has been made, it is of the greatest importance it should be made public, and every effort used to raise a sufficient sum both to provide for the future support of the Mission, and to enable it to go forth at first, with a sufficient staff, and properly equipped.

There is, we believe, every element of success, both in the present social condition of the people at Sarawak, and in the state of their religious belief. We are told that,

"Of the religion of the Dyaks, little is known, because probably there is little to be discovered among a people who have lived for centuries in a purely savage state, divided into numerous separate tribes, with a slender acquaintance with the operations of nature, and whose creed, like [30/31] their other ideas, must be of an insignificant and feeble character, not extending probably beyond a very indistinct perception of a Supreme Power and some other existence after death. Still the absence of prejudices, like that of caste, so powerful an obstacle in India to the reception of Christianly, the absence of prescribed and hallowed rites which so often influence the passions, under a more perplexed and deformed system of popular idolatry, as well as the absence of any distinct order set apart for the performance of the functions of religion, must be regarded as favourable circumstances, especially among a people who have considerable physical advantages, and whose character is said to be simple, truthful, and honest, contrasting in these respects most favourably with other uncivilized races. Persons best acquainted with these interesting barbarians, describe them as similar in character and condition to the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands, where, from similar advantageous circumstances, the Spanish Missionaries found the work of conversion so speedy and universal.

"The character of the Malayan, the ruling race, is, in a religious point of view, very different, and apparently far more difficult of access. Distinguished by a peculiarity of temper and disposition, attached, like other Mahomedans, to their religion from a persuasion of its truth, accustomed to associate their conquests and superiority over others with its divine influence, they must be expected to feel considerable jealousy of their religion, with which their ascendancy and privileges are associated, and therefore much caution will be necessary. On this subject Mr. Brooke has already advised, 'let our motto be, Create no jealousy.'--Still there appear to be some peculiar and encouraging circumstances respecting the Malays, and especially the Malayan inhabitants of Sarawak. When addicted to piracy, they are deceitful, revengeful, rapacious, and cruel; but it has been remarked by Mr. Brooke and others, that when peacefully employed, they are amiable, fond of children, courteous to strangers, and grateful for kindness. Their migratory and maritime habits, their intercourse with others, and especially their modern and more intimate acquaintance with European commerce and power, have rendered them less severe in their religious discipline and less jealous of their theological creed, than many other Mahomedan nations. The peculiar circumstance of their having transferred the supreme, in their estimation a sacred, authority to an Anglo native Christian Rajah, cannot fail to have excited an influence in mitigating their prejudices, and in preparing their minds for the reception of religious instruction, provided it be introduced among them with the same benevolence with which they have become familiarized with European habits and government."

The Chinese, who are numerous, are Buddhists, and it appears that they evince great willingness to be instructed, and have no strong prejudices against Christianity. Notwithstanding their national and religious distinctions, these various races seem all alike ready to welcome with cheerful confidence any who will come among them in the name of their "white friend," as [31/32] they term Mr. Brooke; and a "reasonable hope may, therefore, be entertained, that, by the blessing of God, the Church of Christ will speedily be established in this hitherto neglected land."

It will be seen, however, notwithstanding all these favourable circumstances, that this Mission presents no ordinary difficulties, owing to the different languages to be learnt, and the forms of faith to be encountered; and, moreover, the spiritual care of the English residents at Sarawak must devolve upon it, for it will be of the utmost importance to get them to co-operate with the Clergy, by setting a good example to the natives, and endeavouring to show them, especially the Mahomedans, that Christians really do trust in Him whose holy name they bear, and truly worship that one God whom they, in common with Mussulmans, acknowledge to be the Maker and Preserver of all things; and this cannot be done without the regular and strict observance of daily public worship. For the necessary work required, then, it is clear that two men are insufficient; and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel have, therefore, voted 50l. a-year for five years, to meet a like sum promised by some friends of the Mission, for the support of a third clergyman, who, it is hoped, will be obtained in time to go out with those already appointed. It surely cannot be, that either men or means will be wanting to give this new Mission of the Church of England proper strength and support, especially as it is confidently reported that the Romanists have established, at Singapore, within three days' sail of Sarawak, a Jesuit College, (said already to consist of 200 persons,) whence they purpose to carry on their Missionary operations in those parts; and it is probable that they will come into collision with us in Borneo. Let us, at least, learn from them to proportion our means to the magnitude of our undertaking, and not allow the want of proper strength and encouragement to be the cause of failure to so promising a Mission.

We find, from Mr. Brooke's letters, that his attention has already been turned to the permanent settlement and endowment of the new Church in Sarawak; in one of last year we read:--

"Every aid on my part shall most readily be afforded to advance the interest of the Mission, and I can foresee no difficulty in its establishment, and am sanguine of its success. Land can be obtained to any extent that is necessary, and should Sarawak itself be fixed upon as the site of the School and Church, I have already decided on a spot well suited for it. I shall be obliged if you will furnish me with some idea of the size of the establishment, its probable wants at starting, &c., as I might be on the look-out to advance these objects previous to the [32/33] arrival of the families. It must be attended with incalculable advantages, and I repeat that I have great hope of ultimate success.' In his next letter, written at the moment of his landing at Sarawak, after an absence of two months, during which his settlement had remained perfectly tranquil, he informs the Committee that he had brought with him 'some dozen boys, sons and nephews of the (late) Rajah Muda Hassim,' that is, of the royal family, and he adds, 'I shall have them much about me, just to train them to European manners, and afterwards we must hope for the best,' referring to their instruction on the arrival of Missionaries."

In a subsequent communication of recent date, he says:--

"Whoever may go out may choose the situation and the quantity of land required for churches, schools, gardens, and estates. A few thousand acres are of very little consideration, and their value depends on their development; I have reserved one or two spots which I consider advantageously situated for the purpose. I hope with moderation and by means of education that we shall ultimately triumph, but it is a work of time and patience rather than enthusiasm."

With such offers of endowment, in a country where the climate though warm is most healthy, and the soil fertile in the extreme, and laden with riches both vegetable and mineral, there is every prospect that this Mission will, in process of time, not only be self-supporting, but also be enabled to extend its operations throughout Borneo and the adjacent islands. And we may hope that the Church now about to be established will ere long be complete in all its parts, with its Bishop at its head, so that it may be enabled to spread itself on all sides as opportunities may offer--and that provision may be made for spending forth a native clergy to take charge of their brethren, and thus establishing a native Church, with its foundations deeply laid in the affections of the people.

For the site of a Missionary College, no position can be imagined more appropriate than the town of Sarawak, which is situated upon the river of that name, but too far up ever to become a place of great commercial consideration, and therefore not likely to be overrun with profligate Europeans; it is nevertheless a place of considerable native importance, the seat of Mr. Brooke's government, and within an easy distance of Singapore, whence all European necessaries can be procured.

With such prospects of success, we earnestly hope that this interesting Mission may prosper; and were it possible to bring forward any further inducement to support it, it is that this is a cause in which persons of all parties in the Church may work together, nor is it necessary to do more than to run the eye over the present subscription list to see the force of this remark. [33/34] The true battle-field of the Church of England in her corporate capacity, is to be sought in our colonies and in the lands of heathenism. Here surely is a wide field for our united exertions, where party differences need not keep us asunder; and may we not hope that if, as a Church and nation, we strive to do our duty in spreading abroad that truth which has been intrusted to us, the flood of light may in time flow back upon ourselves, and our differences, often so trivial, be merged in the welcome return of "truth and peace, of faith and charity."

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