Cultural Insight

 |  April 30, 2009

An English army officer based in Burma had gained a financial interest in a teak forest owned by the Prince of Chiang Mai. His foresters were molested and he complained to the British Consul in Bangkok who promptly issued an ultimatum to the government saying that unless the Prince could be controlled, they would regard him as an independent ruler and act accordingly. The Siamese were already worried by British and French activity around their borders and saw this statement as tantamount to a threat of annexation.

In 1874 a treaty was signed between the governments of Siam and British India regulating the teak trade and justice for British – mostly Burmese – citizens living in the country. Ten years later the treaty was revised and E.B. Gould was appointed as Her Britannic Majesty’s Vice Consul in Chiang Mai. His main tasks were to look after the interests of the teak companies and to preside over the extra-territorial British Consular Court.

The Bowring Treaty of 1855 stipulated that all British subjects were to be tried in an extraterritorial court presided over by the British Consul. It also stipulated that British subjects could not own property ‘beyond a 24 hour boat trip from Bangkok.’

There were several thousand Shans from Burma who had long lived in Lanna who consequently lost title to their land. Enforcement of this rule was largely responsible for the 1902 Shan Rebellion. It was also the reason for the proliferation of Consuls – mainly British.

In 1895 M.Harduin was appointed French Consul at Nan, where there were many Asiatic French citizens and some teak companies. The first French Consul in Chiang Mai was appointed in 1907, but the position was often vacant until the return of C. Notton from the war in 1916.

In 1895 E.V.Kellett was appointed as U.S. Vice Consul in Chiang Mai to look after the interests of Dr. Cheek who had recently died. Kellett was a businessman who then moved to Lampang with his wife and worked with Leonowens until 1904. The first professional U.S. Consul was not appointed until 1950.

There was a British Consulate in Chiang Mai until 1941 when it was closed on the arrival of the Japanese for five years. Today there is an Honorary Consul.

There was a British Vice Consul in Nan from 1896 to 1906. The Consulate in Lampang was opened in 1904 and closed in 1919. W.A.R. Wood was appointed Vice Consul at Chiang Rai in 1904 but the position was abolished the next year.

The 1968 telephone directory lists three Chiang Mai Consulates _ American, British and Burmese. Today, Citylife lists four full Consulates and twelve Honorary Consuls.