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Captain Burn and associates: British intelligence-gathering, trade, and litigation in Borneo and beyond during the early nineteenth century.


John Leyden's well-known "Sketch of Borneo" (Leyden 1811) (1) included a large amount of information that had been supplied to T. S. Raffles from Pontianak by "Mr. J. Burn." This information has been used by many historians of the region, but without paying attention to Burn. He was Captain Joseph Burn, a country trader from India. This paper traces Burn's experiences in the last ten years or so of his life. It was the comment by Mary Somers Heidhues (1998: 277) that little is still known about Burn, and the fact that much of the information in his letters has not been published, that led to the present study. It may help to give better recognition to those whose adventurous lives are mostly difficult to follow in any detail--the British country traders.

Joseph Burn and the Invasion of Java

John Leyden wrote his "Sketch of Borneo" while a passenger on the Lord Minto during the slow voyage of the British invasion fleet between Malacca and Java. (2) Most of the recent information in the "Sketch" had been sent earlier in the year to T. S. Raffles by "Mr. J. Burn," after "a residence of several years" in Pontianak, West Borneo (Burn 1811). (3) Burn's letters were in response to correspondence from Raffles who, from his base in Malacca, was gathering intelligence about Borneo that included details of piratical attacks on British shipping but ranged much more widely. Leyden summarized some of Burn's descriptions of West Borneo, Pontianak as the most important trading port, and also the customs of the Dayak people. The "Sketch" does not seem to have been merely an academic exercise. In October 1810, during a visit by Raffles to Calcutta, Leyden wrote to Olivia Raffles: "I have however settled with R. that the instant he is Governor of Java I am to be his Secretary. That is the only chance you ever have of seeing me. The time fast approaches when I shall proceed to take possession of Borneo & whenever I proceed, I am determined to succeed" (his emphases) (Bastin 2002: 70). Whatever Leyden's plans were with respect to Borneo, they were not to succeed: he died of fever soon after the British landed in Java (Wurtzburg 1954: 167-168; Bastin 2002: 83).

Soon after writing to Raffles, Burn gave assistance in surveying a route via the Karimata Islands off West Borneo for the planned assault on Java. Because of the prevailing winds the only alternative was a much longer passage from Malacca around northern Borneo. The matter was not settled in favor of the former route until May 1811, after the arrival in Malacca of Lord Minto, Governor-General of India, and his entourage (Boulger 1897: 101-103; Wurtzburg 1954: 122, 136, 141-142). Shortly before Minto's arrival, Raffles wrote to him: "I recommend your employing the services of Capt. Burn, now residing at Pontiana. You can easily arrange to pay him and may leave him at Matan or Succadana to complete any points that have been commenced but unfinished by you, for want of time." (Lady S. Raffles 1830: 40-41). Raffles reported slightly later that Burn was helping Captain Greig, (often called Greigh), who commanded the Lord Minto and had been sent from Malacca to make the hurried survey. Leyden had recommended to Lord Minto that Greig be put under Raffles's command (Boulger 1897: 98). He had made many voyages from India to the east as a country trader, including at [east one visit to Pontianak, in October 1808 when Burn was probably living there (Prince of Wales Gazette (PG) 3/155:11 Feb 1809). Burn was to be left to complete the survey after Greig returned to Malacca and would help pilot the invasion fleet: "Captain Burns [sic], who has long been a resident at Pontiana ... is understood to have once brought a fleet without difficulty through the passage" (Raffles 1811 : 117). This other fleet remains unidentified, but Burn's knowledge and assistance certainly deserves recognition in view of the credit always given to Captain Greig in establishing the feasibility of the passage. Captain David Macdonald of the Bombay Marine, the naval arm of the East India Company (EIC), visited Pontianak in HCC (Honourable Company's "Cruizer") Ariel during his missions for Raffles before the invasion and met Burn there. He did not give dates but it would have been late in 1810. Macdonald mentioned the Sultan of Pontianak's story about the orangutan which had captured a slave-girl and kept her for 14 months, after which she escaped (Burn 1811: 114; Heidhues 1998: 291). According to Macdonald, Sultan Kassim got "Captain Burns who resided at Pontianak" to write it down and it was he (Macdonald) who took this account to Raffles (Macdonald c. 1840: 309). (4) Unfortunately, Macdonald said nothing more about Burn. Referring to Greig as "an experienced commander of a Malay trader," Macdonald commented that he himself had "minutely examined the whole coast" of West Borneo--perhaps an indication that he thought Greig had received too much credit (Macdonald c. 1840: 148, 163). The invasion fleet was eventually to amount to 25 vessels of the Royal Navy, eight of the Bombay Marine, 57 transports and several small gun-boats; about 100 vessels in all. Depending on uncertain land breezes and with many squalls, including one in the Karimatas that caused severe difficulties, the voyage from Malacca to Java took about six weeks (Thorn 1815: 12-16; see also his Plate III).

The mass of information sent by Burn must have strengthened Raffles's resolve to establish British power in Borneo and increased his interest in its history (Bastin 1954: 84-119). Raffles presented Leyden's "Sketch" at a meeting of the Society of Arts and Sciences, formerly the Bataviaasch Genootschap der Kunsten en Wetenschapen, in Batavia on 24 April 1813, after which it was published in the Society's Transactions. Over the past 150 years, many historians of West Borneo have cited the "Sketch" and used information that Burn had provided (e.g., Veth 1854-1856: many references; also Heidhues 2003: 48-84). However, virtually no attention has been paid to Burn himself. Gibson-Hill tentatively identified Joseph Burn, the British Resident in Kupang in 1813, as the same man (Gibson-Hill 1852: 18, footnote 11; Gibson-Hill 1955: 184). This conclusion came- from a journal kept by John Clunies Ross, who visited Timor at the time, and mentioned "Mr Joseph Burn" (Gibson-Hill 1952: 120-128). Unfortunately, Gibson-Hill did not say how he made the connection with Mr. Burn of Pontianak. The only certain deduction that can be made about Burn's earlier life from his letters is that he had spent time in Madras: he mentioned Brahminy kites that he had previously seen there (Burn 1811:117). He also compared the Dayaks of West Borneo with the Batak people of Sumatra and the inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, which suggests that he may have visited those places (Burn 1811: 18, 124-125). Graham Irwin suggested (1955: 23) that "Raffles sent Mr. F. [sic] Burn to Pontianak early in 1811 as his political and commercial agent," (5) but this is not in accord with the evidence given above.

