Project Canterbury

Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak

By Harriette McDougall

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882.
New York: E. & J. B. Young, 1882.

Chapter XII. Chinese Insurrection (Continued)

AS we proceeded up the river we agreed we would ask news of any boat we met. Presently we noticed smoke rising above the trees. "The Malays are burning the Chinese town," said the men; but as we drew nearer it was evidently the Malay town which was burning. At last we met a boat. "Yes; the Chinese had returned, and had set fire to the Malay town; they were also firing at the Sarawak Chinese in the bazaar." On Saturday the Bishop and the Channons and Stahl had unspiked two of the guns left in the fort, and had hoisted the Sarawak flag again on the flag-staff. The Bishop then went to the Rajah's war boat at the Quop, and told him that the Malays had sent away their women, and were ready to fight should the Chinese return; and he begged him to come to our house early the next morning, where breakfast should be ready for him, and take the command. But the Chinese heard of this, and returned in the morning, [139/140] some by river, some by road. As soon as the Malays saw their boats rounding the corner near the Malay town, they attacked them bravely, drove them ashore, and though suffering much loss from their superior fire, captured ten of their boats, and secured them to a Malay prahu in the river. While this struggle was going on, a large party of Chinese, who walked from Seniawan, were ransacking the town. Enraged with the Bishop for trying to bring the Rajah back, they rushed into our house to find him; but he, having sent off all our belongings, English and native, ran down the back stairs while the Chinese rushed up into the porch in front, and escaped to the Chinese town, where shots were flying about in plenty, but did not hit him. He got into a little boat passing by, with two Malays in it, and they paddled him to the Rajah's war boat, then retreating down the river. When they reached the Quop he found a little boat, which brought him quickly to Jernang.

We lay off the town in the life-boat, and saw one boat after another rowing fast towards us. In one, Mr. Koch, the missionary, with a number of schoolboys; in another, Mrs. Crookshank, laid on a mattress, Mrs. Stahl, and Miss Coomes, and the schoolgirls; then the Channons' families and some Chinese; then the Sing-Song's family, and more boys. "Where is the Bishop?" I shouted. "In the Rajah's war boat. We had the greatest difficulty in getting boats enough for us; the Chinese were running up to the house when he sent us off, and [140/141] firing had already begun in the streets when Mrs. Crookshank was got into the boat."

This was an anxious moment; but before long our servant James appeared with a message to me from my husband, to return to Jernang, and stay there until he appeared. Our Malay friends here left us, to join their families anchored in boats by the banks, and I filled the life-boat with the schoolchildren to lighten the other boats. Then we pulled slowly back against the tide to Jernang. The little landing-place was crowded when we arrived, for the smaller boats had got there first. I had the greatest difficulty in persuading the Malays to give shelter to the Chinese Christians and children. I answered for their good behaviour; but all Chinese, whether rebels or no, were in sufficiently bad odour in those days. At last I got them part of a house to themselves. No sooner was all arranged than the Bishop arrived in his little boat; it was like receiving him from the dead. Presently appeared the Rajah's war boat, he standing at the stern. We all ran down to meet him and Mr. Crookshank, and take them to Bertha, who had been carried into a house. While we were all standing on the little wharf, built on tall piles into the water, the Malays cried out that it was giving way, and we must all go into the houses. The Bishop then decided what to do with his large party. Mr. Helms had a schooner close by, in which he was going to Sambas, to seek assistance from the Dutch, our nearest neighbours. He kindly [141/142] offered to take Miss Woolley, Miss Coomes, and two of our eldest school-boys with him. The rest of us could go to Linga, where there was a fort, as a little pinnace belonging to Mr. Steele lay handy at the mouth of the river. The Chinese, however, implored to go with us; and indeed it would have been cruel to leave them a prey to the Malays, or the bad Chinese, or the Dyaks. When we were lodged in the pinnace, therefore, the Bishop went back to Jcrnang, and packed all our Chinese into the life-boat, which was attached by a rope to the pinnace; so we were all together. It was nearly dark when we weighed anchor, and left the mouth of the river. There was a tiny cabin, just large enough to hold Bertha on her mattress; a fowl-house, into which our native children crept; an open hold, where we women sat down on our bundles, with our children in our arms; and there was a place for cargo forward, where the men settled themselves. The Rajah in his war boat also proceeded to Linga, and we expected him to arrive long before our slow boat; he would meet Mr. Johnson, his nephew, there, and organize a force of Dyaks from the great rivers, Sakarran and Batang Lupar, to drive away the Chinese rebels. We never had any doubt of their doing this eventually, though we feared the remedy might be almost as bad as the disease, if the Dyaks proved unmanageable and quarrelled with one another. The night was very dark and wet, and the deck leaked upon us, so that we and our bags and bundles were soon wet [142/143] through. But we neither heeded the rain nor felt the cold. We had eaten nothing since early morning, but were not hungry; and although for several nights we could scarcely be said to have slept, we were not sleepy. A deep thankfulness took possession of my soul; all our dear ones were spared to us. My children were in my arms, my husband paced the deck over my head. I seemed to have no cares, and to be able to trust to God for the future, who had been so merciful to us hitherto. I remember, too, when Mrs. Stahl opened the provision basket, and gave us each a slice of bread and meat, how very good it was, although we had not thought about wanting it. We lit a little fire, and made some hot tea, but soon had a message from the Rajah's boat to put out the fire lest we should be seen. The only thing that troubled me was a nasty faint smell, for which I could not account; but next morning we found a Chinaman's head in a basket close by my corner, which was reason enough! We had taken a fine young man on board to help pull the sweeps, a Dyak, and this ghastly possession was his. He said he was at Kuching, looking about for a head, and went into the court-house. Hearing some one in a little side room, he peeped in, and saw a Chinaman gazing at himself in a bit of looking-glass, which was stuck against the wall. He drew his sword, and in one moment, stepping close behind him, cut off his head: and having obtained this prize, was naturally desirous of getting away from the place; so he came [143/144] off as boatman in one of the flying boats, bringing the head in a basket, which he stowed in the side of the boat. It entirely spoilt my hand-bag, which lay near it; I had to throw it away, and everything in it which could not be washed in hot water.

