Great-Uncle Ned – first British consul in Chiangmai

picture of the first vice-consul of Chiang Mai Edward Blencowe Gould

Edward Blencowe Gould, the first British vice-consul in Chiang Mai (Stoke-in-Teignhead, Devon 9 August 1847 – Devon 16 November 1916). The date of his passing on the picture is wrong. Also his name is misspelt. It should be Blencowe, not Blencoe. Picture: Wikipedia.



Tony Gould grew up on a Devon farm.  He contracted polio while serving as a National Service subaltern in the 7th Gurkha Rifles in Malaya, India and Hong Kong, which has left him with a lifelong disability.  After studying English at Trinity College, Cambridge, he worked as a BBC Radio talk and documentaries producer in London and as literary editor of New Society and, later, the New Statesman.  His books include In Limbo: The Story of Stanley’s Rear Column (1979), Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (1983), Death in Chile: A Memoir and a Journey (1992), A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors (1995), Imperial Warriors: Britain and the Gurkhas (1999), Don’t Fence Me In: Leprosy in Modern Times (2005) and Lady Susan’s Unsuitable Marriage: Pride and Privation in Georgian England (Dovecote Press, 2018).

The following account of his great-uncle Ned’s brief but eventful (and controversial) time as Britain’s first-ever consular representative based in Chiang Mai comes from a work-in-progress, provisionally entitled Home and Colonial, focusing on his family’s experiences in South-East Asia over two or three generations.

Great-Uncle Ned – first British consul in Chiangmai

As a child the only thing I knew about my great-uncle Ned was that he had been responsible for introducing Siamese cats into Britain. Considering these creatures’ propensity to yowl, this may be a dubious claim to fame.

Edward Blencowe Gould was the first in our family to go out to the Far East. The son of a Devon vicar who ended his days in Wonford lunatic asylum, Ned joined the British consulate in Bangkok in 1869 as a ‘student interpreter’, which was then the means of entering the diplomatic service. Judging by comments made by Siamese officials, his grasp of the Thai language left something to be desired. He remained in the Siamese capital until 1885, when he was appointed the first-ever British consular representative in Chiengmai1 with the rank of vice-consul.

At the time of this appointment Ned was thirty-six years old, ‘a tall thin man with [a] slender black moustache and grey hair’, according to the newly arrived consul-general in Bangkok, Ernest Satow 2.

picture of Ernest Satow

Ernest Satow. Picture from Wikipedia.

Ned was pleased with his promotion and excited at the prospect of leaving Bangkok for the little known Lao country of the north, though his imminent departure would deprive him of the opportunity to get to know his new boss. It would also deprive him of the company of his younger brother Owen (my grandfather-to-be), who had come out to Bangkok the year before to work for the eponymous founder of Clark and Co., timber merchants.

Chiengmai in 1884 was the most important of the six Lao 3 states paying triennial tribute to the king of Siam but otherwise enjoying virtual autonomy. Frontiers were fluid and the whole area, if not exactly terra incognita, was still largely unmapped. The Lao chieftains held the power of life and death over their subjects and the region was wild and lawless – at least by western standards.

The genesis of the vice-consulate at Chiengmai had been bedevilled by the conflicting interests of the Foreign Office in London and the British Indian government in Calcutta. The Foreign Office was prepared to make an appointment only if the authorities in Calcutta agreed to fund the post, since the official’s primary function would be to look after the interests of British subjects – i.e., British Indian subjects, mainly Burmese working in the teak trade. And the Indian government was reluctant to put up the money for an official who would be answerable in the first place not to itself but to the Foreign Office via the British consul in Bangkok.

A compromise was eventually reached, and Ned’s first port of call en route to Chiengmai was Rangoon. There he was briefed by the Chief Commissioner of British Burma, who made it clear to him that some of the foresters and other traders who went from British Burma to Zimmé (as the Burmese called Chiengmai) presumed on their status as British subjects, trying ‘to claim more than their due’ and neglecting to pay their employees. So Ned would not just have to protect these subjects from abuse, but keep them in order as well. He would also be required to gather ‘all possible information’ on trade and trade routes, on the condition and circumstances of the semi-autonomous Shan states of northern Burma and on any attempts by the kingdom of Ava (in the centre of the country) to assert its authority in those lawless hills, as well as to monitor initiatives by French colonisers to ‘trade in arms’ or achieve any sort of ‘rapprochement’ with the ruler of Ava. All in all, Ned was going to have his work cut out in his new post.