Joseph Burn, David Dalrymple and the General Wellesley

"Mr Burn" was indeed Joseph Burn, who was included in the EIC's residency lists as a free mariner--not an EIC employee--based at Bombay and then Fort St. George (Madras) from 1803 until 1810 (East-India Register and Directory 1803-1810; List of Europeans in the districts subject to the Presidency of Fort St George 1804-1810; passim). He was listed in the East-India Register and Directory as captain of a country ship, the Fair Armenian, in 1805; however, this publication was always at least a year out of date. The shipping news in the weekly Madras Courier (MC) reported voyages of the Fair Armenian, commanded by Burn, to and from Calcutta between July and September 1803. There was a voyage to Pegu in Burma at the beginning of 1804, during which the ship was repaired, and it was then sold in Madras (MC 19/927:13 Jul 1803; 19/939:5 Oct 1803; 20/956:1 Feb 1804; 20/961:7 Mar 1804). The Madras Courier did not report any voyages of a vessel under Burn's command for the remainder of 1804 or for most of 1805. During that time he became associated with Captain David Dalrymple, the managing owner of the General Wellesley, another country ship that was involved in trade with Burma and based at Madras. (MC 20/967:18 Apr 1804; 21/1009:6 Feb 1805; 21/1022:8 May 1805; 21/1033:24 Jul 1805). (6) At the end of 1805 Burn commanded the General Wellesley in a voyage to Rangoon, returning to Madras in February 1806 via Penang. Near the Andaman Islands he rescued survivors from the wreck of a Burmese vessel (MC 22/1056:1 Jan 1806; 22/1061:5 Feb 1806). Very soon afterwards, the Madras Courier carried an advertisement by the merchant house of Parry, Lane & Co. for freight for Penang and Malacca, to be shipped on the General Wellesley, and the ship left Madras on 8 March. (MC 22/1062:12 Feb 1806; PG 1/6:5 Apt 1806). Despite the residency records, Burn left Madras for the last time on this voyage, along with Dalrymple. Douglas Murray, also with previous Burmese trading connections, (7) was a passenger on the General Wellesley. He too owned some cargo and was Parry's provisional agent should anything happen to Burn (PG 3/123:2 Jul 1808; 5/212:17 Mar 1810). By then the General Wellesley was licensed as a privateer and the cargo was textiles, rice, iron and steel. Burn was the commercial agent for Parry, Lane & Co, who owned part of the cargo and, with others, held mortgages over the ship. Thomas Parry, the senior partner, was half-owner of another ship, the Marquis Wellesley (sometimes called Marquess Wellesley) with Captain John Grant, who had trading connections with Borneo and also invested in the General Wellesley (Hodgson 1938; passim). (8) The Marquis Wellesley was lost by fire off the Malabar coast at the beginning of April, (PG 1/16:14 Jun 1806) (9) causing Parry major financial problems.

Thomas Parry was soon to regret his decision to invest in the General Wellesley. Commanded by Dalrymple, the ship arrived in Penang at the beginning of April 1806, (PG 1/6:5 Apr 1806) and then sailed via Malacca for Pontianak. On the way it ran aground on a shoal off the Karimata islands, but was refloated with very little damage (PG 1/35:25 Oct 1806). At Pontianak Burn sold some of the cargo to Sultan Abdulrahman. In September 1806 Parry received a letter from Burn which said that that the sale was for gold dust and cash and that more cargo had been left there unsold (Hodgson 1938: 120). (10) The ship soon left Pontianak for Sulu, off East Borneo, now with Burn in command, (PG 1/14:31 May 1806) but with Dalrymple still on board. At Sulu, two British naval vessels, HMS Greyhound and Harrier, encountered the General Wellesley. At this time Britain and Spain were at war, and the General Wellesley was thought to be an enemy vessel. In the chase that followed Burn ran his ship ashore but refloated the next day. Burn had earlier captured a large Spanish ship with naval stores that was going from Manila to Batavia. These events were reported when HMS Greyhound arrived at Penang on 19 August (PG 1/26:23 Aug 1806). (11) Little of the cargo was sold during a stay of two months at Sulu, so the General Wellesley returned to Pontianak, where more cargo was off-loaded. Burn left the ship to dispose of the cargo, and remained in Pontianak. He received a bond from the Sultan for 35,000 Spanish dollars that, as we shall see, was to cause many legal disputes (PG 5/212:17 Mar 1810).

The General Wellesley returned to Penang in October 1806, commanded by Dalrymple (PG 1/35:25 Oct 1806). There he learned that the British colony in New South Wales was short of grain, so he exchanged the Sultan of Pontianak's gold dust and cash for a cargo of rice, wheat and spirits, and departed for Australia. He arrived at Port Jackson in February 1807 and sold the cargo to the Government (Historical Records of Australia 1916: 128, 138, 192, 194). Parry did not learn of this voyage until March 1807, when he received a letter that Dalrymple had sent before leaving Penang. Dalrymple said that he planned to be back in Penang in May or June with a cargo of timber, doubtless for the projected naval dockyard (Hodgson 1938: 120). Parry was, not surprisingly, alarmed by these developments, especially as the ship no longer had insurance cover. He also received news from Burn that the Sultan of Pontianak had confiscated the unsold cargo and refused to pay for it (Hodgson 1938: 121-22). (12) Accordingly, Parry sent his nephew David Pugh to Penang, apparently to try to settle the affairs at Pontianak. It is likely that Pugh would have met Burn, who returned to Penang via Malacca as a passenger on the Mary in August 1807 (PG: 2/78:22 Aug 1807). (13) Pugh also reported to Parry that he had learned of Dalrymple's arrival in Port Jackson, and left at the end of the year to return to Madras (Hodgson 1938: 121-122). (14)

Meanwhile at Port Jackson "D. Dalrymple & Co." sold in April 1807 a one-third share of the General Wellesley to an emancipist merchant, Simeon Lord, who was Parry's agent there and was seeking to establish his own trading interests in the Pacific (Hainsworth 1981 : 69-71, 172). Dalrymple then embarked on an extended voyage that included Tahiti, New Zealand, Sulu and then back to Malacca and Penang, where the General Wellesley arrived once more early in March 1808 (PG 2/106:5 Mar 1808; reported in MC 24/1175 13 Apr 1808; see also Hodgson 1938:122). (15) Dalrymple handed over the cargo of timber to George Seton, Parry's agent, for sale. (16) He soon left Penang again for Fiji, (17) where he planned to obtain a cargo of sandalwood for Canton, doubtless as part of his agreement with Simeon Lord. Parry had advised that this was a sensible course of action and that Dalrymple should not return to Bengal because of his heavy debts there (Hodgson 1938: 123). However, Parry had still received no remittance from either the transactions in Australia or Pontianak. According to Hodgson, Parry interested the Royal Navy in his problems at Pontianak, and Rear-Admiral Drury sent a squadron to put pressure on the Sultan (Hodgson 1938: 123). It is possible that one of Drury's ships visited Pontianak to show the flag but a full-scale expedition at this time seems highly unlikely in the absence of other evidence. (18)

