Thai Foundations: When a Missionary Arrived in 1854

Mormon History Association Conference paper

(Incorporating Feedback from Commentator Casey Griffiths)

June 2015

A letter arrived at the Grand Palace of Bangkok, Siam on April 5, 1854 from Colonel Butterworth, governor of Singapore. It matches the timing of Butterworth’s request to deal with an unsatisfactory situation to the King of Siam; King Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua of Siam, Rama IV, or King Mongkut to the English.[1] A captain on one of His Majesty, the King of Siam’s ships, fired an unauthorized salute in the Rhodes or the small islands in the Singapore Straight.[2] The treaty between Siam and the Honorable East India Company prohibited any molestations between the two entities. Thailand in 1854 might not have significantly affected Mormons but because of this journal, a Mormon revealed new insight into the Thai dynamics during a threat of colonialization, thus engaging Thai Mormons and Thais in general in the broader Mormon context. Weaving Mormon journals into broader historical narratives unlocks possibilities for collaboration and new insight.[3]

Colonel William John Butterworth was highest in command in British Singapore second only to the administration of distant British India, a well placed and rising star in the British hierarchy. Butterworth’s fame no doubt was connected partially to his father who died at the Battle of Trafalgar sailing with British naval hero, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, in one of England’s deciding showdowns with France. Young William John was four years old then with grand expectations and later in Singapore took his place among the leading lights.

 

The offender, Captain James Trail, of British & Dutch-Battavian (Indonesian) extraction, fired a twelve gun salute from his Western-styled ship floating in the Rhodes of Singapore in celebration of one of the local merchants’ large feasts. As his men loaded the last gun, a shot blasted prematurely blowing off both arms of one of his Siamese crew. Whatever Trail’s particular nuisance to Butterworth, by treaty the governor could easily put a word in King Monghkut’s ear to deal with a captain presumptuous enough to fire a salute from a vessel belonging to Siam in Butterworth’s territory.

 

James Trail operated a hospital in Bangkok. Preparing the ship to return to Bangkok to care for the injured man, Captain Trail happened upon a Mormon missionary also anxious to get to Bangkok, Elam Luddington. Trail, with Luddington aboard, departed Singapore for Siam. “…[A]s a general thing [Captain James Trail] is very much liked by all classes; he speaks several languages,” wrote Luddington.[4]

 

Perhaps Captain James Trail was too well liked, though. Under Siamese colors a British-Dutch-Batavian was beyond the direct reach of the Honorable East India Company’s discipline and Colonel Butterworth’s particular authority. King Mongkhut in Siam, on the other hand, willingly complied with his “intimate friend” Butterworth’s request at a time when the British East India Company flanked him on both sides, India and Burma to his west, Singapore to his south.[5] Mormon missionary Elam Luddington’s recounting of Trail’s story, thus, contributes an important narrative to Siam’s history.

 

On April 6, 1854 Captain Trail sailed up the river to Bangkok with his wounded crew member in tow and the lone Mormon missionary. That Sunday, April 9, Luddington preached his first sermon in the land of his mission call, Siam. Captain Trail and his wife, who were in attendance, were baptized after hearing Elam Luddington’s sermon.

 

The very next day King Monghkut sent for James Trail in regard to the firing salute. The King thereupon shut Trail in what Luddington describes as a “dungeon” to appease Butterworth along with fifty other common debtors for seventy one days without food. Family and friends were allowed to feed the prisoners but apparently few did as only ten came out alive from the ordeal. In European reports regarding prisoners in Siam, a form of slavery was the only other option for debtors.[6] Perhaps an attempt to survive in prison might have spared them, or saved face for their relatives wanting to avoid affiliations with debt and servitude.   In other words, death in prison rather than a life of slavery might have been a conscious choice, and a more appealing destiny for their families. Luddington, though, notes that some prisoners later became slaves after all.[7] James Trail, by the grace of his family who fed him during the ordeal, lived. Eventually someone transferred Trail to confinement in the King’s stables with other convicts maintaining the elephants.[8]

 

James Trail then, the British-Dutch-Batavian sea captain beloved by the fishermen of the Rhodes of Singapore and no doubt by the patients from his hospital in Bangkok, the prison survivor, was Mormon.[9] Such a man at the fringes of colonial power is known only because the author of Trail’s misadventure also survived on the fringes of colonial power; someone not quite under the influence of colonial networks but who shared their lineage and language, Mormon missionary Elam Luddington.[10] Not Thai, but also not fully accepted by colonial power brokers, Elam Luddington and James Trail provide important nuances to the lower social classes of Siamese history under threat of colonial takeover.