Yet he set out in high spirits. As he wrote to Owen, the hilly country of the north reminded him of their native Devon:

Most of the march was through dense forest, over high hills & down deep valleys often along the banks
of beautiful streams like the Bovey or the Dart. Many a delightful bathe I had & many a picturesque
camp… I walked the whole way in front of the elephants and never really felt tired after the first two days…

He reported to Satow in Bangkok that he had entered Chiengmai on the back of an elephant – ‘too sorry a beast (only fit for baggage) to make my appearance upon’ – escorted by a small contingent of Gurkhas. But if he was expecting a rapturous reception he was disappointed. He was met at the city gate, not by the chief but by a couple of underlings who, instead of inviting him in, conducted him to a house well outside the city walls on the far side of the Mae Ping river. Ned was unimpressed; he told Owen: ‘The quarters provided for me are bad but this is to be remedied tomorrow.’

Choosing an out-of-the-way house for Ned was part of a plan to isolate him. The Prachao (or ruling chief) Intanon 4 was anxious to keep this unwanted foreigner at arm’s length.

King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai during his life

King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai. Picture from Wikipedia.

As he saw it, the vice-consul had been foisted upon him by the Siamese and his aim was to be rid of him as soon as possible. Yet when Ned obtained a more suitable house through the offices of one of the few British subjects in Chiengmai not to be in thrall to the chief, Intanon was embarrassed. He was answerable to King Chulalongkorn, who had appointed one of his half-brothers, Prince Bigit 5, chief commissioner of Chiengmai following Ned’s appointment as vice-consul there (ostensibly to support Ned in his dealings with the Lao authorities but in reality to keep an eye on him in case the British were planning to undermine the chief’s allegiance to Bangkok). With the prince’s arrival imminent, Intanon was fearful of offending him by his shabby treatment of the British government representative. So he was obliged to climb down and ask Ned to pretend to the prince that the house he had just acquired through his own efforts was the one he had been offered in the first place.

Despite this spot of bother with the chief, Ned took to the Laos in a way he never had to the Siamese, just as he preferred the green hilly country of the north to the steamy plains of the south. In this he resembled the many British military officers and other officials in India who favoured the simple honest hill folk over the wily ‘effeminate’ plains dwellers. ‘As a race the Siamese are not fit to black boots for the Laos,’ he wrote to Owen. ‘Tell it not in Gath that I say so, for though this is my private opinion the fact unfortunately is that we have to work [with] the Laos through Bangkok & I must not vilify a tool which I may at any time have to use for want of a better.’

The teak forests to the east of Chiengmai had not yet been penetrated by Burmese foresters, as the distrustful Lao chiefs of those states refused to grant them concessions. So they were blessedly free of the legal wrangling between British subjects and both Intanon and the Siamese officials of Chiengmai’s so-called international court that was the bane of the vice-consul’s life. Ned urged his brother to take advantage of the opportunities offered by teak to come upcountry and join him. But Owen was not a free agent. As he wrote to his sister Mary in Devon, ‘Clarke does not wish me at present at any rate to go to Chiengmai. But the timber trade is in an unsettled state & it is possible events may crop up which may induce Clarke to send me up for a few months.’

This did not happen. The next Ned heard of Owen was that he had fallen sick and was on his way home. This disappointed Ned, whose attempt to lure his brother upcountry had been as much for his own sake as for Owen’s. He was the only Englishman in Chiengmai and the presence of a cherished younger brother would have alleviated his loneliness. When he was removed from his post a year or so later, he urged Satow to provide his successor with an assistant, not just to lighten the vice-consul’s workload but also – though he hesitated to raise such a personal consideration – to provide him with a companion ‘in this most isolated position’.

