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Siam (now known as Thailand) has been populated since the dawn of civilization in Asia; origins of the Thai people include conflicting opinions. There has been continuous habitation in what is now Thailand for over 10,000 years. Thailand lies between the two great civilizations of India and China and it has been much influenced by the both. Coastal trade came up the river to Siam, as the old capital now known as Ayutthaya, was called. Elephants or ox carts also carried goods across the narrow isthmus to avoid the long and pirate infested route through the Malacca Straight.
The Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). 1893.
It is presumed that about 4,500 years ago, Thais lived in northwestern Szechuan in China and later migrated down to Thailand along the southern part of China. They split into two main groups. One settled down in the North and became the kingdom of "Lanna" and the other one is in further south, which afterward was defeated by the Khmers and became the kingdom of "Sukhothai".
The Ayutthaya kings (14th and 15th centuries) were not only Buddhist kings who ruled according to the dhamma (dharma), but they were also devaraja, god-kings whose sacred power was associated with the Hindu, gods Indra and Vishnu.
The King of Siam's Palace
To many Western observers, the kings of Ayutthaya were treated as if they were gods. The French Abbe de Choisy, who came to Ayutthaya in 1685, wrote that, "the king has absolute power. He is truly the god of the Siamese: No-one dares to utter his name."
Another 17th century writer, the Dutchman Van Vliet, remarked that the king of Siam was "honoured and worshipped by his subjects more than a god.
Buddha. Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayutthaya, Thailand
In 1767 Burma struck at Siam again and reduced the great city of Ayutthaya to a pile of rubble and it never recovered, the capital was recreated at Bangkok. Slowly the kingdom of Siam recovered under the new Chakri Dynasty.
The Galleries, Royal Monastery
Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
The Grand Palace has an area of 218,400 sq. metres and is surrounded by walls built in 1782. The length of the four walls is 1,900 metres. Within these walls are situated government offices and the Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha besides the royal residences. When Siam restored law and order after the fall of Ayutthaya the monarch lived in Thonburi on the west side of the river. Rama I, on ascending the throne, moved the centre of administration to this side of the Chao Phraya; and, after erecting public monuments such as fortifications and monasteries, built a palace to serve not only as his residence but also his offices--the various ministries, only one of which remains in the palace walls. This palace came to be known as the Grand Palace, in which the earliest edifices contemporary with the foundation of Bangkok were the two groups of residences named the Dusit Maha Prasat and the Phra Maha Monthian.
Wat Pho, named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived, is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho is also known as "The Temple of the Reclining Buddha" due to the 15 meter high, 43 meter long Buddha image it shelters, covered with gold leaf and baring four meter long feet encrusted with exquisite mother-of-pearl (or nacre) decorations. Located just next to the grand palace, Wat Pho also houses one thousand buddha images and 91 chedis (stupas), including four very impressive chedis dedicated to the four chakri kings.
London and China Telegraph, May 15, 1876, London, United Kingdom
SIAM - BANGKOK
The Siamese Government Gazette of the 12th March contains a letter from his Excellency Chow Phya P'ut'arahpai, Commander- in-Chief of his Siamese Majesty's Forces in the northeast of Siam; one letter from Phya Peechai, a statement given by P'ee-ah-pron-supah, and a translation of a letter from the leader of the Cheen Hau raiders. They are interesting, as they give information concerning localities which have seldom, if ever, been visited by foreigners.
The first series of the Siamese native holidays, designated by the Siamese the Krut, will commence on the 24th March, and will close after the 26th. The common people have no difficulty in knowing the precise days of these festivities. The first day of the waxing of the fifth moon is the true time of the Krut, and everybody in every part of the Kingdom of Siam knows when this will occur. Hence Krut may be denominated the popular new year, occurring invariably on a fixed day of a fixed lunation.
A new palace is to be erected for his Royal Highness the Prince of Siam, the youngest full brother of the present King.
The Rev. S. J. Smith announces his departure as follows: - The owner of the Bangkolem printing-office, and proprietor and editor of the Siam Weekly Advertiser, takes his departure for China, America, and Europe on the 25th inst., and proposes being absent about one year.