 

British Creep

This willingness of the King of Siam to accommodate colonial power brokers like Butterworth comes on the heels of the British creep into Southeast Asia but is also rooted in a story of treachery by a foreign agent named, Phaulkon. In the Siamese court competitors of the 1600s were suspicious of Phaulkon’s quick rise to power believing that he sabotaged Siam weakening its borders for western trade-hungry powers. Siam, therefore, in response to what they believed to be Phaulkon’s and other European treachery, closed its doors to virtually all foreigners and especially missionaries for more than a century.

 

A struggle with Siam’s fierce enemy at its borders, vanquisher of Siam’s illustrious capital of Ayuttaya in 1767, contextualizes the sudden change in attitude toward Euro-Americans and missionaries in particular. Only roughly fifty years later in the early to mid 1820s the Honorable British East India Company crushed the Burmese. The Burmese believed the Company was harboring fugitives and demanded they be returned and punished. The Company fashioned the Burmese bravado into a prelude to war and took license to trample everything in their path, including their most holy site in Rangoon, the Shwedagon pagoda. The East India Company thus replaced the Burmese as the new enemy for whom the Siamese did not have the benefit of centuries of observation to study their tactics. Resident missionaries, so willing to provide free information and medical care became more attractive tutors.[11]

 

In an abrupt change in course Siam welcomed Europeans and especially missionaries, but under tight supervision. Missionaries, though, were viewed as potential double agents from the time of Phaulkon. Kings throughout the Asian continent witnessed their neighbors fall while missionaries remained loyal to colonial governments rather than the lands and people where they spent their lives and fortunes. Might it have occurred to King Mongkut to turn missionaries into double agents to be loyal to him rather than colonial governments? Missionaries could perhaps become tools for communication, information and possibly a secret weapon against colonials licking their chops for territory and wealth.

 

Gambling that they might avoid a hostile takeover, King Mongkut catered to British whims.[12] One such whim as we have noted was Colonel Butterworth’s request in 1854 for King Mongkut to restrain his men from firing salutes in Singapore territorial waters. This of course meant dealing with Elam Luddington’s only Mormon convert, Captain James Trail.

 

The British-Dutch-Battavian was an example of a Eurasian in the employ of King Mongkut with some influence over Europeans but with Asian heritage more likely to be loyal to Siam than to the racially discriminatory governments of Euro-Americans. Often seen as illegitimate in the 19th Century, Eurasians were generally treated as second class citizens by both Europeans and many Asians.[13] King Mongkut, though, hired Eurasian James Trail to captain one of his ships. Trail, however, had upset Butterworth, a powerful ally, and become a liability rather than an asset. Later the King would hire another more well known Eurasian, Anna Leonowens of the musical King and I fame, as a school mistress to his children.

 

Elam Luddington is very obliging to communicate Trail’s misfortune in his journal, and in his letters to Church Headquarters in what was then called, Great Salt Lake. At first it seems reasonable that Elam Luddington would want to report Trail’s incident to Great Salt Lake because Trail was after all, his only convert. Naturally, we might suppose, he would communicate Trail’s welfare to the church hierarchy. However, a closer reading suggests there may be another motivation for Luddington’s repetition and elaboration of Trail’s particulars.

 

To grasp how Luddington’s emphasis on James Trail is a bit unusual we might consider that Luddington does not write much of anything about Mormon conversions in which he participates besides Trail, though he is party to other conversions in India and Burma with arguably equally as interesting back stories. Luddington is the only Mormon missionary in Bangkok, though. For the most part Luddington writes very little about actual missionary work and church affairs in his own journal and letters. This interest in Trail’s particulars, then, is a bit of an anomaly for his extant writings.

