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Science, Commerce, and Imperial Expansion in British Travel Literature: Hugh Clifford’s and Joseph Conrad’s Malay Fiction*
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Science, Commerce, and Imperial Expansion in British Travel Literature: Hugh Clifford’s and Joseph Conrad’s Malay Fiction*
anthropology , cannibals , civilizing mission , commerce , gentleman , Hugh Clifford , imperial expansion , Joseph Conrad , Malay Archipelago , pirates , travel literature
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    Many of Joseph Conrad’s works are set in the Malay Archipelago, specifically in East Borneo, which he visited while serving as a mate on the steamship Vidar in 1887. In fact, it was his experience of the archipelago that made him a novelist. “The Lingard Trilogy,” or his first three novels, namely Almayer’s Folly (1895), An Outcast of the Islands (1896), and The Rescue (1920)—begun in 1896 and finished later—as well as his representative Lord Jim (1900) are all about a remote settlement that is geographically suggestive of Berau—one of the Vidar’s stops on the east of Borneo—and a white adventurer and trader who virtually rules the settlement. Both the trilogy character Captain Tom Lingard, called the “Rajah Laut,” the “King of the Sea,” or “King Tom” (Conrad, Almayer’s 7; Outcast 15; Rescue 323), and the “Tuan Jim” in Lord Jim were partly based on William Lingard, a famous captain and trader in Southeast Asia, who was granted the same title Rajah Laut for his assistance to the Sultan of Berau in 1862 (Sherry 89; Hampson, Cultural 16). At the same time, the destructive actions of the fictional Lingard and Jim connect with those of Sir James Brooke, the “White Rajah,” who became the Governor of Sarawak on the northwest of Borneo in 1841; Brook later founded Labuan as a British colony off the northwestern coast in 1846 and was knighted “for his service to the [British] Crown” in 1847 (Hampson 4-5; Hay 91). Brooke’s history is mentioned in Conrad’s text, as the Malay statesman Babalatchi misses the good old days “before an English Rajah ruled in Kuching” in Sarawak (Almayer’s 134).

    Brooke’s journals were one of Conrad’s “undoubted sources,” the “dull, wise books,” which he used when writing his Malay fiction, as he remarked in reply to Sir Hugh Clifford’s criticism of his “complete ignorance of Malays and their habits and customs” in “Mr Joseph Conrad at Home and Abroad” in 1898 (qtd. in Sherry 139-140). While acknowledging his limited knowledge about Malay culture relative to the colonial official Clifford’s, Conrad still put forward “a serious traveler’s [tale]” as his source. The “serious traveler’s” books included A. Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago (1869) and J. McNair’s Perak and the Malays (1878), in addition to the Brooke journals (Sherry 141). In particular, Wallace’s travel book was Conrad’s “favourite bedside companion” (Curle 109), which was remarkable considering its opposition to the ‘free trade’ tradition advocated in British travel literature such as T. Raffles’s The History of Java (1817) and Brooke’s “Proposed Exploring Expedition to the Asiatic Archipelago” (1838). Both Raffles and Brooke viewed “commerce,” in the spirit of free trade, “as the key to relieving interior peoples from [the] oppression” of not only Malay feudal controls (of the rajah) but of Dutch monopoly, which had resisted British commercial intervention in the Malay states between the seventeenth and the late eighteenth century (Hampson, Cultural 64). Wallace opposed the principles of free trade, referring to ‘free traders’ as ‘savages’ (78), which echoes Conrad’s depiction of the savage acts of white traders with “loaded guns in their hands” (Almayer’s 101): they bring less prosperity and security than the “sudden ruin and destruction” of a settlement, leaving “only smoke, blood and dead men . . . nothing else living” (Outcast 42-43).

    In this respect, Conrad’s Malay fiction belongs to the “travel genre,” which performs the “continuous re-enactment of earlier journeys” and thus becoming a “feat of ideological productivity” (Clark 11). The nineteenth-century travel books especially “created the imperial order” for Europe (Pratt 3). It is worth noting that a reviewer of Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, marked that “Borneo, a tract hitherto untouched by the novelist,” had been “annexed by Mr. Joseph Conrad,” which may be seen as a replication of Brooke’s literal annexation of Sarawak and Labuan (qtd. in Hampson, Cultural 2). The contribution of Conrad’s fiction as travel literature to the creation of imperial order is debatable, however, as this essay reveals. In comparison, the colonial administrator Clifford’s short stories and novels about British Malaya follow the tradition of travel books, which “creates” not only “knowledge” but also “the reality it purports to describe,” the reality to fit in the imperial scheme (Hampson 66). Clifford, who is potentially “the most widely read colonial writer of the Malayan Peninsula after Conrad and Maugham” (Holden 4), stresses the “truth” of his tales despite “the garb of fiction,” deriving from “facts” or his “personal observation” in the Malay states since his arrival in 1883, in his preface to In Court and Kampong (1897) and Studies in Brown Humanity (1898). His emphasis on the truthfulness of the narrative is reminiscent of the early eighteenth-century travel fiction, such as Robinson Crusoe, which claimed to be the true account of adventure or travel while still fiction.