We leave Mrs. Smith in charge. We are sure everything will be done so far as possible to meet the wants of our patrons and supporters, and we are sure also our considerate and staunch supporters will feel a pleasure in making everything easy for the lady in charge. We cannot place their business and interests in more trustworthy, diligent, and efficient hands.
In taking a temporary leave we tender to all our patrons our best thanks for their kind consideration, support, and innumerable attentions, and wish them much prosperity and success in their respective vocations. Adieu till we meet again.
November 1, 1892, London and China Telegraph, London, United Kingdom
THE BIRTHDAY FESTIVITIES.
His Majesty's birthday celebrations were favoured with truly Royal weather. The conventional methods of honouring the anniversary were for the most part adhered to, there being public audiences granted to the officials and to the diplomatic body, at which the presents offered to his Majesty were received, and an address read, whilst in the evening the various Ministers and Consuls were entertained at dinner by the Foreign Minister, in lieu of the ball given to the general community in past years. For three evenings Bangkok was ablaze with illuminations.
The first levee took place in the Royal Palace, the Chakree Maharrasaht, at noon, and was attended by a brilliant gathering of the princes, nobles, and officials. One o'clock was appointed for the audience of the Corps Diplomatique and Consular body, who were received by H. R. H. Prince Devawongse, the Foreign Minister, Captain Jones, V.C., H. B. M. Minister Resident, as the doyen of the body, said:
The representatives of the Treaty Powers gladly avail themselves of the privilege to approach your Majesty on the anniversary of a day so intimately associated with the prosperity and progress of Siam. We hasten, to offer to your Majesty our respectful and cordial congratulations on this most auspicious occasion, and we earnestly hope that Providence will prolong a reign which your Majesty has devoted hitherto to the peace and happiness of your people, and the advancement of this favoured land.
His Majesty, in reply, said: It is with great pleasure that I have again seen the representatives of the Treaty Powers on this auspicious day, and the more delight to my mind is to have heard from you your congratulation on my birthday. The manner in which you have endeavoured to conduct and maintain the good relations are, as I have seen, to my entire satisfaction and desire to strengthen and foster these bonds of friendship. I beg to thank you all sincerely for the good wishes you have expressed.
In the evening the Princes, diplomatic body, and leading officials were entertained at a banquet in the Foreign Office by H. R. H. Prince Devawongse.
The illuminations were of a most elaborate order. A trip down the river on any of the three nights during which they were kept up afforded a spectacle not easily forgotten.
May 29, 1894, London and China Telegraph,, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom
. . . In Bangkok we have an instance of the white rice industry being pioneered by a Singapore Chinaman, a British subject, supported by his Scotch engineers, and, after some years, the European millers in Bangkok followed his lead. Of late years, the Bangkok and Patriew rice mills have been a favourite investment of Siamese princes and nobles, who now own many of the mills, or hold mortgages on them. The wealthy Siamese princes have always been fond of trade, and, after the treaties were made, they gave their support very freely to the Bangkok Chinese, who carried on a large trade with Siamese capital.
The chief export of rice is to Hong Kong, closely followed by Singapore. In a year, when we have a full crop to handle, Siam exports rice direct to Bremen, Hamburg, Liverpool, and there is now a growing trade to South America. It is interesting to see how very largely the rice trade of Siam is connected with British trade. The native industry of growing paddy is almost entirely in Siamese hands, as is natural, and merchants do not yet advance against growing crops; it is as well to add it is seriously to be hoped for their own sakes they will never try such advances. But after the natives have brought the rice to the mills, we find all the machinery is Scotch or English; that the bags for packing the rice are made in Calcutta in the great jute mills there, which in themselves are one of the many strong marks of British enterprise in India; that the steamers which take the rice away are for the most part British, and the last, but not least, the financing for the shipments is carried on by British banks. The direct export of rice from Siam to such countries as Germany, Java, Manila, South America, is financed almost entirely through British bankers or merchants, and the smaller item of insurance, both fire insurance on the mills and godowns, and marine insurance on the shipments, is chiefly done by British insurance companies.
