Brunei was a Malay Sultanate which had been able to avoid coming under the direct control of the Dutch during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Dutch found easier sources of spices further south in the Indies although they maintained an interest in the affairs of Southern Borneo for many years. However, despite little direct Dutch contact with Northern Borneo, her attempts at maintaining a monopoly of the spice trade meant that Dutch ships considered all foreign and local ships as fair game. The result was that many local mariners felt that they had little choice but to become pirates in order to survive and make a living. Consequently as Northern Borneo was at the extremities of Dutch maritime power projection, its shallow and jungle lined rivers provided perfect refuges for prahus hoping to escape the deeper draughts of European ships. The Sultans of Brunei could do little to control this explosion in piracy as it became a major destabilising factor in the politics of Northern Borneo. Furthermore, the nearby Sultans of Sulu had their own claims over lands in Northern Borneo and frequently allied with various groups of pirates to destabilise Brunei's claims and administration in the area.
A British East India Company attempt to establish a factory on Balimbangan Island on the Northern tip of Borneo was conducted with the initial blessing of the Sultan of Sulu after William Dalrymple had reached an agreement with him in 1761. Cheekily, the Sultan of Sulu also offered the island of Labuan to the EIC which the Sultan of Brunei clearly claimed for himself especially due to its strategically important entrance to the approaches to Brunei. When the EIC settlement was sacked in 1775, its European traders fled to Labuan and sought permission to build a new factory there under the pretext of the Sulu agreement. The East India Company back in London though avoided any diplomatic row by recalling the survivors and abandoning their commercial incursions for the time being.
Sir Stamford Raffles attempted to assert some British control over the island of Borneo from 1811 to 1813 after the seizure of Dutch assets throughout the Orient in the light of their enforced alliance to France during the Napoleonic Wars. His attempts were halted with a change of the Governor-General in India from Lord Minto to Lord Moira. There was concern that Raffles was forcing an open ended commitment to police the waters around an island with no proven track record of being able to sustain trade or valuable produce.
It was not until the 1840s that Britain found itself brought into Brunei's affairs thanks largely to the exploits and intervention of James Brooke. He was able to ingratiate himself with Raja Muda Hashim who identified that James Brooke and his ship might be able to intervene decisively in an insurrection in the province of Sarawak. Raja Muda Hashim was the heir to the Sultanate of Brunei but had been sent to Sarawak to try and help crush a long running rebellion there whilst also doing his best to extinguish pirate activity along its long coastline. Raja Muda Hashim hit on the idea of offering James Brooke the governorship of Sarawak in return for his sustained military help. James Brooke's leadership, his maritime capability and his modern weaponry all helped him assert control on behalf of the Sultan of Brunei's heir.
Once the rebellion had been quelled, Raja Muda Hashim seemed to backtrack on his commitments made to James Brooke. He claimed he was unsure that he could confer the title of Raja on a foreigner as only the Sultan himself had that power. The previous governor also connived against this interloper. James Brooke quickly reached agreements with some of the local tribes, including those he had defeated in the civil war, and sailed directly into Kuching harbour to confront Raja Muda Hashim directly. The fact that he trained his ship's guns on Raja Muda Hashim palace helped convert the prince to his way of thinking and the governorship was affirmed once more.
James Brooke travelled to Brunei himself the following year in 1842 under the pretext of seeking to release a number of mariners who had apparently been detained after a shipwreck on the Borneo coast. It was also an opportunity for James Brooke to have the Sultan confirm his titles. This was done after seeing James Brooke's ship and his commitment to promise to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan and a commitment to upholding local law and religious practices.