    The “facts” observed in travel literature, however, which build knowledge and reality about the place, are often mistaken, subjective views, as the narrative is based on personal experience. When following the eyes of previous travelers, thus merely confirming the already-known reality, the narrative is “ever fallible,” featuring a “comedy” that reveals the imperial disorder rather than order (Clark 14). In Conrad’s The Rescue, for example, Mr. Travers, who traversing the Malay archipelago keeps referring to his travel book, insists, “My book says—‘Natives friendly all along the coast!’” when he is in fact surrounded by hostile Malays (134). The Malay reality, which is constituted by the knowledge of the native being friendly and without the possibility of the native plotting the white man’s kidnapping, becomes a “farce,” as he unwittingly utters the word (265). The fact or knowledge that Malays are “friendly” or “light-hearted” or “like children” is repeatedly registered in Clifford’s work, which is equivalent to the concept of “degeneration.” The idea that Malays are degenerate, whereas the “indigenous people” are savage, as originated in one of the earliest English travel books about the archipelago, W. Marsden’s The History of Sumatra (1783), leads to the trope of “regeneration” in Clifford when observing the Malay in “his natural unregenerate state” (Hampson, Cultural 78, 56; Clifford, Court 2).

    There is another fact typically noted in travel books and important in creating the colonial reality: the landscape is invariably perceived as uninhabited or as “waste.” The perception of the desolate landscape denies both the presence of the native and their history (Spurr 98). The islands of the Southeast Asian archipelago were thus viewed as “lying neglected and unknown,” as “nature fresh from the bosom of creation, unchanged [unexploited] by man,” in Brooke’s journal (qtd. in Hampson, Cultural 65). Likewise, in Clifford’s story, “In a Camp of the S Mangs,” the indigenous people are regarded as “a race which, though it first possessed the East, with all its possibilities and riches, could utilize none of them” (Court 80). According to the Western commercial value system, “the land and its resources belong to those who are best able to exploit them” (Spurr 31). This rhetoric of appropriation links travel (discovery) and knowledge to ownership. Hence, Lingard, who has “found out” the entrance to the river and the “friendliness” of Malays who are forming “a new settlement” there, and who has “offered his counsel and his help,” regards the place “all his own,” while “the fear” of his fire arms has “secured its internal peace”; as the “only trader” on “that river of [his],” his “word is law” (Outcast 154, 36).

    In other words, it is based on the typical assumption that the Malays are friendly in travel writing that the white man “offers” his assistance to them, which in reality appropriates their rights for the sake of friendship that is “strange, profound, rare,” and drawn by “the very difference of race” (Conrad, Lord 160). It is highly symbolic that the “first hand-clasp” of “friendship” between the Malay (Bugis) chief Hassim and Lingard is exchanged over the dead body of a Malay, as if “the price of a death” were already paid; it is “friendship on Lingard’s part” and “discreet courtesy” on the part of Hassim (Rescue 72, 74). The peculiar nature of the friendship, which is founded on unbalanced power relations and inevitably leads to the appropriation or obliteration by the stronger of the weaker’s subjectivity, is clearly visualized in Clifford’s novel Sally, A Study (1902): the English girl saying, “I do want to be friends,” simultaneously warns the Malay prince Saleh, “You mustn’t say that English soldiers ran away” during the Malay disturbance in the 1870s; his resisting voice saying, “But they did,” or “I cannot be friends with people who call me blackmoore,” “soften[s] ever so little” (Sally 19-20). In this respect, it is not surprising that the Malay chief’s friendly gesture or utterance of “welcome” to the white trader equals his saying “kill him”—only if no warships followed—as Belarab confesses to Lingard (Rescue 109). The white exploring merchant’s friendship and protection, like his surveillance of the landscape, is not distant from ownership. Jim designates the Malays he has “liberated” from the native oppression as his “own people” (Lord 207); likewise, Hassim and his sister Immada, for whom Lingard helps reclaim their kingdom, are his “own people” (Rescue 388).


    The treatment of the Malay as “unregenerate” or “childlike” in travel books, which presumes the protection and guidance of the white man, was based on anthropological thought that emerged in the early nine-teenth century and suggested that “non-Western peoples were like the children of European societies” (Kuklick 86). Anthropology developed as a type of “natural history,” which was initiated by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus’s The System of Nature published in 1735. The creation of the Linnaean system to categorize all plant forms on the planet—later including animals and eventually humans—along with the major international scientific expedition launched in the same year, led to the development of natural history, which in turn effected the shift in European expansionist efforts from maritime to interior exploration in the mideighteenth century. Natural history encouraged inland or “surface mapping of the globe” in search of “commercially exploitable resources, markets, and lands to colonize,” rather than the previous “navigational mapping” in search of “trade routes” (Pratt 30). The new mode of exploration and travel was accompanied by scientific tasks, such as “specimen gathering,” which became a new theme in travel books, to classify and organize the contents of the interior as well as search for commercial produce; the term “anti-conquest” coined by Pratt refers to such activities of the scientific traveler, the innocent-looking naturalist, or the “seeing-man,” whose “imperial eyes passively look out and possess” (26, 8-9).

