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Notes on the Geography of Malaysia: Colonial Kuching (Official): Photo 8

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Charles Brooke, on the river-facing side of the monument, was the model of a martinet, absolute and absolutely rigid. His wife Margaret described him as "the most punctual man alive," but a better description comes from Sylvia Brooke, his daughter-in-law and the wife of Vyner Brooke. Sylvia was a daughter of Reginald Brett--Lord Esher, poet, musician, statesman, soldier, aristocrat among aristocrats--a man, Sylvia wrote, who turned down invitations to be Under-Secretary for the Colonies, Under-Secretary for War, Governor of Cape Colony, Secretary of State for War, and Viceroy of India. He did serve as royal trustee to the British Museum, governor of the Imperial College of Science, and Governor of Windsor Castle. "Nobody," she wrote, "who was not SOMEBODY meant a thing to my father." Sylvia's own childhood, though intensely lonely, could not have been more privileged, with Prince Edward among her playmates. Come her wedding to Vyner Brooke, the White Rajah himself came to Orchard Lea, which was close to Windsor Castle and was the summer home of Sylvia's family. She writes, "Among the throng of guests was Vyner's father, the old Rajah, who had been dragged unwillingly to the marriage of his son, didn't know who his host was, loathed the whole affair, and only wanted to leave as soon as possible. He turned to the first man he saw, and said, 'How the hell can I get out of this damned house?' The man happened to be my father, who was so astonished that he meekly showed him the door." From a distance, it's hard not to like the old buzzard. (Sylvia, who enjoyed her quasi-royal status, wrote a lot; the quotations above come from her Queen of the Head Hunters, 1970.)

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