HM King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 Journey to Europe

Legal Advisers around 1900 in front of the new office building of the General Adviser Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns is standing in the center in white Siamese style jacket, flanked by two Siamese secretaries somewhat behind him.

HM King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 Journey to Europe
Notes on Origins, Background and Significance
Based on Private Belgian Archives

Walter E. J. Tips

Introduction and Sources

In this paper we attempt to bring to light some hitherto unknown aspects of HM King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 journey to Europe. The reasons why so much of the origins of this visit have remained unknown is quite simply the lack of historical material on the internal discussions preceding the decision to make this long journey. There is, of course, ample published material available on the visits themselves and therefore we will only treat on some lesser known aspects of the visit to Belgium. Indeed, so ubiquitous are the references from the press, mostly from French magazines such as L’Illustration, Le Monde Illustré and Le Petit Parisien, that even at the popular Chatuchak market one can buy original or copied, hand-coloured plates with interesting scenes depicting the visit of HM King Chulalongkorn to France. They are greatly valued by Thais and from this appreciation one can already surmise that even for Thais not-well versed in history, or not in this often very complex period of Siam’s history, the visit to Europe has a significance. Indeed, it was a turning point in the life of the nation as an independent state in the wider community of independent nations.

By mere coincidence and a measure of perseverance—our enemies would call it stubbornness—typical of Flemish people and mediated by a historian’s encouragement to deal with the rather unfair comments in regard to Siam’s General Adviser, Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, reprinted by Nigel Brailey in his Two Views of Siam on the Eve of the Chakri Reformation (1989), a number of sources of documents that were hitherto left unstudied were (re-)discovered a few years ago. The main sources are undoubtedly the greater part of the private papers of Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns in the care of the late Baron Edouard Rolin Jaequemyns in Gomzé, Belgium. While the whole period of the decade-long work of Siam’s tireless General Adviser is not equally well-documented, a very good picture emerged of many issues that were so far obscured by historical speculations based on flimsy sources or on reckless conjecture or deliberate embellishment of the Thai actors’ work. Another source of material are the private papers of Robert J. Kirkpatrick, Siam’s first Legal Adviser, officially appointed to that position sometime in 1895. His papers deal mostly with aspects of justice in the kingdom and its much needed modernisation. However, the so-called General Archives of the Kingdom of Belgium also contain papers which were indeed in the public domain and accessible but so far neglected by historians. These papers are, together with several files kept at the National Archives of Thailand, sufficient to sketch a picture, and perhaps more than just sketch for some very important early diplomatic developments, of hitherto undocumented aspects of the 1893 R.S. 112 Paknam Gunboat Incident and early internal reforms of the kingdom.

Although merely an interested bystander watching from a distance the continued debates on the last modernisation urgently needed, i.e., that of Thai historical treatment of its own history, the present author has attempted to place a number of the discovered materials in the public domain. This has been done since most private archives are not readily accessible as well as because most of the documents are in French—no longer a lingua franca of the modern, computerised world. Additional sources in German form a necessary counterbalance and some of these are planned for translation some time in the 1990s, if time allows.

Solely based on materials already in the public domain, and within a period of nine months to meet the deadly of the 100th anniversary of Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns’s arrival in Siam on 27 September 1892, the present author produced and published Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns (Chao Phraya Aphai Raja) and the Belgian Advisers in Siam (1892-1902)—An Overview of Little-Known Documents Concerning the Chakri Reformation Era. The book was primarily conceived as a correction of widely projected but derogatory, deprecating, ignorant and outright falsified views about Siam’s General Adviser. Inevitably errors had crept into this early birth. This book also contained a complete translation of Charles Buls’s Siamese Sketches mainly to sketch the world of Siam around the turn of the century and to provide some easily accessible and interesting reading material to the sponsors of this first book. Buls had been mayor of Brussels and in this capacity hosted King Chulalongkorn in 1897. He paid a return visit to the Kingdom in 1900 when he had just left his office. His book originally appeared in a small print-run in Brussels under the title Croquis Siamois; it was very popular, possibly due to the fact that Buls staged numerous lectures at evening gatherings all over Belgium to air his opinions and show his splendid glass slides of the country he at once came to love. However, Georges Balat, the publisher, went bankrupt and the book was never reprinted. Therefore, a new and greatly improved English version of the original chapter of the book was published in 1994 by White Lotus, with more than hundred splendid photos of the collections the present author could access in Belgium. A number of unpublished facts were also included, based on travels notes in Charles Buls’s personal archive which is held by the Archives of the City of Brussels and which also contained a number of splendid J. Antonio photographs. The re-publication of the extremely rare book of J. Antonio himself, The 1904 Travelers’s Guide to Bangkok and Siam, is envisaged for 1997 in the White Lotus Press series.

Upon the publication of the present author’s first attempt at rectifying the picture of Rolin-Jaequemyns’s contributions to this nation, a number of other archives surfaced. This resulted in White Lotus’s publication of Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns and the Making of Modern Siam—The Diaries and Letters of King Chulalongkorn’s General Adviser early in 1996. The present author is very grateful to the late Baron Edouard Rolin-Jaequemyns for the many hours spend in preparing the material and for proof-reading books as well as for the family’s continuing support of the country and its Royal House. Since the complexity of the Paknam Incident was too overwhelming to deal with in the same book (moreover, no publisher would accept a book of eight hundred pages) and another effort was underway, i.e., Patrick Tuck’s The French Wolf and the Siamese Lamb—The French Threat to Siamese Independence, 1858-1907, published by the same publishing house in 1995, the present author dealt rather summarily with the hidden aspects of the R.S. 112 Incident in a book released by White Lotus Press in October 1996, Siam’s Struggle for Survival—The Gunboat Incident at Paknam and the Franco-Siamese Treaty of October 1893. This book is essentially based on the diary of the General Adviser who counselled Prince Devawongse and HM King Chulalongkorn, although he was removed from the negotiating table by explicit demand of the French. However, daily Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote detailed notes on the drama unfolding and on the events at the top of the government and in the palace. If not read for its historical value, the book could be recommended as a political thriller.