James Brooke was able to enlist the help of a sympathetic Royal Naval captain by the name of Keppel of HMS Dido to try and rid the region of piracy. These attempts were not limited to Sarawak itself and ranged up and down the entire Northern Borneo coastline. Keppel and James Brooke were kindred spirits. Unfortunately for James Brooke, Keppel's replacement on the station, Captain Belcher of the survey veseel HMS Samarang was less enamoured of James Brooke's motives and achievements. Although it did not help that HMS Samarang ran aground not once but twice. Although in a strange way this grounding of his ship had the unintended consequence of gaining James Brooke the title of Raja of Sarawak as a hereditary title that he could pass on to his heirs. The reason was that when news of the grounding was transmitted back to Singapore, the Royal Navy duly sent out a number of ships to help free the stricken vessel. They actually arrived after the ship had managed to free itself from the rock. However, the effect of a flotilla of half a dozen modern Royal Naval ships sailing into Brunei Harbour helped convince the Sultan that James Brooke must have the backing of the entire British government. He granted the hereditary title immediately. Meanwhile Captain Belcher was himself still underwhelmed by what he saw in Brunei. He felt it was a very run down centre of administrative power. Attempts by James Brooke to convince Captain Belcher to take a closer look at the coal reserves on nearby Labuan Island similarly failed to impress him. Captain Belcher's reports to the Admiralty were to be a huge disappointment to James Brooke who was hopeful of gaining British involvement in the region to help support his own territory in Sarawak. Nevertheless, the British government did not fully ignore the opportunity that James Brooke had provided for further British involvment in the region. In 1845, James Brooke learned that he was to be made Confidential Agent to Her Majesty in Borneo - which effectivley made him Consul-General in Brunei. It was an ill-defined post but one that recognised his influence in the court of the Sultan. Additionally, the British government still instructed the Royal Navy to give assistance to James Brooke to suppress piracy in and around Borneo.
This renewed Royal Naval commitment was soon acted upon by the, Commander of the Far East Fleet, Admiral Thomas Cochrane. In that same year, Admiral Cochrane coordinated with James Brooke an operation involving another flotilla of Royal Naval ships to attack the notorious pirate enclave at Marudu Bay on the tip of Northern Borneo. This flotilla also called in on Brunei and once again impressed the Sultan of Brunei. Their arrival came hot on the heels of a deputation by the American warship USS Constitution. This vessel had its own diplomatic mission to open up trade in Brunei and to find a source of coal reserves to develop a naval coaling station in the region. The fact that the Americans were becoming interested in Borneo raised British concerns for their own claims in the region. Admiral Cochrane's destruction of the Marudu Bay fortress confirmed that the Royal Navy was a powerful player in the region.
However, an unexpected palace coup back in Brunei in 1846 nearly undid British and Brooke plans for the region. Raja Muda Hashim and many other princes and minor royalty were assassinated with the connivance of the Sultan himself and an adopted son by the name of Hashim Jelal. He had convinced the Sultan that Brunei had to be protected from foreign dominance. The vicious nature of the slaughter attracted Britain's attention as they realised that James Brooke's own position as Raja might be fatally compromised also. The Royal Navy also argued that piracy would return to the area in full if James Brooke were not supported in his anti-piracy campaigns. They therefore agreed to send yet another flotilla of ships to accompany James Brooke into Brunei Bay. Only token resistance was offered by the forces of the Sultan in the face of such overwhelming force. The Sultan and much of the population of the city fled into the interior at the sight of the Royal Navy's presence. The Sultan ultimately reappeared after being guaranteed his own personal safety but he was forced to do penance at the graves of the victims of the palace massacre. Furthermore he was required to write a letter of apology to Queen Victoria. James Brooke's title was not only re-confirmed but his requirement to pay an annual tribute was removed as an obligation. It just so happened that a new active interventionist Foreign Secretary came to office back in London at the tail end of the incident by the name of Lord Palmerston. He gave permission to annex Labuan to the British Empire in order to forestall foreign interest in the area, to develop a coaling station for the Royal Navy in an increasingly important part of the world, to keep an eye on the approaches to Brunei and to launch further anti-pirate campaigns from in the region. Britain had taken its first formal colony in the region.
December 24th 1846 saw the British flag hoisted over Labuan for the first time. In the terms of the treaty, Brunei confirmed the cession in return for Britain's continued suppression of piracy in the region. James Brooke was granted the position of the island's first governor in addition to his role as Raja of Sarawak and of Consul General in Brunei. He was instructed to begin the process of building port facilities and to encourage commerical exploitation of the coal reserves to make them available for the Royal Navy. This was to be an ultimately disappointing venture as the appointed company, Eastern Archipelago Company, failed to raise enough capital whilst the British government failed to invest in the infrastructure required. One fall out from the failure of this venture was that disappointed investors and employees of the EAC combined with Liberal critics of James Brooke's campaigns against pirates along the Borneo coastline.
