Joseph William Torrey, Rajah of Ambong & Maroodu

Joseph William Torrey, the "Yankee Rajah," was the only American amongst three Westerners awarded the dignity of Rajah by the Sultan of Brunei. Born in 1828, Torrey worked in publishing and the military before moving to Australia in 1853 where he worked as a clerk and merchant. He married in 1854 and had two daughters. After divorcing, he returned to the US with his daughters, who were raised by their grandparents, as Torrey sailed for Hong Kong. There, he became a newspaper editor and a shipbroker, remarried in 1863, had two more children, and purchased a ship, the Ellen.

In 1865, Torrey and Thomas Bradley Harris bought a concession in Northern Borneo from US Consul Charles Lee Moses. The Sultan had granted Moses a 10-year lease to develop the land, but Moses sold it for profit. With Chinese investors, Torrey and Harris established the American Trading Company of Borneo with the aim of founding a colony. Torrey renegotiated with the Sultan, who awarded him the dignity of Rajah of Ambong and Maroodu “with the rights....belonging to Sovereign Rulers.” The colony of Ellena, disease-ridden and underfunded, was abandoned in 1866 — leaving Harris dead of Malaria and Torrey impecunious. Fortunately, he found a buyer in Baron Gustav von Overbeck.

Torrey was US Vice-Consul in Thailand from 1877-80 and attended the visit of President Grant to King Chulalongkorn. In June 1885, the King asked Torrey — resident in the US since 1883 — to serve as his chief adviser, but Torrey died a few days later. His body was attired as an East Indian grandee and his coffin was surmounted by a crown of flowers in the gold and red colors of the flag of Ellena.



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The Yankee Rajah had one son and three daughters. Emiline Eliza (1856) and Cordelia Grace (1858) by his first wife Eliza L. Ewer, and Joseph Gendall (1864) and Elena Charlotte (1867) by his second wife Charlotte A. Mills. None of his descendants publicly claim the title of Rajah of Ambong and Maroodu.


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Unlike Sarawak, Ambong and Maroodu failed to develop as a discrete Raj, partly due to its short life. The only settlement attempted was not even contiguous with Ambong or Maroodu. Rajah Torrey’s self-perception of his royal status and his vision for his Raj is questionable given the paucity of basic markers of kingship and sovereignty; no coat of arms appears to have been created, and although a flag was designed for Ellena, its only extant representation is on Harris’ eroded gravestone in Borneo. Its inscription “Erected by H.E. the Rajah” is an isolated instance of self-perception. Unlike the passion project of one individual, Ellena’s nature as a profit-driven company outpost rendered the Rajah’s title extraneous, and his dignity subsumed under the Company's sway.

Map of North Borneo in 1899, highlighting Ambong and Maroodu (here spelled Malludu), as well as Kimanis, where in 1865 the American Trading Company of Borneo, presided by Torrey, established the settlement of Ellena (Image credit: Library of Congress)

The flag of the Colony of Ambong and Maroodu is engraved on the tombstone of Thomas Harris (Chief Secretary of the Colony) in the former settlement of Ellena in Borneo. Inscribed are the words “Erected by H.E. the Rajah.”  (Image: Public Domain)

2015 view of the site of the failed colony of Ellena, Kimanis, located in present-day Sabah, Indonesia. The slow-moving Kimanis river was conducive to malaria and other tropical diseases. Thomas Harris' gravestone is nearby. (Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas)

The 1877 concession of Sabah by the Sultan of Brunei to Baron Gustav Overbeck, who took over the rights of Ambong and Maroodu from Rajah Torrey. (Image: Wikipedia)

Reigned as

His Excellency the Rajah of Ambong and Maroodu


1865 - 1876




None took place


Raj of Ambong & Marudu (1865 – 1881)

Objects in our Collection

Carte de Visite signed by Joseph William Torrey, Rajah of Ambong and Maroodu

Signed carte de visite, 1866 

Albumen Carte de Visite signed by Joseph William Torrey, Rajah of Ambong and Maroodu, in 1866.

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