Cultural Inside

 |  May 27, 2009

June, 2009.

Wood, William Alfred Rae CMG CIE

Was born 23 January 1878 and died on 21 January 1970, at 91. It would seem clear that W.A.R.Wood ranks as the most distinguished of all British Consuls at Chiang Mai. He was born near Liverpool where his father was in business, and was the only boy in a family of eight children. When he was young his father opened a branch office in Belgium and there he learned French before going to Dulwich College. He left school early and spent the next two years in Switzerland and Germany. As soon as he was eighteen he sat for the examination for British Consular Service Student Interpreters for the Far East. He passed well and arrived in Bangkok in June 1896, the youngest student interpreter ever.

His earliest years were spent in learning the Thai language of which he became a profound scholar, while much of his work was as a magistrate in the extra-territorial British Consular Court. In 1905 he received his first upcountry posting, to Nan as Vice-Consul. After a year the post was closed and he moved to Chiang Rai. After several moves he was appointed Consul at Chiang Mai in 1914, where he stayed until his retirement, becoming in due course Consul-General, CIE in 1919, and CMG in 1935 in his retirement.
One of his first tasks was to build a new house, office and courtroom which stands today, largely as he built it on the banks of the river Ping. Now the Chedi Hotel. He also found time to write ‘A History of Siam’ and ‘A Consul in Paradise.’

His family erected a small chapel in his memory, which contains his bronze bust. There is a simple plaque on the wall saying, ‘He loved Thailand’. He truly did. Shortly before his death, a letter in the Bangkok Post complained that the famous Thai smile was not genuine. Wood replied that, whether it was genuine or not, he would rather see a smiling Thai nurse bending over him as he lay dying, than a surly British matron.

Wood married a young girl from Chiang Rai where he had been posted as Consul in 1906. At that time it was highly unusual for a foreigner, let alone a diplomat, to actually marry a local girl, although they often co-habitated with them. She and her baby daughter went to stay with her parents-in-law in Liverpool for three years so that she could learn English and manners and deportment suitable for a Consul’s wife. Again, this was highly unusual but proved to be a complete success. Boon, as she was called, adapted to her new life with grace and poise. She died in England twelve years after her husband and her ashes (she had a British passport) are interred in the cemetery beside those of the Consul.