But what had Ned done to precipitate his removal from a job he relished and a place he came to love? And why did Satow, who called him ‘an excellent warm-hearted fellow’, decide to replace him with a protégé of his own?

Some kind of conflict between the chief of Chiengmai and the British government representative to whose appointment Intanon was so resistant was probably inevitable. From the beginning the chief had told his people that it was only a temporary arrangement and that the vice-consul would be gone within three months. Initially too, Ned had made the mistake of underestimating the chief, seeing him as an ignorant old fool rather than a wily despot intent on clinging to power at all costs, while giving the appearance of being dependent on others and harmless.

Chao Tipakesorn in sitting position

Chao Tipakesorn. Picture from Wikipedia

The critical trial of strength between the two of them occurred when a British subject by the name of Tsya Ahwar came to Ned in some distress to say that his wife Imung had been taken into slavery, along with their only child, by one of the chief’s female relatives. Imung had been a slave of the late queen, Chao Tipakesorn  6 (the daughter of the chief’s powerful predecessor and – as Ned explained to Satow – ‘during her lifetime the real ruler of the country’). When Imung had fallen sick, Tsya Ahwar – who was known to have medicinal abilities – had been called in. He had succeeded in curing the slave, who was then gifted to him in lieu of payment.

Since the chief’s relative, Chao Pah, would not have dared act without Intanon’s approval, Tsya Ahwar had no one to turn to but the newly-appointed British vice-consul – though by alerting Ned to his wife’s predicament, in the short term he only made it worse. Her new mistress refused Ned’s request for Imung’s release and promptly had her clapped in irons and beaten, which was the standard punishment for a ‘rebellious’ slave. Incensed by the barbarous treatment of Imung, Ned saw it as his duty to put a stop to it.

The difficulty was that, unlike his colleagues in Bangkok, he did not have extraterritorial jurisdiction over British subjects like Tsya Ahwar. He could do nothing without the support of the Siamese judge, to whom all cases brought by British subjects had to be referred in the first instance. Only if he were dissatisfied with the handling of such a case in the ‘international’ court could he have it transferred to his own consular court. The judge, Phra Oopai, assured Ned that the woman and child would be handed over to him. But knowing from experience how worthless such verbal assurances were – so ingrained was the practice of deliberate procrastination among Siamese officials anxious not to offend the chief – Ned warned the judge that if this was not done by nightfall he would have no alternative but to go after the woman himself.

Locals selling wares. Chiang Mai market

Chiang Mai market. Date and source unknown.

When the deadline passed without the release of Imung or her child, Ned set off with his Burmese clerk and two or three servants, as well as Tsya Ahwar, in search of them. He went first to the house of the Siamese king’s special commissioner, Prince Bigit, intending to get him to send for them. But Bigit was not at home and Ned was told he was with the chief. So the little party headed for the chief’s palace. ‘I went over there expecting to find them together,’ Ned reported to Satow; ‘but instead of this, I came suddenly upon the Chief gambling in a garden-house with a crowd of women. He was somewhat disturbed at my sudden appearance and asked what I came for. I sat down by him and told I had come about Tsya Ahwar’s wife and child and that I wanted them given up to me.’

The chief angrily refused to hand them over, saying they were his slaves. Ned ‘quietly insisted’ they were no longer his slaves but the wife and child of a British subject, telling Intanon: ‘the law on this subject was perfectly clear and must be obeyed.’ At which point the chief became ‘quite excited and noisy’. He again refused to give them up and, with Ned refusing to leave without them, they had reached an impasse. Neither was prepared to back down. The only way the chief would release the slaves was if Prince Bigit ordered him to. So Ned sent one of his servants to find the prince. Meanwhile, the chief went on ‘gambling and grumbling’.

It turned out that Bigit was at the chief’s son’s house nearby, where – Ned told Satow – he invited Ned to join him: ‘The Prince did not dispute my right to demand the woman and child, but, speaking English so as not to be understood by the Laos around, begged me to devise some means by which the matter might be settled and the dignity of the angry old Chief in some way consulted. He also begged me to have consideration for the difficulty of his own position “among these savages”.’

