Bowrey relates that in 1675 “a great prowe of about 40 tunns,” from Aceh, funded by an Englishman, Willian Jersey, “an eminent Merchant at Fort St George [Madras] … had got in [to Banquala (Patong)] privately and traded for tinne.”
To hide itself the blockade-running prow had entered the creek that today empties into the south of Patong Bay. (This creek was bigger and much less silted up than it is today.) She was pulled up the creek towards old Patong village where she was concealed and unloaded. The next morning a Dutch gunboat appeared in Patong Bay and dispatched some Dutch marines ashore to seize the Aceh prow in the creek. Bowrey then tells us:
“The merchants and inhabitants of Banquala did (in a very civil way) desire the Dutch not to molest them any, especially to make prise of them, soe longe as they were under the Radja of Jansalone’s protection and in theire river. But the Dutch, swelled up with ambition, told them plainely that all Roads and Rivers of Jansalone were theirs and therefore the prowe and her goods were theire lawful prize. Whereupon the Malay inhabitants, a very resolute people stood up for the achiners and took the prow and her goods by violence out of the hands of the Dutch.”
During this fight a Dutch marine fired a blunderbuss into the locals, killing two and dispersing the rest of the crowd. The Dutch gunship itself then also entered Patong creek and came up to “where the river was very narrow,” presumably to take on the prow’s confiscated cargo.
Bowrey tells us that some while later an armed mob of around 200 locals soon reappeared near the captured Aceh prow. He also tells us that further down the creek other locals:
“cut downe 20 or 30 great trees, that fell athwart it and blocked it up so that not any passage back was left for sloop or boat. The Dutch findinge … the country too hot for them, betooke themselves to their sloop to be gone out into the roade [Patong Bay] but … when they came downe to this stoppage they could neither go down nor come up againe. Then they had nothing to trust to but their firearms which could not helpe them very longe, for the Malayars overpowered them and cut off every man and pulled their sloop in pieces.”
With the British again in Siam and with the powerful French also courting him to gain access to Siam and Phuket’s tin, King Narai now felt sufficiently confident to resist the consequent VOC [Dutch East India Company] demands for compensation for the Patong incident. In 1677, two years later, a frustrated Governor Bort of the VOC in Malacca complained,
“up to the present, not the smallest vengeance has been taken nor punishment inflicted for this murder and damage, nor has any satisfaction been given, wherefore the governors in that state have been encouraged and have become more insolent and petulant and have treated our people with so much less esteem and regard. They have even taken the whole of the trade from us and handed it over to other foreigners coming from abroad.”
To make matters worse, that year (1677) the Phuketians attacked and pillaged yet another Dutch blockade ship. After this assault and still no recompense, the VOC directors seriously discussed invading and colonising Phuket.
When King Narai was informed of this planned Dutch invasion he immediately sent orders to Phuket that each of the island’s three seaports should build two large war prows big enough to carry ten guns. Bowrey informs us that King Narai’s instructions were that these war prows “should keep two and two together and if they should meet a single Dutch ship they should fight her and give her no quarter. If they met with a fleet they should runne in and give intelligence for the countrey to be up in arms and not suffer any sloops to come up their rivers or land, neither should they observe any flagge of truce or have the least converse with them.”
Moreover, if any Phuket officials failed to comply immediately, the king would have them executed. The Phuket governor immediately sent out his officers to “presse all the carpenters and set them to work.” Elephants were employed to “carry down the guns, firearms, shot and powder, thereby to have all things in readiness” and the armed war prows were ready in just over a month.
Ultimately, however, the VOC directors decided they had had enough. They did not want a war with Siam nor the cost of building forts and defending Phuket, which they anyway felt was just “a poor and under populated area with an unhealthy climate.”
Even maintaining the blockade of Phuket, for a trade so meagre and troublesome, made little financial sense. The VOC at the time already employed over 3,500 sailors and 18,000 slaves on its patrol ships in the East at great expense. Plus the tin price had recently fallen in China and the VOC was only making a 21 percent mark-up on the tin it bought in Phuket whilst items from other peninsular ports made much more, for example deer hides from Ligor sold in China at 189 percent profit and Sappanwood made over 300 percent.
The VOC did continue to try to get King Narai to honour its tin-buying monopoly contract in Phuket that he had signed, but King Narai evaded the issue by telling the Dutch that the lawlessness on the island made it too dangerous a place for them.
In 1679, for instance, he wrote to Batavia to inform them that some Keddah Malays and pirates had attacked and taken Phuket and he was sending a force from Ligor and Tenasserim to chase out the intruders.
In the meantime however, the wily king was busy getting into bed with his new “best friends” – the French – to whom he also gave tin-buying rights on Phuket. Then in 1682 he appointed a Frenchman as governor of Phuket and the frustrated VOC factor in Ayutthaya soon wrote back to Batavia lamenting that a Moor had told him that Phuket was now selling over 1,000 bahars of tin per year to the French, which was being taken “principally to Tenasserim, Aceh, Bengal and Pondicherry.”
Bowrey tells us that the stubborn, violent resistance by the Phuketians had eventually “so squashed the Dutch designs over this place that they went away with theire ships and other sloops and never molested Jansalone any more.” Bowrey, an Englishman was clearly no great fan of the Dutch and felt that “by their too much presumption and encroachinge (as their usual way is in every place they do get footinge in) they utterly lost it.”
Today there is almost no trace at all on Phuket of the half century that the Dutch claimed dominion over the island. The only evidence seems to be the two VOC iron cannons dating from 1620 on display in Phuket Provincial Hall. These cannon may have been sold to Siam, stolen from the VOC factory at Tharua or maybe taken from one of the captured VOC patrol ships.
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