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Phuket History: Rough justice Siamese style

Captain Alexander Hamilton leaves us a most colourful account of the workings of a Siamese law court in the 18th century. He first tells us the official punishment for rebellion in Siam at the time.

By Colin Mackay

Sunday 6 May 2018, 01:00PM

 “Criminals are ripped up alive and their guts and entrails taken out and their carcasses then woven up in a twig-case and tied up to a stake for vultures and other voracious fowls or dogs to feed on. I saw eighteen one morning going to be so executed for mutiny.”

Whereas, for those found guilty of treasonable talk: “An elephant is the executioner. The condemned person is made fast to a stake driven into the ground for the purpose, the elephant is brought to view him and goes twice or thrice round him.

When the elephant keeper speaks to the monstrous executioner, he twines his trunk round the person and stake and pulling the stake from the ground with great violence, tosses the man and the stake into the air and in coming down receives him on his teeth [tusks] and shaking him off again puts one foot on the carcass and squeezes it flat.”

In 1718 while visiting Ayutthaya, Hamilton found himself accused of treason and facing a Siamese court. If it did not go well, he knew he would also end up facing a “Pachyderm executioner”.

Although the East India Company (EIC) had not reopened a factory since its spat with Siam in the 1680s, it had appointed a commercial representative in Siam, an Englishman, Mr Collet. Hamilton tells us Collet had an assistant, “a Persian by birth who had come to Siam with his father when very young, and had remained about forty years in Siam.”

This Persian held the Siamese title of Okya Sennarat and was probably part of the Bunnag family. Mr Collet and Okya Sennarat did not like non-EIC “interlopers” trading in Siam and he claims they frequently obstructed the EIC’s ability to trade freely. Hamilton disparagingly called Okya Sennarat a “remora” (a smaller fish which attaches itself to sharks and feeds off the shark’s debris) and said of him, “He was as complete a rascal as Collet could have found for his villainous purposes, for by false information to the king he had brought many honest men into trouble and some treasure into the king’s coffers… This Persian and I were discoursing one day of my affairs in the Hindustan language which is the established language spoken in the Moguls’ large dominions [in India].”

Having been refused the right to trade, Hamilton stated he had a mind to see the king and offered Okya Sennarat 1,000 dollars, “if he could find means to introduce me. He answered that ‘the English had not good manners enough to be admitted into the presence of so great a king and therefore I ought not to expect to appear before him’… About a week after, I had a summons to appear before a tribunal to answer an indictment of speaking treason of the king.”

Hamilton was most surprised and understandably more than a tad apprehensive about maybe being found guilty. He then discovered that it was the Persian Okya Sennarat himself who had brought the indictment. However, as Captain Hamilton explains:

“I knew myself innocent and appeared at the time appointed… the court was held in a large square oblong hall open on all sides. About nine the judge came with some thousands of attendants and as he passed by me to take his place he viewed me very narrowly, as I did him with much attention.


He was a man of middle stature about fifty years of age of a pleasant but grave countenance and had a quick sparkling eye. He spoke to my interpreter and bid me have a care of my tongue lest I should prejudice myself in answering intricate questions. I thanked him for his admonition… he then ordered my indictment to be read… My impeachment was grounded only on my saying that ‘the king had been imposed upon’ and by the by, I found that saying the king of Siam was capable of being imposed on is rank treason… Had I been cast in my process my head would be a sacrifice to my adversaries’ resentment and my ship and cargo [would go] to the much injured king and all my ship’s company would become the king’s slaves.

“The judge chose out of the assembly two procurators for each of us… the judge put Okya Sennarat to prove what I was accused of and he produced two of his servants, who had stood at some distance when we were discoursing of my affairs.

My advocates then challenged the laws of Siam for their insufficiency, for that law admits not of a servant’s testimony, either for or against his master. Then he proffered to bring an undeniable witness against me, who was the only person with us when we discoursed and that was Mr Collet.

The judge then interrogated him if he had heard me say in my discourse that the king had been imposed on. He affirmed he had, on which I perceived a cloud overspread the judge’s countenance and many others who had come to hear the trial seemed sorrowful… After a little pause, the judge by the interpreter, asked me what I had to say to Collet’s evidence.

I answered that he might be an honest man or otherwise as his interest led him. All continued mute for a little space and I broke the silence by desiring the judge to ask Collet in what language I held that discourse with Okya Sennerat, which the judge did, and was answered that he believed it was in the Hindustan language.

I begged the judge to ask him if he understood that language and he did so. Collet, after some pause, answered “No,”… at which the whole crowd gave an Huzza! And clapped their hands and seemed joyful. The judge reprimanded Okya Sennerat for putting him and the court to so much trouble and complimented me on my safe delivery and so departed seemingly well satisfied.”


Adapted with kind permission from the book ‘A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region’ by Colin Mackay. Available from good bookshops and Amazon.com. Order the softcover 2nd edition directly at: www.historyofphuket.com

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Kurt | 07 May 2018 - 12:27:10

Reinstated?  Perhaps.
But no use of elephants, no animal cruelty, please.
Be Siamese style smart anno 2018, perhaps use a backhoe instead?  ( joke)

BenPendejo | 07 May 2018 - 09:00:32

Perhaps some of those punishments should be reinstated, and corrupt Phuket police and officials should be held accountable for their actions, or more often, their inaction to look out for the best interest of the common people.


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