Early in 1808 Burn was again in Pontianak. When Sultan Abdulrahman was on his deathbed (said to be in February 1808) he sent for Burn and asked for forgiveness for swindling him over the sale of valuable cargo some time previously: presumably cargo from the General Wellesey (Leyden 1811: 104). Burn then went back to Penang and suffered unpleasant consequences from Dalrymple's brief reappearance. At the beginning of July 1808 the Prince of Wales Island Government Gazette reported in detail a court action of "trover" (to recover the value of property that had been illegally converted), brought against Joseph Burn, "now resident at Prince of Wales Island." This civil case was brought by Douglas Murray, the passenger on the voyage to Sulu in 1806 (PG 3/123: 2 Jul 1808). On arrival at Sulu, Burn had refused to unload Murray's share of the cargo on the grounds that it was the custom in Malay trade that the cargo belonging to the ship's owner (or owners) was sold first. This was to ensure that they obtained the highest prices. Murray then transferred to another ship, possibly the Spanish Prize, and left his own 21 bales of textiles on board the General Wellesley. When the latter ship returned to Penang in October 1806 Dalrymple unloaded Murray's cargo, and put it in George Seton's warehouse "for the use of Burn." Seton offered the goods to Burn when he arrived in Penang from Pontianak in August 1807 but Burn refused to take possession and unwisely directed Seton to dispose of the cargo "to the order of Dalrymple." After returning from the Pacific in March 1808, Dalrymple sold the cargo to the Penang agency house of Carroll & Scott, who in turn auctioned it. Dalrymple had used the proceeds to refit the General Wellesley for his second voyage to Australia and the Pacific. When charged, Burn's defense was threefold. First, he said that he personally never had had possession of Murray's goods, not having signed the bill of lading. Second, it was indeed the custom to sell the owner's goods first, which had not been possible. Last, it was Dalrymple who had sold the goods in Penang. The issue was thus whether Burn was responsible for acts of his partner Dalrymple. The Penang Recorder, Sir Edmond Stanley, said that he could not expect the plaintiff to search for Dalrymple in the South Seas, and found Burn guilty. Burn was fined 5474 Spanish dollars with costs, and with no allowance for depreciation of Murray's cargo, nor for freight charges. Stanley said that it was up to Burn to seek redress from Dalrymple (PG 3/123:2 Jul 1808). (19) Stanley had arrived in Penang late in May 1808, (PG 3/119 "Extraordinary": 31 May 1808) (20) and the trial helped highlight his mission to improve the previously uncertain judicial system. It would have been the trial referred to by Olivia Raffles in her letter to John Leyden (3 August 1808) in which she said "a cause of some consequence has been tried and gain'd for the plaintiff to the satisfaction of all" (Wurtzburg 1954: 64-65). "All" were presumably the British officials, who took a dim view of country traders and their unregulated activities. Sir Edmond Stanley certainly set out to teach the locals a lesson. In passing judgment, he emphasized that he "wished (as far as his humble talents would allow him) that the British Law should be fully explained and well understood by the Inhabitants of this Island, whenever cases occurred which required an explanation of it." This was doubtless why his judgment was reported at great length (PG: 3/123:2 Jul 1808). Burn was imprisoned in Penang for the debt but was released when, at Murray's suggestion, Burn handed over to him the Sultan of Pontianak's bond along with Burn's own bond for his personal cargo in Pontianak as security (PG: 5/212:17 Mar 1810). Although no further details of events at this time are given in the Prince of Wales Island Gazette, Burn must have soon returned to Pontianak to seek payment for the cargo, this time from Sultan Kassim.

Burn was not able to obtain legal redress from Dalrymple, who did not survive his second journey to the South Seas. He died late in 1808 between Fiji and New South Wales in a brig that he had chartered to obtain fresh crew and supplies for the General Wellesley, which had become embroiled in the local conflicts in Fiji. The Chief Officer had also died, so the supercargo, William Scott from Penang, took command in association with traders from New South Wales who included the famous John Macarthur, and in December 1808 took the General Wellesley from Fiji to Canton with a cargo of sandalwood. Simeon Lord attempted to assert his rights as part owner against these business rivals in the New South Wales courts, but without success (Hainsworth 1981: 173-174; see also Lockerby 1925, passim).

Back in Penang, Douglas Murray was still actively pursuing his claims that had arisen during the voyage to Pontianak in 1806. (21) When William Scott and the General Wellesley arrived in Penang from China in December 1809 this ship "against which ... so many claims have been made ... was sequestered at the suit of Mr D. Murray" (PG 4/199:23 Dec 1809). (22) Mr. John Hewitt, Registrar of the Penang Court of Judicature, made a successful application to the Court to administer Dalrymple's estate and effects (PG 4/200:30 Dec 1809), but Dalrymple's many creditors were soon dissatisfied with the way in which Hewitt was handling the estate. In February 1810 the Court ordered that the General Wellesley and her stores should be sold, the proceeds be paid into the Penang Treasury, that Hewitt should sort out the assets and debts and report to the Court, and that the creditors should appear before Hewitt to "prove their respective demands" (PG: 4/207:17 Feb 1810 and several subsequent issues). The creditors promptly took court action against Hewitt (PG 4/209:24 Feb 1810 and subsequent issues). The list of creditors is a complicated one. The first name was Thomas de Souza (a Bombay merchant), as executor of John Grant, who had died in Bombay soon after the Marquis Wellesley burned (Hodgson 1938: 115). The other creditors were listed as Alexander Colvin (a Calcutta merchant and associate of Parry) and others, trustees for the creditors of Harvey, Weatherall and Co. (shipwrights of Calcutta), Arratoon Aredist on behalf of themselves and other creditors, Soliman, a serang (bosun), and John Thomas (mariner), on behalf of themselves and the ship's company of the General Wellesley, Douglas Murray, Joseph Burn, Thomas Parry, David Pugh, and others. (23) The creditors (or their legal representatives) then fell out among themselves and there was an unpleasant shock for Douglas Murray, who was sued by Parry, Lane & Co. on the same grounds that Murray had sued Joseph Burn. The Madras trading house sought to recover the bond originally given to their agent Burn by the Sultan of Pontianak and which had passed into Murray's hands, as acknowledged (by letter) by Burn. The Recorder's judgement was consistent with that passed on Burn in June 1808. He ruled that the plaintiffs indeed had the right to recover the bond and gave an injunction against Murray from trying to use it to obtain money. However, this injunction was made without prejudice to any attempt by Murray to get recompense from the hapless Burn or indeed from Parry, which certain letters said to be in Murray's possession might allow (PG 5/212:17 Mar 1810). Interest in the General Wellesley had been maintained in Madras, and the Courier soon reported Murray's trial (MC 26/1279:10 Apr 1810).

This was not the end of this extraordinary series of legal wrangles. Reading between the lines of the reports in the Gazette, it is clear that John Hewitt was still trying to retain the General Wellesley and Dalrymple's other assets. In April and May 1810 the Gazette carried advertisements for the sale by auction of the General Wellesley, lying off Carnegy & Co's wharf, and the spars brought back in March 1808, which were still unsold at the premises of the late James Scott at that time (PG 5/215-219:7 Apr-5 May 1810). The sale was suddenly postponed "by order of the Court" (PG 5/220:12 May 1810) but proceeded, though it was not reported. In September 1810 the creditors sued Hewitt in 12 separate suits to recover the proceeds of the sale of the ship. There were two complications. One was that soon before the case was settled, Hewitt, "late Registrar," had departed for Europe, apparently in a hurry (PG 5/236:1 Sept 1810). (24) The other was that Simeon Lord had also made a claim in New South Wales. However, Sir Edmond Stanley ruled that as the first mortgagee had been the deceased John Grant, Thomas de Souza as his executor had first claim, and that the other creditors could obtain future assets when realized. He also ruled that an apparent irregularity over the registration of the ship was not an issue (PG 5/241:6 Oct 1810). (25) Sadly, there was no indication as to what happened to Murray, nor that Joseph Burn received any payment.

In June 1810 there was a report from Malacca that mentioned "the death of Captain Joseph Burn to the eastward" (PG: 6/226:23 Jun 1810). This was corrected the following week: Burn, said to have died at Pontianak, was "in perfect health" (PG: 6/227:30 Jun 1810). This information probably came from Captain Tait, the commander of the country vessel Thainstone, which had arrived in Penang that week from the eastward, including Pontianak. The Thainstone's voyage had included an attack by pirates at Muntok on Bangka that resulted in the death of the ten crew-members of his ship's longboat (PG 6/227:30 Jun 1810; Lady S. Raffles 1830: 79).

During the events described above, Raffles was mainly in Penang, with short visits to Malacca in 1807 and 1808. Given the very small size of the European population in Penang, Raffles must have known Burn. He would have been involved in the court case in 1808 as Registrar and approved publication of the details in his capacity as Licenser of the Press (Wurtzburg 1954: 64-65). The later events that revealed that it was Dalrymple who was the real rogue in the General Wellesley saga probably changed Raffles's opinion of Joseph Burn, and led him not only to recommend Burn to Lord Minto but himself to use Burn's services.