In the meantime, a number of other books have been published in first English translations to complete this picture of Belgians and other foreign advisers at work in the Chakri reformation and Siam’s modernisation. First and foremost, there is the best-seller of Emile Jottrand and his wife, In Siam—The Diary of a Legal Adviser of King Chulalongkorn’s Government, published by White Lotus in 1995 with more than one hundred magnificent photos from the Jottrands’ own collection, discovered by Mr. Jean-Michel Minon (formerly of the French-speaking Belgian radio broadcasting service). The book excels in its frank discussion of the daily life in the courts and in the corridors of power at the end of the century. Then, a number of personal memoirs, of which James McCarthy’s Surveying and Exploring in Siam, with Descriptions of Lao Dependencies and of Battles against the Chinese Haws, published in a new edition by White Lotus in 1994, springs to mind as a singularly important book in the context of Siam’s struggles to hold on to her territories. McCarthy was the man who produced the first map of the kingdom and, through his travels to faraway borders, he was extremely well-informed of the sentiments of the locals as well as an eye-witness to the battles with the Haw Chinese in the Lao dependencies. This work of delimiting borders was completed, or perhaps rather re-done, by a number of French and British officials serving in the Commission that eventually drew the lines between Britain’s and France’s possession in Upper Laos thus creating a ‘neutral’ territory—an outcome of the aftermath of R.S. 112. On this experience E. Lefèvre, a member of the Pavie Mission, wrote Travels in Laos—. The Fate of the Sip Song Pana and Muong Sing (1894-1896), published in a first English translation in 1995; it is much more a personal reflection on the hardships involved and an exposé of the people living in the area as well as a factual account of how the borderlines were drawn on the ground, than a political analysis of the French and British aims.

However, on the French side, these aims have been explained in great detail as have the peregrinations of the men who ventured to confront aims with geo-political and geographical realities, in Francis Garnier’s seminal work on the Mekong and Yunnan, the presumed eldorado and its trade highway—both utter failures until this very day. The first English translation of the journey has been completed in two volumes and published by White Lotus Press in 1996: Travels in Cambodia and Part of Laos and Further Travels in Laos and in Yunnan constitute volumes 1 and 2 of the Mekong Exploration Commission Report. The third volume, A Pictorial Journey on the Old Mekong, a large size book, partly in colour, with the splendid and often unique plates of the expedition’s artist, L. Delaporte was published in 1997 and later in a larger format (suitable to cut pictures for framing as wall decorations). These books clearly spell out the origins of the French dream to take over the great kingdom that was central to Southeast Asia, or Indochina as they liked to call it. This exploration work, the basis of the covetousness of sections of French public opinion, especially the parti colonial and the Ministry of the Navy and its acolytes, at one time the Colonial Department, was furthered by such men as J. Harmand and P. Neis, both repeatedly on the road in Laos, Vietnam and what is Southern China today. White Lotus has J. Harmand’s Upper Laos and the Hilltribes of Indochina. Journeys to the Boloven Plateau, from Bassac to Hué through Laos, and to the Origins of the Thai and P. Neis’s Travels in Upper Laos, with an Account of the Chinese Haw Invasion and Puan Resistance in first English translations in print for publication in 1997. Finally, by the time these ‘ontological’ battles were over, almost fifty years of ‘development’ work had gone into the venture and the Mekong had, faute de mieux, been forced into service as a trade route. Marthe Bassenne, a rare and gifted woman traveller, visited the area as well as Luang Prabang and the Upper Northeast of Siam. Her feelings, and reflections on the extent of the British domination of trade in the area, are recorded and illustrated with photos in In Laos and Siam, originally published in 1912 and again in 1995 in a first English translation.

To spare researchers much puzzling with the bewildering host of names of small and big actors on the scene during this last decade of the nineteenth century which turned out to be so crucial for Siam, White Lotus Press has reprinted The 1894 Directory for Bangkok and Siam, at the end of 1996 in a new, and greatly improved typesetting. Background information on the state of Siamese government administrations, facts such as currencies, holidays, tariffs for customs and postage, navy ships, etc., as well as a good overview of the private businesses operating at the time is included in this very rare book. Name lists of Siamese and foreigners, in government employ or in private businesses or religious services are also included.

Having come to the end of this long introduction which is at the same time some kind of justification of sources and work done in the last few years, the present author is indeed happy to draw the attention of the audience of this journal to a splendidly designed book in Thai language, i.e., Pisanu Chanvitan’s work on Pierre Orts’s diaries, Siamese Dependencies in the Reign of King Rama V. Diary of a Belgian Assistant Legal Adviser in Siam (3 August 1897-5 January 1898), published in the framework of the celebrations for Chiangmai’s 700th anniversary. Pierre Orts, a young Belgian styled assistant legal adviser, but in reality something of a personal assistant for political and diplomatic affairs to Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, meticulously kept his diaries during a long journey through the northern Siamese territories, part of which are Laos today. He was ostensibly in charge of looking into the court system and other administrative matters, e.g. taxation, but his notes contain valuable observations on the progress of the nation-building process in the north of the country. He was also judging some important cases involving foreign nationals in Chiangmai.

Origins and Background of the Journey to Europe

The Paknam Incident of 13 July was indeed one of the factors indirectly prompting the project of a European visit to enlighten public opinion there about the kingdom and its monarch. After the initial shock and the discussions on possible courses of action to follow of the first week, a silence set in in the palace quarters. While Prince Devawongse and the General Adviser were kept busy on the diplomatic front with counter attack, King Chulalongkorn was left to ponder the wider and often dark implications that might be the outcome of this French attack. His mind was soon preoccupied with these thoughts and by lack of any other matters to be considered in the light of the overbearing need to preserve the independence of the kingdom, there would soon be creations of the mind that were perhaps not warranted by the actual import of the incident but which reflected the deep concern of a monarch for his people. This concern would surface time and again, in particular when matters turned crucial in Luang Prabang, King Chulalongkorn became very concerned about his Laotian subjects’ plight at the hands of French colonial zealots. This agitation of the mind is documented time and again in the diary of the General Adviser, for example, on 19 July 1893, Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote in his diary: ‘The situation has not changed. The French ships are still there and all kinds of alarming rumours concerning their intentions circulate. The King, whom I saw in the evening, is in an extreme state of agitation. He believes he is personally threatened. All the reasoning changes nothing. On the other side, the population is restless.’

Or again on 22 July, reflecting his concern for his subjects again, ‘At night there is a council at the Palace. The King is still very agitated. He is less preoccupied with the concessions which we have made than with the idea that the French ships would, before leaving, indulge in some violent act or other against the capital or the fort at Paknam.’

On 28 July, with the British refusal voiced by Lord Rosebery to get involved, the situation turned for the worst; writes Rolin-Jaequemyns, ‘In the evening, I see the King and his sight breaks my heart. He has an appearance at the same time enraged, especially against the English, and disheartened.’

The diary entry of 31 July 1893 a few days after the worst of the French ultimatum and the demands have been received, is particularly important for the royal visit to Europe. Indeed, here is the birth of this idea: ‘In the evening I meet with the King alone. He is doing much better than the other day. I explain the situation to him as it arises from the acceptance of France’s conditions. It is always and naturally Luang Prabang which he keeps close to his heart. I draw his attention to the fact that on that side perhaps the last word has not been said. We have made and we must stick to the engagement of evacuating all the military posts of the left bank, but that is a military convention which does not necessarily imply a surrender of territory. We recognise the rights of Annam and of Cambodia to the left bank of the Mekong. But what are these rights? France has never determined their extent nor the nature. Let us leave her to settle this point with England. After having talked quite at length on this point, the King suddenly asks me: “What would you say if I planned to make a journey to Europe?” Since this is what I have been recommending for a long time to Prince Devawongse, I applaud with my whole heart and more sincerely so because in making the plan itself I already see a good diversion from the worries of the present time. Then we talked for an hour about travel plans. It concerns a journey of nine months to be undertaken in 1894, more probably in 1895, to all the courts of Europe. The King asks me to go with him and I agree; he appears to be very satisfied with my reply.’