    European overseas expansion was effectively associated with the science of natural history, including anthropology — often termed “the reformer’s science” (Kuklick 7)—in the process of which “travel writing had a crucial part” (Bridges 61). Travel accounts incorporated the scientific “collection of natural knowledge” for the sake of “reason and public utility,” that is, for material advance of the European public (Sherman 29). Travel literature, thus, increasingly became “a profitable business,” which in turn, brought about the complete transformation of travel manuscripts by “professional writers and editors” in order to make them competitive, “usually in the direction of the novel” (Pratt 86). In this sense, Conrad’s Malay fictions developed from his travel accounts of the Southeast Asian archipelago: he remarked in A Personal Record that the writing of all his novels originated in his meeting Almayer, the only white trader on the east coast of Borneo, during his commercial journey in the region (88). In addition, much like travel writers with scientific or anthropological interests, he referred to the earlier travel writings of anthropological studies about the Malays for his secondary sources. In contrast, as a colonial official and a professional writer, Clifford’s studies on Malaya in the form of tales and novels demonstrate more typical, anthropologically-oriented accounts of travel literature.

    In Conrad’s novels, which center on the adventure of the white trader in the archipelago, however, the naturalist or the seeing-man does appear, seeking scientific knowledge as well as commercial opportunities and thus conquering by means of an “anti-conquest.” Remarkably, in Lord Jim, Stein is a trader running “a large inter-island business” and simultaneously “a naturalist” in “entomology,” a “learned collector” of dead insects; in addition, like a conqueror, he controls or at least has influence on native politics as “sometime advisor of a Malay sultan” (122-23). In the short story “Karain,” a Dutch “trader” who arrived in the Malay state having followed the Dutch “fire-ships,” is described that he, as a naturalist would have, “examined the trees, the running waters, the grasses of the bank, the slopes of our [the Malays’] hills” (23-24). In Almayer’s Folly, a “scientific explorer” is briefly mentioned (80), and in An Outcast, a “naturalist” is identified as an “orchid-hunter for commercial purposes” (275). And Lingard and Jim are often away “in the interior,” probably searching and collecting specimens—either scientific or commercial— although, ironically, the white traders themselves are marked as a “specimen” or “superior specimens” (Almayer’s 19; Lord 220, 129; Outcast 49).

    While Conrad’s white characters are mainly traders acting as colonial rulers— some with scientific interests— Clifford’s are scientific rulers, with their commercial interests rarely apparent. The latter’s protagonist Frank Austin in ‘Since the Beginning’ (1898), an English officer in the fictional state of Pelesu—representing Perak—is described as a scientific explorer or an anthropologist, for whom “things Oriental, and ‘natives’ of all sorts and conditions, possess an overpowering fascination,” and who thus wants to “study native life thoroughly” (13, 18). Yet anthropological investigators, like Austin, who were simultaneously colonial rulers, were “committed to use anthropological data” and often proclaimed “systematic misunderstanding of indigenous cultures” in the late nineteenth- and the early twentieth-century colonies (Kuklick 194, 279). In other words, anthropology served as “a disourse or a regular tropology,” rather than as a discipline, to represent “human difference” — between the European and the non-European—which was assumed to be unchanging; the differentiations aimed at “essentializations” of native characteristics (Pels 223). For example, besides the childlikeness of the Malays who were unable to use their land and its resources wisely, another similar trope was employed whereby “Asiatics,” such as the Malays, were deemed “effete or effeminate” (Thomas 133). It is notable that the Malay prince Saleh is ridiculed because his English name Sally is “a woman’s name” (Sally 18). The fixed representation or essentialization of the Malays as childlike or feminine was further exacerbated to the point of their dehumanization, ironically in friendly terms: Clifford remarks that the Malay is “as good a retriever as one would desire to possess” (Court 14), which is repeated in Conrad’s story “The Lagoon,” where the white merchant notes that he likes his Malay friend, though “not so much perhaps as a man likes his favourite dog” (144).

    Such systematic misrepresentation of the Malay in travel literature, as in Clifford’s and in Conrad’s to a lesser degree, fit with the evolutionary — early anthropologist — argument on cultural “degeneration” on the part of “inferior” peoples and led to the diffusionist theory that the inferior people’s “population was likely to decline” when they were “under the influence of bearers of a superior culture” (Kuklick 162). Clifford thus writes in “Up Country”: “there is no blinking the fact that the first, immediate, and obvious effects of our spirit of progress upon the weaker races, tend towards degeneration” (my italics) (Court 110-11). The anthropological “fact” of degeneration is supported by the “morals” of the Malays, which are “those of the street of London after eleven o’clock on a Saturday night” (12). The degenerate Malays are then “doomed to speedy extinction” (80), as echoed in Travers’s statement in Conrad that “if the inferior race must perish, it is . . . a step forward . . . the aim of progress” (Rescue 148). The Malays’ fate is detected even in their music, like the “very voice of the Malayan Race crying in the Wilderness”; while they appear “childlike in their feckless lightheartedness,” their soul is full of “overwhelming, all-pervading sadness,” as they are “pre-destined to be blotted out of existence . . . by contact and intercourse with a stronger, harder race” (Beginning 68).

