By Dr B. A. Hussainmiya
The palace of Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam. "(The British Consuls) were
mostly drunk, brusque and even discourteous to the Sultan who heartily
despised them, and by extension, the British power."
Pt III - Why Brunei accepted
British protection in 1906
Just when Brunei had
reached its nadir of fortunes in 1904 a saviour appeared on the Brunei scene.
The British government handpicked their acting consul from the nearby Labuan
to report on conditions in Brunei and to make recommendations for the
country's future administration. He was Malcolm Steward Hannibal McArthur
(b.1872, d. 1934). In view of the fact that he - together with Sultan Hashim
- gave a new lease of life to Brunei, it would be useful to focus on the
personality of one who Rajah Charles Brooke regarded as a 'new kid on the
McArthur was an
Oxford-trained British civil servant who joined the Straits Settlements
Service (later Malayan civil service) in 1895. Having held important
administrative posts in Penang, Selangor and Singapore, he became an acting
consul for the British Borneo territories in early 1904.
The news of his trip
to Brunei sent shockwaves in the Sarawak circle. Brunei, deemed an easy
picking for the Sarawak Rajah, had turned into a mirage, as his lifetime
ambition to acquire the last remnants of the kingdom, was thwarted. Even
before Macarthur's report was released, Brooke had anticipated the outcome. Embittered, he warned London that the
new consul would not be able to prepare a reliable report in less than one or
two years whereas McArthur was expected to finish the task in just three
Brooke's message read
as follows: "I don't wish to imply that Mr.McArthur is inexperienced,
nor to call into question his abilities, but the Brunei natives and the
surrounding of the Sultan are such flatterers and liars that it is as well be
guarded when framing a report Only a knowledge of their character over some
years' experience can enable anyone to know how to deal with them."
In other words, Brooke
claimed only he knew the character of the Borneans - that included Brunei -
and it was he who should be allowed to deal with them. However, McArthur
would prove him wrong on most counts. As a matter of fact, his superiors -
the British Foreign Office and the High Commissioner/Governor Sir John
Anderson in Malaya/Singapore - had strongly favoured the Sarawak option.
One must remember that
all three previous British Consuls (stationed in Labuan) namely N.P. Trevenen
(1890-98), A. L. Keyser (1898-1900), and G. Hewett (1900-1904) worked against
Brunei's interests and promoted Rajah's claims.
During visits to
Brunei on short missions, they spent very little time to empathise with the
local Malays. To add insult to injury they were mostly drunk, brusque and
even discourteous to the Sultan who heartily despised them, and by extension,
the British power.
Compared to them the
new British Consul was a jewel. Like some of his predecessors in the Malayan
civil service, including Hugh Low (Resident, Perak 1877-89), McArthur tried
to understand the thinking of the Malays whose etiquette he knew well,
besides able to speak Malay fluently. In fact a contemporary observer mistook
him for Malay because of his sallow complexion and especially when he wore
the native attire.
came to Brunei with a very open mind. He acted without fear or favour, and as
he himself admitted later in his report " I have been as plain spoken as
I can". In Brunei he proceeded on his onerous responsibility with
The day after he
arrived in Brunei on 3 May 1904, MacArthur met Sultan Hashim in his palace
who was very impressed by the generosity of the spirit of the young Consul.
Their bonding turned out to be the biggest asset for Brunei. The endearment
was so strong that after the signing of the Treaty it was Sultan Hashim who
implored with the British Government to employ the acting consul as the first
Resident in Brunei.
It fell upon the
shoulders of the new consul to investigate many blatant allegations. In any
case, the so-called 'evils' in Brunei turned out to be mere fabrications. For
instance, the reports mentioned the plight of Belait and Tutong people as if
there were 'great misery and want and grave discontent. Yet, during his trips
to the districts, McArthur discovered no signs of great poverty: on the
contrary, every house seemed well furnished; the people had ample food, and
could even afford small luxuries.
In contrast, the real
poverty was to be seen in the provinces ruled by the British North Borneo
Company where people complained bitterly of the oppressive taxation imposed
by the Chartered Company and were full of regrets, as McArthur put it
"for the happy-go-lucky times of Brunei rule". TO BE CONTINUED
(The writer is an Associate Professor of History at
Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be contacted by e-mail;