Smooth sailing: 175 years of friendship, diplomatic ties

James Kon

The USS Constitution first sailed into the Brunei Bay on April 6, 1845 – more than a century ago.

The arrival of the USS Constitution signified the start of friendship and diplomatic ties between Brunei Darussalam and the United States of America. This year marked the 175th anniversary of the historic event that emphasise on free trade and navigation.

A one-of-a-kind colour painting of the ship sailing into the Brunei Bay on April 6, 1845 was done by Cheslie D’Andrea. The painting was presented to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam by Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam.

The Deputy Secretary of State led a Presidential Delegation which presented the painting as a state gift from the people of the United States to the people of Brunei on their assumption of full sovereignty in 1984.

In addition to the painting, Principal of Brunei History Centre Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri bin Begawan Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Haji Awang Umar received copies of the ship’s log and Lt Chaplin’s journal entries from the ship’s visit to Brunei.

The USS Constitution. PHOTO: US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam

Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam Daniel Lee shared the significant of the first US naval ship visit to Brunei Darussalam in a recent interview, saying, “USS Constitution is a US Naval ship build in 1797 and the ship sailed around the world between 1844 to 1846 stopping at Europe, South America, Africa and ports in Asia.

“The trip was to establish diplomatic ties, establish trade as well as conduct research and study science.”

He said, at that time, “the US was a young nation, around 60-years-old and didn’t have much experience with the world except Europe. Therefore the trip to this region is of much significance.”

The ship anchored between Labuan and Muara and officer Lt William C Chaplin took a smaller boat to head to the shore of Brunei Darussalam on April 9, 1875 who was welcomed by a nine-gun salute.

Lt William C Chaplin then met with the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II.

The officer described that they were received in a friendly manner. America wanted to establish trade with Brunei Darussalam in spices and coal.

During those days, ships were usually painted in black. However, the USS Constitution was painted white to make it cooler because it was hot when the ship was sailing in the tropical areas.

This was the beginning of the diplomatic ties and trade between Brunei Darussalam and the US. The US also stressed the importance of trade and navigating freely.

Five years later, the US Consulate from Singapore Joseph Balestier visited Brunei Darussalam in 1850 and signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II. The treaty is still in effect today.

After the treaty, he said, “Trade has officially begun and American ships will bring goods for trade with Brunei Darussalam. American merchants also notice that the Keris is of superb quality.”

The USS Constitution is currently docked in Boston and offers community outreach as well as education about the ship’s history.