 

Two sentences may reveal another possibility for his apparent drive to enlighten his readers of Captain Trail’s travails. Luddington reported to Elder George B. Wallace of the House of Representatives of the Legislature of Deseret, “Siam has been misresprented grossly by American missionaries. The Rev. Mr. Smith offered one hundred tickals [Siamese currency] if the Europeans would not write the particulars to Singapore concerning Captain Trail, who has been six weeks in durance for firing a salute in the roads of Singapore, on baord of the king’s ship. [sic]”[14] Reverend Samuel Jones Smith was also a Eurasian born in Bombay to a Portuguese-Indian mother and a British father. Adopted by a missionary couple in Burma and taken to Siam at age twelve, Smith spoke Thai fluently.

 

We only know of Captain Trail because of Elam Luddington’s journal, not only because he happened to be the only person to record the event but also because according to Luddington, Smith was willing to bribe Euro-American missionaries with 100 tickals of Bangkok currency to keep the matter quiet and not report it to authorities in Singapore. Luddington, not directly connected to colonial networks for support and financial assistance could more easily defy Smith’s threat. Luddington retold the story of Captain Trail several times in various letters and in his journal. But what caused Smith to bribe missionaries into silence regarding Captain Trail’s detainment? Might the King not legitimately follow through on Butterworth’s request to manage captains in his employ especially under treaty obligation? What about Trail’s story needed to be covered up or why would Luddington be inclined to report it?

 

The Cover-Up

If King Mongkut had tapped James Trail, a Eurasian, to captain his ships and later employed another Eurasian, Anna Leonowens, to school his children, might he have also tapped Smith, yet another Eurasian, to manage his public face to Europeans? King Mongkut wrote Colonel Butterworth in 1851, “I do not doubt you will learn from many letters of the Eastern Indian merchants and American missionaries who may write to their friends of Singapore, even to the editors of Free Press and Straits Times, or from the oral word of my man Mr. Nai Bhoom…”[15] Smith, whether in the King’s direct employ or on his own personal mission to preserve the King’s stature, was concerned enough about what Europeans might say about the King of Siam’s treatment of Trail, a man of European heritage and well liked, that he was willing to pay to cover it up. Luddington’s account of bribery seems viable under these conditions, though there are still many questions unanswered about the particulars of what happened.

 

Europeans, as exhibited many times previously, looking for any pretext to march on Asian monarchs might manipulate even this minor trifle of James Trail to invade, labeling the King of Siam uncivilized. Might Smith have been working for King Mongkut as a missionary double agent? It may be impossible to know for certain. He also spoke out against another Eurasian later, Anna Leonowens, though her stories proved to be false by independent sources.[16] While Luddington might not have baptized many converts in Siam, by including Trail’s particulars, he certainly alluded to an international chess game in which King Mongkhut would later successfully evade a near colonial sweep of Southeast Asia.

 

Mormons, on the other hand, only focused on his mission’s relatively slim conversions. The Millennial Star summed up his mission in 1869, “Elder Luddington proceeded to Bankok, Siam, where he was stoned and rejected [sic].”[17] It is still unclear, however, why Luddington was so intent on sharing Trail’s story.

For at least one Thai Mormon, however, a Mormon missionary documenting important power dynamics of Thai 1850s history is valuable.

 

Partnering

Tosawan Malabuppha, a Thai Deaf Mormon, leads the research in Bangkok, Thailand for Elam Luddington’s mission there in 1854. She is responsible for tracking down many of the resources in this MHA paper. We first began working together on September 15, 2014. I tweeted that day, “Wait for this: Skyped with a Thai Deaf Mormon today in Bangkok. She translates professionally. [Are you] thinking what I’m thinking? Yes I sign :)”.[18] We found each other through Facebook. She heard about me through friends and missionaries in Bangkok. Tosawan’s willingness to work on the project excited me because as a deaf person she might naturally seek out more visual details from the 1850s which has proven true. The next day I sent in my MHA proposal for this paper. I will share Tosawan’s own explanation of her involvement in the process. She wanted to be here to present it herself and sends her greetings to all of you.

 

Tosawan Malabuppha

“Audrey Bastian really wanted to share with me about Elam Luddington story on her website pages.  I read those pages that made me very interested and thought fantastic in her writings but I never thought of it before.  Since we were introduced chatting to each other through Facebook, I glad that we can communication as well because she is a professional certified interpreter and know American Sign Language.

