Sarawak’s Eurasians — A 180-year jorney

When it comes to Eurasians, are we not allowed to embrace either one of our cultures we feel more attached to? Or decide within ourselves that I am Asian and I am proud to be Asian?

— Henry Golding, actor

The Eurasians are one of Sarawak’s smallest communities.

Initially known by the Brookes as “people of mixed races”, they are a community of children of Europeans who married Asians.

In 1839, James Brooke arrived on “The Royalist” with two Malacca Eurasians — 16-year-old Domingo de Rozario and Brooke translator Thomas Williamson.

In 1843, Domingo married a Malay and had a son Francis who joined the government and served as “Resident” of Kapit from 1864 till 1890.

Williamson and two other Brooke fellow officers — Lt Henry Steel, Inspector Joseph Middleton and Englishman George Steward — also married into the local community.

Five of their offspring, including Domingo’s son, were sent to the first school built by Reverend Dr Francis MacDougall.

In 1878, Reverend Howell, the son of a Welsh engineer, became the first Eurasian priest at St Luke’s Church in Simanggang.

In 1900, Lily Eberwine born to a Dutch-Scottish ship captain. She was the first Eurasian to be sent to Raffles School in Singapore to have her English education.

After her father died, she returned to Kuching to become the first principal of Permaisuri Girls School.

But when Sarawak was ceded to Great Britain in 1946, she resigned and became a social activist.

Her daughter Datuk Sri Hafsah Harun was Sarawak’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport for one term in the early 1980s.
Two other 20th century Eurasians were Horace Gray and John Owen, who were both government technicians.

In 1907, Gray was responsible for establishing the first continuous telephone line stretching 600km from Kuching to Miri and 25 years later constructed one of the most advanced short-wave transceivers in the world.

Sarawak’s first three pre-war graduates were William Crocker who had a Bachelor of Science degree from the Philippines and brothers Dr Jerry Jacques and Datuk Michael Jacques.

Dr Jerry was the first Eurasian medial practitioner, and his University of Malaya-trained sibling was a Catholic brother of the St John Baptist de La Salle Order.

In 1946, Owen was appointed Council Negri member by Rajah Vyner and voted in favour of the cession of Sarawak to Great Britain on May 15, 1946.

After the formation of Malaysia in 1963, most of the Eurasians continued to work with the civil service in Sarawak and Malaya — with Harry Brodie rising to become Immigration Director.

Harry’s brother Charles was an assistant commissioner of police in Kuala Lumpur.

Another prominent Eurasian was Datuk Michael Parker who became the first Eurasian Public Works Department director.

In 1967, Perak-born Eurasian Datuk Sri John George Ritchie took over from Datuk Roy Henry, Sarawak’s last Constabulary commissioner.

Meanwhile, senior assistant commissioner Datuk Vincent Chapman was sent to Perlis to become chief police officer while his brother Supt William was posted to the federal capital. Their sister Elizabeth was the first Eurasian judge.

Charles Bateman, who was of English-Iban descent, became Land and Survey Department superintendent.

Sarawak forest officer Erwin Wright was the son of a Brooke forester while Harry Brodie’s son James was an accountant in a state government agency.

Dr Jerry Jacques’ son Thomas is a civil and structural engineer while one of William Crocker’s sons is a lawyer.

After the WWII, four off-spring Brooke officers, who were killed by the Japanese in 1942; Mike Murphy, Bibi and Bujang MacPherson and Edward Mansel and their descendants became renowned members of the society.

After the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Hajah Bibi McPherson became leader of the local Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) women’s wing while Bibi’s daughter Datuk Nancy Shukri is a lawyer by profession and a federal cabinet minister.

Haji Mike rose to become Sarawak Boy Scouts’ leader while his son Malcolm is a Kuching-based lawyer and daughter Melissa, a Sarawak Tribune journalist.

Interestingly, Melissa’s Eurasian mother is a descendant of Scottish Resident R.S Douglas who was the first European to visit the Kelabit Highlands in 1908.

Mansel’s son Edward Larkin is a former Sarawak civil servant whose mother is Japanese.

Edward is an authority on Sarawak’s history and is a part-time tourist guide.

In 1999, the Sarawak Eurasian Association (SEA) was formed by half a dozen descendants of Brooke pioneers.

In 2012, the SEA under the leadership of Datin Dona Drury-Wee won the coveted World’s Best Cultural Cuisine Book known as the Sarawak Legacy Cookbook.

Today, among the prominent Sarawak Eurasian families are those with the surnames Adam, Attenborough, Archer, Baring-Gould, Barclay, Basiuk, Bates, Bateman, Bell, Bolt, Brodie, Blaydes, Boult, Buxton, Cartwright, Clarke, Clancy, Cooke, Crocker, Crossley, Crookshank, Cornelius, Cox and de Rozario.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.