James Brooke helped fight against pirates along the entire coastline of Borneo and not just those in his territory of Sarawak. He clearly believed he had the permission of the Brunei Sultanate and the support and expertise of the Royal Navy. In 1849, James Brooke and HMS Albatross, HMS Royalsist and EIS Nemesis with Admiral Collier at its lead attacked pirates along the Batang Lupar. It was the most successful but also most notorious attack as the killing of 500 pirates was to be questioned back in Parliament. It was also an area that was really in Brunei and not in Sarawak. This also was to be questioned back in Parliament. The fact that Brunei's rulers were content to see piracy quashed in the area seemed not to be important to his critics back in England.
In 1853, the remnants of those pirates defeated in 1849 raised their heads again whilst James Brooke was out of Borneo and back in Britain. The action took place along the River Skrang and saw friendly tribes attacked by pirates seeking a new base of operations along the River. James Brooke happened to be en route back to Borneo but when he arrived in Kuching in May and heard firsthand of the disaster he came down with smallpox. This disease totally devastated his health and came close to claiming his life. Either way, it delayed his response to the pirate threat. On his recovery he headed to Brunei in August and meet what was then the new Sultan of Borneo, Pangiran Munim. At this meeting James Brooke asked for a transfer of the Skrang and Saribas districts into his Sarawak territory in return for an annual tribute. The Sultan was only too glad to be rid of so troublesome and financially burdensome districts and gladly handed them over. James Brooke subsequently, and without the aid of the Royal Navy, set about using his own forces entirely to crush the rebellion along the River Skrang although not before a virulent epidemic of dysentery ravaged through his forces and supporters.
As the Skrang campaign came to a close, a different kind of battle was being drawn up in Singapore. After intense lobbying by a small but committed group of Liberals throughout the early 1850s and a change of goverment to a weak coalition, a Commission of Enquiry was called to be held in Singapore to investigate James Brooke's conduct. Overtures were made to the Sultan of Brunei and the Royal Family to add criticism to James Brooke's tactics and policies. These critics assumed that the Brunei Sultanate would welcome a political attack on someone who had taken so much territory from them. However, they were to be bitterly disappointed as the Sultan and his family remained steadfastly loyal to James Brooke. And although they recognised that his regional position had been undermined somewhat by the Commission of Enquiry, they refused to add any evidence against him, and indeed supplied him with the correspondence that they received from his critics.
The next source of friction between Sarawak and Brunei was over the important Sago trading port of Muka and the area around it. The Sultan of Brunei was having trouble extending his control over local administrators and leaders. When these officials made trading with Sarawak awkward or imposed extra taxes on traders in 1858, the Raja's heir, Brooke Brooke sent a force to the Brunei port and imposed fines of his own. This was rebuked by James Brooke but illustrated the tension. The following year, when both James Brooke and Brooke Brooke had departed for Britain, an uprising in the border region between Brunei and Sarawak had long term implications for both territories. Two Sarawak European officials were murdered in Kanowit in Sarawak. James' other nephew, Charles Brooke, sought to reassert control with some but not complete success. The trouble also spilled over into Dutch Borneo as Malay leaders sought to foment an uprising to reassert their control in the region. The Sultan was somewhat helpless in restraining his own subjects as forces crossed unmarked borders with impunity. Brooke Brooke returned in 1860 just as the Muka region once more became problematic. This time though, the Sarawak regime was undermined by the British Governor of Labuan, G.W. Edwardes. It just so happened that the Consul General for Brunei, St John, had accompanied James Brooke back to Britain leaving the Labuan Governor to temporarily take over his affairs in Brunei. Governor Edwardes was far less enamoured of the Sarawak regime than St John was. When the ruler, and prime instigator of the rebellions around Muka, Masahor visited Brunei claiming to be the victim of Brooke expansionism and imperialism, he received a sympathetic hearing. This was unbeknownst to the Sultan who sent messages to the Brookes that he had ordered Muka to be reopened for trade with Sarawak without let or hindrance. Charles and Brooke Brooke decided to test this for themselves with a small flotilla following Sarawak trade vessels to the port. As Charles approached, he was fired upon from the fort in Muka. The Brookes sent for reinforcements from Kuching to try to reopen the port and river by force but as they arrived they were intercepted by Governor Edwardes on board the East India Steamer - the Victoria. He berated the brothers for interfering in internal Brunei affairs and ordered them to withdraw. This seriously undermined the Sarawak regimes prestige throughout Borneo and convinced many, including the Sultan, that they had lost the confidence of the British government. However, when news of the intervention got back to London, St John immediately lobbied the Foreign Secretary to reverse his subordinate's decision. He then rushed back to Asia with James Brooke to deal with the affair. An apologetic British government rebuked Edwardes and Prime Minister Palmerston afforded James Brooke the use of the Royal Navy and any other help required to remedy the situation. St. John and James Brooke headed straight for Brunei to negotiate afresh and to go over the head of the local leader causing so much tension between the two territories. Some of the Brunei court had hoped that Brooke's regime was on the way out and had been pleased by Edwardes intervention. However, the Sultan himself was much more amenable to the two Englishmen and quickly came to an arrangement whereby the land around Muka would be ceded to Sarawak in return for an immediate cash payment and an ongoing pension. James Brooke headed off to Muka to claim his new territory on board HMS Charybdis and with 200 Royal Marines at his beck and call. The local leader, Musahor, soon capitulated and was sent into exile to Singapore with a pension paid for by Sarawak on condition he did not attempt to return. As this was a territory that the Sultan had little control over in the first place, it was regarded as no great loss and had instead become a source of income instead of expense to the Sultanate. In fact, the land transferred was substantial as it stretched all way up to Kadurong Point. It was the largest single transfer of land between the two territories throughout their history together. Brunei had become substantially smaller but easier to manage and with more income.