Burn's Letters Revisited

Burn's two letters to Raffles are about 150 pages of manuscript and contain much information beyond that given by Leyden. At the beginning of the first letter (12 February 1811) Burn said that he had received Raffles's letter, delivered by Captain Lambert. He had forwarded to Sambas in the Sultan of Pontianak's prahu a letter from Raffles that requested the hand-over of the pirates who had captured the brig Malacca in June 1810 (Burn 1811 : 1). At that time there had been a large increase in piracy in the region and the Malacca had been cut off at Bangka and its captain, Hercules Ross, killed. Raffles's special interest in the Malacca may have been due to his friendship with Alexander Hare, who was then trading out of Malacca and had owned the vessel. The pirate chiefs were named in the Prince of Wales Island Gazette as "Inchee Rassib, Majee, Booang and Daood," all of whom lived on Bangka (PG 6/224:9 Jun 1810; 6/230:21 Jul 1810). They appear frequently in later reports of piracy in the region. The Sultan of Sambas refused to hand over the pirates but Burn believed that he had received most of the cargo of the Malacca that included tin, and was worth 15,000 Spanish dollars. The Sultan's letter to Raffles still exists (Raffles Collection: MSS Eur D742/1; translated by Ahmat bin Adam 1971: 28-29). Burn also reported that another British vessel, the Commerce, that had been dismasted and had drifted ashore near Sambas, had been burned by the Rajah of Sarawak, a relative of the Sultan of Sambas (Burn 1811 : 5). This information was also given in an extant letter to Raffles from the Sultan of Pontianak (Ahmat bin Adam 1971: 20-23). The rest of Burn's first letter (about 25 pages) included descriptions of the Dayaks and their customs, and a brief account of Sanggau on the River Kapuas and its relations with Pontianak. Burn also mentioned the fate of the ruling house of the former sultanate of Sukadana, that had been overthrown and destroyed in 1786 by forces from Pontianak, with Dutch naval support. Burn had seen the "Rajah" of Matan--ruler of the residue of the sultanate of Sukadana--on a Dutch vessel at the end of 1810; he stayed in Pontianak for 15 days and was heavily under the influence of opium. Burn mentioned the fabled "diamond" of 367 carats that was owned by the ruling house of Sukadana, and the letter included a sketch of this impressive stone by Sultan Kassim of Pontianak. It had once been seen by the Sultan in company with W. M. Stuart, then Dutch Resident at Pontianak, who had been sent by the Governor-General in Batavia to buy it in exchange for gifts that included 150,000 Spanish dollars and two armed brigs. This extraordinary offer was refused because of the healing properties of water in which the "diamond" had been placed. Mr Stuart thought that the stone was a diamond "of the first water" (Burn 1811 : 20-27). (26) The letters from the Sultans and that from Burn were taken to Raffles in Malacca by Captain Tait.

Burn's second letter (12 March 1811), that he entrusted to an Arab trader bound for Malacca, started with a warning to Raffles that a few days previously the notorious Pangeran Anom, half-brother of the Sultan of Sambas, had come out of Sambas River with two small ships. One of the pirate chiefs who had attacked the Malacca, and now called "Assang Rasib," was on the smaller ship and the ships were openly challenging not only Chinese junks but also English vessels (Burn 1811: 36-37). They were clearly much more of a threat than the large prahus that were the standard pirate vessels. The information was also provided in another letter from the Sultan of Pontianak, who asked for assistance from Raffles (Ahmat bin Adam 1971 : 24-25).

Burn's second letter included a lengthy account (60 pages) of the history of Pontianak. Some of this material was included in Leyden's "Sketch" and, along with other contemporary source material, by Heidhues in her valuable description of the origins of the sultanate of Pontianak at the end of the eighteenth century (Heidhues 1998). Burn said that the site of Sukadana was occupied by one Bugis merchant "of any consequence" and by "outcasts and Lanuns"--i.e., pirates. Pontianak had also conquered Mempawah to the north, but some authority (at least over coastal and near-inland areas) was subsequently restored to the original ruling family. Beyond Mempawah lay the sultanate of Sambas, which had strong political aspirations in the region. Burn described in detail the origin of the warfare between Pontianak and Sambas at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This was said to have arisen from a dispute between the rulers of Sambas and Mempawah over control of the gold-mining areas of Monterado and Selekau, where Chinese settlers were gaining increasing autonomy. Forces from Mempawah had attacked and burned Selekau, and the Sultan of Sambas demanded financial restitution. The Sultan of Pontianak was called in to resolve the dispute, but he was unsuccessful and Sambas attacked Mempawah. Mempawah applied to Pontianak for funds to buy off Sambas. These were provided and the forces from Sambas withdrew. Mempawah then refused to repay the loan from Pontianak, which in turn besieged Mempawah. To the astonishment of Pontianak (according to Burn), Sambas then sent assistance to Mempawah and the forces from Pontianak eventually withdrew (Burn 1811: 49-55). There followed ongoing warfare between Pontianak and Sambas on land and water, in which the British were later to become involved.

Burn described the controversial succession of the second Sultan to the throne of Pontianak, and his character. The dying Sultan Abdulrahman told Burn to beware of the then Panambahan Kassim of Mempawah, his eldest son, who was a man of bad character and might kill him. The Sultan and his chief followers wanted the second son to become Sultan but the latter refused. Kassim was accepted as Sultan after promising to mend his ways, which he did, as recorded by Burn (Burn 1811: 57-60; see also Leyden 181 l: 104; Heidhues 1998). According to Burn, trade at Pontianak had declined after the accession of Kassim. He outlined the main exports from Pontianak (gold, wax and birds' nests) and the imports from English ships, especially opium. After this commercial intelligence Burn related some anecdotes: the dispute when the Sultan Abdulrahman learned about an approach to one of the Dutch by a palace concubine, the torture of four runaway slave girls and Sultan Kassim's handling of an affair between a Bugis and one of Abdulrahman's widows (see also Heidhues 1998).

After the salacious details Burn provided a lengthy account (nearly 50 pages) entitled "The Settlements above Pontiana." This expanded on his brief descriptions in the first letter. Leyden very quickly passed over this material, which is summarized in Table 1. The times of travel by water look very reasonable for slow-moving cargo vessels, except possibly for the six days between Belitang and Sintang, which are only about 50 km. apart by water. The settlements were all governed by "Malay" rulers who differed in status and hence their dependence on the more important polities such as Pontianak and Sintang. Burn described Sanggau, said to be 230-250 miles (and 10 days travel) up the Kapuas from Pontianak, in such detail that he had probably visited the place. There were the remains of a small "square built fort of brick," which the Malay inhabitants said was built 140-150 years ago by the Portuguese who--again according to Burn's informants--had been there for many years (Burn 1811: 4-16). There is no record of the Portuguese ever having had a settlement at Sanggau, though there was at least one Portuguese penetration into the lower Kapuas in the mid sixteenth century (Smith 2000, 2001). The structure is likely to be the remains of a much earlier Hindu-Buddhist building. Sanggau produced the best gold dust in West Borneo and also diamonds. "All the fruits of India" were grown there (Burn 1811:4-16, 108-119). Judging by the content of his letters, Burn himself did not travel far up the River Kapuas, and almost certainly not beyond Sanggau. He obtained information about the farther settlements from Arab traders. One was named as Sheik Omar, who had traveled very widely in Borneo and had "a settlement of his own near Sango" (Burn 1811: 14). There was also Sayid Abdullah, who knew about the remote Punan country and had purchased a female Punan slave who could not understand the local Dayak language. The Punan were said to resemble the Batak people of Sumatra and those of the Andaman Islands, except that their skin was much fairer. Beyond Sintang were the "Mintooree" (Mendawai?) Dayaks, who had long earlobes and tattoos (Burn 1811: 124-135).

