Thomas Bowrey tells us he gave away 100 catties (six kilograms) of silver and other gifts to “various Grandees” to save his position. But despite these bribes he was still accused of maladministration, stripped of his lordly title and banished to a godforsaken part of Siam where it was expected he would succumb to the “pestiale” climate.
In his place Aqa Mohammed, the leading Persian official in King Narai’s court, appointed two fellow “Moors”, Mohammed and Ishmael Beg, to be the new governor and shabandar (port officer) of Phuket.
The Beg brothers were Cholas – Tamil Muslims from India’s Coromandel Coast. As we have seen, these Cholas, or “Chulias” as they were later called by the British, had been trading and living in Phuket for some 1,000 years. And they comprised one of the major trading communities in the local port towns of Tharua, Bangkhli and Takuapa.
Bowrey tells us that the Cholas in Phuket “were of the Mahometan sect but not very great observers of many of his laws.” He describes Mohammed Beg, the new Chola governor as “an austere man, one that had been bred a Warrior.”
Bowrey clearly did not care much for the Cholas, describing them as “a subtle and roguish people… a very great hindrance… for wherever these rascals be wee cannot sell any goods to a native of the countrey but they creep in alonge with them and tell them in private what our goods cost upon the coast in Surat, Bengala or elsewhere, which doth many a Christian a great prejudice.”
Within a year of their appointment, the Beg brothers brought in almost 100 more “Moor” (Muslim Indian) assistants and retainers to help them control the island and its trade.
Bowrey tells us that “This caused much local discontent,” most particularly amongst the Siamese and Malays from the traditional leading families of Ban Takien, Ban Don and Ban Lipon, called by Bowrey “the councillors, secretaries, shabandares, bandarees etc, men of ancient standing and choice men of all the countrey.”
These people normally constituted the ruling élite on the island. By 1677 Bowrey wrote that “the most eminent men, both Syamers and Malayars” began grumbling about being “tyranised over” by these Indians and “the hard measure they received from this present Radja and his counsel, men altogether of another nation.”
Bowrey notes that Mohamed Beg, the new Chola governor, forced the members of these élite families to “labour hard in cuttinge downe the woods, buildinge houses under the pretence that they were by order of and for the use of the king of Syam, which were no sooner built but were given to one Cholar or other, the Radjas favourites, and to burne and beat lime for the building of a stone fort, which things seemed tedious to them that were not allowed soe much as theire victuals for their paines, soe that they soon began to slight the work.”
The locals’ reluctance to work on Mohammed Beg’s development projects – such as a badly needed fort on the island, angered and frustrated the new governor to the point that he threatened that, in order to keep up with his schedule, he would even force the islanders’ wives to work. This, says Bowrey, represented “a most severe and haynous punishment to the Malayars, which are in general Mahometans.”
Worse still, these new Indian administrators had started creaming off much of the tin trade profits, away from the local élite families, by shipping most of the metal up to Mergui and selling it at low prices to other “Moorish” associates of Aqa Mohammed, the Beg brothers and their Muslim cronies. These Moors would then resell the tin for much greater profits to traders or ship it overseas.
The Locals Revolt and Murder the Indians
This despotism by these Indians governing Phuket soon became too much for the island’s truculent locals, who probably numbered some 9,000 at the time.
The Siamese troops or retainers, who were theoretically there to protect and obey the Beg brothers (as royal appointed agents), were probably neutralized by some cunning diplomatic work by the locals, no doubt particularly by the women. Bowrey tells us that the locals then mutinied:
“The Malayars and Syamers rose up in arms (with joynt consent) and on a sudden beset the Radjas house and killed him with his brother Ishmael and all his household, save the women and children and all the Moors and Chulyars upon the island, save two that made theire escape to Bangaree (Bangkhli) and thence to Queda… I judge they killed in this insurrection seventy five moors and Chulyars, none resistinge save the Radja and his brother whoe, although surprised in the house, yet killed six of the most resolute Malayars. For which cause the whole countrey being in such a confusion I went awaye into the roade and sailed for Queda.”
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