Towards morning the sea made us all sick, added to the wet, and cold of dawn; yet, when the day cleared a little, and we got a fire on deck, and some hot tea and biscuits, and the children seemed none the worse for their bad night and the swarms of mosquitoes which had feasted upon them, we could not repine. In the evening we passed the island of Burong, at the mouth of the Batang Lupar River, and Mr. Crookshank tried to stimulate the men pulling the sweeps to reach a Sebuyan village farther on, before the tide left us and it grew dark. By dint of hard pulling we made the village, and its little fort, standing close beside the water and washed by its strong tide. A little boat came off from the fort, with some Malays, of whom we inquired for the Rajah, thinking his boat was far ahead of us, but they said they had seen nothing of him. Mr. Crookshank then begged them to bring a boat in which he could take Bertha up to Linga Fort that evening, instead of her remaining another night in the pinnace. We went on as long as the tide lasted, and then anchored in the Batang Lupar. Again we made a fire on deck, and aftcr taking some food, settled ourselves for the night. At eleven o'clock the promised boat came for Bertha and Mr. Crookshank, and Mrs. Stahl went [144/145] with them as nurse; they thought nothing could be worse than spending another night on board the pinnace, but I fear the little boat journey was still more painful. When they reached Linga, they found only Malays in the fort, and the dwelling-house shut up, for Mr. Johnson was at Sakarran. They had to carry Mrs. Crookshank up a ladder into the fort, and lay her on a table; but happily Mr. Chambers arrived that night from Banting, and furnished a curtain as a screen, and pillows from his boat to make a more comfortable couch. As we were setting off again next morning, we met Mr. Johnson in a long boat, going straight off to Kuching. He was lying ill of fever at Sakarran, when his Malays roused him by saying, without preface--"The news is bad,Tuan: the Rajah is killed and Kuching in the hands of the rebel Chinese." Upon this he jumped up, called together the chiefs, and bidding them follow him with a strong force of Dyaks, he set off himself without calling at Linga by the way. When we told him that Rajah was alive and on his way to Linga, he turned back with us, and taking me, my ayah, and the children into his boat, soon landed us at his house. This was Tuesday, but we heard nothing of the Rajah until Friday. Mr. Johnson, after breakfasting with us at his house, went on to Kuching, and found that, after we lost sight of the Rajah's war boat, they had fallen in with the steamer belonging to the Borneo Company, the Sir James Brooke, just entering the river. Mr. Helms' schooner also came [145/146] across her, so all the passengers in the schooner and the war boat had moved into the steamer, and they immediately proceeded up the river, preparing the guns on board to attack as soon as they reached the town. What must have been the feelings of the Chinese in the fort when they saw the smoke of the steamer curling above the trees, and then received one ten-pounder shot after another into their midst! They fired one round of grape shot at the steamer, and shouts of "Run!" rose on all sides. The steamer then proceeded up to the Malay town, where the Malays still held out against the Chinese; but as they were getting very short of ammunition, and their enemies were bringing some large guns to bear on their position, they greeted the steamer with shouts of welcome. The Chinese fled in every direction. Cut off from their boats, they ran into the jungle; and while many no doubt reached Bau in safety, many fell into the hands of the Dyaks, who, following their usual course of warfare, spread themselves through the jungle, and took the head of every man they met. The town was quite clear of the rebels in a few hours, and the Sir James Brooke, anchored in the river, furnished the base of operations which the Rajah required: from thence he could direct the Malay and Dyak forces, which were immediately at his disposal, to drive the rebels out of the country. The day before, the Chinese had filled our house and looted it completely, except the books in the library, for which they seem to have had some [146/147] respect; but we had reason to believe that on Monday the house would have been burnt, for gunpowder and inflammable materials were found strewed about after they left. They took everything they could carry away, and destroyed the rest, cutting long slits in the gauze of the mosquito-rooms, and pouring all the chemicals and medicines of the dispensary over the contents of the drawers, clothes, and papers they did not wish for. They found a long table set out ready for breakfast, and had only to gather up the small plate, which, with a house full of people, was all in requisition. The church, too, was emptied of all its furniture, and the harmonium smashed; but the opportune arrival of the steamer prevented these buildings from sharing the fate of the other houses.

