State Of Sarawak.
In THE 17TH CENTURY the powerful sultanate of Brunei extended its sway over most of the large island of Borneo. This dominion endured for little more than a hundured years, and in the 18th century it declined under a series of weak sultans.

By the early years of the 19th century the rule of the sultan was more or less confined to the present area of the sultanate, but Sarawak, which lay beyond its southern border, remained nominally under the rule of the sultan.

In turn, Borneo lay entirely within the Dutch sphere of influence and they enjoyed a monopoly of the island's external trade trade - a matter which was regarded with envy by the British East India Company.

At that time Sarawak was relatively small and ill-defined and in a perpetual state of rebellion with the sultan's officials. Help was at hand, in the form of an English adventurer named James Brooke.

The son of a high court judge in the service of the East India Company, Brooke was born in 1803 at Secrore near Benares in India. An ancestor on his mother's side was Sir Thomas Vyner who had been Lord Mayor of London in the time of Oliver Cromwell and the republican commonwealth.

A 1863 One Cent Of James Brooke.
 Young James was educated at Norwich Grammar School in England and at the age of 16 was appointed a cadet in the EIC Army and assigned to the 6th Bengal Infantry. A brief spell as Sub-Assistant Commissary General (an impressive title for what was little more than a stores' clerk) was followed by active service, when the Burmese War broke out in 1825.

This gave him the opportunity to develop his talents as a linguist and the abilities to get on well with the indigenous people. He was granted permission to raise a regiment of local horsemen who served as scouts for the Indian Army. Brooke led his cavalry at the battle of Rangpur but was badly wounded and invalided out of the army with a pension of £70 a year.

The life of an English country squire did not suit him. He toured Malaya in 1830-31 and in 1834 purchased a small ship, whit which he sailed to China to seek his fortune. This expedition proved abortive;but when he inherited £30,000 on the death of his father he purchased a large ship and set sail for Borneo in December 1838.

After a brief spell at Singapore, Brooke sailed to Borneo and landed at Kuching on August 15, 1839. He surveyed the coastline, lived for a time with Dayak tribesmen, then crossed over to Celebes where made a great impression on the warlike Bugis by his prowess - he was a skilled horseman and a crack shot.

He revisited Sarawak in the autumn of 1840 and found that country in a turmoil. Rajah Muda Hassim, the uncle and heir of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II (1829-52) enlisted Brooke in his war against the rebels. Brooke organized the sultan's forces and rapidly subdued the fort at Blidah. Muda Hassim resigned as rajah, and Brooke was appointed in his place on September 24, 1841.

At that time Brooke's dominion only extended from Tanjong Datu to the entrance of the Samarahan River, with an area of 18,130 square kilometres (7,000 square miles). In 1843-44 Brooke, with Captain (later Admiral Sir Henry)Keppel of the Royal Navy, cleared the Malay and Dayak pirates from the Saribas and Batang Lupar rivers.

In 1861 the sultan granted to Brooke all the rivers and territory from the Samarahan River to Kedurong Point. Further grants of territory were made between 1882 and 1905, bringing the state of Sarawak up to its present area of 121,400 square kilometres or about the size of England and Wales.

Rajah Brooke had a fairly rough and ready approach to government. He abolished the system of forced trade which had caused the people to revolt, and substituted a much fairer scale of taxes. He was always easily accessible to his subjects and personally dispensed justice. The adulation of the people is seen in the saying "The son of Europe is the friend of the Dayaks".

Although himself a Christian, James Brooke ruled Sarawak according to the tenets of Islam. In a letter to a friend Brooke wrote: "Wine and grog we have none and all appear better for it".

On the other hand Brooke introduced a proper coinage soon after becoming rajah in 1841. Through Messrs Smith & Wright, a trading company based in London and Birmingham, he ordered a quantity of kepings from a private mint in Birmingham, & Watt which was still in existence at that time, through it creased operations soon afterwards.

These kepings had a pangolin on the obverse above the initials J.B., with the date SEP:24 1841 round the foot - the date on which Brooke became rajah. The reverse bore bore the value in Arabic script and the date in the Muslim calendar.

A 1841 Keping.Counterfeits.
Despite the date, it is unlikely that any of these coins were supplied from England before 1842. They were struck in copper or brass, the later being the scarcer variety, although both versions are rare.
Dangerous counterfeit of the 1841 keping came on to the market in 1971 and have since caused many a headache to collectors.

To Be continued....

Source: JAMES A MACKAY,Coin Digest,1989.Vol.2.No.1.


  1. Hi Dickson,
    Its a dream for us to get one of these 1841 JB kepings.
    Suppose even if one is available, it will be too expensive to fit into our budget.
    We find all Sarawak coins attractive but many hard to get, nowadays.
    Thanks a lot for sharing, Dickson :)

  2. Dear whycollect,
    Yes,is a dream to get a genuine 1841 JB keping.
    Recently,a batch of counterfeits surfaced in the market sold for a fraction price of RM50.00 to RM60.00.

    High graded Sarawak coins are mostly sold in Singapore international auction,poor respond in our local market!

    I always wonder,why collectors are prepare to pay hundreds of dollars for a piece of solid number new banknotes and not to collect a Sarawak or a British North Borneo high graded coin priced almost at a similar cost.