    Undoubtedly, anthropological studies of colonial rulers like Austin—and the author Clifford—about the Malays’ “wants and troubles” are not so much rooted in “love of the Malays” as in a desire for “personal knowledge” that is useful for administering the people and gathering the produce (Beginning 99). This was what Conrad noticed when he reviewed Clifford’s Studies in Brown Humanity in “An Observer in Malaya,” which was published earlier than the latter’s review of his novel in 1898. Conrad points out in the article that although the author Clifford is “most convincing” with the “aspect of nature” to be exploited, there is no mention of “his affection” for the people (Conrad, Notes 59). For Clifford, the Malays may well be “less than nothing,” as Mrs. Travers treats them in Conrad, for “no [white] one understands” or “know[s] the truth” about the Malays (Rescue 391, 136). Likewise, it is “impossible [for Jim] to fathom a story” told by the Malays; “the trouble” for the “virtual ruler” is “to get at the bottom of anything” about the ruled Malays (Lord 164, 166). Ironically then, Conrad remarks that Clifford’s book, armed with “an effective sureness of knowledge,” shows “only truth,” which requires no artistic appreciation; or if an “art,” which it is as a work of fiction, the book—“like faith, enthusiasm, or heroism”—“veils part of the truth of life,” the truth of the Malays, which Clifford, “a [white] ruler,” ignores or does not understand (Notes 60). Clifford’s knowledge or truth is one-sided—only the white man’s truth.

    Notably, the white man’s truth, which is evolutionary anthropological knowledge, represented part of the ideology of the English middle classes, to which evolutionists and colonial officials mainly belonged. Previously enlisted from the aristocracy yet elected through competition after the 1880s, Malay colonial officials were increasingly composed of middle-class gentlemen who had passed the examination. It was inevitable that evolutionists, often colonial rulers, served to “justify [both] the emergence of the middle classes” and the colonial intervention they served (Kuklick 35). Evolutionists identified “rationality”—which the middle classes’ efforts embodied—with “morality,” arguing that the capacity for “material advance” in a society “through scientific management of human and natural resources” was proportional to the degree of “repression” of the people’s “animal instincts” (84). In other words, middle-class gentlemen, with the ability to achieve material wealth, were viewed as morally or intellectually superior. The gentlemen, then, as scientifically-oriented colonial officials, have the right and duty to protect and guide inferior peoples. “The imperial mission,” as Cain and Hopkins argue, was “the export version of the gentlemanly order . . . the idea of responsible progress, for the battle against evil, for the performance of duty, and for the achievement of honour” (qtd. in Holden 50). The evolutionary and progressive notion of gentlemanliness, representing English characteristics, is suggested in Clifford’s “At the Heels of the White Man”: “We are a great and peculiar people . . . quite ready to wear our souls out in the struggle . . . for the ultimate good of the folk we try to rule and serve” (Studies 125). The white rajah Lingard directly refers to it: “I know what a gentleman is . . . what a gentleman would do. . . . Well, I am going to do that” (Rescue 164). Even the “latter-day buccaneer” who takes advantage of Jim and tries to plunder Patusan is called “Gentleman Brown” (Lord 214, 210).

    Interestingly, Malays, likewise, are often viewed as gentlemen, especially in Clifford, which coincides with the anthropological thinking that “ruling classes” in native societies are “closer to British gentlemen in manners and attitudes” (Kuklick 86). It should be noted that Malays are not a homogeneous race, as the islands are occupied by all different ethnic subgroups. Therefore, Conrad avoids using the rather erroneous term Malays, with different peoples having separate entities—as Bugis, Sulus, Ilanuns, and Arabs—all inhabiting their own corner of the archipelago in his text. Nevertheless, Clifford treats them all as Malays—although his Malays are mostly confined to those of the Peninsula or British Malaya—of “a superior race” to the aboriginal tribe Sakai, the lowland Semang or S Mang, who are “supposed to be the first family of our human stock that ever possessed these [Malay] glorious lands” (Court 46, 78). The “animal nature” of the Sakai is manifested in the fact that they are mostly awake by night, ceaselessly “jabber[ing],” and that they “never bathe” with their “hides” covered with skin disease (105). There is yet another interior people, the “up-river tribes” of Dyaks, the native of Borneo, who are “eternally quarrelling” with the Malays on the coast who regard them as “no better than monkeys” (Almayer’s 27; Outcast 90). In this context, Clifford observes that “intensely self-respecting,” the Malays possess “one of the most characteristic qualities of the English gentleman” (Studies 122). Similarly in Conrad, the Bugis chief Hassim is a gentleman in saying, “Promises made by a man of noble birth live as long as the speaker endures” (Rescue 234). Still, Clifford’s tales of violence incurred by the interracial relationship between the Malay man and the Sakai woman or the Dyak man and the female orang-utan—literally meaning “jungle dweller” like the Sakai— that appears “strangely and most repulsively human” suggest his anxiety about the white man’s sexual involvement with the Malay woman (Studies 255, 259).


