Sir James Brooke

1 portrait on display in Room 23 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sir James Brooke, by Sir Francis Grant, 1847 - NPG 1559 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir James Brooke

by Sir Francis Grant
oil on canvas, 1847
56 1/4 in. x 43 3/4 in. (1429 mm x 1111 mm)
Bequeathed by Sir Spenser St John, 1910
Primary Collection
NPG 1559

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Sitterback to top

  • Sir James Brooke (1803-1868), Army officer and first Raja of Sarawak. Sitter in 7 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Francis Grant (1803-1878), Portrait painter and President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 101 portraits, Sitter associated with 22 portraits.

This portraitback to top

After suppressing a rebellion in the region, in 1841 Brooke, a quixotic and adventurous man, was invited to assume government and became the Rajah of Sarawak. He instituted various reforms and put down piracy, and although charges of cruelty and illegal conduct were brought against him they could not be proved. This portrait was painted on his return to England in October 1847. Brooke, in undress naval uniform, is set against an idealized Eastern landscape, presumably intended to represent Sarawak. The picture was apparently painted as an act of friendship and given to Brooke by the artist.

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Events of 1847back to top

Current affairs

The 10 Hours Factory Act passed, regulating working hours for women and children under the age of eighteen to effectively a maximum of ten hours a day. The Communist League is founded in London, attended by Friedrich Engels. The League draws up a set of rules and aims, including overthrowing the bourgeoisie and empowering the Proleteriat, and ending class division, forming the basis of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Art and science

A good year for novels: Emily Bronte's passionate, rebellious and gothic Wuthering Heightsis published, followed shortly by her sister Charlotte's 'Jane Eyre, a story of a governess's struggle for liberty from social and gender constrictions. Drawing on a similar vein of revolution and rebellious women, William Thackeray's satirical novel Vanity Fair is serialised.


The Don Pacifico affair sparks an international incident, when the Jewish trader's business was burned in an anti-semitic attack in Athens. When the Greek government refused to compensate him, Gibraltar-born Pacifico appealed to the British government. Foreign Minister Palmerston sent a squadron into the Aegean in 1850 to seize goods of the equivalent value, leading to strained relations with Turkey and Russia, and heated debates in Parliament.

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