Ned proposed that Bigit sent for the woman on his own authority and then, in Ned’s presence, handed her over to the judge, who would go through ‘some show of taking proceedings’ in court the following morning before delivering the woman and child to Ned at noon. The prince eagerly took up this suggestion. ‘The woman was sent for,’ Ned wrote, ‘and appeared in irons which were at once knocked off. She was then given into the charge of Phra Oopai and I left the Prince, who was full of expressions of thanks to me for having consented to an arrangement which he said he considered far more favourable to them than any he had expected to obtain.’

Ned had achieved what he had set out to do. Imung had been released and Tsya Ahwar was happy; and the prince was happy to have been let off the hook. The judge did as he was instructed and next morning delivered the woman and child to the vice-consul, who explained that the husband was willing to pay any sum which was legally due. And so, he concluded with some satisfaction, ‘the matter ended.’

It might have been a happy ending for Tsya Ahwar and his family, but for Ned the matter was far from over. A week or so after the event he learned that a formal letter of complaint against him by the chief had been forwarded to Bangkok (though he could only guess at its contents). Intanon had seized on the opportunity of getting rid of this interfering foreigner by sending an obsequious and highly coloured report of the incident ‘to be laid at the feet of His Majesty the King’.

In it he railed against the ‘presumption and insolence of the Vice-Consul’ that had caused him ‘excessive indignation and humiliation’. He told King Chulalongkorn how he had been innocently amusing himself with his wives and other women in his garden-house when the vice-consul burst in unannounced, seated himself ‘close by me, and thumped with his hand on the knee… threatened me in overbearing language and stated that if I did not surrender the woman then, there would be a great quarrel and he could not leave my house’. This had led to angry words between them and ‘all the women who were sitting close by fled in alarm and reported the matter to the different Princes and officials, and a number of soldiers arrived on the scene’.

According to this account, it was only through fear of ‘displeasing the good and just King’ that Intanon had been able to restrain himself: ‘If I had not curbed my feelings, or if I had brushed away the Vice-Consul’s hand which had laid hold of me, or got up and withdrawn, the Vice-Consul must have been crushed on the spot…’

Hualin corner old city wall Chiang Mai

Hualin corner of the old Chiang Mai city wall. Picture probably taken by Morinosuke Tanaka. Date unknown. Oliver Backhouse sent me this picture.

As for the legal position of the slave Imung, the chief concluded, ‘if she can thus easily become a subject of the Vice-Consul (I beg to state) that in the future the laws and the affairs of the Princes, nobles and people of Chiengmai will become greatly confused throughout the country’. The number of Burmese living in the province was large: ‘if they can furtively make love to anybody and everybody’s slaves, and if the slaves may thus become the Vice-Consul’s subjects, I think it will be a very great hardship.’

In due course, Ned would challenge the veracity of many of the chief’s statements, saying that he had never laid a hand on him, that if there were angry words between them they all came from Intanon, and that far from fleeing in alarm the women remained where they were, continuing to gamble but ‘in absolute silence’. As for the alleged arrival of soldiers, that seems to have been a figment of the chief’s imagination. Nevertheless Intanon had judged to a nicety the likely effect of his missive on its recipients in Bangkok.

Not only did Prince Devawongse7 – a sibling of the king and his foreign minister – complain to Ernest Satow of Ned’s behaviour in Chiengmai, saying he was afraid ‘he would never get on there’. The Siamese minister in London, Prince Narés (another of the king’s siblings)8, also raised the matter with the British foreign secretary, Lord Granville.9.

He claimed that Ned had burst in on the prince of Chiengmai ‘in a highly excited state’, demanding ‘the release of Imung on the ground that she was a British subject’. Intanon, by this account (which was essentially his own), had behaved with becoming dignity, promising the matter would be ‘thoroughly investigated, and dealt with in the usual manner on the following day’. But Mr Gould had refused to be satisfied, ‘and kept violently reiterating his demands for Imung’s immediate release’.

The Siamese minister conceded that the incident was ‘somewhat trifling to be made the matter of a letter to Yr. Lordship’, but said that his government regarded it as ‘a matter of great importance, especially in a distant outlying Province such as Chiengmai, where many lawless and unruly people are constantly passing to and fro, to maintain strictly the spirit of law and order’. This would become impossible if representatives of foreign governments behaved in a ‘violent and illegal manner’.