On 1 August 1893, the king delights in taking this matter further, with more concrete plans: ‘At night, with the King, after having talked about the situation, of the letter of Pavie, [the French resident minister in Bangkok], of the Russian telegram, etc. His Majesty takes up the conversation about his journey with visible satisfaction. We talk about itineraries. Prince Damrong, who is, among them, the greatest and most recent traveller, arrives with guidebooks and a big map of Europe. He wishes to go through Russia before going to England and France. He has a great idea about the reception they will prepare for him at the Russian Court and his idea is that later the other courts will compete in friendliness with the latter. We have to make arrangements accordingly, arriving in Trieste, to Vienna, Berlin, Petersburg, then taking the Northern route: Belgium and Holland, France, England, then some time to rest in a resort city (Spa?, Ems?, Baden-Baden?) and finish with Switzerland, Italy, Turkey and Egypt. One of the questions which excites the King is that of knowing whether he will wear a European pair of trousers or a Siamese phanung. The solution: the trousers as a travel costume, the phanung as formal or informal uniform.’

August 2, 1983, however, reflect some of the doubts that King Chulalongkorn would have over the years separating him from the actual departure for the trip, again mostly inspired by his desire to create the best impression of his kingdom in Europe and thus undermine the rumour-mongering of French colonialists intend on pushing public opinion to believe Siam is a barbarian country in need of French civilising influence: ‘I find that the King is a little excited. He sees all kinds of imaginary dangers and is extraordinarily mistrusting of England. He also fears, for his journey to Europe, that his esteem will be reduced because of the diminution of Siamese territory. I fully reassure him in this respect and give him a short course in contemporary history to prove him that part of the States which he will visit: Denmark, Austria, France, Belgium, Turkey, have during relatively recent times, suffered similar or greater amputations than those that Siam is undergoing. This seems to reassure him a lot. Another question preoccupies His Majesty: that of the reception he will receive in England and, going to the bottom of this, I discover that the fear can be summarised in the idea that, if he does not receive the Order of the Garter, which the Shah of Persia has received, this would be a serious insult for him! The King asks me whether I have spoken to Captain Jones about his travel plans. I tell him that I did not believe I was authorised to do so, but that I will do if HM desires. [We] agree that I will speak to Jones about this by tomorrow.’

Conversations on travel plans between the General Adviser and King Chulalongkorn also took place on 3 August. However, even these relatively innocent and enjoyable designs for travels in Europe could not pass without some political considerations being stirred up almost immediately when, Captain Jones, the pro-Siamese British resident and a man given to flamboyant and hyperbolic language, is asked for advice. Wrote Rolin-Jaequemyns in his diary for 8 August 1893, ‘[I had] a long conversation with the King. Prince Devawongse has informed him about part of my conversation with Captain Jones. He has not talked about the part concerning the Order of the Garter. In the whole conversation with Jones, one thing has disagreeably moved the King: it is that Jones appears to suspect him of wishing to go to Europe to amuse himself. The good King protests with all the energy in his soul against such an idea: his indignation is at the same time comical and touching. “Where could I amuse myself more,” he shouts out, “than in my own country, amidst my wives and my children. Over there, I will be continually uncomfortable” (it is the phantom of the European trousers). “And moreover, I will pass for a half-barbarian King. Am I even sure to do honour to my country? Surely, it would be better to renounce my plan.” I try to quiet him down. I tell him that Captain Jones surely has not measured the significance of his words, nor precisely translated his ideas. What he wants, as does the King himself, is that the journey must not be a simple succession of feasts and royal and imperial receptions. I know that HM entirely agrees with this point. Consequently, Captain Jones is only wrong on one point. This is to demonstrate his habitual energy in his words, on a matter of which everybody, especially the King, is already convinced. I also try to reassure him about the personal impression that he will create. I guarantee him that this impression will be excellent and as a witness I take all the Europeans who have visited Bangkok, etc., etc.’

The next day Jones corrects his words already, ‘In the morning, I received Thompson and Captain Jones. To the latter I talk about the part of the conversation with the King which concerns him. He is much less elated than the other day; protests that he agrees with the travel plans and he says that I have exactly interpreted his thoughts. [It is] understood, however, that he does not write nor telegraphs.’  And faithful messenger as ever, the General Adviser has an opportunity to report to HM King Chulalongkorn the next day (9 August 1893), ‘Then there is talk about the journey to Europe and the King comes back with an embarrassing insistence to the suspicion of Captain Jones that he ponders this journey “for pleasures”. He exalts himself while talking and ends with the declaration that he will not go, that he does not relish tiring himself down, endangering his life, etc., so that later they will come and say that he has done it “for pleasure”. I beg him to suspend any decision on this matter and I tell him that Captain Jones had explained today the unfortunate word[s] he has used. He wanted to say that the journey should not be arranged in such a way as to make it into a succession of feasts, in the various courts. I add that His Majesty would not act as a sovereign if he let his decision depend on the personal opinion of a foreign minister, even though he is England’s minister. He then expresses his fear that Captain Jones would make his plan public, that the newspapers would get in on it, etc. I tell him that Captain Jones knows how to keep a secret. “Even after dinner?” He asked, laughing.’

While the troubles with France would continue and reach a boiling point when the French negotiator, Le Myre de Vilers, arrived on 16 August 1893, the king is slowly returning to a less agitated daily lifestyle and so are all the prince ministers and Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns. However, the political significance of this overseas journey is firmly anchored in the mind of those now working to control the damage done by the French to the kingdom. Internal reforms have been mentioned already to foster more confidence from overseas businessmen and to remove false accusations that Siam cannot cope and needs a protectorate of one of the two big powers in the region, either France or Britain, to be able to modernise up to standards acceptable in Europe.

Throughout the negotiation process with the French there was no time for a discussion of future travel plans; more immediate problems needed to be addressed first. Moreover, the King’s health would be quickly impaired by a number of illnesses, many of which seems to have been psycho-somatic in nature and brought on by the necessity of taking choral hydrate, a sleep-inducer, to find rest at night, because the King was still in dire straits about the future of the kingdom. He obviously had completely lost confidence in the support of England and in the abilities of the Siamese army and navy to resist fresh attempts to take parts of the territory by force. The occupation of Chantaboon was also a thorn in his side. The most threatened regions ones spring to mind, because the neutralisation of part of the territory between England, China and France was only being discussed in earnest just then, as being in Luang Prabang. The King’s beloved Laotian subjects would pay dearly for their geopolitical position in the crossfire of the expanding trade routes. Because this much becomes clear from the diary, as soon as even a glimmer of French intentions to develop a Bangkok-Korat-Saigon or a connection between the Mekong valley and Hanoi appears, Britain was much more determined to resist.