When we look into the moving forward of the rice, after it is prepared in these mills, we see the British again have a very large control. Shortly after the treaties the Siamese built a fine fleet of sailing ships at one time there must have been fifty vessels belonging to Bangkok which were excellent craft, all built of teak wood, and designed and constructed by English and Scotch builders in Bangkok. As recently as 1879, there were quite a number of these ships trading regularly between Bangkok and Hong Kong, Singapore, and Java; they have gradually disappeared, and in Bangkok, to-day, there are only two of these ships left, for typhoons in the China seas, and sales to foreign flags, or for "breaking-up" purposes in Canton have cleared them all away.
The Siamese flag has gone, and the British flag has replaced it, and to-day the carrying trade of Siam is for the most part a British trade. Through the enterprise of Mr. Holt, of Liverpool, and his friends, and of the Scottish Oriental Steamship Company of Glasgow, we have two excellent lines of British steamers, the former running between Bangkok and Singapore, and the Glasgow Company holding the Hong Kong trade pretty much in their own hands. Besides these two good services, we have regular visits of the British steamers belonging to an English firm in Swatow, and a small British-owned steamer trading regularly between Bangkok and Bombay, also two British Chinese-owned Singapore steamers. A long way behind us comes the German flag. A good proportion of the direct rice cargoes from Bangkok to Europe are carried in German vessels.
The French flag was represented for a few years by an odd little steamer with a French name and a large French flag, which ran between Bangkok and Saigon under a substantial French Government subsidy. This boat was chiefly noticeable as making lengthy stays in Bangkok doing nothing, as there was really nothing to do, and last summer this queer little boat came to grief with a shell through her hull while piloting the French gunboats into the mouth of the Menam. With regard to the outside steamers and sailing vessels which come to Bangkok for full cargoes of rice for Germany, England, or South America, and for teak cargoes for Europe, it is in but very few cases that the freight and cargo have not been arranged and financed for in London.
In connection with the shipping, there is one feature of Bangkok trade worth mentioning. We have on the Bangkok river a fine fleet of sailing lighters. There are over fifty lighters with a carrying capacity of 200 to 250 tons of rice, excellent sea boats, with Chinese crew and Chinese rig, and built of teak throughout; these lorchas are owned by the merchants, and employed to send their rice and teak outside the bar to the Kohsichang and Anghin anchorages, sixty miles from Bangkok, where the vessels go to fill up after crossing the bar. A score and more of the Bangkok lorchas are owned by British subjects. The Scottish Oriental Company also employ, for their own steamers, a Clyde-built steam lighter under the British flag. The bar at the mouth of the Menam is responsible for the fleet of lorchas.
When we come to the next important industry of Siam, the teak trade, we have a trade almost entirely British. In the northern towns of Chiengmai and Lakon, one meets with British houses established in business directing the working of the teak forests; one meets with British Burmans and Shans in numbers working the forest contracts; and when the teak has been passed down to Bangkok, you find three steam mills belonging to British firms, and only one worked by a Chinese-Siamese firm. There are four smaller establishments with some machinery one, an Anglo-French firm; another, Austrian- French; a Dutch, and an Italian; but those four firms together do but a very small export business. In these mills you again find only British machinery.
As the export of teak from Siam is almost entirely confined to Europe (the cargoes being sold through London), or Bombay, or Hong Kong, one may speak of the teak trade of Siam as a British trade, carried on by British capital and British management. London merchants have put down large sums of money in the north of Siam in this teak industry, for the business entails the employment of a large capital.