Nearly six months elapsed before Ned got to see the contents of this letter. When he did, he recognised the seriousness of the charges being levelled against him. ‘Had I done this or anything like it,’ he wrote, ‘the very strong expressions of Prince Narét’s [sic] despatch to Lord Granville would have been justified.’ But he pleaded innocent on all counts: he had not been in an ‘excited state’ when he visited the chief but had remained calm and deliberate throughout, well aware of the danger of ‘any excitement on my part’; nor had he intruded into the chief’s private apartments. On the contrary, he had been directed to the garden-house, ‘an open shed in a grove of trees’ where the chief was ‘in the habit of holding a public gamble every night, not with his family alone – as represented – but with anyone including his own carpenters and coolies as well as any Burman traders who may be ready to lose money to the Chief and “the family” alluded to’.

Ned might deny behaving with ‘violence or discourtesy’ but he was on shakier ground over the legality of his intervention, as he now recognised. Satow had already raised doubts over his interpretation of the law, saying that ‘the legal status of native women cohabiting with British subjects in any part of the dominions of the King of Siam, whether as wives or otherwise, and of the children born of such unions has, as far as I’m aware, never been determined’. He accepted that Ned had acted in good faith, but while Ned spoke of ‘justice’ he focused more narrowly on the law, arguing that British subjects were subject to the lex loci, as was the slave woman ‘before her so-called marriage’:

Now the lex loci appears to be that the husband becomes the subject of the chief whose subject the woman is. I
think that as far as she is concerned, she can only make a marriage according to the laws of Chiengmai. If she
did, and there was a valid marriage acc[ording] to Chiengmai law, then it seems that her husband is a subject
of the chief of Chiengmai. Consequently if he is still a BS [British subject] there was no marriage acc. to the
lex loci on her part. I recommend this dilemma to your con[siderati]on; because you say in your desp[atch] that
you told the chief the law was clear and must be obeyed, and I think myself that the law is far from being very

Ned was now prepared to concede that his demand for the immediate release of Imung and her child might not have been ‘justified by strict law’, though he stoutly maintained that it should have been, and anyway that was not the meat of the complaint against him, which was more about the manner than the matter of his demand. With regard to that, it was his word against the chief’s – ‘unfortunately I cannot appeal to any independent witnesses’. Ned hoped, he wrote, he had said enough to show ‘that the complaint by the Chief is mainly due to the childish petulance of a semi-savage at not having his own way.’

Old Chiang Mai city wall and moat looking east

Old Chiang Mai city wall and moat looking east. Picture by Morinosuke Tanaka. Date unknown. Picture sent to me by Oliver Backhouse.

Of course there was more to it than that. In targeting the British vice-consul, Intanon had demonstrated the political acumen that Ned had only gradually come to recognise. Ned was a threat to his autonomy, not as the local representative of British global power, but because his presence tightened the Siamese noose around the northern provinces which had previously been left to their own devices so long as they paid their triennial tribute and lip service to the king. Ned had undoubtedly riled the chief with his plain speaking and lack of obsequiousness, but would Intanon have bothered to address a complaint to King Chulalongkorn on so trivial a matter had he not determined to remove the unwelcome intruder who was not only upsetting time-honoured local customs but also involving Siamese officials in what were essentially domestic Lao matters?

In his despatch to Lord Granville informing him that he had cautioned Ned, Satow concluded: ‘It appears to me of the first importance that an officer in Mr Gould’s isolated position should be careful to avoid provoking a collision with a semi-barbarous despotic chieftain, which might lead to extremely regrettable complications.’ The foreign secretary approved his action and authorised him, if he thought fit, to recall Ned to Bangkok and replace him with another consular official, which Satow eventually did.

