NICHOLAS TARLING (1931-2017): "The Burthen, the Risk, and the Glory": Nicholas Tarling, Britain, and Northern Borneo

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Author: Ooi Keat Gin
Date: Annual 2017
From: Borneo Research Bulletin(Vol. 48)
Publisher: Borneo Research Council, Inc
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,042 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Peter Nicholas Tarling died suddenly on 13 May 2017 while swimming in the Pacific Ocean near his home in Devonport, New Zealand. (1)

Although Nick, as he was affectionately known, might not be with us anymore, many who were close to him will miss him dearly and, in our memory, his endearing characteristics will live on. We will remember him, as I have written elsewhere, for

his thoughtful opinions, laid-back mannerism, shyness, curiosity, and genuine interest in listening to others irrespective of age or rank. The more than three decades that I [knew] Nick, he [was] consistently unassuming, generous in all scholarly endeavours, reliable, and a true friend. (2)

In this memorial, I will attempt to assess Nick's contribution to the study of Borneo history. (3) But before doing so, allow me to recall a morning in Tokyo some 24 years ago. At Sophia University, while in line to register for a conference, an elderly gentleman across in a parallel queue gave me a whimsical "wink." As a doctoral student, I was unknown, even irrelevant, to the large body of participants. Who was this "cheeky" old chap? I "replied" with a smile. Then we started to chat. His name label identified him as "Nicholas Tarling," the author of a biography of Sir James Brooke, who was the subject of my presentation. Professor Tarling said that he would attend my talk and his doing so swelled my audience to three. (4) After my conclusion, this esteemed professor stood up and posed a single question: "Did Brooke's views change over time?"

Since that initial encounter, Nick and I remained in touch, now and then meeting at conferences. We had been in more frequent and regular contacts following the inaugural (biennial) "Nicholas Tarling Conference on Southeast Asian Studies", held in Singapore in 2009. (5)

On Borneo--more precisely the British Bornean territories of Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo (present-day Sabah)--Nick produced three monographs and 16 journal articles. (6) As with all his other work, Nick's preoccupation was with British policy, its influence and impact. The rest of Borneo (Kalimantan) came, of course, within the Dutch spheres of influence.

Nick first explored British policy towards Borneo in his first book, Piracy and Politics in the Malay World, published in 1963 and, tellingly, subtitled A study of British imperialism in nineteenth-century South-east Asia, one chapter of which explored British policy responses to Sea Dayak and other marauding in Sarawak, and James Brooke's claims that the Sea Dayaks were pirates. (7)

Nick's three monographs on British Borneo are:

1. Britain, the Brookes and Brunei. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1971.

2. Sulu and Sabah: A Study of British Policy Towards the Philippines and North Borneo from the Late Eighteenth Century. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978.

3. The Burthen, the Risk and the Glory: A Biography of Sir James Brooke. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1982.

I return to the mongraphs below.

Additionally, Nick published 16 journal articles on Borneo.

I have distinguished two major themes in this latter corpus,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A545085215