The travel plans would be further delayed by indisposition of the king. The first signs of what was perhaps also a psycho-somatic distress started much earlier than is generally believed. Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns already wrote in a letter to his wife dated 22 September 1893 that the King’s health left to be desired, ‘partly because of his state of morale’ and that he wrote to encourage Him in a letter wishing Him well to especially pay attention to internal reforms during the continuation of His Reign. Indeed, the General Adviser recorded the following diary entry on 8 November, 1893, at Wat Po, ‘The King keeps us waiting. Finally, he arrives by 4.30 p.m. The retinue is the same as last year. The troops are marching quite ably. Passing in front of me, the King recognises me and shouts in good humour: “Ah, you have come today!” HM does not appear to do badly. Only his walk is not very steady. Nevertheless, de Richelieu finds that the King “looks poorly”. The King has barely entered the temple or a torrential rain falls: a general save-who-can [follows].’

On 20 November 1893 too, Prince Devawongse requests the General Adviser to read a letter he received from Fr. Verney, the secretary of the Siamese Legation in London, concerning a meeting the latter had with Lord Rosebery. Some interesting glimpses can be cast on the English minister’s thoughts about Siam: ‘Verney has entertained the minister of the European travel plans of the King in 1894; Lord Rosebery has not disapproved the travel plan in principle and he has said, without much warmth, that the King would have a good reception in England (he could not say anything else[R.-J.]); but he has seen great objections that the journey takes place next year and especially before the situation in Siam is consolidated by a treaty of guarantee.’ Lord Rosebery however is judged to be less than straightforward with Verney: ‘In the same conversation Lord Rosebery expresses himself like a man who is as ill willed as he is badly informed about the state of Siam and Verney defends himself with extreme feebleness! Lord R. especially insists on the extreme weakness of the kingdom; no army nor navy worthy of the name, disorder and corruption everywhere. His whole attitude indicates that in reality he senses his responsibility in the poor outcome of this affair so that he dreads meeting the Sovereign to whose stripping of possessions he has contributed by his condescension towards France and that he prepares himself to explain the isolation in which he has left Siam in her negotiations concerning the neutral territory by accusing the government of this country of weakness, incompetence and corruption.’

In any case, the King would continue to hamper further progress or even discussion in earnest of the journey. The sudden death of a newly born daughter of the first queen on 16 November had plunged the King again into a deep state of nervousness and over-excitement (Rolin-Jaequemyns Diary, 20.11.1893). When Rolin-Jaequemyns meets, on their request, with the Princes Devawongse, Damrong, Bidyalabh and Ong Noi in the evening of 20 November, he immediately remarks that the mood is sombre and he suspects that the state of the King is ‘even more serious than they tell me’. The princes agree that a sea trip would take the King’s mind away from his continual wavering on good and bad prospects for Siam’s future as an independent state. On 2 December 1893 when Rolin-Jaequemyns received the Order of the White Elephant from HM the King’s hands, he has an opportunity to see for himself and he noted in his diary that the king did not look well, less well than when he saw him some time ago. But on 8 December 1893, Rolin-Jaequemyns writes on the occasion of a ceremony to distribute commemorative medals to officers of the navy and army serving fifteen years that the King looks much better.

From various entries in the diary a pattern of ups-and-downs becomes apparent which may have been more psycho-somatic than caused by an infectious disease, although on 11 December the diary names “boils” as the cause of illness of the King and his absence from a garden-party organised by Prince Bidyalabh. At several point in times during this period, fevers would be named as the cause of distress. On 17 December the word is that ‘the King seems to be possessed by the fixed idea that his entourage are deceiving him’ and the boils continue to plague him. About that time, Rolin-Jaequemyns entertains Prince Devawongse on what measures other countries take if the sovereign is no longer capable, physically or mentally, to rule and the country is in dire need of a leader.

Finally, by year end, Rolin-Jaequemyns writes on 30 December: ‘The King is doing better, his morale is good, although he must still remain in bed until the wounds left by his abscesses have closed.’ However, when Rolin-Jaequemyns takes up writing his diary entries again after more than five months of entering nothing, the occasion appears to be the state of anxiety over the health of the King. On 21 June 1894, he wrote that the King is worse with a very high temperature during the night from 19 to 20 June. At the landing where they take the boat to Koh Si Chang, an unusual number of prince-ministers are gathered and this opportunity to discuss the eventualities is used fully. Travel plans seem further away than ever during this dark period for the kingdom and his sovereign. Matters have indeed turned for the worse in Chantaboon where the French have firmly entrenched themselves rather than provisionally occupying a piece of sovereign Siamese territory until the conditions of the Franco-Siamese Treaty and Convention of October 1893 have been executed. On 25 June the King returns to Bangkok via Paklat; he has no longer the dangerous fever that gripped him but he is very weak. On 27 June HM the King insist on stopping his palanquin to hold the General Adviser’s hand to his heart and after talking about his fevers, his pre-occupations and his sleepless nights, he asked Rolin-Jaequemyns: ‘You will always be the same for me, will you?’ The General Adviser wrote, ‘Very moved myself, I express my sincere affection for him, then I exchange a few friendly words with all the princes who form the cortege round the King.’ On 10 July however the King is again prey to fevers; wrote Rolin-Jaequemyns: ‘Prince Devawongse tells me that the King has been taken by fever this morning, that he has been very ill and that they thought they might lose him. Now the fever has disappeared and if it does not come back tomorrow they hope to save him.’ After speaking a long time on the need to continue the daily business with Prince Devawongse, Rolin-Jaequemyns, receives an astounding answer: ‘He [Prince Devawongse] reveals to me an extraordinary fact, it is that HM has at present placed his confidence in a Siamese astrologer who has persuaded him that during the whole present year of his reign, there would be danger for him to approve whichever new measure! I answer him that, if matters are such, the essential thing is to save the King and the Kingdom, and that it befalls the Ministers, brothers of the King, to take the necessary responsibility. The prince answers me that he cannot do this alone, not even propose it. They would immediately accuse him of aspiring a dictatorship and that would be the signal for incurable family jealousies. Nevertheless, I make him see that one must place the public good above everything else and that, in the present circumstances, inaction would be death. I offer that I myself will tie the bell to the cat, at my own risk and danger, and I leave him very much preoccupied.’ However, the next day the king does better and talk about measures to set up a regency during the minority of the Crown Prince are premature. On 12 July the King is much better again.

