HMS Dido in Sarawak

This picture shows Henry Keppel, the commander of HMS Dido, and his ship mored in harbour at Sarawak.

Brooke had enlisted the aid of Sir Henry Keppel, commander of H.M.S. Dido. In May, 1843, a small force from the Dido, togeth er with Brooke's Jolly Bachelor and a fleet of native prahus - full of Dyaks eager for the heads and plunder of the pirates - swept up the Sarebas River. The manoeuvre. the first in a six-year campaign, was a resounding triumph. The pirate forts were stormed by the blue jacketed soldiers in a frontal assault which so alarmed the pirates that they turned tail and fled to the safety of their villages without any attempt to retaliate.

Brooke used his campaign against piracy, which was of enormous benefit to Britain's Eastern trade, as a counter in his struggle to gain British recognition for his rule over Sarawak and to persuade the Government to take over the nearby island of Labuan as a coaling station. This, he said , would give steam vessels a base from which to continue the antipiracy campaign and would also give Britain an entree to Borneo. In 1846, Labuan was finally made part of the British Empire and Brooke left for England to make a personal plea at Whitehall for Sarawak's right to the same treatment.

While he was away, piracy broke out again. Seriff Osman, a pirate chief, sent a defiant message to an other of Brooke's colleagues, Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane: "I care not for all the ships of the British Navy: let them come" a rash challenge : Cochrane's force smas hed Osman's stronghold within a matter of months.

On Brooke's return from England in 1848, he assembled a large fleet and 3,000 local troops, determined to eliminate finally the pirate threat. In the battle which followed , a 4,000 strong pirate force was scattered by the guns of the British vessels. The ensuing expeditions to flush the remaining pirates from the Bornean creeks took on the air of a triumphal progress, as rajah s and chiefs su rendered one after another. By the end of August 1849, piracy was dead.

The account of this campaign was later published by Keppel in his book: The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy



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by Stephen Luscombe