    It was a fact in the white man’s anthropology that the Malays were degenerate, though relatively superior to the inland peoples and even comparable to the English gentlemen. The colonial system of the British Advisor or Resident was thus introduced in the name of the regeneration of Malays to the state of Perak in 1874, in which Clifford’s novels ‘Since the Beginning’ and Saleh: A Sequel were set, although the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore — the acquisition of Penang having begun British colonial rule in Malaya in 1786—had been under direct British control as a crown colony since 1867. The Resident, to whose position Clifford rose in Pahang in 1896, acted as a virtual ruler, “the only King” of the Malay state (Saleh 171). Although the Sultan was “still nominally the ruler . . . euphemistically said to govern ‘by the advice of the British Resident,’ all things were done by the white men in his [the sultan’s] name” (147). From this perspective, Clifford writes, “Pahang is now [under the Resident] a free country” (Studies 37), liberated from the “horrors of native rule” (Court 2). His narrative asserting that British protection, securing “personal liberty and peace,” brought a “large measure of material prosperity” parallels Lingard’s statement, “I brought prosperity . . . peace and happiness there [to Sambir]. I am more master there than his Dutch Excellency down in Batavia ever will be” (Saleh 280; Outcast 37).

    Significantly, Lingard’s claim brings up the issue of the English rivalry with the Dutch, who, succeeding the Portuguese—who had defeated the Spanish—had dominated the Southeast Asian archipelago since the end of the sixteenth century. The Dutch competition was also elaborated by Clifford in “British and Siamese Malaya”: “The Malays [in British Malaya] are in the enjoyment of complete individual liberty,” for British rule has enabled the Malays to “lead their own lives”; yet “this privilege . . . has been most denied to their compatriots in the Dutch Colonies,” as the Dutch rulers’ opinion is that “an indolent brown population must be made diligent by law” (qtd. in Hodlen 62). Notwithstanding Clifford’s stress on the quality of British colonial administration, however, it should be noted that the essential nature of the rivalry between the English and the Dutch in the archipelago was of commerce rather than of administration or territorial occupation. Dutch domination was itself “of legal contracts and enforced monopolies,” “with the small Dutch naval presence carrying out a policing role” (Hampson, Cultural 39). In sum, Dutch authority was fragile, just as the nationality of the Dutch merchant Almayer or Willems changes easily to and from English, in a place like Berau or the fictional Sambir on the northeast of Borneo. North Borneo was excluded from the “Treaty of 1820,” while South Borneo was placed “under the sole protection of Holland,” by the treaty’s division of the archipelago between the Dutch and the English (Rescue 147). In this context, Sambir can serve as a “model state” to the Dutch and at the same time a center for “gunpowder smuggling” in the cause of anti-Dutch insurgency that spreads from Sumatra “over the whole archipelago”; the Dutch navy officers are forced to admit that the Malays “do what they like” there (Almayer’s 24, 56, 96). Similarly, Patusan, which may also represent Berau on the northeast coast, is “not judged ripe” “for all its rotten state” for European or Dutch “interference” (Lord 142). It is this relative independence of the location that allows the English traders Jim and Lingard to control Patusan and Sambir, respectively, just as the English Rajah Brooke historically ruled Sarawak and Labuan on the northwest coast.

    On the other hand, Lingard’s efforts to restore Hassim to his kingdom of Wajo in South Celebes (Sulawesi), off the east of Borneo, may well “interfere with the Dutch” colonial policy (Rescue 101). Lingard’s action, though personal, has political implications, as Wajo belongs to the Dutch-controlled region, which may create a commercial conflict with the Dutch. Moreover, Lingard, by intervening in the native internal troubles under foreign control, acts just like a typical free trader. Easily mistaken for a “pirate” and appearing “in a book about buccaneers” (Rescue 126), the English private merchant represents the free traders or pirates who were “demonized as ‘renegadoes,’ euphemized as ‘privateers,’ and glorified as ‘bucaneers’” in travel literature; it was the piratelike free trader, such as the fictional Tom Lingard or the real William Lingard, who played “a central—and ambiguous—role in the creation of the British Empire” (Sherman 28). Lingard, “the very great man,” is feared by the Malays because he, the “King of the Sea,” has defeated all other traders, even challenging the other white Dutch traders; in other words, the English privateer is “a very rich man” possessing all sorts of things and above all, “fire-arms” (Rescue 414). Likewise, Jim is called by the Malays “Tuan” or “Lord” because he, as the trader representing “Stein & Co.,” is “the only one in Patusan who possesse[s] a store of gunpowder” (Lord 220). The British imperial expansion, in this sense, was inseparable from the activities of the free or private trade, which was in turn deeply involved with piracy, competing with other European sea powers.