Meanwhile, we were settling ourselves with our large party in Mr. Johnson's house, which he kindly placed at our disposal. This house was surrounded by a latticed verandah, the ground immediately about it was cleared of jungle and drained by deep ditches. From the fort you looked over the wide stretch of water of the Batang Lupar, but it was a lonely and monotonous look-out. As the fort men were taken away to fight at Kuching, the gentlemen had to form themselves into watches day and night, with the few Malays who remained to guard the fort. Boats full of Dyaks continually arrived, to join the Rajah's force--Balows, Sarebas, and Sakarrans lay side by side on the river, all excited by the prospects of war, and frequently [147/148] causing silly panics among the Malays of Linga, lest these warriors, from tribes so long enemies, should fall out with one another before they got to Kuching. There were, of course, no books or newspapers to read; our Bibles and Prayer-books alone were among our luggage. We women were the best off, for we got some unbleached calico from Sakarran, and cut out some under-clothing, of which we had but little; this gave us occupation. We also had every day to wash our linen and towels after bathing. The bath was a clear running stream, covered in near the house, very pretty and romantic, but the water was of a light brown colour, like toast and water, and had a slightly acid taste, very agreeable but not very wholesome. Probably the spring forced its way through dead leaves in the jungle; at any rate, it did not wash the clothes white. It was very difficult to procure food for us all. Rice and gourds made into a kind of curry stew was our daily meal; if a chicken was got it was devoted to the children and the sick. We were very anxious for some time on account of Mrs. Crookshank. Had she remained quiet at Kuching, her wounds would have healed quickly, for she was young and perfectly healthy; but all the moving into boats, and carrying up ladders and steps, had broken open the wounds, and it was a struggle of strength and youth against adverse circumstances. She was so patient and cheerful that we never heard a complaint, which was in her favour no doubt; still there were some days when [148/149] her life was in great danger in that hot climate. Twice during the month we received a box from Kuching, sent by a native boat. Once it contained our mail--an immense pleasure; also some bread and biscuits, but they were wet with salt water, and mouldy besides. However, Mab and Alan could eat them. I used to look with thankful astonishment at those children, both so delicate generally, but who throve all the time we were without proper food or shelter. But baby Edith shrank and pined, and at last my husband said, "We shall lose this child if you stay here any longer: better go and live among the Dyaks, who have plenty of fowls."