There was at least one dissenting voice in the Foreign Office hierarchy. Identified only by his initials, TVJ noted in relation to Ned’s report ‘concerning the release of a slave woman named Imung’, ‘I hope some reparation will be made to Mr Gould who appears to have been very hastily & unfairly blamed.’ To which another Foreign Office official, HCY, responded, ‘I think it not unlikely he may shortly be promoted to be Consul at Bangkok.’ But a year or so later, after Satow’s precipitate departure due to ill-health, when Ned was indeed acting consul in Bangkok, the FO changed the wording in the draft of an India Office memo to him from ‘I am now writing to instruct you to address a note to the Siamese Govt. in which you will insist that…’ to ‘…instruct you to inform the Siamese Govt. firmly but courteously that HMG…’, noting in the margin that ‘Mr Gould is somewhat deficient in tact’. This comment is evidence of the lasting damage done to Ned’s reputation for diplomacy by the row with the chief of Chiengmai.

Posterity – insofar as it has noticed him at all – has not been kind to Ned. WS Bristowe, in an entertainingly gossipy biography of Louis Leonowens (son of the more famous Anna, governess at the court of King Mongkut and subject of The King and I), criticises Ned’s appointment as vice-consul in Chiengmai on the grounds that, though ‘possessed of all the necessary courage’, his long service in Bangkok ‘had fostered in him the arrogance and severity of [Satow’s predecessor, the long-serving Consul-General] Knox himself, which was a pity as the real need was for a man with tact and patience’.10 Bristowe characterises Ned as ‘ham-fisted’ and ‘tiresome’, and the historian Nigel Brailey calls him ‘a rather hasty-tempered and excitable individual’, rigid and ‘insensitive’, comparing him unfavourably with Ernest Satow.11

Ned was certainly not as scholarly, learned, or far-seeing as his distinguished (if pedantic) chief. But on the evidence of his correspondence with Satow and the latter’s – albeit qualified – respect and liking for him, nor was he as brash and insensitive as these latter-day writers make out. Indeed Satow himself, visiting Chiengmai for the first time after making the decision to replace Ned and seeing at first hand the difficulties Ned faced on a daily basis, had second thoughts about the rightness of this decision.

Ned left Bangkok twenty-one years after his arrival there, moving from the Far East to the Near East, from a country he thought should become a British Protectorate to one that already was one – Egypt. In 1891 he was appointed consul in Port Said, where he spent a few years counting the ships passing through the Suez Canal (and noting the outbreaks of cholera and bubonic plague on board) before settling as consul, and then consul-general, in the more salubrious city of Alexandria. There he was wont to complain to the FO about the inadequacy of his salary in comparison with the earnings of his peers in business and the military, to say nothing of other European consulates, who all expected him to entertain them lavishly in keeping with Britain’s pre-eminent position not just in the Protectorate of Egypt but in the wider world.

Wat Mahawan Thapae Road Chiang Mai

Wat Mahawan in Thapae Road. Date and source unknown.

According to family legend, when he retired from the diplomatic service in 1909 Ned was overlooked for the knighthood that both his predecessor and his successor in Alexandria received (along with the rations, so to speak) on the grounds that he was ‘too outspoken’. If that was indeed the case, then it provides further evidence of the enduring damage done to his reputation by the clash with the chief of Chiengmai a quarter of a century earlier.

By this time he was a married man. My great-aunt Elsie, who was twenty-two years younger than Ned and outlived him by forty years, was the daughter of a civil engineer who hailed from the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, though I don’t recall her having the slightest trace of an Australian accent. My grandfather Owen had pipped his elder brother to the post in the marital stakes by three months, having been wedded on 3 September 1895 in the parish church of Bovey Tracey in Devon. His bride, Mary Beatrice, was the daughter of Colonel Walter Aston Fox-Strangways, deceased (blown up a decade earlier in an appalling accident at the Royal Artillery Experimental School of Gunnery, of which he was commandant, at Shoeburyness in Essex). On the wedding certificate, Owen’s occupation is given as tea-planter in Ceylon.

He and Mary Beatrice had two sons, my uncle Arthur and my father Jack (born in Ceylon in October 1899 and christened John Rashleigh). Ned and Elsie were childless. Perhaps for that reason, or because he and Elsie were so much abroad, or because Elsie disliked the family home of Knowle in the village of Lustleigh, Ned allowed his younger brother to live there after their mother’s death at the beginning of the twentieth century. After he came home from the east, Owen never worked again; he lived the life of country gentleman – at Knowle until 1921 and then on a reduced scale at The Hut in Bovey Tracey, where he died in 1929, a decade before I was born. I once asked my father what his father was like. He thought for a moment, then said, ‘He was very good at pointing at things with a stick.’