After earlier proposing to the chief ministers of the government to write to the King himself, Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns is informed on 13 July 1894, exactly one year after the disastrous Paknam Incident of R.S. 112, that ‘the colleagues and he himself [Prince Devawongse] desire him to write to the King,’ this is to explain the main measures that must be taken to preserve the essential services of government in the kingdom and to counteract the further encroachment of the French in Luang Prabang. In the coming weeks Rolin-Jaequemyns would prepare an elaborate memorandum; the trip to Europe seems further away from reality than ever. . . . The writing of this memorandum was later confirmed in the travel notes of Charles Buls (see also Tips, 1996a). Prince Damrong would receive this memorandum first, on 27 July 1894. Scott, Britain’s new minister replacing Captain Jones after the latter’s fall from grace with Lord Rosebery, is allowed to hear some parts on 29 July, the aim being to counteract the suspicions of Britain’s leaders and seek support against any further plans the French parti colonial might have with other territories of Siam’s Upper North.

On 16 July 1894, King Chulalongkorn is again doing extremely poorly. The General Adviser notes that he is now said to be taking one bottle daily of choral hydrate, then a relatively new and powerful hypnotic and sedative of which the chlorine content has serious side-effects. But to the great relief of all, he seems to take food again on 30 July. A stationery state in which the King is extremely weak will continue for several weeks during which the choral dose will be reduced upon the recommendations of a Siamese doctor, educated in England. On 27 August 1894 Prince Damrong judges that it is time to restart the business of government because the King does markedly better and has asked for his secretary. On 30 August Rolin-Jaequemyns gives Prince Devawongse the memorandum and a letter nothing the spontaneous character of this written address to the King—this is done to firmly exclude any possible impacts on the prince-ministers for whom making this unprecedented move would be unthinkable. Prince Devawongse will spend two weeks to translate this memorandum in Siamese but on 15 September these documents are ready. Prince Devawongse found rendering abstract terms such as ‘the material and moral progress of the population’ into Siamese exceedingly difficult. On 14 September 1894 the King is well enough to give a short audience to the princes of his family. September 17, is also the last page of the General Adviser’s diary; for the remainder of the story we are limited to notes in correspondence with various princes, mostly prince Devawongse.

There is very little evidence of what happened between mid-September and mid-December, but in a letter dated 22 December, Prince Devawongse confirms that HM the King urgently wishes to call an audience with his General Adviser; the evening of 23 December 1894 is fixed for this occasion. What is clear from the correspondence of the following months is that the business of government is rapidly returning to normal and internal reforms are taken on in earnest in many sectors. However, at the same time this may have postponed the proposed journey to Europe and soon Rolin-Jaequemyns will return to Europe to lobby for a more final solution of the problem of Siam’s neighbours first, as had been suggested by the British. Also, this would more or less clear the coast and allow HM the King to leave the kingdom in the hands of a Council of Regency with HM Queen Soavabha as chairperson while he undertakes his goodwill journey to the European courts and governments.
Thus, after these dramatic events which fortunately took a final satisfactory turn, two years of relative silence on the proposed journey to Europe follow, at least in the papers of the General Adviser of the Government.

General Rehearsal: the Trip to Java and Singapore

The journey to Java in 1896 was both a travel to improve HM the King’s health as well as some sort of rehearsal for greater undertakings such a the projected travels to Japan and perhaps Europe as well (Rolin-Jaequemyns to HM King Chulalongkorn, 1 April 1896). Japan was then seen as an example of how an eastern power could rise rather quickly to meet western demands and still be in control of its own destiny.

One of the problems that would crop up in these trips was the question of dress, not only of the King but more so of HM the Queen. Madame Rolin-Jaequemyns would eventually offer help to the Queen; as has been elaborated elsewhere, HM the King had some very astute observations on the dress and character of Siamese women (Tips, 1992, 1996a). The other journey, in fact the first one planned was to Japan (Rolin-Jaequemyns to HM King Chulalongkorn, 7 April 1896). But because of some the necessary preparations could not be made in time, as well as to avoid the danger of typhoons on the return trip, it would be postponed. On Java, the question of dress would be simpler as its culture is not that much different. Eventually, it was reported that HM the Queen took a liking to the western dresses she is often seen wearing on photographs of the time.

Immediate Preparations

HM the King, in an uncharacteristic private letter to his General Adviser, dated 15 February 1897, which we quote in full here, made an overview of outstanding issues on the eve of his departure to Europe—at the same time demonstrating the prevailing concerns with modernisation and with keeping up the pace of the reforms:

‘Considering the little time that we have now to arrange many projects before leaving for Europe, I should like to remind you of the following:

1) Decree proclaiming the Regency.
2) Changes to be made in the Department of Justice with regard to what it has to do with the Local Government and the Governor of Bangkok—namely, the Departments of Criminal Investigation and Public Prosecution.
3) To divide the duties between the Local Government and the Governor of Bangkok—i.e., the former will receive from the Public Works Department the making of roads, electric light and buildings.
4) Abolishing the Ministry of Agriculture and transferring its different duties to other Departments, viz., the Minister of Finance will have to give orders directly to the Ministries of the Interior and Local Government with regard to tax on rice-land.

[The] Gardening, Surveying and Mining Departments will be transferred to the Finance Department, but the making of canals and irrigation will be given to the Public works Department instead of the works in town which are to be given to the Governor of Bangkok.

These are most important changes and I should like to see how those who will receive their new duties would act and to be able to help them if there should be any difficulties in the beginning. I am very sorry indeed to have so little time left.

Besides what I have already mentioned there is another important question—that is the military reorganisation which has been delayed for sometime. It is now time that we should begin.

You will remember that I told you last November [1896] that I have ordered the Minister of War to consult with the High Commissioners of Nagararajsima, Pichai and Prachin to see what could be done in these three provinces first. A report of the Consultation was sent to me in December, but it was still the duty of the Minister of War to look into it more minutely. Last May [1896] he sent in his opinion a few days before I left for Java. It is not through his fault that it was delayed, for I had no time to look through it then and I put it in one of my boxes which was opened about three times on the way, but unfortunately I did not come across this letter. On my return all my time was taken up by old and new affairs of many kinds, so that it did not come to my mind until lately, when I was looking over a few things which have not yet been settled. Copies and translations are now being made. It will not be necessary to send it to the Cabinet Council, it can be considered between you and the Ministers who will have something to do with it. This project of reform will not be difficult to settle and will be a good beginning to what should be done all over the Kingdom. Whether it would be well done or not depends mostly on our finance which for many reasons will have to be kept secret. I hope that you will be able to meet and consult [with]in a short time.’

Indeed, there would be plenty of work left to be done and with the Regency Council, the reforms would continue while HM the King was at work on the diplomatic struggles of Siam in Europe. A meeting would take place on 3 March and on 25 March 1897, HM King Chulalongkorn would still send another letter to Rolin-Jaequemyns indicating his comments on the Draft Decree on the Local Government of Bangkok, however, ‘In consequence of the very little time indeed now left to me, I will not contradict in any way, but will simply direct it to be sent to the Council of Ministers and leave everything to them to be settled and agreed as most practicable.’