Burn also described Landak (not included in Table 1). It lay about six days' journey up a branch of the river above Pontianak and was "a remarkably sickly place" where "jungle fever" was easily caught, but had a lot of gold. The Chinese made many attempts to get access to the gold but without success because the ruler of Landak ("Rajah": Burn) had seen the increasing Chinese strength at Monterado and Selakau, formerly controlled by the Sultan of Sambas, who had permitted the Chinese to mine gold. Landak fought against Sambas with the aid of Pontianak, but Sultan Kassim told Burn that he did not trust the Landak people (Burn 1811:139-146; Heidhues 1998). Finally, Burn returned to relations between Pontianak and the Dutch when the latter held control, and in particular their imposition of taxes (Burn 1811: 146-151 ; Heidhues 1998).

The commercial intelligence that Burn provided is still useful for comparison with later information obtained by the Dutch when their officials first traveled up the Kapuas in the 1820s, and by other nineteenth century travelers, including American missionaries (Anon. 1840). (27) Burn's information also helps chart the spread of the Chinese up the Kapuas as gold and diamond mining developed (see Jackson 1997; Heidhues 2003), and gives a background to the instability and conflict among the polities in the inland areas of West Borneo in the first half of the nineteenth century (Veth 1854-1856, passim; Wadley 2000, 2001).

Burn's description of Sanggau included a description of wildlife. The animals included deer, hogs, rhinoceroses, "small tyger cats," civet cats, porcupines (one of which was in the habit of entering his room in search of food and pestering him), monkeys, orangutans etc. He also mentioned a range of birds, including the Brahminy kites--the famous Dayak omen-bird--that he had also frequently seen at Madras. Burn was also impressed by birds identifiable as hornbills; they have a "remarkably large red bill" and make "a most uncommon loud hollow short noise, or in short notes but resembling the mewing [or "mooing": word nearly illegible] of a conch shell." He described the nesting habits of hornbills inside tree hollows (Burn 1811:115-118). It may be that Burn was an early bird-watcher or, perhaps more likely, that Raffles had requested such information. The later report to Raffles by John Hunt, who was Raffles's Resident in Pontianak for a short time in 1813, also contains information about wildlife, which was one of Raffles's many interests. (28)

Apart from seeking recompense from Sultan Kassim, and possibly shelter from further legal action, how Burn spent his time in Pontianak is not known. Gibson-Hill suggested that he may have been an employee or business associate of Alexander Hare, because of Burn's interest in the fate of the Malacca (Gibson-Hill 1952:18, footnote 11; Gibson-Hill 1955). Gibson-Hill also suggested that it was Hare who put Raffles in touch with Burn (Gibson-Hill 1952: 21). However, there is no evidence of an association between Burn and Hare at this time. Alternatively, Burn may have been a commercial agent for other British traders or indeed have commanded one of the vessels that belonged to Sultan Kassim. In 1811 these included two well-armed small ships and two or three brigs, said to be for protection against his neighbors (Java Government Gazette (JG) 1/36:31 Oct 1812; Hunt 1812: 26), but doubtless also used for trade and smuggling. Leyden's comment that Sultan Kassim was Burn's "principal associate" suggests that he was employed directly by the Sultan (Leyden 1811: 101). He must have been on a local vessel in May 1811 if he continued to survey the Karimata area after Greig returned to Malacca.

Joseph Burn and the Olivia

Whether Burn helped pilot the invasion fleet has not been established but he must have left Pontianak by mid-1812. Alexander Hare had arrived in Batavia from Malacca during or soon after the invasion. In November 1811 he accompanied Captain Richard Phillips on a mission for Raffles to Palembang and in April 1812 he was appointed British Resident at Banjarmasin in Borneo (Gibson-Hill 1952: 25-26). Hare was the owner of a brig, the Olivia (presumably named after Olivia Raffles), which arrived in Batavia as part of the British expeditionary fleet. The cargo included opium, which was transferred to the EIC warehouse by Captain Ramsay, possibly the commander (Java Factory Records 1812: Return of opium received into HC Warehouse, Batavia). (29) The Java government chartered the Olivia (if they had not already done so) for an indefinite time. In mid-March 1812, listed as a transport brig from Malacca, the Olivia was at Batavia ready to sail to an unspecified destination; the commander was not named (Gibson-Hill 1952: 129, footnote 24, quoting J.C. Ross; JG: 1/3:14 Mar 1812).

Commanded by Joseph Burn, the Olivia was involved in the aftermath of the stranding of the Coromandel, en route to Java, in the Karimata islands in August 1812. This incident was to have serious repercussions for Sambas (Smith 2002). The stranding was discovered by the country ship Helen, which had taken stores to Muntok (renamed Minto after its occupation by the British in May 1812) and was sailing to Batavia by the northern passage found Borneo, a route that passed the Karimatas. Pangeran Anom's flotilla from Sambas was by then plundering the Coromandel, and he had persuaded some of the crew of lascars to join him. Outgunned, the Helen returned to Minto to spread the news. Meanwhile, the Olivia, commanded by "Captain Burns," and another small vessel, the Maria, that had sailed in company with the Helen, arrived off the mouth of the River Kapuas (JG: 1/27:29 Aug 1812; 1/35:24 Oct 1812; 1/36:31 Oct 1812). (30) On 7 September they picked up the officers, passengers and crew from the Coromandel who had taken refuge in Pontianak, and set off for Java. The Maria and Olivia soon encountered one of Pangeran Anom's ships, so they returned to Pontianak to inform Sultan Kassim of its presence. The Maria and Olivia set off again, this time for Minto, and not far from the Karimata Islands they met HCC Aurora, commanded by Captain David Macdonald. He had sailed from Bangka to investigate and decided to pursue Pangeran Anom to Sambas. "Captain Burns of the Olivia tendered his services to proceed to Pontiano for pilots who were acquainted with the Sambas River, where it was probable the Pirate had gone." He returned from Pontianak two days later (JG: 1/36:31 Oct 1812). "Captain Burns" was Joseph Burn, surely the same man who had lived at Pontianak, now certainly associated with Hare and hence the EIC and making use of his local knowledge. (31) The Aurora, accompanied by the Olivia and Maria, pursued Pangeran Anom to the mouth of the Sambas River. However, the ship escaped over the shallow bar into the river (JG 1/36:31 Oct 1812).

The British vessels involved in these encounters dispersed to destinations that are, with one exception, easily traced. The Aurora proceeded via Bangka and Malacca to Penang (PG 7/347:24 Oct 1812), as did the Maria (PG 7/351:21 Nov 1812). The Helen sailed from Bangka to Batavia and then Semarang (JG 1/136:31 Oct 1812; 1/38:14 Nov 1812). The Thainstone appeared at Pontianak and Mr. De Letang (or Deletang), a passenger from the Coromandel, transferred from the Olivia and was taken to Semarang and then Batavia (JG 1/138:14 Nov 1812). Missing entirely from these shipping movements is, unfortunately, the Olivia. Still on board were said to be nine "Gualas or Milkmen," who had been on the Coromandel. They were keenly awaited in Java in order to instruct the local people in managing a dairy and making ghee, which was much in demand by the sepoys stationed there (JG 1/36:31 Oct 1812). However, the Java Government Gazette did not report the arrival of the Olivia at any of the ports in Java that were regularly covered in its "Shipping Intelligence"; these were Batavia, Subaraya and Semarang.