Colonial Supervising Elephants Loading Teak
The preservation of teak forests, which has had such excellent attention from the British Government in India, has been ignored in Siam ; but we now begin to hear of certain stipulations being put into new leases, imposing on the lessee the obligation to plant four teak saplings for every one tree felled during the term of a lease. The British firms buy only wood which has reached a certain maturity, and their contractors deliver no very young wood. But the natives send down to Bangkok annually large quantities of quite young teak. This has gone on unchecked by the Government, and several thousands of these logs come on the Bangkok market every season, and are bought for posts and light beams and house work. The simple remedy of forbidding the delivery past the Government Timber Duty Station of all teak below a certain girth would cure the evil quickly, and prevent any necessity of irksome stipulations being imposed on British traders.
The annual export of teak from Siam to Europe, Bombay, and Hong Kong is likely to increase, as the northern forest work gets better organised, and the elephant force employed increases. The annual supply of rough logs into Bangkok is so entirely dependent on the rainfall for the year that there must always be the great variation in quantity shown by the export lists of the past six or eight years. I will mention here that the coinage used in the north of Siam is the India rupee. As soon as the Chiengmai plateau or the Lakon, Phrae, Nan, or Ootaradit districts, and the rich Mekong plain are reached, the Siamese tical ceases to pass current; and in this large section of Siam the British rupee is the only coin the people understand. The British teak firms have to import their rupees and send them up to Chiengmai. It is interesting to find a large portion of Siam using British coin, and maintaining it for many years after the establishment of the Tical Mint in Bangkok.
Elephants being washed in the river near Chiang Mai
After rice and teak I will take the export of pepper as the next important product in the British trade of Siam. The chief market is London, and Hong Kong takes all the rest. Three British firms and one German firm export nearly all the pepper from Siam to Europe. If the French remain in Chantaboon they will quite certainly try and divert the pepper trade to Saigon in place of Bangkok; even if they failed to succeed, which is probable enough, they would make it more difficult for the Bangkok traders.
Other exports from Siam of importance are cattle, hides, and horns sapan-wood, rose-wood, ebony, cardamums, gamboge, gum benjamin teelseed, and raw cotton ; also fruit, fish, and eggs in large quantities to Singapore. Under favourable conditions of rain the export of teelseed and of raw cotton makes a small business, chiefly in Chinese hands. The sugar export of Siam has gradually died out, and against a regular annual export up to fifteen years ago of the surplus production, there is now no export and a steady growing import. The export of cattle from Bangkok is entirely to Singapore, and Mr. Holt's steamers are specially arranged for carrying cattle on deck. The trade is in the hands of British subjects. For the buffalo hides and horns the market is London. The market for sticklac, gamboge, and gum benjamin is also London, shipment being direct, or passing through the hands of Singapore produce dealers. Raw cotton goes to Hong Kong, for China or Japan; teelseed goes to Marseilles. An important trade lies in the export of dried and salt fish to Singapore and Java.
The great customer of Siam is the British Empire. What Hong Kong and Singapore may not themselves handle in transit, passes through London hands for the most part, and the percentage of the entire produce of Siani which is not brought by the merchants of Hong Kong, Singapore, and London is the smallest fraction. Excepting the direct shipments of rice from Bangkok to Bremen, I do not believe that 1 per cent, of the entire export of Siara is placed without the merchants of these three ports assisting the produce to its final destination. In Siam the only banks are British banks. Those of us who worked for years without any bank appreciate the advantages wo now possess.
THE IMPORT TRADE
The British share in the import trade of Siam is very large. Nearly the whole of the cotton goods plain and printed and yarns, are imported from Lancashire or Bombay; such flannel as is used cornea from Germany; and Switzerland sends a share of the prints, while the richer Chinese inhabitants bring silks and other specialities from China. Lancashire and Bombay practically supply the clothing of the whole people. There is a considerable import of other British manufactures, such as machinery and hardware, and of late years an increasing import of sugar has been made from the English-owned factories of Hong Kong.
A trade which has shown a large increase is the import of kerosene oil. A German firm have erected large tanks for storing kerosene in bulk, carried to Siam by a new line of tank steamers belonging to an English company in London. The British seem unable to compete with the cheap lamps and cutlery supplied by Germany, or with the excellent crockery brought from China, where the potters follow the exact requirements in shape and colour of the Siamese. The large bales of gunny bags for packing rice, which are an important item in the upward freights from Singapore, I referred to when speaking of the rice industry. The rice mills in Siam use about 20,000 bags per day.
