Our early involvement with Brunei and the surrounding territory is intimately linked with the extraordinary story of the White Rajahs of Sarawak, which is also mentioned in the Malaysia section. Briefly, a man named James Brooke, born to British parents in India, became governor and eventually rajah of the territory of Sarawak, due to help he offered the Sultan of Brunei. Sarawak is now part of Malaysia, bordering Brunei, but previously was controlled by Brunei. It’s a rather exotic story for someone with the not hugely exotic name of James Brooke, who is now buried in St Leonard’s Church in Sheepstor on Dartmoor, which, while very pretty and with some views, is not the most hugely exotic of locations either.
In the 1840s, Captain Keppel of the Royal Navy with HMS Dido and Brooke with his ship the Jolly Bachelor, which sounds more like a pub, were involved in fighting pirates in the region. Brooke and the Royal Navy also teamed up to intervene in Brunei’s internal politics in 1846. Two of Brooke’s allies in Brunei had ended up dead because the sultan was suspicious of their closeness to the British, and to Brooke, and Brooke was determined this should not go unpunished. Admiral Cochrane turned up and the steamer Phlegethon was sent upriver to attack the forts there.
In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate. Unfortunately we couldn’t do much to protect it against the Japanese when they invaded in December 1941. However, in 1945 we were back. Or to be more accurate, the Australians were, liberating the territory from the Japanese in the delightfully named Operation Oboe Six.
Subsequently, an interim government was formed under the British Military Administration, which took control before civilian administration was re-established. Then in December 1962 British forces were in action in Brunei again when the Brunei Rebellion broke out. Ghurkas were rushed by air from Singapore to assist the sultan, and with the help of subsequent British reinforcements and local support, the rebellion was eventually beaten. In one of the more dramatic moments of the action, marines of 42 Commando arrived in landing craft to raid Limbang and free prisoners taken by the rebels.
Brunei became independent from Britain on 1 January 1984.