The fate of the milkmen remains undiscovered, but at some time during the next six months Burn and the Olivia proceeded eastwards, bound for Timor. Burn had reached the climax of his career, having been appointed Resident at Kupang, and his arrival had been expected for some time. Early in May 1812 Richard Phillips, who was then British Commissioner in Macassar, wrote to Raffles saying that he had sent Lieut. Knibbe of the Amboynese Corps in the Minto to take charge in Timor, "provisionally until the arrival of Mr Burns" (Java Factory Records (Java) 17: Council Meeting, 4 Oct 1812). (32) Knibbe arrived there in March and reported to Phillips that Captain Thurston of HMS Hesper had taken possession in January and had stripped the place of cash (Java 17: Council Meeting, 4 Oct 1812). (33) On 27 July Phillips informed Raffles that "as Mr Burns has not yet arrived--despairing now of seeing him and being obliged to send some ammunition to Timor, I have dispatched the Honorable Company's cruizer Nautilus to that Port." Lieutenant Watson of the Bengal Volunteers was to replace Lieut. Knibbe, and as Watson had "a competent knowledge of Malay" and "it being uncertain whether Mr Burns would ever arrive I have thought myself fortunate in being able to send him" (Java 17: Council Meeting, 4 Oct 1812). These letters do not fit comfortably with Gibson-Hill's statements that in 1812 the Olivia was apparently stationed at Macassar (Gibson-Hill 1952: 18, footnote 11; 123: footnote 9; no citations given). Nevertheless, this may well have been the destination that was originally intended for the Olivia after leaving Bangka in August 1812 on the northern passage.

Joseph Burn in Timor

Joseph Burn did eventually arrive in Kupang on the Olivia, relieving Lieutenant Watson at the beginning of May 1813. The Olivia remained there without a commander for some weeks until the arrival of a British whaler. On board was a junior officer, named as "Charles Ross," to whom Burn gave the command of the Olivia. Ross left Timor for Macassar at the beginning of June, bearing with him Burn's report to Captain Phillips on the state of the establishment (Java 19: Council Meeting, 13 July 1813). Burn was unhappy with the condition of the fort, which had been "healthy" until Lieutenant Knibbe had cut down the trees, but lacked water. The Government House was unfit to be inhabited, and Burn rented a house belonging to a Dutch woman. Trade had been previously disrupted by the activities of the British whalers, who carried letters of marque and had captured nearly every vessel going to and from Kupang. The industrious Chinese settlers had accordingly retired to Portuguese East Timor but were returning since the British takeover of the Dutch territory and trade was reviving. Kupang was stacked with goods from Bengal and Java but Burn expected that these would soon be sold. The native inhabitants and their rulers were mainly well-disposed to the British. However, Burn had problems with disputes among the inhabitants because the Dutch records of the past 20 years had been destroyed. Finally, the troops were unhealthy and lacked clothing. Phillips's letters to Java also included news that Lieutenant Watson had arrived back in Macassar on the Olivia and that two crew members of the Olivia arrested by Burn for mutiny were still on board. The account of this mutiny stated that on 7 March 1813 the Olivia "lay at the Brothers--an unhelpful reference, because British maps and charts of the period show islands of that name both at the southern tip of Sumatra and southeast of Malacca, with "Two Brothers" in the Karimata group. This uncertainty leaves unresolved Bum's failure to proceed to Timor sooner.

As well as Burn's report, the documents sent by Phillips to Java included a cargo receipt from "Charles Ross." He was in fact John Clunies Ross, and his journal, later sent to Raffles, gives the circumstances of his arrival at Kupang on the whaler Baroness Longueville (Gibson-Hill 1952: 120-128). On taking command of the Olivia, Ross received permission to engage in limited private trade, which suggests that Burn also had this privilege while an EIC employee. Ross sailed on the Olivia on many voyages in the region, and it was at this time that he came into contact with Alexander Hare, later transferring to the command of other vessels owned by Hare (Gibson-Hill 1952: 120-128). The voyages were recorded in the shipping intelligence of the Java Government Gazette, where it was first reported that the Olivia arrived in Batavia from Bima in Sumbawa early in July 1813 (JG: 2/72:10 Jul 1813). Confusingly, the captain was again named as "Charles Ross," then in later arrivals and departures as "Ch." or "C. Ross," and lastly just as "Ross".34 As regards Joseph Burn in Kupang, there appears to be no further material in the records of the EIC that describes his attempts to put the place in order. Phillips died suddenly in Macassar at the end of 1814 and there was a considerable hiatus in the administration. In March 1815, Captain Wood, by then the Acting Resident there, reported to Raffles that he had received no accounts from Timor (Java 42: Council Meeting, 13 May 1815). It appears that Burn's career as an EIC official did not last long. Dutch sources reveal that he became addicted to alcohol and died suddenly, well before the British restored the island to Dutch rule late in 1816 (Veth 1855: 713-716; van der Kemp 1911: 317). The short anonymous account of Timor and neighboring islands that was published in Malayan Miscellanies (1820) contains no information identifiably provided by Burn. It was probably written in 1815 or early 1816, as it mentions the activities of Burn's successor, the energetic Acting Resident Hazaart, a Dutchman who retained control in Kupang when British rule ended (Anon. 1820).


Joseph Burn's activities should be seen, if briefly, in the broader context of the events that influenced them and their aftermath. The General Wellesley left Madras at a time when there was a severe downturn in commercial activity, and hence in Thomas Parry's fortunes, caused in part by the war with France and its allies and in part by drought and famine (Brown 1954:31). Parry, rather than lying low, was trying new trading ventures but these were not to be successful. He believed that John Grant, co-investor in the two Wellesley ships, had cheated him and was amazed to learn that he had died a rich man (Hodgson 1938: 115). Nevertheless, unlike many early nineteenth-century British merchant houses in India, Parry's partnership survived the financial hardships, and after he died in 1824 the firm developed increasingly broader business interests. Still based in Madras, it existed into the 1950s as Parry & Co (see Brown 1954). (35)

The voyage of the General Wellesley to Borneo and Sulu was a bold speculative venture that took place at a time when the British had not yet established naval control over France, Spain and Holland in the area. The ship was well armed and its license as a privateer would also have been an attraction to the investors. (36) Responsibility for the financial failure of the voyage must be shared by Sultan Abdulrahman of Pontianak and David Dalrymple. Compared with Dalrymple's unscrupulous activities, including the voyages to Australia and beyond that prevented his prosecution, Joseph Burn's conviction for "trover" seems rather unfair. He was certainly wrong to hand over responsibility for Douglas Murray's cargo to Dalrymple. Otherwise, his main fault seems to be that he gave Murray the Sultan of Pontianak's bond that really belonged to Parry in order to buy his way out of debtor's gaol in Penang. In due time, however, Murray got his own legal desserts. Their trials reflect Sir Edmond Stanley's zeal in establishing British law in Penang. The Charter of Justice that he brought on his appointment had "rescued this Island from the state of confusion in which it had so long been involved; and the removal of which he trusted would raise its credit and respectability in all parts of the civilized and commercial world" (PG 3/123: 2 Jul 1808).