The Regency Act, 1897, made necessary by HM the King’s nine month long visit to European countries, was duly completed. Rolin-Jaequemyns was a member of the Regency Council which was presided over by HM Queen Soavabha. During the absence of King Chulalongkorn, the Council of Regency continued the work, perhaps even more speedily than before as Rolin-Jaequemyns had a much freer hand then. However, upon the return of King Chulalongkorn some changes were revoked; in particular the elaborate system of appeals in the courts, which had been simplified, was reinstated. Some simplifications had been introduced, such as that a case which had been tried twice and both verdicts tended in the same direction, could no longer be tried a third time. In a letter to HM the King, dated 3 June 1897, Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote, ‘Her Majesty the Queen is acting admirably as Regent. Your Majesty will have seen from the protocols of the Council of Regency and of the Council of Ministers how diligently Her Majesty the Queen attends to the sittings, and what amount of work she does besides, because she always appears to be well acquainted with every affair. But what cannot be said in protocols is the easy, calm and smiling grace and dignity with which Her Majesty fulfils every of Her official functions. This clearly shows the wisdom of Your Majesty’s choice.’

Uncharacteristically, the Siam Observer managed to get on the nerves of HM King Chulalongkorn just prior to his departure. On 6 February 1897, during the run-up to the King’s overseas visits, HM the King wrote to Rolin-Jaequemyns, in passing revealing yet another task with which the latter was charged, inspection of the press: ‘I call your attention to an article [which] appeared in the Siamese edition of the Siam Observer, which I have seen yesterday, and which, it is obvious, must have been taken from very far sources, in conjunction with the foolishness and love of clamorousness inseparable to the character of its editor [Hillmann was then the supervising European editor] who simply loves to write various topics imitating others’ compositions, but fortunately, although some of his imitations are really very clever, he has no brains enough to entirely change his own words of writing which is always detectable. In the article referred to, he said, a correspondent of his has heard my conversation with the senabodi, which was as follows: “This time I think I shall have to go to London, to be present at the Celebration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign” etc., and at the end he added, “Then I shall go on to Tokyo.” From this it might as well be said that “I am going to visit the Chief of Chiangmai and will drop in to see the Sultan of Kedah on the way.” Anybody with any common sense and knowledge will readily see how nonsensical it is, but the lower classes of people are apt and prefer to believe these absurdities [rather] than facts. As you have undertaken to inspect these two papers, I remind you that the Siam Observer will most probably publish some of these foolish matters, of their own invention, again, in my absence as it did on the occasion of my visit to Java and caused a great number of Siamese to believe [its misinformation], I, therefore, earnestly request you to pay [your] attention to the system of inspection and to increase its effectiveness further, so as to include the parts published in Siamese.’ HM King Chulalongkorn had approached Dr. O. Frankfurter, who was able to read Siamese, when he met him at the Library. Frankfurter was employed by the Siamese in the Foreign Office as Chief Dragoman and it was agreed he would warn Rolin-Jaequemyns of any suspicious articles in Siamese. Dr. Frankfurter later became chief secretary to the General Adviser.

In his reply, Rolin-Jaequemyns said that Hillmann wanted to fire the Siamese editor, Khulabh, but that Tilleke who then owned the newspaper, did not want to do so, ‘although’, said the General Adviser, ‘some persons suspect him [Khulabh] of being a French spy who purposely inserts absurd or dangerous articles in the Siamese part of the paper. It is even said that he is registered at the French Legation.’ The General Adviser informed the King that he could not possibly go over and censor the papers before they were printed. ‘Moreover I must frankly say that I do not consider [it] desirable for Your Majesty’s government that their control of any newspaper should go farther, because we must be in a position to sincerely decline any responsibility for what appears in either paper, whilst if we had a full control over them, a very heavy responsibility would weigh directly on the person who should undertake to inspect the papers and indirectly on the whole Government.’ Rolin-Jaequemyns then requested that ‘no official news from the palace or from any ministry should reach them except through my intermediary,’ and suggested that it must have been sources in the immediate entourage of the King who had been indiscreet on a number of issues such as Prince Pichit’s resignation, the appointment of a new chief inspector and the trip to Europe.

H. Ledeganck, the Belgian chargé d’affaires in Bangkok, reports in a letter to his Minister of Foreign Affairs (No. 35/16, dated April 8, 1897) how King Chulalongkorn held a short speech before departing for Europe, saying that his trip was not only for pleasure, but that he hoped it would also have happy results for the country. The same letter announced that Madame Rolin-Jaequemyns was leaving the same day for Europe; Ledeganck added, ‘The care for her health is the pretext for the trip—but I am more inclined to believe that the real reason is to serve as a sure intermediary for the communications between her husband and the King.’

HM King Chulalongkorn’s Visit to Belgium

The Archives of the Cabinet of King Leopold II document the closer relations that existed between the Belgian Royal House and the Siamese after the visit of HM King Chulalongkorn to Belgium in 1897. During that visit all the Siamese received Belgian medals and honours. There were also felicitations for the long reign of King Chulalongkorn in 1908, for birthdays, etc.

The 1897 visit itself is amply documented in the arrangements made by the Grand Marshal of King Leopold II (Inventory 207, No. 359). A point of interest is that Dr. E. Reytter, the Belgian personal physician of King Chulalongkorn, was not announced initially, but joined anyway as he was required by contract to follow HM the King wherever he went. He was present, with Charles Buls and General A. Brialmont, who designed fortifications for Bangkok, at a luncheon on 10 September 1897 (these plans for fortifications reputedly ended up in Russia after World War II). King Chulalongkorn arrived in Brussels on 9 September 1897, at 4 p.m., by train, and left, again by train for Mons and Paris on 11 September, at 10.25 a.m. A visit was paid to the International Exhibition, and this seemed to have been the official purpose of the trip. Prince Svasti, then Siam’s minister in Paris but serving for other countries as well, was also in King Chulalongkorn’s entourage. At the dinner on 9 September, at 6.30 p.m., the Belgian Ministers of Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs (de Favereau), Industries and Railways were present. Dr. E. Reytter was flanked by Charles Buls and Baron Baeyens, the Governor of the Société Générale de Belgique, at the lunch. However, although this arrangement looks as an attempt of Belgian authorities to drum up business, at a time when Belgian companies were building railways in China, nothing would come of this. The main reason was the refusal of the financier, the Société Générale de Belgique, to be involved more in Oriental ventures.