The coal trade of Bangkok is a small one, as the fuel used in the rice and sawmills is the otherwise useless husk from the paddy, and sawdust from the floors of the teak mills. Galvanised iron, which steadily increases in use, comes from Belgium. Germany has had a fair market for beer, which the English brewers of light beer now propose to share. Cheap bad brandy comes from France and Germany, and, unfortunately, finds a ready sale. This brandy, cheap scents, Paris trinkets, quack medicines, and a little wine, compose the French trade into Siam. The total import of opium into Siam averages 1,000 cases yearly, and is all the Benares drug.
August 3, 1897, Liverpool Courier, Liverpool, United Kingdom
THE KING OF SIAM
Tho visit of the King of Siam is an event of unusual interest. We have, it is true, from time to tune welcomed to our shores other potentates with wider sway and greater influence, but we question if there is anywhere on the face of the earth a more absolute monarch than his Majesty King Chulalongkorn of Siam. The one prevailing idea in that country is in unbounded belief in the King's power: to the popular mind, indeed, he is omnipotent, and to judge by the title by which his subjects address him, such as "Pra Djow yoo hooa" (the Lord over all) and "Djow Cheewitt" (the Lord of Life), it would almost appear that he is deified.
Chulalongkorn Rama V King of Siam and His Wife
Occasionally, however, a rude shock is given to this exulted conception of their King; but, nevertheless, the good people of Siam cling to it with laudable tenacity. As an instance of this, a writer in theContemporary Review for June tells us that when the French gunboats forced an entry to the Menam on July 13, 1893, the inhabitants of Bangkok asked incredulously, Why do the French come? Do they imagine they can fight against Nai Luang! And when a fortnight later the French gunboats steamed out of the river to enforce acceptance of the French ultimatum by a blockade of Siamese ports no one understood what had happened. But the explanation which at once suggested itself to the natives was this: " Ah, now it's all right. Djow Cheewitt told the French to go away, and of course, they had to go."
The Menam River at Bangkok
The reigning King of Siam is in his forth-fourth year, and this is his first visit to Europe. But he has given several proofs of his appreciation of European civilisation, and he has been careful to secure an English education for several members of the Royal family. Unhappily, however, in the case of his eldest son, the late Crown Prince of Siam, Prince Maha Vajirunhis, the King suffered a bitter disappointment, as well as a grievous sorrow, for he died on January 4, 1895, in his eighteenth year. The present Crown Prince of Siam is the eldest son of the Queen Regent, and he is being educated in England. To his preference for English education may also be attributed to the fact that the Royal School for Girls in Bangkok is under the superintendence of an English lady who is a graduate of the University of London, and she has other English teachers under her. We may be sure, therefore, that one of the subjects to which our visitor will direct his chief attention will be that of education, for they have also in Siam an Education Department, which, under the able conduct of its first Minister, Prince Damrong, has made considerably advance towards establishing a system of national education.
It must necessarily bo bewildering to any traveller to attempt to give his mind to more than a very few of the infinite variety of things presented to him, but the King of Siam is to be congratulated on arriving in England at a time of comparative calm and quietness, when he will be better able to gain information regarding our national life and institutions than he could have done a few weeks ago.
King of Siam at a Reception. 1897.
As a man of intelligence and experience, he will no doubt see some things in England which are better regulated in his own country, and it has been wisely proposed that he should have at least a glimpse of the dark as well as of the bright side of European civilisation. As a rule, our visitors, more particularly if they are kings or princes, see only the evidences of our wealth and prosperity, and no doubt we feel with regard to the King of Siam that he will be greatly impressed with our importance and superiority. To the ordinary Englishman the word Siamese is probably suggestive of a twin monstrosity, and little more; but we venture to think that a study of the country and its people might be a wholesome discipline to us. True, there are serfdom and polygamy in Siam, but serfdom is not altogether inconsistent with happiness and contentment. Serfdom is a protection against utter destitution and want, for it recognises that it has responsibilities which are ignored in a so-called free country. Nowhere in Siam would you find the same degree of poverty or vice as in England; and in spite of polygamy, there is not that necessity for organised agencies to guard women and little children against inhuman brutality. There is not that violation of the marriage bond, that desecration of the sanctity of home life which we, with all our culture, all our affluence, all our blessings, have so unhappily to deplore.