    Historically, it was inevitable that the English engaged in “piracy on a national scale,” as they were backward compared to other Europeans in overseas adventures (Motohashi 90). The first English circumnavigation of the globe by Francis Drake in 1580, whose sea-life was mostly devoted to “piratical pursuits” (Sherman 28), took place nearly sixty years later than the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan’s, which was funded by the Spanish king. The earliest foundation of the English colony in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, which was proposed by Walter Raleigh who explored the region in the 1580s, was more than one hundred years behind the Spanish precedent. A century after Columbus, Raleigh, also in search of gold in vain, went to South America—then part of the Spanish Main— which led to his writing Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana in 1595. Significantly, Raleigh’s accounts of the expedition, which included the first depiction of the “Cannibals” or “Caribs” in English writing—which first appeared in Columbus’s Journal in 1492—created “a sense of heroism” out of “an otherwise unsuccessful venture” and became a tradition in English travel literature (26), particularly in Conrad. In this context, travel writings about the belated English colonial enterprises were forced to display “a patriotic rhetoric” that glorified the piratical activities of English privateers in “political and commercial competition” with other colonial powers (18).

    The colonial competition, which rendered piracy prominent in English overseas enterprises, also made the English denounce the rival colonist as well as the natives, designating them as “Cannibals,” which originally referred to the tribe Caribs who “possessed weapons and dared to resist” the white colonists (Motohashi 89). The meaning of “Cannibals” was transfigured from man-eating or natural barbarity to “commercial greed” enacted by both the Cannibals who sell their own family members “for material profit” and the Spaniards who buy and sell them again for greater profit; this served to differentiate between “the bad Spanish and the good English” and justify colonial activities of the English opposing the rival colonist (93). Significantly, the designation of the hostile native as Cannibals in America — the practice of which is repeated in other colonial lands—connects with two separate parallels in British Malaya. First, the Malay indigenous S Mangs, like the American native Caribs, were suspected of being cannibals, changing into the “Hairy Face,” the “Were Tiger” or the “man-eaters” at night (Court 30, 91). Second and ironically, the native Malays—particularly the Bugis—who monopolized commerce in the region were marked as “pirates,” a modern term which replaced that of cannibals and which was consistent in the implication of cannibals as commercially greedy. The label of “piracy,” like cannibalism, was utilized to condemn the Malay “indigenous agency which posed competition or resistance”—or “even just independent activity”—and to justify the colonial activities of Europeans (Hampson, Cultural 41). Thus, an English travel writer notes in the Malay Peninsula in 1883 that the police station that represents “the security and justice of [British] rule” has been placed on the river “to keep down piracy,” which means “a particular mode of raising revenue” there by “one or more river rajahs” (Bird 81-82). Similarly, Clifford speaks of “the Fisher Folk [who] were once pirates” before the British rule that forced them to settle on the East Coast of the Peninsula (Court 68).

    In fact, as Vlekke argues, piracy suddenly increased in the Southeast Asian seas at the end of the eighteenth century when European colonists began to see the native commercial monopoly as piracy, “to distinguish the ‘pirate’ from the ‘honest trader’” (qtd. in GoGwilt 83). In this respect, Clifford’s accounts reveal that the Malays “come up stream to ‘barter’” with the indigenous Sakai or S Mangs and take “the priceless rice” from them, “almost by force,” in exchange “for a few axe-heads” (Court 45). The commercial exchange between the forceful Malays and the indigenous tribe, suspected of man-eating, evokes not only that between the greedy Spaniards and the American natives marked as cannibals, but also that between the privateering English and the Malays labeled as pirates. From this perspective, it can be inferred that the Malays were either not pirates, or at least, not much different from the English traders called privateers or buccaneers. In Conrad’s novels, then, the Malay pirates are depicted more as traders than pirates. The former chief of pirates Omar, the “great robber,” is remembered to have had “much merchandise and trading praus” as well as “praus for fighting” by his faithful follower Babalatchi who is “a vagabond of the seas” and who used to lead “the Sulu rovers” (Outcast 38, 42). Just as the word “Malay” is rarely used racially and more geographically, the term “vagabond” or “rover” instead of “pirate” is employed in Conrad. In truth, the Malay “rovers” or traders were the ones who played “an occult but important part in all those national risings” and “the organized piratical movements,” just as the English traders or pirates played an ambiguous but central role in British colonial expansion, which “seriously endangered the Dutch rule in the East” in the first half of the nineteenth century (Rescue 68). In this context, as Resink briefs, “piracy” only referred to “the international shipping and trade which was maintained and conducted by Indonesians [the South Asian islanders] until they were gradually pushed aside by the Dutch” and then the English (qtd. in GoGwilt 83).