The accession of Charles Brooke to become Raja of Sarawak did not improve relations with the Sultan. The Sultan had always admired and had even liked James Brooke but felt no such respect for his nephew Charles. Indeed he was suspicious of the austere ruler on his doorstep and had disliked the way that Charles had conducted business with him in the past - notably over Muka. The Sultan slighted Charles in subtle but noticed ways that were picked up on by the Malays in Sarawak. Charles retaliated to these slights by withholding portions of the various tributes that he owed to the Sultan until apologies were received. These were not grounds for a harmonious relationship.
Brunei's rulers were not nearly as efficient as Sarawak's in maintaining law and order and in collecting taxes. Swathes of their territories were lawless and beyond the control of the Sultan's authorities. However, when Charles Brooke suggested that he take control of Baram Province in return for more tribute than the Sultan ever received in taxes, the poor relationship between the two men meant that it was refused. The Sarawak authorities were concerned that the long unmarked jungle borders meant that head-hunters and destabilising tribes could retreat back into Brunei and escape retribution or any consequences for their actions. Local Malay officials in Baram though appreciated having almost no control from Brunei's rulers and were concerned at coming under the stricter rule of Sarawak, although the local population as a whole were increasingly frustrated at the local corruption and lawlessness of their existence. However, in this frame of mind, the Sultan appealed to the new and cantankerous Governor of John Pope-Hennessy under his new role as combined Consul General of Brunei to protect Brunei from Sarawak aggression under the 1847 Treaty signed between them. Jealous of the success of Sarawak vis-a-vis his own colony of Labuan, Pope-Hennessy agreed to side with the Sultan and received the backing of the British government in his decision. This infuriated Raja Charles and the transaction fell through as a result. The departure of Pope-Hennessy under a cloud revived hopes in Sarawak and depressed them in Brunei. Howver the replacement Governor and Consul General Henry Bulwer continued his predecessor's policy without variation.
Despite the official British position, a curious war of influence was waged in Baram in the 1870s between the Sultan and the Raja. In 1870, the Sultan attempted to tour the territory but had to withdraw in ignominy when the local Kayan population made their hostility to Malay rule plain for him to see. In 1872, Raja Charles, without making any requests of permission from the Sultan nor the Consul General, toured the same River system with his wife the Ranee. Unlike the Sultan's visit and despite attempts by local Malay rulers to disrupt the expedition, the local Kayans proved remarkably friendly and generous towards their visitor. The Raja was encouraged by the warmth of the reception to give permission to Sarawak traders to begin operating in the area. However, in 1873 some of these Sarawak traders were murdered. Charles lobbied the Sultan to punish the people responsible. The Sultan agreed in principle but the officials on the ground found it too awkward to find the offending tribe and so fined more amenable tribes closer to the mouth of the river instead - further inflaming local Kayans. The death of the Sultana shortly after saw another customary request of contribution towards her funeral expenses. There was further outrage when the tribes discovered from Sarwak traders that the local officials had demanded far more from them than the Sultan had requested. By 1874 the entire district was in open revolt against Brunei rule and the Sultan began to change his mind about ceding the territory in return for an annual tribute.
