Plumtree to Sarawak
The Curious Story of Reuben George (Walker) Brooke

September 2005 Meeting Report

Speaker - Margaret Wright


Margaret’s talk included an entertaining element of travelogue in addition to an account of her researches into the curious story of Reuben George Brooke, whose name appears on a memorial stone in Plumtree churchyard. What we can glean of his story leaves us with a number of (as yet) unresolved questions. Margaret here recaps the principal puzzles which she set before us.

After receiving an enquiry about the memorial stone of Reuben George Brooke, alleged to be the illegitimate son of Sir James Brooke KCB Rajah of Sarawak, in Plumtree Church, my research - fascinating though it proved to be - raised more questions than answers.

The first is whether Reuben George was actually the son of James Brooke? After sifting a considerable amount of evidence biographers can draw no firm conclusions. James did not marry and had a fondness for young men and this, together with controversy about the site of a severe bullet wound he suffered when 25, are the main factors making judgements difficult. There is much speculation about who the mother of Reuben George was. In his letters, James says she gave her son up to protect her name, a fact which has for over 70 years remained a well-kept secret. Perhaps it should remain that way!

Little is known about the childhood of Reuben George, who was brought up with the surname Walker. Perhaps when the 1841 and 1851 census returns come on line it will be possible to learn more.

Reuben George married Martha Elizabeth Mowbray who was baptised in St Nicholas’ Church Nottingham on March 3rd 1844. The Mowbray family were living in Castle Terrace, Nottingham, in 1851 but were in Westmoreland in 1861. The couple married in Westmoreland in 1862 and had returned to Nottingham by 1865, the year their second child died and their third child Ruby James was born. Stuart, their fourth child was baptised in Plumtree Church in 1868 and buried in 1870. Reuben George was in Plumtree on the night of the census in 1871 and according to the logbook Ruby James was re-admitted to school in May 1871. It would be very satisfying to know why they decided to live in Nottingham and especially why they were living next to the Farmer’s Arms in Plumtree from at least 1868 to 1871. The records give Reuben’s occupation as ‘Gentleman’, and he was no doubt living on the annuity provided by his father after he died in 1868.

The father of Martha Elizabeth Mowbray was a sculptor. When his wife moved back to Westmoreland he remained working in Nottingham and was in lodgings there in 1871 and 1881. It would be interesting to know what he was working on.

In 1874 Reuben George sailed for Australia and lost his life when his ship the British Admiral was wrecked off the coast of Tasmania. At that time he had three surviving sons and a new baby (who died 4 years later). By then three of his children had died in infancy. Why, one wonders, did he go?

William Wilkinson, who sent me the original enquiry, wrote to Plumtree Church to see if they could add anything to the information I had sent him. He was amused to be sent a copy of a short article I wrote for the Church magazine which mentioned his name as being the person who set me off on the research in the first place!

Answers to any of the above questions will be gratefully received!