    British imperial expansion was essentially taken on by individual explorers who were commercially motivated, in the name of science, as observed so far in British travel literature, especially in Conrad’s Malay novels. Notably, James Cook’s voyages to the Pacific Ocean, which resulted in the discoveries of Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand in the second half of the eighteenth century, were carried out “under secret orders to look out for commercial opportunities and threats” (Pratt 34). The commercial motive behind British expansion and associated with the science of natural history generated the so-called “free trade imperialism” between 1830 and the 1880s (Brantlinger x). Yet the idea of trade was obscured by that of the civilizing mission, or the “New Imperialism,” in which the reformist science of anthropology was emphasized in the late nineteenth century. The emergence of new imperialism, as the self-assigned task of civilization, rather than commercial exploitation, was succinctly summed up in Chamberlain’s “The True Conception of Empire”: “the sense of possession has given place to . . . the sense of obligation,” which has brought “security and peace and comparative prosperity” to the colonies (212-13). The change in the British colonial policy or claim signified crises in commercial expansion due to severe international rivalry and native resistance, which are more explicitly narrated in Conrad’s than in Clifford’s fiction. In other words, Conrad’s novels reveal that the new imperialism is still a commercial one, only obscured by the ideas of the enlightening mission, which, unlike other travel literature including Clifford’s, disturbs rather than contributes to the new imperial order. Clifford’s writing, on the other hand, is comprised of the rhetoric of the new imperial order, such as gentlemanly duty—going beyond the tropes of cannibals or pirates that are associated with commercial imperialism.

    Inevitably, however, the desire of commercial pursuits, which had long driven colonial enterprises, haunts Clifford’s as well as Conrad’s writing. In Conrad, English colonial domination for the sake of commercial interests is demonstrated indirectly by the way of the Dutch: they “watched from afar” until the Bugis were exhausted with their own “great trouble” in Celebes; then the Dutch “fire-ships” appeared at the mouth of the rivers, and “their great men came in boats full of soldiers” to talk of “protection and peace”; “very soon their traders came” under “a promise of safety”; “the smoke of Dutch warships stood out from the open sea,” and the Bugis were “too weak to forget treaties” and demand “toll” from the Dutch traders, which would have been equated with piracy (“Karain” 23). The gradual process of Dutch intervention, leading to their commercial monopoly in the Celebes states in the 1870s, is paralleled by the progressive increase of British influence, both commercially and politically, in the Malay states from the 1870s on. Clifford writes in a story that “in 1873, the people of Pahang” gathered, “at the invitation of the British Government,” to conclude “the protracted struggles” among “Malay Rajas, foreign mercenaries, and Chinese miners” (Court 94). Eventually, the British political efforts at intervention in the Malay conflicts were followed by Clifford’s mission in 1887 to set up “a British agent with consular powers” in Pahang and “to gain British control” over its foreign relations (Hampson, “Clifford” 153). The “primary motivation,” however, for the establishment of the Residency system in Pahang was “the protection of British commercial interests” (Holden 56).

    From this perspective, Clifford’s writing hints at the excess of British commercial efforts in Malaya, apart from his apparent detachedness from it, as in the forced bartering between the Malay and the Sakai discussed earlier. Clifford seems to feel uneasy that commercial rapacity, inherent in the spirit of free trade, provokes “primordial reversion” to violence, rather than promoting “a new [civilized] governmental order” under the Residency (Holden 49). Still, the commercial greediness of English traders is conveniently displaced to the Malays or specifically the Chinese in Clifford, just as it is to the Cannibals and the Spaniards in Raleigh. The Chinese Malays, derogatorily called the “Chinaman” and even killed by the Malays for fun, are depicted as the most rapacious and cannibalistic in “His Little Bill”: the Chinese cooly, “one of the lowest specimens” of human stock who thinks only about “rice” and “opium,” has “an innate love of money”; when his bill is not to be paid, the “animal part” of his nature, under the “very thin coating of humanity,” breaks out and indulges in “a hideous revel of satisfied revenge” (Studies 55-56, 64). Subtitled as “A Study in Chinese Psychology,” the story rendered Clifford vulnerable to a criticism for “his utter ignorance of ethnology” about the Chinese (qtd. in Holden 123). The Chinese Malays are associated with opium trade in both Clifford and Conrad: Almayer’s neighbor Jim-Eng, “the Chinaman,” frequently appears with an opium pipe. It was “the British,” however, who “sold the opium importation monopolies to Chinese merchants” to meet the expenditure of maintaining “free ports” in Malaya (Holden 55). It is revealing in this context that the English “White Trader” who first arrives in the Malay state is treated as “a new kind of moneygrubbing Chinaman” (Beginning 12). Without doubt, the establishment of the British Residency leads to the proliferation of “Chinese or Indian” “shops” in the “town of Malaya,” where the native Malays have been “forced out of existence by superior energy” or ability to compete for “wealth and power” (Saleh 168). Paradoxically, the Chinese Malays, “one of the lowest,” connect with the “superior” English, or the “superior energy” of the latter to the commercial rapacity of the former, which proves to be a contradiction conceived in the new imperialism supported by the science of anthropology.