Ned had a house built for Elsie high up in Knowle Wood, with a panoramic view over Haytor and east Dartmoor. As a small child, when I visited her with my parents and elder brother on Christmas afternoons for cake and ginger wine, Higher Knowle seemed to me as ancient as my bedridden great-aunt. Its thick granite walls, leaded window-panes, polished oak wall panels, doors and floors, with steps everywhere – shallow, easily overlooked steps seemingly designed to trip up a little boy – made it mysterious and spooky. On a later visit, shortly after my great-aunt’s death in 1956, I asked my father just how old it was and learned it had been built as lately as at the beginning of the twentieth century. I felt cheated – it was a ‘fake’, a deliberate anachronism, its air of antiquity fraudulent. For me this was an early intimation that things are not always what they seem.


  1. Chiang Mai was written as Chiengmai in this period
  2. Sir Ernest Satow GCMG is best known for his service as a diplomat in Japan, where he ultimately achieved his ambition of becoming Minister-Plenipotentiary. Though his surname sounds Japanese his antecedents were in fact German and he himself was born in Hackney.
  3. North Thailand was called Laos before World War Two
  4. Inthanon is Inthawichayanon, the 7th Ruler of Chiang Mai and Ruler of Lanna from 1870 until his death in 1897
  5. “Prince Bigit” is Prince Krom Luang Bijit Prijakorn aka Prince Gagananga Yugala, son of King Rama IV and Phueng Indravimala 1855-1909
  6. Chao or Queen Tipakesorn (1841-1884) was married to King Wichayanon. They had 11 children, amongst others Dara Rasmi and Kaew Nawarat, the last ruler of Chiang Mai
  7. Devan Uthayavongse, the Prince Devawongse Varoprakarn (1858–1923) was a Siamese prince and diplomat during the reign of Rama V and Rama VI.
  8. Prince Narés Varariddhi (1855-1925) was the ambassador in London
  9. Granville George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville (1815-1891), was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  10. Slavery was then a sensitive issue in Siam. Reporting what had happened that night, Ned told Satow, ‘Krommun Bigit was much afraid of the question and hoped that it would not be raised just now.’ The practice of slavery was rife throughout the land and King Chulalongkorn, on coming of age in 1873, had made a proclamation stating his aim to abolish it, to which end he had appointed a committee to advise him on the best way of achieving this. In a society heavily reliant on debt-slavery it could be done only gradually, in stages, if it were not to create mayhem. In fact the process was not completed until 1905. (See Bristowe, op. cit., pp. 40-41.)
  11. Nigel J Brailey, The Origins of the Siamese Forward Movement in Western Laos, 1850-1902 (University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1968), pp. 265-66 & 314-15

Tony Gould

Tony Gould wrote this story about his great-uncle Edward Blencowe Gould, the first British consul in Chiang Mai. Tony Gould grew up on a Devon farm. He contracted polio while serving as a National Service subaltern in the 7th Gurkha Rifles in Malaya, India and Hong Kong, which has left him with a lifelong disability. After studying English at Trinity College, Cambridge, he worked as a BBC Radio talk and documentaries producer in London and as literary editor of New Society and, later, the New Statesman. His books include In Limbo: The Story of Stanley’s Rear Column (1979), Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes (1983), Death in Chile: A Memoir and a Journey (1992), A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors (1995), Imperial Warriors: Britain and the Gurkhas (1999), Don’t Fence Me In: Leprosy in Modern Times (2005) and Lady Susan’s Unsuitable Marriage: Pride and Privation in Georgian England (Dovecote Press, 2018). The following account of his great-uncle Ned’s brief but eventful (and controversial) time as Britain’s first-ever consular representative based in Chiang Mai comes from a work-in-progress, provisionally entitled Home and Colonial, focusing on his family’s experiences in South-East Asia over two or three generations.

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