The Brookes of Sarawak

I’ve never seen a genealogical demonstration of this, but I have heard it alleged (and it is entirely plausible) that I’m a very distant cousin of Sir James Brooke (1803-1868), the first of the “White Rajahs” of Sarawak, on the northern coast of Borneo. And it is both comic, embarrassing and rather ghastly to record that, according to Sylvia Brooke’s later memoir, Queen of the Headhunters, the Sarawak national anthem used to contain the line, “And tens of thousands yet unborn / Will bless the name of Brooke”.

I’ve been aware of this possible genealogical connection for a while now, but never really paid attention to the activities of the Brookes of Sarawak. In the last six months, however, they are cropping up in the most surprising places.

First, my colleague Giovanni told me all about the Italian Sandokan films and TV series, which are based on an extraordinarily popular set of novels by Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), who is sometimes called “the Italian Jules Verne”). In these films, the hero is Sandokan the Pirate (“the Tiger of Malaysia”); his arch-nemesis is Sir James Brooke (“The Exterminator”), who is leading a crusade against the pirates in the area. Like James Bond, the part of Sandokan has been played by several actors; and just as there is general agreement that Sean Connery was/is the best Bond, Kabir Bedi is generally reckoned to be the definitive Sandokan.

But Sir James Brooke isn’t just a important semi-fictionalised character in Italian popular culture, however. He’s also a man who may or may not have his penis shot off in India, a question to which the London Review of Books has, oddly enough, devoted an entire column of the current issue, and which apparently lies at the heart of Nigel Barley’s “lightweight but entertaining” new biography, White Rajah.

Well, perhaps he hadn’t, after all. While family tradition seems to have insisted that he had (hence his refusal ever to marry), Adam Kuper’s review notes that Brooke eventually come to recognise “an illegitimate son who had been born while he was recovering at home”, and, he asks, “Would Mrs Brooke have exhibited on her mantlepiece a bullet that had been removed from such a sensitive part of her son’s anatomy?” But it’s good to know that the LRB is continuing to discuss the questions that matter.

Raj writes [15.12.2002]: I’ve always been a Kabir Bedi fan. A staple of Hindi movies, he was always far more enjoyable to watch than the cleanshaven identikit heroes who would eventually triumph over him with a loud dooshoom-dooshoom (the fictionalised sound of good fist on evil jawbone, known to all who have ever watched Bollywood).

Richard adds [1.1.2003]: This is a bit late for comments but I’ll send it anyway: small world dept. The Adam Kuper who wrote the review of the book about your (vague) ancestor (featured on 8.12.02) is the father of Simon Kuper, author of the wonderful Football Against The Enemy (and Times football columnist — the only thing worth reading in the Monday pull-out-and-throw-away sports section).

Flat Saga

The Cherie Blair – Peter Foster saga rumbles entertainingly on. Mark Steyn in yesterday’s Telegraph entertained:

Nude models, diet quacks, psychics: I cannot speak for Britain, but in North America these are three of the four categories of person that most of us spend the first 10 minutes of our day dumping from the in-box. If Cherie had a fourth confidante with a guaranteed plan to increase the length of Tony’s penis by three inches, the Blairs would have a full set: they could throw the perfect spam dinner party.

Amidst the nonsense, in which we can include the annoying rightist editorials which seem to pretend that this is another version of the US Whitewater affair, the important question is barely discussed (though Oxford’s excellent Ann Black touched on it yesterday): what are the Blairs doing buying property for their offspring to live in while they are at university?Ten years ago you could get a postcard from Public Domain postcards which had this soundbite on it:

‘Her digs… were unspeakable so we said “Sod it” and went and bought a house and put her in that and she was much happier’ — Sir George Young, Housing Minister, on how his daughter Sophia found a home.

And then, at the bottom of the card, there was a box to tick next to the words, “Please send me further details of the Conservative Party’s Housing Policy”.

Birthday Greetings

I went to London yesterday for my fine Trotskyist friend David Renton’s 30th birthday party, in the function room at The Sol Arms pub just off the Euston Road. And it was a happy occasion: the London Socialist Historians’ Group brought their banner, various literature was passed around, and the assembled company follwed the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday” with the similarly-traditional Internationale — in (at least) two languages.

Britain’s finest man of letters Keith Flett, of the Beard Liberation Front, was there too, wearing a Philosophy Football Eric Hobsbawm T-Shirt — which, I thought, was an odd thing to do for a man who is waging a one-person campaign in the correspondence columns of the nation’s magazines drawing attention to the fact that EJH might have had time to write so many excellent books because he didn’t seem to sell many newspapers during his time in the CPGB. Dave, who by contrast both continues to sell a lot of newspapers and to write a lot of books, was distributing copies of his latest, Classical Marxism, which, he tells us, is the first volume of a projected five. If he continues his present work-rate, the other four will, no doubt, be out by Christmas.

It was also excellent to see a comrade from the Voice of the Turtle, Leo Zeilig, for the first time in months. He will soon be in the dock facing preposterous charges of “incitement to violent disorder”, after being the Person with the Megaphone on a recent antiwar demonstration in London, a charge which carries a possible five-year prison sentence. The defence campaign is already organising itself — and the party was a good occasion to collect signatures and donations on behalf of the Trafalgar Square Three (or whatever they will come to be called). More on this soon.

December Update

Peering into the computer logs, as I do every month, we find that the database has a slightly different feel to it this time around. Still, I think it’s safe to say that most people didn’t find what they were looking for here at the Virtual Stoa…

lativa money transfer scams
biggest dress record speak campaign justice metres current
a theory of justice download rawls
porn star bedford
malcolm bull oxford president
lets look tough for the elections bomb iraq
firefighters deaths
buffon accessories
John Wyclif the Pastoral office
zoo elephant photo trunk
empty plinth dissertation
orgies in pools
david hare’s absence of war
baglioni his sister pope
elephant sex

Good to see that interest in some old favourites is holding up.

Book of the Week #4

Sudhir Hazareesingh, ed., The Jacobin Legacy in Modern France, Oxford University Press, 2002. It’s five months or so since the last Book of the Week, for which, apologies. (More are on the way, possibly in a steady stream). But since I’ve just come back from the launch drinks party for this one, one of the two volumes of essays appearing as tributes to the life and work of Vincent Wright, I thought I should give it a plug.