Monday, December 15, 2008

History - Sarikei Colonial Steamer Phlegethon. Part 2

And now the intriguing story from Captain Mundy's journals pasted below with comments added by me in [quotes]. You can also see that the English of the old days was a bit different.

June 27 1846 — When the day broke we observed the low land of Borneo to the southward of Cape Sirik, distant six or seven miles, the ships closely packed together, and rolling considerably in a ground swell. After breakfast, I received a note from the commander-in-chief
[Sir Thomas Cochrane], inviting me to accompany him in an expedition which he was about to make in the Phlegethon up the river Rejang, and to prepare for an absence of a few days. The object of this excursion was to visit the chiefs of the Dyak tribes of Siriki [Sarikei] and Kanowit, whose people had been lately at sea on a piratical cruise, and to warn them of the consequences of a continuance in such proceedings. I gladly accepted an offer which promised to lead to results so interesting, and forthwith repaired on board the steamer. The party consisted, besides our chief, of Mr. Brooke, Commander Maitland, Mr. Waller, the Admiral's secretary, and myself.

Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman's house and village.
Sarikei River, 1840

Orders had been given to Captain Johnstone to weigh with the squadron, proceed round Cape Sirik, and cruise off the river Igan till we rejoined ; while we ourselves, steaming away in the Phlegethon, by noon entered the mouth of a river supposed to be the Rejang. The native fishermen fled in every direction as we approached the shore; and, finding that the steamer could not discover any channel over the bar with more than six feet water, a boat was lowered and sent to sound, and endeavour to open a communication. She shortly succeeded in inducing one of the canoes to allow of a parley, and from this source learnt that the river we were off was the Balowi [Belawai], and that the Rejang was four or five miles to the southward. The gig returned with this information, and with a large supply of excellent fish, amongst which the pomfret proved the best; and, altering our course, we entered the great river at 3 P. M., carrying four or five fathoms over the bar.

The stream [Rejang River] is about four miles in breadth at the entrance, and about a mile wide opposite the village of the same name [Rejang village], which is composed of a few large houses erected on lofty piles [Melanau style], all in a very dilapidated state. Here, after many assurances of personal safety, we prevailed upon a fisherman to act as pilot; and, continuing our passage up the stream, anchored at dusk in the centre of a reach about half a mile wide, and clear of lofty trees. The depth was seven fathoms, and our distance from the sea fourteen or fifteen miles. Thermometer 85°, and no annoyance from mosquitoes or other insects.

The Steamer Phlegethon and boats
of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane's squadron
Repelling an attack from the forts at Borneo Proper.
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.
8 July 1846
Submitted by: STLau

June 28 1846 — At 5 A. M. the day broke, and we recommenced our ascent, steaming at six or seven miles per hour. We reached Siriki, and anchored off the house of Patingi Abdulraman [Patinggi Abdul Rahman] in the forenoon. Siriki is situated in a small stream [Sarikei River] branching off the main river [Rejang River], and, at our anchorage, there was barely space for the Phlegethon to swing.

Our party landed immediately, and proceeded to the mansion of the chief. This strange building was the first Dyak house of great dimensions which I had seen, and was erected on a high mound at a hundred yards from the landing place. I observed that the main foundation consisted of the trunk of a large straight tree, sawed off about twenty feet from the roots. Around this, piles of the same height had been driven into the earth ; and on the summit of these a bamboo platform was constructed, which formed the floor of the tenement. The roof was made from the leaf of the Nibong [Nipah] and other palms, and the rooms not more than six feet in height, the women's apartments being in the rear. An immense concourse of these wild people was assembled to meet us, and all were evidently afraid that our visit might lead to the destruction of the place; for the fact of the ships being at anchor off the Rejang was already spread abroad, and the old chief himself had been long known as the friend of the piratical party.

The commander-in-chief, however, being anxious to carry out, so far as it was possible, that Pacific policy which was so much in accordance with the views of Mr. Brooke, contented himself with recommending the Patingi to abstain from his former piratical proceedings, and to keep his war-boats within the river. This he solemnly protested he would do; and after Mr. Brooke, in an eloquent
speech, had communicated the intention of the admiral with respect to his contemplated visit to the capital, we bade adieu to this picturesque spot, and, regaining the main stream, steamed on again to the eastward [up the Rejang].

The banks of the river were not remarkable for beauty. On the sand ridges, adjoining the mangroves, were seen numerous crocodiles, at several of which we practised with small arms; and great was the astonishment of these huge monsters, whilst reposing in tranquil sleep, half immersed by their weight in their muddy beds, to receive as a first salute the contents of our rifles, followed up immediately by a round of grape and canister from the six-pounders amidship.

After steaming, for thirteen hours, to the junction of the Igan and Rejang [Sibu's current location], we anchored for the night, being then about eighty miles from the sea, and in the centre of the river, at this point about a mile in width. During the night the thermometer stood at 89°, and we all slept comfortably beneath the awning.

Well, the crocodiles along the Rejang River had been driven away by commercial vessels. We still get pomfrets 鯧魚 from the sea off Belawai. It does not take 13 hours to travel along the Rejang from Sarikei to Sibu.

Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes, Down to the Occupation of Labuan By James Brooke, Rodney Mundy, George Rodney Mundy. Page 117-120


Daniel Yiek said...

I pasted the text of the journal so that you can appreciate the actual writing of the Captain and what went thru his mind as he sailed thru the Rejang. Fascinating story, isn't?

Sarikei was one of the bigger and more important villages of the old Rejang area together with Kanowit.

sarawakiana said...

I totally agree - the captains and in fact those who kept journals in those days wrote in great detail. They were like painting a picture with words!

Thank you. I have not read this book. Is yours an original copy?

Anonymous said...

Daniel Yiek said...

Pls email me at as I can not find your email at your blog. I can share more and discuss offline with you. Maybe I can meet you during CNY 2009 in Sibu. I dont know yet as I don't drive in Sarikei and I will be back for only 1 wk.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing a Malay angle. I will be glad to write more on the Malay kampung and its personalities but I don't have good background and won't do it justice. Pls email me if you like to be a guest writer from the Malay angle. Eventually, I will consolidate this blog in chronological order into an electronic book for free download.

It's December now. This blog has only a few months (maybe 4-6months) of content left as I deleted more items off my "to do" list. Maybe I will find more content during my CNY2009 trip home. I always got inspiration when I was home. Enjoy the rest of the journey ...

Daniel Yiek said...

I just noticed that the 1846 Map of Sarawak Proper by Mundy (featured before in a post) was the same Captian Mundy that wrote this journal.

Related Posts with Thumbnails