    Significantly, the racial superiority attributed to the English in Clifford is specifically marked as less of “superior virtue” than “superior strength” or technology to make gunpowder in Conrad (Rescue 3). Ironically, the scientific advancement is received as “supernatural power” by the Malays, which renders the English merchant Jim the “incarnation of unfailing truth” and “unfailing victory” (Lord 220). The power of the English trader is thus feared as “magic,” the “charm” of which Karain asks of the English merchants for his suffering. The charm that is symbolically improvised from “a Jubilee sixpence” embodies the Malay’s perception of the Englishmen’s strength that is partly illusory or superstitious (“Karain” 39). The Malay’s understanding of Englishman is also penetrating, however, as in the story spreading afar that “a mysterious white man,” Jim, has found “a fabulously large emerald” in Patusan; the “myth,” which is “as old as the arrival of the first white men in the Archipelago,” illuminates the nature of the Englishman—indistinguishable from other Europeans— as a treasure hunter or profit seeker, notwithstanding his pretense of a civilizing mission (Lord 171). The English white trader does “not” know “when he is not hungry,” as Babalatchi remarks, which drives him to engage less in honest trade than “the quiet deal in opium” and “the illegal traffic in gunpowder” and “smuggled firearms” (Outcast 174, 10). In this sense, the charm made of the coin for Karain reveals the essence of British power as commercial, money-making or money-grubbing.

    While the Malays fear that the English trader possesses magic power embodied in gunpowder, he mistakes the Malays for friends, as examined earlier in this essay. A “talisman” of Doramin’s and Hassim’s rings represents the Malay friendship and faithfulness to Stein (and Jim) and Lingard, respectively, to whom the rings are given, just as the coin-charm symbolizes the English supernatural power to Karain. It is more likely, however, that Doramin and Hassim intend faithfulness from fear rather than friendship, and still, each keeps faithful to what the ring signifies at the risk of his heir’s life and his own life or kingdom, respectively. On the other hand, the English merchant Jim is faithful to his “own ends,” his “ideal of conduct,” and Lingard to “his impulse” and “his desire”; acting in conflict with “the bonds of protecting affection” that is created by the civilizing mission, both follow their “exalted egoism” (Lord 211, 253; Rescue 99, 115). The excessive egoism is as destructive as the greedy piratical commercial activities, as proved by the killing of Doramin’s son by Brown, for which Jim is responsible, and the death of Hassim and Immada by the explosion of the storage ship Emma, for which Lingard is responsible. In this respect, the talisman-like ring represents not only the Englishman’s misperception about the Malays but also his misconception about himself. The English merchants, like Conrad’s protagonists, like to believe that they are made of “another essence,” completely different from the Malays, and that they can protect and guide the Malays with their “ideas” about “ethical progress” and not firearms (Lord 140, 206). The English traders are either “fools” believing, as Babalatchi repeatedly remarks, or hypocrites pretending, as the half-cast Nina points out, that they can change the stripes of a tiger “by the power of many speeches,” which never happens according to the “wisdom of [the] ignorant Malay men” (Rescue 198).

    The commercial drive or impulse in British expansionism is contradictory to its ideal of the civilizing mission, as suggested in Conrad’s novels, which makes the English traders behave in conflicting ways. The English traders, also acting as the missionary of civilization, “keep faith” with the Malays — only until they choose to abandon them— who are racially or in strength inferior, as Babalatchi pinpoints, while they know “only deception” with other Europeans, who are racially and technologically equal (Outcast 48). The contradiction or hypocrisy is caught in the first meeting between Lingard and Hassim, when the former rejects the latter’s idea that the stronger makes the weaker “pay tribute for their land”; Lingard affirms that it is “not the custom of white men,” to which Hassim responds that the Dutch white men “want tribute from [Wajo]” (Rescue 75-76). In fact, the English trader Lingard, no different from the Dutch, also “exact[s] payment every year” from Sambir but regards the payment as return for his protection (Outcast 90). The contradictory view of the enlightened English trader, distanced from the Malay point of view, is well demonstrated when England, the heart of the empire where the sun is never supposed to set, is referred to by the little Nina as “the land where the sun sleeps”; furthermore, the “high” house she wants Lingard to build for her, “like the places where [her white brothers] dwell” in England, turns out to be “a house of cards” that “collapse[s] suddenly before the child’s breath” (149-51).

    The collapse of the “house of cards” built by the enlightened English trader and the image of England as the sun-sleeping country is powerfully suggestive of the imminent crisis of British imperial expansion at the turn of the century. Significantly, the foundation of British power was weak as if made of “cards,” that is, the empire was built on mere “words” of protection and civilization. Greedy for commercial exploitation, the empire expanded with the threat of gunpowder or the magic-like superstitious power. The superficial claim of the civilizing mission, then, could easily fall away by the breath, the mere movement of the half-caste girl or the Malays, who only “looked at” the English trader “without a murmur, without a sigh, without a movement” when he first came to their land, as vividly detailed in Conrad’s “Youth” (42). The enlightening mission of the English trader is created when he meets their still gaze or “stare,” which fascinates him, and which he mistakes for their friendliness, trust, and request for his protection. When the silence that maintains the contradiction of the enlightened commercial imperialism is broken, however, the British expansion could collapse like the house of cards. Or it could be stuck like the yacht the Traverses sail on, or better, Lingard’s “grounded ship” Emma which, in representing British “wealth and power,” contains everything “to feed the friends and to combat the enemies” in the way of its expansion (Rescue 278). Conrad’s Malay fiction, in which the British power is represented by the house of cards that collapses or a grounded ship that has eventually “blown up” (442), serves to disturb rather than contribute to the imperial order, unlike other contemporary travel fictions such as Clifford’s.

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