Burn's opportunity for rehabilitation was triggered by Raffles's interest in Borneo and particularly by Raffles's intelligence-gathering from his base in Malacca. Burn's letters from Pontianak seem to be a judicious account of the region. Although he commented on the gold mining activities there was none of the exaggeration of Borneo's riches, as given by Hunt, that also contributed to Raffles's growing obsession with Borneo and found its way into his History of Java (Raffles 1817, Vol I: 236-242). Also, there was no tirade against Sambas, again as given by Hunt. According to Burn the difference between Sambas and Pontianak was essentially that the latter polity had given up its former piratical activities, at least according to the Sultan. Hunt's report gives much more information about many areas of Borneo, and particularly the north, than does Burn's but contains errors that include incorrect dates and details of piratical attacks blamed wrongly on Sambas. He did not refer to Burn by name but knew of "a description in another place" of the rise of Pontianak, obviously a reference to Burn's report (Hunt 1812: 25). The poor reputation of Sambas did not deter all British country traders. For example, the brig Tweed, owned by Carnegy & Co and commanded by Daniel Smith, returned to Penang from Sambas and other trading ports to the eastward on 6 May 1811 (PG: 6/272: 11 May 1811). Smith was one of the country traders whom Raffles consulted at that time as to the suitability of the route via the Karimatas for the invasion fleet before despatching Captain Greig on his survey (Raffles 1811).

After his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor in Java, Raffles became keen to extend British influence over Borneo. He argued that because the Dutch had abandoned Borneo before the British conquests, it could remain a British possession even if the Dutch were to regain power in the East Indies. Raffles also wanted to restrict foreign trade to "Borneo Proper" (Brunei), Banjarmasin and Pontianak (Java 61: Raffles to Supreme Government 12 June 1813). The plundering of the abandoned Coromandel gave a convenient excuse to campaign against Sambas, and after the successful attack in 1813 the coastal areas under its control were blockaded by the Royal Navy and Bombay Marine until mid-1814. Sultan Kassim of Pontianak lobbied against the restoration of Sambas as a trading center and sought British protection (Java 61: Hare to Raffles, Enclosure 2, 23 March 1813; Sultan of Pontianak to Raffles, not dated but also March 1813). Interestingly, despite Raffles's support of Pontianak, Alexander Hare expressed doubts about the Sultan's influence and the stability of the state, which he visited in the lead-up to the second British attack on Sambas (Java 61: Hare to Raffles; private letter not dated but also March 1813). (37) By 1814, Raffles's policy towards Borneo was not supported by the EIC either in Calcutta or London, and he was forced to withdraw his commercial agent, Mr. Bloem, from Pontianak. A short time previously Sultan Kassim had, like his father, entered into a dispute over British cargo. Despite an appeal by its owner, Captain Daniel Smith, Raffles declined to become involved on the grounds that he no longer had authority to influence events in Borneo (Bengal Civil Colonial Consultations: 7 Oct 1815; Wright 1961: 287-288). (38)

Joseph Burn would seem to have been a suitable choice as Raffles's representative in Pontianak in 1812. The reason that he was not appointed may be that his relations with the Sultan had been too close. Clearly Burn's rehabilitation was sufficient for him to be appointed Resident at Kupang--a significant consolation for a convicted country trader. Timor had strategic interest both to the Dutch and British. It was a local trading center, with a large Chinese community, and European and American whalers called there for supplies. Unfortunately, Burn did not live long enough to have an identifiable impact on the local affairs, and in any case had he survived he would have been replaced by Hazaart when the Dutch reassumed control late in 1816.

After he left Java, Raffles continued to argue that the British needed a base beyond Penang and Bencoolen that would counter Dutch control of the shipping routes and trade. In England he wrote a lengthy paper (1817) for George Canning that included an island off the West coast of Borneo "with a very good harbour" after Bangka and Bintang (Riau) in a list of possible sites for such a base (Boulger 1897: 271-272). This must be Penebangen, one of the Karimata islands, which the British invasion fleet had used in 1811 as a rendezvous and to take on water, as described by Lord Minto in his diary (Wurtzburg 1954: 159-160). It was the nearest that Raffles himself ever came to Borneo. By the time that he arrived in Bencoolen in March 1818, Bangka had been handed back to the Dutch, and by September 1818 they were exerting control over the Riau archipelago, Pontianak and Sambas. Raffles's response was the foundation of Singapore, which soon became a center for trade with West Borneo despite restrictive practices that the Dutch attempted to impose. The early Singapore newspapers expressed ongoing interest in West Borneo (Smith 2002) and this was reflected in Moor's (1837) compendium of articles. Though commercially unsuccessful, the latter eventually brought Leyden's "Sketch"--and hence, knowledge of Burn's letters--to a readership much wider than that of the old Transactions of the Society of Arts and Sciences in Batavia. The extensive information provided by Burn was doubtless included in the 1000 pages of Raffles's "former history, present state, population and resources" of Borneo that was lost in the fire on the Fame, in which Raffles was traveling when he left Bencoolen in 1824 (Wurtzburg 1954: 685). Ironically, because of a delay in the arrival of the Fame, Raffles had decided to charter the Borneo, which was built near Banjarmasin and was owned by Alexander Hare and John Clunies Ross. Commanded by the latter, the Borneo had arrived at Bencoolen to take on pepper for England. The arrival of the Fame, which was much larger, prevented this arrangement being put into place (Wurtzburg 1954: 675). Once back in England, and despite his losses, Borneo was still in Raffles's mind. In January 1825 Ross, then in London, sent him the journal in which he had recorded his meeting with Joseph Burn in Kupang, along with yet another brief description of Borneo (Gibson-Hill 1952:111-120, 121-128). (39)

Joseph Burn will never be more than a footnote in the history of the region but he did, indirectly, produce a lasting outcome. Burn's appointment of John Clunies Ross as commander of the Olivia resulted in Ross meeting Alexander Hare and his employment in 1816 in Hare's short-lived and controversial fiefdom near Banjarmasin in South Borneo. Still associated with Hare, Ross paid a short visit to the Cocos-Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean at the end of 1825. Hare settled there with his entourage and harem in 1826 and Ross returned to settle there in 1827. Their association ended in acrimony and Hare left in 1831 (Gibson-Hill 1952, passim). The Clunies Ross (later Clunies-Ross) family dynasty that ruled the islands remained strong even when they became a Territory of Australia in 1955, and the family retained property there until the 1990s.
Table 1. Summary of Joseph Burn's Descriptions of Settlements on the
River Kapuas Above Pontianak. Present-day names are in brackets.
Travel times are from the previous place, starting at Pontianak. D:
Dayak; M: Malay; Ch: Chinese. Rulers are all Malay.

Travel Name Ruler Population Products and notes

4 Tayan Rajah D: 8000 Iron ore, iron-stone.
 (Tayan) M: 200 Chinese make pots and
 Ch: "few" guns from iron; addicted
 to gambling and opium.
 Rajah is subject to

1 Mellinsom Pangeran D: 1000 Rice, wax, gambier.
 (Meliau) M: 50-60 Pangeran is very old,
 Ch: 0 with little authority.

5 Sango Rajah D: 8000 Gold, small diamonds,
 (Sanggau) M: 1000 wax, many fruits,
 Ch: 500 coffee. Rajah inter-
 married with Dayaks.
 Conquered by Pontianak.
 Hill people resemble
 Battas (Bataks) of

3 Seccado Pangeran D: 10,000 Gold, rattans, rice,
 (Sekadau) M: ? wax. "Of little
 Ch:? importance." Soil poor
 compared with Sanggau.

2 Spaw Pangeran D: 1000 Gold, wax, cotton
 (Sepauk) M: 50 (originally from Java).
 Ch: 100 Soil marshy; place of
 little importance.

1 Billiton Pangeran D: 6000 Gold, rice, cotton,
 (Belitang) M: 100 tenkawan oil (run into
 C: 0 bamboo; hardened,
 exported and used to
 seal prahus). Seven days
 to Punan, who have no
 rice: they use sago, and
 need salt, pots and iron

6 Sintang Sultan D: 60,000 Gold, coarse cotton
 (Sintang) M: 1000 cloaks: trades with
 Ch: 700 Banjarmasin and Bangka.
 Of much importance;
 takes little notice of
 Pontianak. Twelve days
 away is large lake;
 Ascarbaloo (?) D live
 around the lake. Ten
 days away are Mintooree
 (Mendawai?) D; they have
 gold and rice and fight
 Biajoo (Biadju) and
 Amballoo (Embalah?) D;
 the latter are tributary
 to Sintang.