Elsewhere (Tips, 1996a), we have noted the closeness of Dr. Reytter, his Belgian personal physician, to King Chulalongkorn, as is witnessed when they went incognito into the City of Brussels together with Charles Buls, its mayor. HM the King stayed two nights in Brussels. Buls, in his Travel Diary for 23 February, 1900, the day of the supper in his honour at the Royal Palace during a return visit in Bangkok, describes how King Chulalongkorn recalled his visit to Brussels. The King had returned incognito with Dr. E. Reytter and Charles Buls from the Palace in Laken for lunch, at which they had eaten five dozen oysters. At night, they had visited the statue of the manneken pis near Brussels’s Grand Place. ‘He laughed very much seeing it,’ Charles Buls wrote (Fonds Buls, No. 85, p. 132). Buls’s visit to Bangkok reciprocated HM the King’s courtesy. He had to postpone the trip until 1900 due to the pressures of his official work.

During this visit to Belgium in September 1897, HM King Chulalongkorn also met Edouard Rolin, the General Adviser’s son who had been very active in helping Siam during the crisis with France by writing articles in journals to publicise the aggression. He had also helped with a report on specifications for rifles prepared by the Belgian Army for Siam to make decisions on purchases. Furthermore, throughout the service of his father in Siam, Edouard was involved in numerous efforts to recruit suitable advisers for Siam in a number of sectors. He was for some time Siam’s consul (see further Tips, 1996a) and was also a representative in some international events.

HM King Chulalongkorn’s Visit to France

During his 1897 European journey, HM King Chulalongkorn visited several countries. In some countries the visit has a very clear political significance: more than anything else such visits were designed to eliminate the widespread idea that Siam was an uncivilised and barbaric country ruled by an Oriental despot, as was reported in the European pro-colonial press. As regards Siam’s foreign affairs, the visits to France and Russia were the most important parts of the trip.

HM King Chulalongkorn had been planning a visit to France for a long time. However, as soon as the boat had left Bangkok, there were difficulties with this visit.  This was among others due to the extreme volatility of the French political scene of the time; governments came and went within months, dealing the cards once again, with sometimes pro-colonial cabinets replacing more conservative forces relying on the career diplomats of the Foreign Affairs ministry rather than on the politically motivated parti colonial activists for policy-making in the Orient. Rolin-Jaequemyns had mixed feelings about all this and in a long letter he made the following analysis of the political significance of the journey from the Siamese point of view (letter to HM the King, dated 3.6.1897, probably received in Russia), ‘I am exceedingly pleased that the visit to France has been postponed. Not that I wish that Your Majesty should not go to France at all. . . . There are only two possible obstacles [to being popular there]: first, if the colonial party (who fear the impression which Your Majesty might produce on the French public and on the French Government) should succeed by spreading false reports about Siam and her Government, in creating hostile feelings against your person; secondly, if the French Government should try again, as they have already done, to make Your Majesty’s visit and good reception dependent on certain conditions which would be a sort of unacceptable bargain, implying the sacrifice of some essential rights of Your Crown, in excess of all existing treaties. If one of these obstacles should occur, I am strongly of opinion that, notwithstanding all the desirableness of Your Majesty’s visit to France, such a visit would be impossible, because the first obstacle would expose You to the risk of having an undignified reception, and the second would compel Your Majesty to pay at too dear a price the pleasure and advantage of Your visit. But I hasten to say that I consider the occurrence of any of both obstacles as more and more improbable; first because the reports of Your progress through Europe, of Your conversations with the French ambassadors at Vienna and Petersburg, and with other public men and publicists will reach Paris, and so more than neutralise the venomous attacks of the French colonial press; secondly, because the French Government will feel themselves that the blame would infallibly be obtained by the publication of a Blue Book—that the omission of Your Majesty’s visit to France was due to their ungentlemanlike behaviour in making the acceptance of an unacceptable bargain the condition of their hospitality.’ The General Adviser stated that the Council of Regency would wire the same arguments as their opinion.

That the visit to France would definitely take place is expressed in a letter of Prince Devawongse to Rolin-Jaequemyns, dated 3 September 1897, ‘You must have seen Prince Bidyalabh when he was coming up to see me but he said he could not tell you in [the] presence of Mr. Carver that her Majesty received a telegram from His Majesty the King that His visit to France is definitely settled on the 11th instant and after His reception in Paris the President will entertain HM at [Le] Havre and will place [a] French man-of-war at the disposal or escort the King to England from [Le] Havre. His Majesty has arranged with the passage from Calais to Dover and as he is going back privately HM has to decline the offer [for] which HM hopes we [the Regency Council] will concur with Him. I believe we are all with HM.’

The visit of HM King Chulalongkorn to France and his meeting with the President of France on 11 September 1897 cleared the air for a while.

In Paris King Chulalongkorn announced that Siam would like to come to a definite agreement with France regarding the borders and the protégés. Therefore, it would be advantageous to know which were the protégés and to register them, at least for Siam. On the other hand, the principle of the left bank of the Mekong as a border for French influence, as set out in the 1893 Treaty, had to be defined more precisely in Upper Laos and in Cambodia. After this visit, France and Siam re-opened talks. However, very soon there would be new misunderstandings and demands from a parti colonial influenced government.

HM King Chulalongkorn’s Visit to Russia

As for the visit to Czar Nicholas II, Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote in his letter of 3 June 1897 that he felt HM the King would be able to enhance the feelings of friendship that already existed by explaining his policy, ‘This policy may be summed up in a few words:
1st An intense and sincere desire to live on good terms with all foreign States, and especially with your two mighty neighbours, and strictly to observe the clauses of the Treaties existing between You and them, even when, as is the case for the international arrangements of 1893, there are some stipulations of an exceptionally hard and injurious nature.

2nd A strong conviction that the internal policy of Siam must be a wisely progressive one, and that the first duty of the Siamese Government in this respect is to preserve the security of property and persons and to increase the welfare of all sorts of inhabitants of the country, whatever be their race and religion.’

These wishes appear to have led the General Adviser to a twist designed to seek Russian support for their talking things over with their friends, the French. It is also clear that there are references here to what was actually happening at that moment in Siam, in May 1897. ‘But how will it be possible to fulfil this duty if Your Majesty’s authority in Your own States on Your own subjects is paralysed by the anarchical action of some French Consular or colonial officials, by an unlimited faculty of transforming into French protégés, free from military duties, from poll taxes, from the authority of the police and of the Courts of Justice, people who since generations were considered and treated and who considered themselves as Siamese subjects? If some consular or colonial officials are allowed to encourage and to inspire the rebellious attitude of local chiefs and namely of the Chief of Luang Prabang? If they understand the [illegible word] clause of the 25 kilometres, hard enough in itself, as meaning not a simple restriction, but a total suppression of Your Majesty’s Sovereignty on that part of Your States? If finally they contrive to find a pretext for an unlimited occupation of Chantaboon, in the fact that Your Majesty does not comply—not with the true clauses of the Treaty—but with exorbitant pretensions for which no justification can be found in any word of any Treaty? And what is the end of all this? The French Government has repeatedly protested . . . their desire to have an independent Siam as their neighbour, and this is clearly their interest as it is the right of Siam. But the present action of the French colonial and consular agents, as described here above, openly aims at the destruction of this independence. It is thus contrary to the views openly expressed by the French Government, and what might be expected from that Government is that they would punish their agents, or remove them. . . . [F]or the King of Siam to enter into any fresh agreement whereby such action as described here above would be sanctioned for the past and for the future would amount to a political suicide, or to a sort of High Treason towards himself. Everything is better than that. The Czar is an autocrat, and I would be extremely surprised if such explanation of Your Majesty’s political situation and feelings did not meet with His entire approval not only as a friend, but as a Sovereign. Then it might be left to him to let his own opinions and wishes drop into the ear of a French ambassador.’

