Thursday, May 07, 2009

History - Sarikei Fort

Did Sarikei really have a fort during the colonial days? If yes, where was it located? The map below shows the locations of most of the forts built by the White Rajahs during their reign from 1841 to 1941. All these forts were built with the main purpose of trying to secure the territories they acquired from Brunei. For strategic reason, many of them were sited on high grounds beside the rivers. (Source: 1)

Sarawak: Early Forts and Government Posts (Source:1)

Most of these forts like Fort Margherita in Kuching, Fort Alice in Simanggang, Fort Lili in Betong and Fort Slyvia in Kapit are still standing today but some like Fort Keppel in Bintulu, Fort Charles in Kabong and the Sarikei Fort had disappeared, either reclaimed by the sea or destroyed by fire.

These forts were simple affairs, built of wood or rough stone, with armouries and quarters for the fort-men below and on the first floor an office and crude living quarters for the district officer. Only when the district was entirely pacified could the officer move out into a house of his own. The Rajah liked the forts to be uniform as possible. The model which he thought should be copied was that at Simanggang. New precedents were to be avoided if possible. (Source: Outlines of Sarawak History)

Sarikei Rejang River (Left); Nyelong River (Right)Jalan Kubu Lama is at the confluence of the 2 rivers.
View from Wisma Jubli Mutiara, 2007

On 4 January 1856, Sarikei was burnt by Julau Dayaks. "On arriving at the village, we found half of it in ashes, having been burned down by the Dyaks. It was a pretty spot on undulating ground, surrounded by fruits trees." (3) p. 158

In the same month, Rajah James Brooke travelled to Sarikei and constructed a new fort there. Source: (1) p.30, (2) p.154 & (5). "The building of the fort was a matter of only a few days" (3) p.158

"In February 1856, the Raja, accompanied by Charles Johnson, went to Serikei (sic), a river running in the Rejang, 25 miles from its mouth. Sheriff Messahore (sic) had governed there, or rather plundered, here; but in disgust at the fine inflicted on him, the great man had departed, leaving his village in ruins. A fort was erected on the spot, and, placing a small garrison in charge, the Raja retuned to Sarawak (old name for Kuching) and Mr Johnson to Sakarran" (source 9, p234)

"Sheriff Messahore (sic) was heavily fined for stirring up the Rejang Dyaks, deposed of his givernment if Serikei (sic), and forced by Captain Brooke to set free 100 captives, and to give up 36 brass guns, which were forwarded to the Sultan" (source 9, page 215)

In June 1859, two of Brooke's officers, Charles Fox and Henry Steele, were killed while walking unarmed at Kanowit fort by Abi and a party of Kanowit and Banyok Dayaks loyal to Sherif Masahor. The Malay soldiers at the fort did not help the victims. Historians regarded this as part of the Malay Plot planned by Masahor and others to overthrow the Rajah’s rule.

Sarikei Jalan Kubu Lama, Feb 2008
Wharf Road shops in background

The heads of Fox and Steele were taken by some of the Dayaks, and their bodies left half buried in the ground near the Kanowit fort. Source: (2) p.155, (6) Chapter XIV, (3) p.339

-->Charles Fox was the Resident (1857-1859) of the lower Rejang before his death. A boat was dispatched to Kanowit for the headless remains of Fox and Steele, and they were buried at Sarikei near the fort in a ceremony performed by John Channon. (Source: 2 and 3)
In 1859 Tuan Muda Charles Brooke brought the Saribas Dayaks to Sarikei and Kanowit to avenge the killings of Charles Fox and Henry Steele at Kanowit Fort. (Source: 8)

Sarikei Jalan Kubu Lama, circa late 1940s-1950s
Note the unpaved road and the old electricity polesWharf Road and Bank Road shops in backgroundSource: Ikan Sembilang

The above picture is circa late 1940s-1950s because the 1946 Bank Road block was in the picture. New DC Generators were installed in SESCO (which is located at this road) in 1947 after World War II (Source: 4)

What would the Sarikei fort look like? See pictures of other forts at Sarawakiana. A description of a typical fort is pasted below from a 1910 book (Source: 7)

"There is a fort in Sibu, as indeed there is at most of the river places in Sarawak. It is generally a square-shaped wooden building, perforated all round with small holes for rifles, while just below the roof is a slanting grill-work through which it is easy to shoot, though, as it is on the slant, it is hard for spears to enter from the outside. There are one or two cannons in most of these forts."

Another very good description is at Source 10.

The location of the Sarikei fort is most likely at the confluence of Rejang and Nyelong Rivers to guard against the colonial government's enemies. So now you know why this road is called Jalan Kubu Lama (Old Fort Road). Now, fire the cannons!

Sources: Submitted by reader Ikan Sembilang, except (4 & 7)

1. Rajah Charles Brooke: Monarch Of All He Surveyed, Colin Crisswell 1978.
2. Power And Prowess, J H Walker 2002. p155.
3. Ten Years In Sarawak, Charles Johnson Brooke 1866. p 342.
4. SESCO 30th Anniversary Magazine, 1963-1993
5. A History of Brunei” by Graham E Saunders 1994
6. Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak” by Harriette McDougall 1882
7. Wanderings Among South Sea Savages And in Borneo and the Philippines. Chapter 12. H. Wilfrid Walker. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Second edition. 1910
8. Reece Bob (2004), The White Rajah of Sarawak, Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 45.
9. The Raja of Sarawak : An account of Sir James Brooke, K.C.B.,LL.D., given chiefly through letters and journals (1876). Page 215, 234
10. On the Equator. Page 65


Superman said...

Nice history for sarikei. thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Were the Malay unhappy with the Rajah's rule?

Daniel Yiek said...

It depends on which Malay group. There were Malays loyal to the colonial gov and there are those that opposed it. Click on Sherip Masahor label and read his story. Part 3 covered the plot.

长竹 said...


Nelson said...

i think they should maintain fort margherita well, the last time i went there (2007), to our horror, it was closed (forever-like) and the boat people tried to cut throat us saying that they will charge rm30 for waiting for us so we declined it. the road to astana's jetty was blocked by the new DUN construction at that time. so we walked around the cape of storm bypassing the old DUN under scorching heat.

Daniel Yiek said...

Borneo Post will feature the Mee Suah blog post on this Mon or next. I will post the article when I get it.

There's a facebook group called Sarikeians with 470 members. There is an active discussion board. Topics include:

1. How to bring jobs back to Sarikei?

2. How to find your long lost old flame in Sarikei?

You can also join the St Anthony's group, St Anne's group and St Clement's kindergarten group at the sidebar there. I will create the Kwang Chien group soon.

Register at at
Join at

ms. m said...

where can I get a copy of the rajah's journal? it's refreshing to see history from a different point of view

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