 

I delighted working on a part of research projects for Audrey.  Last year, I started to set up my own schedules so I can get up early morning and go to the National archive and library sometime on weekends, which I have work off on Saturdays. I have collected such copied documents in both Thai and English sources. As I can share those reference information with Audrey.

 

Actually, I go to the National library building more than archive because I found the many books there and discover those information into the computer library research as I can study there more time. Finally, I decided to permit young librarian woman if I may research into the special books room. I told her that I don’t have much enough time to seek around the library during hours for reasons. She approved me. She guided me go through next door there and show me how looking around the bookcases in quiet place. No one is there with me. Fortunately, I did see all those books in the cases but choose some of books are the most important values so being with me to the copy center for copy documents. Also, I sent the documents and books in package mail to Audrey’s home address.  She cannot wait to receive the package mail and excitedly read those books.

 

I am thankful to Audrey for giving me the great opportunity to work as researcher assistant with her. We have been working together for one year. Audrey is an amazing my lead writer.

 

Thanks for inviting me to this MHA conference opportunity and your support.”

 

Observations

From my observations working with Tosawan throughout this past year on the research, she is always curious about the Thai perspective of the story, whether it be what Thai people ate, how they behaved, who was the first Thai Mormon and what Thai people might think about Mormons. She introduced me to popular Thai social media sites and discussed her observations on the growth of the members in recent years.

 

The Church in Thailand does not provide interpreters for her or other Thai deaf Mormons so she has limited access to members and programs though she’s been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about twenty two years now. She did live in Utah for fifteen of those years with full access to deaf members and callings. She also sees the church as benevolent American institution. As she studies Thai Mormon history, her interest and point of view has shifted to the situation of Mormons in Thailand rather than Utah. For example, she was particularly interested to discover that a Thai monk became a Mormon.

 

Conclusion

Thais like Tosawan Malabuppha are contributing to Mormon history projects and their interest in Thai stories.   Mormon missionary, Elam Luddington, wrote important nuances of the colonial history of Thailand. A Mormon thus touched and contributed to Thai history as Thais have become part of Mormon history. Captain Trail and his wife would be Luddington’s first and only converts in Siam. With our knowledge of Mormon convert, Captain James Trail, we now have another layer of the power dynamics keeping Thailand, or Siam of the 1850s, from eventual colonialization. It is important to continue the research into the dynamics of Captain Trail on Siam at the time to discover what his story might add to our knowledge of Siam’s encounter with the West.

[1] The date which the King received the letter is a little ambiguous. The likelihood, however, that the letter Butterworth sent King Mongkut arrived on April 5, 1854 is high because Trail was taken to the dungeon on April 7 though the King’s response to the letter does not mention all the contents of Butterworth’s letter nor does he mention that Butterworth may have had a request to deal with Trail. We know of the request from Elam Luddington’s writings.

Coedes, George, English Correspondence of King Mongkut [Articles/Computer File], The Journal of the Siam Society; vol 21, pt 1, (1927-28): 13, stored at The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage, http://www.siamese-heritage.org/jsspdf/1921/JSS_021_1b_EnglishCorrespondenceOfKingMongkut.pdf (accessed May 20, 2015).

[2] Under Article 1 of the Treaty with Siam between the Honorable East India Company and the King of Siam of 1827 it states, “The Siamese must not go and molest, attack, disturb, seize or take any place, territory, or boundary, belonging to the English, in any country, subject to the English….The Siamese shall settle every matter within the Siamese boundaries, according to their own will and customs.”

Jumsai, M.L. Manich, King Mongkut & Sir John Bowring, (Bangkok: Chalermnit, 1970) 6.

[3] Elam Luddington retells the events surrounding the firing salute in the rhodes of Singapore between King Mongkut, Colonel Butterworth, and Captain Trail several times. The story is similar in the different accounts but may add certain details that another leaves out. This paper integrates these different versions into one.

Luddington, Elam, Letter to President S. W. Richards, May 1, 1854, “The Siam Mission”, Millennial Star vol 16, no 34, (August 26, 1854), digitized by Brigham Young University, Mormon Publications: 19th & 20th Centuries, 540-541.