3 Seelat Panamb- D: 2000 Gold, wax, cotton,
 (Nanga ahan M: 350 prahus.
 Silat) Ch: 50

1 Sogat Kiai D: 3000 Gold, wax; unimportant
 (Suhaid?) M: few place.
 Ch: 0

2 Seelimboo Kiai D: 1000 Wax, cotton. The river
 (Selimbau) M: 50 is like a large lake and
 Ch: 0 connects with a river to

(1) The "Sketch" was first published in 1814, and reprinted by J. H. Moor in 1837. The reprint has some editorial changes to the spelling of place-names, and an error in that it said (p. 101) that J. Burn's account was communicated "by" Raffles instead of "to" Raffles, as in the 1814 version (p. 34). Moor's version is more accessible and is used here, cited as Leyden 1811 to reflect the origin.

(2) The Lord Minto was often called the Minto in the contemporary literature. British or Dutch place-names are used here for their major settlements, with present-day names for others.

(3) "West Borneo" is used in the present account for what is now West Kalimantan.

(4) Macdonald's memoirs were published privately and were not dated. The edition cited was probably published in 1840; see Smith (2002).

(5) Irwin must have misread the hand-written "J. Burn" in the letters.

(6) Dalrymple had earlier been based in Calcutta (entries in East-India Register and Directory 1805 and 1806).

(7) The East-Indies Register and Directory listed Murray as a resident of Calcutta in 1805. For mention of a voyage by Murray to Rangoon in the Sally, see MC 21/1051:27 Nov 1805.

(8) Hodgson was a partner in Parry & Co of Madras, and later its Chairman. The information came from Parry & Co's archives. A voyage by Grant to Penang and the unsuccessful EIC settlement at Balambangan, North Borneo, was reported in MC 22/1060:29 Jan 1806.

(9) PG: reprint of letter to the Editor, Bombay Courier, from John Grant.

(10) Hodgson implies incorrectly that Burn was already in Pontianak as Parry's agent.

(11) The captured Spanish ship was the "St. [San?] Raphael"; it was sold at auction in Penang on 20 April 1807, as "prize to the General Wellesley letter of marque, Captain Dalrymple ... for the moderate price of 3700 Spanish dollars" (PG 2/61: 25 Apr 1807). The prize was purchased by James Scott, then one of the most influential merchants in Penang.

(12) Unfortunately, Hodgson did not give the date of the letter and Burn's location, but it was probably sent from Pontianak.

(13) His arrival was also reported in the Madras Courier 23, 1147:30 Sept 1807.

(14) Parry received conflicting reports both of the fate of the ship and profits that might be expected.

(15) The eventful voyage can be traced in detail from Davies (1961) and especially Robarts (1974). Robarts, who had deserted from a whaler, returned to Penang with Dalrymple. He worked there for Raffles's brother-in-law, Quintin Dick Thompson, and when the latter died, moved to Raffles's house before leaving for Calcutta, where he was supported by John Leyden.

(16) George Seton had commanded the Marquis Wellesley before moving to Penang (East India Register & Directory 1806, Part 2: 243). The ship then belonged to Chase & Co., who went bankrupt; Parry was appointed liquidator (Hodgson 1938:113).

(17) The date has not been ascertained because issues of PG for April and May were missing from the set that was consulted. A complication is that names of captains, and dates, show that some arrivals and departures of the "General Wellesley" refer to a ship of the same name that was registered in Calcutta, as listed in the East-India Register and Directory for this period.

(18) Drury, who had arrived in Madras in February 1808, soon took a squadron to Achin and Penang, returning to Madras by mid-June. In August he was back in Penang, on his way to China: see Parkinson (1954:312, 314, 317, 320-33).

(19) Confusingly, this case occurred soon after the arrival of the other General Wellesley from Calcutta, commanded by Captain Brown (PG 3/122:25 Jun 1808).

(20) Stanley passed through Madras in January 1808 (PG/2, 107:12 Mar 1808; extract from Madras Gazette). He might have been briefed about the General Wellesley at that time.

(21) He had arrived from Malacca in August 1809 and was named as a member of the Penang Grand Jury in November 1809 (PG 4/183:26 Aug 1809; 4/195:18 Nov 1809).

(22) The arrival in Penang was also reported in MC 26/1274, 6 Mar 1810.

(23) There were Armenian merchants called Arratoon (or Aratoon) in Bombay, Calcutta and Penang: see Milburn (1813), Vol. 1:234 and Vol. 2: 170, and Lee (1978: 24, footnote 47).

"Aredist" is obscure: it is reminiscent of the Parsi name "Ardaseer." Apart from Soliman, the other creditors have been identified from Milburn and the East India Register & Directory.

(24) Curiously, the ship on which he sailed was bound for China.

(25) Hodgson (1938) does not mention the court proceedings in 1809 and 1810. He says (p. 124) that Parry wrote off the General Wellesley account as a loss in December 1808.

(26) Many years later the Dutch established that it was in fact rock crystal.

(27) The authors are identifiable from missionary literature as Elbert Nevius and William Youngblood.

(28) The original report does not seem to have survived and the date in the title as published (Hunt 1812) is questionable. The report mentions the unsuccessful attack on Sambas in November 1812, and the vessels did not return to Batavia until December.

(29) The list also includes Alexander Hare as the importer of opium from the Tweed in January 1812.

(30) The Maria and Olivia were "schooners" according to JG.

(31) This must be the connection previously made by Gibson-Hill. He briefly referred to the Coromandel affair, as reported in JG (1952: 123, footnote 9). There is no indication, even in the list of literature that he used, that he looked at PG.

(32) Phillips must have already known Burn: he had been an officer in Madras and arrived in Penang in May 1807 (PG 2/65:23 May 1807).

(33) The Java Government was not pleased with Captain Thurston, but as an officer of the Royal Navy he was outside their control.

(34) A handwritten "Clunies" might have been misread once as "Charles" but why his correct name was never given is a mystery. On one occasion the vessel commanded by "Ch. Ross" was named as the Oliver (JG 2/84:2 Oct 1813). The account by Clunies Ross leaves no doubt that there was no Captain Charles Ross.

(35) In the 1970s the company was "Indianized" and is now E.I.D. Parry (India) Ltd.

(36) John Hunt was shipwrecked in the Sulu region during an expedition in 1810 after peace was established between Spain and Britain. Captain Greig and the Lord Minto were also there (PG, 5, 241: 6 Oct 1810).

(37) Hare made a 10 day excursion from Pontianak up the river to Landak and on through the gold-mining country to Mempawah.

(38) The documents include letters from D. Smith, 25 Feb 1815 and 24 Mar 1815, and from W. Bloem (or Bloeme or Bloemsz), 27 Feb 1815. Wright (1961) does not name Smith.

(39) Gibson-Hill, perhaps tactfully, did not include the introduction in which Ross referred to the Malays of Borneo as a "piratical, slave-catching, ferocious and murderous race, the scourge of the Archipelago" who "harass and enslave the aboriginal natives" and whose piratical activities continued "as a consequence of European weakness not power" (original emphasis; Ross to Raffles, 17 Jan 1825, Raffles Collection, MSS Eur C36).


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F. Andrew Smith

School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

Waite Campus, The University of Adelaide, SA 5005

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