So Mr. Chambers kindly took us in at his house at Banting, where we had a most loving welcome, and saw something of the Dyak women and children. The men were mostly gone to the war, and great excitement prevailed among the tribe with the prospect of acquiring heads again, for the Sarawak Government had quite stopped that hunting in the country. Boats were continually arriving, gay with streamers, and noisy with gongs and drums beating, with heads of Chinese on board. One day we were invited to a feast in one of the long houses. I said, "I hope we shall see no heads," and was told I need not see any; so, taking Mab in my hand, I went with Mr. Chambers, and we climbed up into the long verandah room where all the work of the tribe goes on. This long house was surrounded with [149/150] fruit-trees, and very comfortable. There were plenty of pigs under the house, and fowls perching in every direction. About thirty families lived in the house, the married people having each their little room, the girls a room to themselves, and the long room I spoke of being used for cooking, mat-making, paddy-beating, and all the usual occupations of their lives. We were seated on white mats, and welcomed by the chief people present. The feast was laid on a raised platform along the side of the room. There were a good many ornaments of the betel-nut palm, plaited into ingenious shapes, standing about the table, so that I did not at first remark anything else. As we English folks could not eat fowls roasted in their feathers, nor cakes fried in cocoa-nut oil, they brought us fine joints of bamboo filled with pulut rice, which turns to a jelly in cooking and is fragrant with the scent of the young cane. I was just going to eat this delicacy when my eyes fell upon three human heads standing on a large dish, freshly killed and slightly smoked, with food and sirih leaves in their mouths. Had I known them when alive I must have recognized them, for they looked quite natural. I looked with alarm at Mab, lest she should see them too; then we made our retreat as soon as possible. But I dared say nothing. These Dyaks had killed our enemies, and were only following their own customs by rejoicing over their dead victims. But the fact seemed to part them from us by centuries of feeling--our disgust, and their [150/151] complacency. Some of them told us that afterwards, when they brought home some of the children belonging to the slain, and treated them very kindly, wishing to adopt them as their own, they were annoyed at the little ones standing looking up at their parents' heads hanging from the roof, and crying all day, as if it were strange they should do so! Yet the Dyaks are very fond of children, and extremely indulgent to them. Our school was recruited after the war by the children of Chinese, bought by Government from their captors. This was my first and last visit to a Dyak feast. I used to go and see the women in the early morning sometimes, and they constantly came up to the mission-house to see my children. Of course the war had an evil influence on them, increasing their interest in heads, and all the heathen ceremonies connected with their possession.

We stayed about ten days at Banting, walking every afternoon to the little church through a long avenue of fruit-trees--great forest trees which threw a grateful shade over the path, charming for the children's walks. They could have chicken broth too for their dinners; and Edith revived, but it was a whole year after this before she grew any taller, so that when she began to run about, three months later, it looked a surprising feat for a baby who should be in long clothes, yet she was then sixteen months old. This life at Banting was a kind of dream, after all the hurry and anxiety we had gone through. At last we heard that we might go back [151/152] to Kuching, the Chinese had all been driven out of the country, or killed. Our house was purified, and the dead bodies lying about in the jungle had been buried, so that the air was sweet again. We returned to Linga, and all embarked in a little schooner for home. It was not a much better boat than the one we had fled in, and we suffered two very trying days' voyage; but when we walked into the mission-house and found Miss Woolley to welcome us, and our house, though dismantled, uninjured, and most of the books in the library, we were very thankful. The Sunday after, we had a thanksgiving service in the church, in which all joined very heartily.

I must return, however, to the history of the war, from the time the Rajah steamed up the river in the Sir James Brooke.

At Bau there were supposed to be from three to four thousand Chinese rebels, who had lately been strengthened by many malcontents from the Dutch country. The Chinese held Bau, Seniawan, the government fort of Balcda, and a fort at Peninjauh opposite to Balcda. They boasted that they had rice and gunpowder enough to last out six months in these places; but they were gradually surrounded on all sides by Malays and Dyaks, so that they could get no fresh stores. On the ioth of March a body of Chinese came down the river to Leda Tanah (Tongue of Land) about halfway to Kuching. They built a breast-work by the river-side, dug a trench behind it, placed some brass guns in position, [152/153] and then retired to eat their dinners in comfort behind their defences. There was a little house and garden belonging to the Rajah at Leda Tanah. The Datu Tumangong and Abang Boujong hearing of this, went up the river with a Malay force and attacked the breast-work in front. The Chinese fired one volley and ran. The Malays entered, sword in hand, but only killed two men; all the rest fled into the arms of the Dyaks, who lay in wait in the jungle behind, and took a hundred heads, some say two hundred, but stories do not lose in the telling. The Chinese begged hard for their lives, wrung their hands, wept, prayed the Dyaks to be friends with them; but Dyaks know nothing about prisoners. One of the principal kunsi was killed in this affair, and some say that Kamang, the leader of the attack on the 18th of February, lost his head to the Sakarran Dyaks.