VISIT TO WESTMINISTER ABBEY
The King of Siam and suite, attended by Colonel Carrington visited Westminster Abbey at noon yesterday. He was received by Canon Wilberforce, who conducted him through the nave and choir. His Majesty was charmed by the special organ performance by Dr. Bridge, and was interested in the statuary and historical monuments. He remained in the Abbey over an hour. There were a large number of persons present.
The Death of Chulalongkorn, King of Siam
Illustration from Le Petit Journal
November 6, 1910
Traditional Thai Dancer, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, after being deserted for twenty years following the Burmese onslaught in 1767, was gradually repopulated and willingly gave its allegiance to the king of Siam. But the journey up the river to Chiang Mai was slow and difficult so that the Prince of Chiang Mai was virtually an independent ruler. The first American Presbyterian missionary to reach the north from Bangkok in 1867 records that the journey took him exactly three months. McGilvary's mission brought in the modern age - as well as, largely unsuccessfully, spreading the gospel, he also introduced modern medicine and education.
Towards the end of the century British teak companies in Burma began to seek concessions in the north of Thailand and there were frequent conflicts with the Prince who saw nothing wrong with leasing the same concession to two different people. Problems with the missionaries and the teak companies together with fears of British and French intentions along the borders finally forced the Bangkok Government to take firm control of Chiang Mai and the rest of the north in the 1890's. All real power was removed from the Prince and the last hereditary ruler died in 1939.
The inhabitants of Chiang Mai are, as one would expect in a city sited at the crossroads of mainland South East Asia, a very mixed lot. The people living in the valleys think of themselves as Thais with a difference - they have their own distinct language and are in fact a mixture of Mon, Lawa, Lao and Thai Lue amongst others. To the west live many Shan and Karen while in the mountains, over the past hundred years, tens of thousands of hill tribe people have settled after fleeing from troubles in Burma, Laos and China - Hmong, Akha, Musser, Yao and the long necked Padaung.
Phuket has a long history of playing host to foreigners. Phuket Town was founded in the 1st century B.C. by colonists from India. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer in the third century A.D., referred to it as Jang Si Lang' which later became Junk Ceylon' and this is the name you will see on ancient maps of Thailand, or Siam.
Because of its rich natural reserves the island has always been important, economically speaking. Ever since early times it has attracted explorers, traders and villains from as diverse places as Arabia, Sri Lanka, China and Portugal all searching for its ivory, pearls, timber, animal hides and gems. In the 16th Century, tin drew the Dutch, as well as the French. Phuket had a French-born governor at one time. The British were not far behind and they later sent Captain Francis Light to scout out the possibilities of controlling the strategically important Malacca Straits, using Phuket as a base.
Captain Light played a pivotal part in the most famous chapter in Phuket's history: the routing of the invading Burmese army in 1785. The Burmese had been repelled a year earlier but returned in a large fleet which was spotted by the Captain. He lost no time in alerting the authorities in Phuket.
Temple Entrance. Phuket. Old Town.
The island's governor had passed away so the challenge of organising its defence was taken up by his widow, Kunying Chan. She and her sister Mook assembled what forces they could and, according to legend, disguised local women as male soldiers, thus making Phuket's military manpower seem invincible. The Burmese eventually lost heart and left after a month's siege and as a result King Rama 1 awarded Kunying Chan with the royal title of Thao Thep Kasattri'.
1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe
Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.
|Great Britain||10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714|
|United States||3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887|
|Norway||2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230|
|Germany||1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.|
|Sweden||1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527|
For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)
|Country||# of Vessels||