Strangely, the British Consul General refused to give permission for this transaction despite it not breaking any of the terms of the 1847 treaty - indeed signficant land grants had already been made between Brunei to Sarawak in the intervening years already. The government in Britain agreed with their man on the spot and point blank refused to allow the transaction to proceed. Requests from the Sultan for the British to take over the land as a protectorate were similarly declined. This position may have been maintained for a considerable period of time had other nations not decided to become involved in the lands in and around Brunei and northern Borneo. A string of American, Italian, Spanish and Austrian interest in establishing colonies and trading concessions in the region complicated the diplomatic situation further.
An American, Mr Claude Lee Moses, was able to gain permission to lease land along much of North Borneo from Brunei (including some territory that was not Brunei's to lease out). These rights were sold on to another American merchant by the name of Joseph Torry in return for a third of any profits made. The two Americans set off with 8 more countrymen and sixty Chinese to establish a settlement called Ellena in North Borneo. This transaction in 1865 breached the 1847 Treaty far more than the subsequent Sarawak transactions would have done and yet no protest was made to the Sultan. The colony itself collapsed through disease and financial mismanagement. This was not the end of foreign interest in the concession as Baron von Overbeck from the Austro-Hungarian Empire bought out the rights of the American concession in 1875. He was far more connected and struck up a relationship with Alfred Dent to finance his new colony. Overbeck also sought to confirm ownership of the entire parcel of land by conducting an additional agreement with the Sultan of Sulu who also claimed some of the territory. In the end, Overbeck's pockets were not as deep as he made out and he sold his interests out to Alfred Dent and a new North Borneo Chartered Company was established to take over the lands and effectively created the new colony of British North Borneo under company rule with strict rules on protecting local religions, customs and with a commitment to abolish slavery and to cede its foreign relations to Britain to administer. This was all in return for annual payments made by the shareholders to the Sultanate of Brunei.
The creation of North Borneo took away much of the logic of preventing Baram from being transferred to Sarawak in return for annual tribute and with the express agreement of the Sultan of Brunei. In 1882, the British government finally agreed to its transfer. 1884 saw a similar transfer of the Trusan District. The Sultan's administrative abilities were just not capable of extracting revenue from these territories and so gaining some revenue from Sarawak was considered a better deal than spending money inefficiently on trying to control the regions through corrupt and ineffective local administrators. This process was repeated again in 1890 in Limbang when the local population made it clear that they preferred the relative law and order of Sarawak to the capricious and unpredictable rule of Brunei local leaders.
The British government had become concerned at German and French interest throughout the Asian region in the 1880s as the European powers sped up their colonial competition around the globe. In 1888, the British government agreed to make Brunei a Protectorate along with neighbouring North Borneo and Sarawak. This gave security to the entire Northern Borneo coastline and also provided a framework for more control between the three administratively very different territories whose borders had not yet been clearly demarcated yet. Brunei decided not to accept a Resident and so relied on British Consuls to negotiate with the Foreign Office (as technically Brunei was not a colony and so not represented by the Colonial Office).
The last transfer of substance was the Lawas River Territory which Brunei originally ceded to North Borneo in 1902. However, the local rulers there expressed a preference to come under Sarawak control which the company generously agreed to transfer in 1905. This stabilised the borders between the three territories. The British decided at this point to send a full time Resident to Brunei in this year to help preserve the future integrity of the Sultanate from either the Raja of Sarawak or the Chartered Company of North Borneo. Charles Brooke had made it known that he was willing to take over the administration of all of Brunei, excepting perhaps Brunei town itself, in return for payments to the Sultan and his family. He even put hard figures on his offer of 10,000 dollars in immediate cash, 1900 dollars month and his successors 500 dollars a month after his death plus other payments to the various pangirans - it was a tempting offer to the Sultan who certainly considered it. Furthermore, there were many locals who also looked enviously at the relative law and order of his territories compared to their own. However the British government made a conscious decision to preserve Brunei as an independent, if small, entity from this point onwards. The Sultan was expected to consult with the Resident on all matters concerning the external relations and internal administration of Brunei, excepting religious affairs. In return, the British government agreed to guarantee an income for the Sultan and for his leading pangirans. The Sultan did feel some reluctance in agreeing to receive a Resident but primarily as he wished to have the option of accepting future offers from the Raja of Sarawak which the British Resident could now over-rule and prevent. There was always some doubt as to the precise status of Brunei after 1905 within the British colonial empire. Was it a protected state or a protectorate? Protected states enjoyed internal autonomy as Brunei did between 1888 and 1905. After 1905 it was probably closer to a protectorate.
