…On a day towards the end of the year 1854 in Bangkok of what was then called Siam, the heat only slightly drew a sweat as the weather finally turned. Draping tropical 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 rather than puncture the dense brush.
Most houses along the canals stood on stilts at least a foot or two above the ground to avoid flooding. 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. These homes were shaped somewhat like a house 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 had come in the past. The minister knew the missionaries well but his greeting was icy.
The missionaries congregated in the designated room unsure of the tenor of the invite yet. He looked them over carefully clutching a sheet of newsprint in his hands. Commander Si Suriyawongse handed it to each one of them to look at page five where an editorial note and then two unsigned letters appeared of the Singapore Straits Times, 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, who would gain by this, who might they now trust, or perhaps more importantly, what larger force was behind it.
After they had each seen the editorial note and the letters the minister faced each missionary individually to probe, “Did you write that letter?”….