Luddington, Elam, Letter to Deseret News editor, circa October 1855, Missionary Reports 1855, MS 6104, LDS Church Archives.

Luddington, Elam, “Siam. Extracts of a Letter from Elder Elam Luddington to Elder George B. Wallace,” Deseret News (November 16, 1854) 3, digitized at Utah Digital Newspapers by the University of Utah.

Author Unnamed, Signed ‘Shade of Howard’, “Singapore and Siamese Justice,” The Straits Times (June 20, 1854), digitized by Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, Newspaper SG.

[4] Luddington, Elam, Letter to President S. W. Richards, May 1, 1854, “The Siam Mission”, Millennial Star vol 16, no 34, (August 26, 1854), digitized by Brigham Young University, Mormon Publications: 19th & 20th Centuries, 540-541.

[5] Coedes, George, English Correspondence of King Mongkut [Articles/Computer File], The Journal of the Siam Society; vol 21, pt 1, (1927-28): 13, stored at The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage, http://www.siamese-heritage.org/jsspdf/1921/JSS_021_1b_EnglishCorrespondenceOfKingMongkut.pdf (accessed May 20, 2015).

[6] Feltus, George Haws, A.M., B.D., Samuel Reynolds House of Siam: Pioneer Medical Missionary, 1847-1876, (Bangkok: White Lotus Co., Ltd., 2007) 9.

[7] Luddington, Elam, Letter to Deseret News editor, circa October 1855, Missionary Reports 1855, MS 6104, LDS Church Archives.

[8] Convicts often died caring for their large and heavy elephant charges.

[9] Luddington writes as to how well liked Trail is among the fishermen.

Luddington, Elam, Letter to President S. W. Richards, May 1, 1854, “The Siam Mission”, Millennial Star vol 16, no 34, (August 26, 1854), digitized by Brigham Young University, Mormon Publications: 19th & 20th Centuries, 540-541.

Luddington, Elam, Letter to Deseret News editor, circa October 1855, Missionary Reports 1855, MS 6104, LDS Church Archives.

Luddington, Elam, “Siam. Extracts of a Letter from Elder Elam Luddington to Elder George B. Wallace,” Deseret News (November 16, 1854) 3, digitized at Utah Digital Newspapers by the University of Utah.

Author Unnamed, Signed ‘Shade of Howard’, “Singapore and Siamese Justice,” The Straits Times (June 20, 1854), digitized by Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, Newspaper SG.

[10] Luddington’s journal records his treatment as an “outcast”, etc.

Luddington, Elam, Letter to Deseret News editor, circa October 1855, Missionary Reports 1855, MS 6104, LDS Church Archives.

A discussion of the treatment of Eurasians as second class citizens is found here:

Habegger, Alfred, Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

[11] For primary sources regarding the change in affairs between the British and Siamese during this period, see these collections which printed missionary journals during that time:

Farrington, Anthony, ed., Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff and Abeel 1828-1832, from Jacob Tomlin’s Journal, August 1828-May 1829 (London, 1844), Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2001, 58-63.

Feltus, George Haws, Samuel Reynolds House of Siam: Pioneer Medical Missionary 1847-1876, Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2007, 34-56.

[12] Farrington, Anthony, ed. Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff and Abeel 1828-1832, (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2001) 71.

[13]Habegger, Alfred, Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

[14] Luddington, Elam, “Siam. Extracts of a Letter from Elder Elam Luddington to Elder George B. Wallace,” Deseret News (November 16, 1854) 3, digitized at Utah Digital Newspapers by the University of Utah.

[15] Coedes, George, English Correspondence of King Mongkut [Articles/Computer File], The Journal of the Siam Society; vol 21, pt 1, (1927-28): 3, stored at The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage, http://www.siamese-heritage.org/jsspdf/1921/JSS_021_1b_EnglishCorrespondenceOfKingMongkut.pdf (accessed May 20, 2015).

[16] For a thorough discussion on Anna Leonowens’ many false stories, see:

Habegger, Albert, Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

[17] Author Unnamed, “An Answer to Several Questions in Relation to the History and Doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, and the Settlement and Progress of Utah Territory,” Millennial Star vol 31, no 5: 64 (January 5, 1869).

[18] https://twitter.com/AudreyBastian

 

Audrey Bastian

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Tosawan Malabuppha

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