For the next decade, the British Resident remained in Labuan. Ernest Barton Maundrell was the first Resident to move to Brunei proper in 1915. Policing at this point in time was largely done by Bengalis and Sikhs employed directly from India. However in 1916 one of the Sikh policemen had some altercation with a fellow companion outside a government office. He had attempted but failed to kill the man. The British Resident, Ernest Barton Maundrell, joined others in pursuing the rogue policeman from the scene of the crime only for the perpetrator to turn, shoot and kill the Resident outright. This shocking murder was tried in Singapore where the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to death. The byproduct of this murder was that moves were made to create a local police force instead of relying on Bengalis and Sikhs. 1921 saw the creation of the Brunei Police Force with 39 recruits.
Brunei would struggle financially for many years until the discovery of oil transformed its economy. The fact that neighbouring Sarawak discovered large oildfields in Miri renewed interest in prospecting and drilling for oil in Brunei itself. In 1911, a geological survey for Brunei was conducted by the British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate Limited. A number of companies were awarded concessions over the next decade but with one exception all test wells came back negative. It was not until the 1920s that oil was discovered in extractable quantities by the Anglo-Dutch Shell Company at Seria. The first oil well began producing commercial quantities from 1928 onwards. The timing was not spectactular due to the imminent Wall Street Crash followed by the Great Depression which depressed even oil prices. Despite that within a few years oil revenues were flowing into Brunei. After Trinidad and Burma, Brunei became the third largest oil producer in the British Commonwealth. The long term consequences of discovering oil in such a small country with such a small population would be profound in the long run. Brunei would go from the least developed of the Northern Borneo territories to the most developed on the back of money made from the oil industry.
War came to Borneo on 16 December 1941. General Kawaguchi commanded the invading force, the initial objective of which was to seize the oilfields at Miri and Seria. The retreating British forces managed to do a good job of destroying the oil facilities, but apart from that the Japanese had a clear run. Brunei Town (as it was then called) was occupied on 22 December. The relatively few Europeans in Brunei were rounded up and interned. The Sultan remained in place and cooperated - if reluctantly - with the Japanese authorities. The Japanese soon made themselves unpopular through demanding food, products and taxes for their war effort. Additionally, the British had done an effective job at destroying the oil infrastructure before they capitulated causing serious disappointment to Japanese war planners.
The Japanese used forced labour to construct airfields and made extensive use of Brunei harbour for refuelling and resupplying the Imperial Japanese Navy. This was particularly important for the battle of Leyte Gulf when some of the largest battleships in the Japanese Navy assembled in preparation of giving battle to the United States Navy nearby. The Allies later bombed the port facilities from November 1944 as their advances in the region brought the territory into the range of bombers. The damage was severe and included the Pekan Brunei Hospital and most government buildings and infrastructure. June 1945 saw the Australian 9th Division land in Labuan and Brunei and receive the Japanese surrender.
The Sultanate then came under Australian Military Administration until 1 January 1946, when the 32nd Indian Infantry Brigade arrived to take responsibility for Borneo. British Military Administration lasted there until July 1946. The destruction of the oil industry by British sabotage, Allied bombing and Japanese destruction was comprehensive.
After the Second World War, South East Asia was caught between the forces of Decolonisation, Communism and Nationalism. Nearby Dutch Indonesia had undergone a violent independence struggle and some of its victors looked at the British dominated Northern Borneo territories and felt that they might be brought into the Indonesian orbit. Communists were similarly inspired by the war in Malaya where they had turned the equipment and weapons supplied by the Allies to fight the Japanese back on to British authorities in the decade long Malayan Emergency. Brunei was to find itself caught up in these struggles in the near future.