In Saint Petersburg, Rolin-Jaequemyns also had a connection: he introduced his colleague, F. de Martens, a privy counsellor and member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Czar. There is no doubt that de Martens had been kept informed of the French demands in order that he could use Russian friends to counter-balance them. In his letter of 3 June 1897, just prior to the visit to Russia, Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote to HM the King, ‘Your Majesty will most probably meet at Petersburg one of my best friends Mr. F. de Martens, privy councillor, member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, etc. He has written works of great repute and is one of the first living authorities on matters of international Law. He is moreover a thoroughly reliable man, and I am sure that he will eventually be glad to give to Your Majesty any information or advise compatible with his duty towards His own Sovereign.’ However, despite the expectations of Russian support, the Russians would briefly align their interests with France and in Bangkok the then Russian minister would prove to be a less than friendly force for the General Adviser and for Siam (see further Tips, 1996a).

Some Early Consequences of the Journey

In a reply dated 3 June 1897 to several letters of HM the King, Rolin-Jaequemyns already wrote about the good news coming from Europe, ‘Since then I was informed of Your Majesty’s progress through Europe and we are all delighted here at the good reception which your Royal party has met hitherto, and which, I have not the least doubt, You will continue to meet in every place which You will visit.’

Even though telegrams came from the many courts the King visited, invariably containing praise and remonstrations of friendship and even affection, the General Adviser warned, in what seems to be his last letter before the King’s return, written on 16 November 1897 in Singapore where he had gone to prepare a court case for Siam against a certain Cheek [or Cheak], ‘It would certainly be dangerous to trust too much, in matters of international policy, to the personal friendships of sovereigns, however sincere their friendships may be. Indeed it is sometimes the painful duty of Sovereigns to subordinate their personal affections to the public interest of their State. It would thus be an exaggeration to say that, in any future contingency and under all circumstances, the personal friendship even of so powerful a Sovereign as the Emperor of Russia, will be an absolute guarantee for Siam against French hostility.’ Rolin-Jaequemyns was nevertheless optimistic and summed up the result of the trip as follows, ‘Before April last, Your Majesty had as great a goodwill and as firm intention as now to live in terms of excellent friendship with all European States, and gradually to raise [Siam], by a succession of reforms, to the level of a civilised and progressive nation. But such goodwill and intention were not known, or, if known, they were distrusted or systematically misrepresented, and such misrepresentations were easily believed, because European ignorance of the Asiatic world is so great that nobody could believe in the existence of a truly kind-hearted, high-minded and enlightened Asiatic Sovereign. Now Your Majesty’s presence in Europe has destroyed such ignorance and prejudice at least [as far as] . . . concerns Your person amongst the leading Sovereigns and statesmen of Europe, and has awakened in the public opinion at large a benevolent interest for Siamese affairs which hardly would be said to exist before this time. Of course a large section of French papers will still continue to abuse and slander Your Majesty and Your people. But even in France, they will no more be implicitly believed whilst on the contrary, if Your Majesty . . . continues to initiate, promote, and patronise all sorts of reforms and avoids any pretext for hostile interference of Your Neighbours, Your powerful friend, the Emperor of Russia will find it entirely compatible with His own policy to use His influence in Your favour.’

A letter of the General Adviser dated 23 September 1897 to the Chief Editor of the Journal de Genève is unusually candid for two reasons, first, ‘I was especially appreciative of the manner in which you have judged the King of Siam’ and secondly, the newspaper had defended the General Adviser during the previous year when the treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of the Menam Valley between Britain and France had caused a wave of slander in the colonial press addressed to Siam and its General Adviser. Rolin-Jaequemyns said the King’s trip to Europe and especially to Paris in 1897 had been very successful in spite of the fact that the parti colonial had done everything to prevent it from taking place. He continued: ‘There is in Bangkok itself an office of false information which [is] produced in the offices of the Siam Free Press. The editor of this newspaper, an Irishman, who maintains close relations with the French consul, Mr. Hardouin, is the author of sensational telegrams which have been reprinted [on] several occasions by the New York Herald of Paris. The disturbances, the attacks [on] missionaries, the violations of French territory by Siamese troops are . . . inventions of his.’ Rolin-Jaequemyns said that these reports served to stir up emotions and to try to make turmoil during the visit of the King to Paris, but the tactic had not worked. Indeed later the editor of the Siam Free Press would be removed from the country.

It has often been said that this journey opened the eyes of the King to some of the developments of the West. However, we have shown in previous books (Tips, 1992, 1996a, 1996b) that many of the internal reforms of the kingdom were already being implemented, some had been discussed and others still had been adopted before the King’s departure. Therefore, the most significant result of this European journey was rather political in nature as it opened the eyes of the world to a Siam well on the way to be accepted as an independent nation, equal to others in the international community of states.

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Tips, W. E. J. (1992). Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns (Chao Phraya Aphai Raja) and the Belgian Advisers in Siam (1892-1902)—An Overview of Little-Known Documents Concerning the Chakri Reformation Era. Published by the author, Bangkok. 331 pp.

Tips, W. E. J. (1996a). Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns and the Making of Modern Siam. The Diaries and Letters of King Chulalongkorn’s General Adviser. White Lotus, Bangkok. xxv+493 pp.

Tips, W. E. J. (1996b). Siam’s Struggle for Survival. The Gunboat Incident at Paknam and the Franco-Siamese Treaty of October 1893. White Lotus, Bangkok. xiv+253 pp.

Tuck, P. (1995). The French Wolf and the Siamese Lamb. The French Threat to Siamese Independence, 1858-1907. White Lotus, Bangkok. xviii+434 pp.

(This text has been distributed in a somewhat modified form among selected scholars.)

White Lotus Press Books: http://whitelotusbooks.com

2 responses to “HM King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 Journey to Europe

  1. Mr. Tips, I would like to ask you some questions concerning the Franco-Siamese War, but cannot find an email address listed for you anywhere on the web. It would be tremendously helpful to me if you could get in touch with me. I look forward to corresponding with you.

    Thank you in advance.