This success was matter of great rejoicing at Kuching. Two days afterwards they heard that Baleda Fort was deserted by the Chinese. Mr. Johnson went up and found it quite empty; Seniawan too, and soon after Bau also. All had fled towards the Dutch territory. A dreadful march they had, poor creatures; carrying their sacred stone Tai pekong with them. Nearly a thousand women and children delayed their progress. They were harassed all the way by parties of Malays, and Dyaks cutting off the stragglers. The party dwindled by degrees, until nearly all the kunsi were killed, either by the enemy or their incensed [153/154] countrymen, who found themselves driven from their peaceful homes for the sins of these rebels. It is so painful to think of the many innocent who suffered with the guilty on this occasion, of the miseries they endured, and the relentlessness of their foes, that I cannot detail it. War naturally brings such evils in its train; even civilized warfare is not without its horrors and its injustice: but when revenge falls into the hands of savages these ills are multiplied. The Malays both hated and despised the Chinese. That such people should have taken their forts, burnt their dwellings, compelling them to seek safety for their families by flight, was so great an insult that their most violent passions were aroused, and only the blood of all the Kay tribe could wipe out the disgrace they had incurred. It was indeed wonderful that these Chinese should imagine for a moment that they could remain rulers in a country whose inhabitants regarded them as the natural hewers of wood and drawers of water to the community; but no doubt they were intoxicated by their unlooked-for success on the 18th of February, and a Chinaman seems destitute of any appreciation of people who are not Celestials! A remnant of these people got safely into the Dutch territory, where the authorities took what arms and ammunition they had, and, veiy properly, returned them to the Sarawak Government. They also offered to send a war steamer and soldiers if desired. So our misfortunes called out the goodwill of our neighbours. Soon [154/155] after we returned home, H.M.S. Spartan, Captain Hoste, arrived to protect British interests in Sarawak. They stayed with us for a while, but the troubles were over, and the only difficulty was how to make any visitors comfortable or to feed them. We had to pass round a knife and fork at table for some days, and there were only a few spoons left to us. On the beds there were hard mattresses, but no pillows, sheets, or in fact any bed-furniture. Our guests being travellers and full of resources, slept on their pith hats for pillows, and used their pocket-knives. A good deal of fun was made of our privations, and indeed, as no beloved friend was missing, we could afford to laugh.

We had all great reason to be thankful for the good behaviour of the Dyaks during the war. There were no intertribal quarrels, and Mr. Chambers told me that his Christians among the Balows were in the first boats which went off to succour the Rajah, when they knew nothing of the arrival of the steamer, and believed themselves to be facing a great danger, and fire-arms, which they do not like. This was not the only time that the Christians were among the bravest when all behaved well--a fact which recommended their religion to their countrymen,, with whom courage is the first virtue. It was some years after this, however, that Dyak Christians learnt to fight without taking the heads of their enemies.

When we left our house, our servants generally, except James a Portuguese, and my Bengalee [155/156] Ayah, fled from the place. But we had an old Hindoo Syce, who was much attached to us and to the creatures under his charge. He drove the two ponies we rode into the jungle, where they looked after themselves, and, living in his cottage next to the stable, did what he could for the cows and calves. When the rebels filled our house and appropriated our effects, they broke open the plate-chest, and melted the silver they found. Then Syce came forward and claimed a portion of the spoil. They gave him a lump of silver with some alloy in it, the produce of some plated salvers, as his share. He pretended to help them, but this lump he hid in the earth near his cottage, and, on our return, triumphantly produced it as what he had saved for us from the wreck. Some years after, this old man was very ill with an abscess in his thigh, which he was sure would kill him. Bishop doctored and nursed him through it, but he had given him a good-sized bag of dollars, his savings, saying he wished Bishop to be his heir. When he got well and the money was returned to him, he spent it in paying a visit to his relations at Trichi-nopoli. I believe this faithful creature worshipped the bull of our herd, and it was a great trouble to him that the Chinese cruelly cut off the tail of the poor animal, thereby depriving him of the means of whisking off the flies which sting so vehemently in that climate.

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