A nationalist Brunei People's Party was established in 1956 under the leadership of A.M. Azahari bin Sheikh Mahmud and with strong links to Indonesia. It was highly critical of both the Sultan's leadership and the power of Britain over Brunei's internal affairs. So much so that the British and the Sultan revised their 1905 Protectorate agreement with a new 1959 Constitution. This new Constitution gave executive authority for internal affairs back to the Sultan whilst appointing a dedicated British High Commissioner in order to oversee defence and external affairs. It also created a Legislative Council with directly elected representatives who would form a council to advise the Sultan. Azahari, with calls to form a combined Federal State of Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo, was elected to the Legislative Council and scored a significant electoral mandate. Meanwhile the Sultan had been approached by Malaysia to encourage it to join their Federation alongside Sarawak and North Borneo as members of the Malaysian Federation. The Sultan was wary of having to share Brunei's increasing oil wealth with its poorer neighbours in any Federal system. However, he recognised the value of being in a wider political Federation for security purposes and was afraid of a Communist or a Nationalist inspired insurrection.
Just such an insurrection came a step closer when the Sultan fell out with Azahari's Socialist plans for Brunei and his proposal to downgrade the status of the Sultan to a mere figurehead in any new Kalimantan Federation. The Sultan therefore nominated a new majority to his council and bypassed the electoral mandate of the Brunei People's Party. At this juncture, more radical elements of the Brunei People's Party split off into the Communist National Army of North Kalimantan (TNKU) and planned for a violent overthrow of the political system in Brunei to coincide with the arrival of the Malaysian leader Tunku Abdul Rahman in North Borneo for further Federation talks. Unbeknownst to these more radical elements, British security had infiltrated their organisation and were aware of their plans for armed revolt and put the police on full alert and brought in surrounding police units from North Borneo to help reinforce the small state.
The revolt came about in December 1962 after Special Branch rounded up some TNKU leaders whilst their leader was out of the country in the Philippines and at a time when all precautions had been undertaken by the British and Brunei authorities. These arrests seemed to convince the TKNU that they had to strike before their entire leadership and organisation was broken. On December 8th a number of cells began to attack. TNKU rebels captured the power station and attacked the Sultan's summer palace, the Prime Minister's residence and the Police Headquarters. They overran some of the Seria oilfields and took hostages. They attempted to seize the airport. In the midst of this armed rising, Azahari broadcast from the Philippines that the three states of Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo had risen up and become unified under the Sultan of Brunei. In fact, the Sultan was in the process of appealing to the United Nations to intervene in the uprising and requested immediate military assistance from Britain. Azahari's calls for international recognition were quickly dismissed and he was forced to leave the Philippines and headed to Indonesia who hinted that they would support the insurrection.
The British implemented Plan Ale Yellow from Singapore and flew soldiers directly to Brunei and despatched Royal Marines to assist putting down the revolt. Gurkhas landed at the airport and seized control of it before advancing into Brunei town itself. The 1st Queen's Own Highlanders landed at the Shell airfield at Anduki, recapturing it from the rebels and moving on to Seria and Kuala Belait. The European hostages were freed unharmed. Royal Marines landed at Limbang from landing craft and rescued a further 8 hostages. The Green Jackets landed at Miri and seized the area after a difficult night march through the jungle. The Insurrection had been smashed within 4 days and prevented Indonesia from having the time to gather its forces in support of the uprising. However, the very fact that it had happened at all showed that there was some hostility to the idea of Brunei joining the Malaysian Federation. It also did not deter the Indonesians of intervening throughout all of Northern Borneo in the future. If anything, it made them more determined to take a proactive role in what would become known as the Indonesian Confrontation from 1963 to 1966. Although it also showed that the British were still committed to the defence of the region.
The Sultan, somewhat unsettled at the show of hostility towards joining the Malaysian Federation, decided not to join it in July 1963 despite her neighbours of Sarawak and North Borneo doing so. There was still the issue of Brunei's substantial oil wealth being shared out with the rest of the Federation. The Sultan continued to support British military aid to the Malaysian Federation when the Indonesians began crossing the borders into Sarawak and Northern Borneo and she herself would still be regarded as a legitimate target by the President of Indonesia's grand plans to seize control of the entire island of Borneo.
With the ending of the Indonesian Confrontation in 1966 and the increasing revenues from oil, the Sultan began lobbying for increased powers for himself and his own country. In 1971 Brunei was granted full internal self-government in addition to sharing the responsibility and costs for security and defence. At this point, Britain still controlled the external affairs and was the guarantor of last resort for defensive purposes.
1979 saw yet more concessions from the British with the Brunei being given control over international responsibilities, but with Britain providing diplomatic assistance where necessary. In 1983, Britain agreed the date of full independence for Brunei to be January 1st 1984.