…On a day towards the end of the year in Bangkok in 1854 of Thailand or what was then called Siam, the heat hadn’t drawn a sweat as the weather finally turned just a bit cooler. Tropical draping greens and crawling vines dressed the homes along canals that formed the thoroughfares of the city. Everyone either owned their own long slender wooden boat with paddles or rented them.
Most houses along the canals stood on stilts at least a foot or two above the ground. Red-brown, solid, teak-wood formed the walls and framed the open windows shaded with slanted over-hangs. Semi-circle, rounded clay tiles mounded up the pointing rooves, sharply angling from below like an arrow’s point. The homes looked somewhat like houses in Connecticut, but pinched in sharper skyward angles. The rooves often ended their A-line, at the ends, with a wooden or gilded flare.
His Excellency, the Phraya Si Suriyawongse, Commander of the Royal Palace Navy, the most preferred of the King’s, second only to his father, the Chancellor of Defense, called all the Protestant evangelists in Siam to his home. They arrived from the canal by water taxis just as they came in the past. The minister knew the missionaries well. This time the minister’s greeting, however, was icy.
The missionaries congregated in a room of the minister’s house unsure of the tenor of the invite. The minister looked them over carefully clutching a sheet of newsprint in his hands. He handed it to each one of them to look at page five where an editorial note and then two unsigned letters appeared. The Singapore Straits Times had been recently published on 12 September 1854. As each missionary perused the editorial and then the two letters, they were dumbfounded.
The editorial note began, “Siam. –By late advices we regret to learn that matters are not progressing favourably in the country of Siam, in consequence of the policy and conduct pursued by the reigning sovereign….”
None of the missionaries present held any real malice toward the king, nor had they discussed amongst themselves any disdain for him. They looked at each other wondering which one of their fellows had acted duplicitously and who could they now trust.
After they had each seen the editorial note and the letters the minister faced each missionary individually to probe, “Did you write that letter?”.
One of those missionaries present that day, Samuel Smith, remembered the night eighteen years later, “An anonymous communication appeared in the Straits Times, Tuesday, Sept. 12th, 1854.
That letter animadverted severely upon [King Mongkut]. Whether it was a freak of a playful or malicious man or whether it was the move of a would be deep politician does not at present concern us. True or false, as was natural, it gave great offense to a sensitive king, who despite his peculiarities and praiseworthy intellectuality longed to be esteemed by foreigners abroad as one of the best men that ever drew the breath of life….”
To the minister’s question, each missionary denied having anything to connection to the letter. One of them had to be responsible. The letters contained information that only people close to the king would know. The Phraya pressed further, if they hadn’t written it, who did?…