Chiang Mai expats a century ago

By | Fri 7 Oct 2022

History buffs will enjoy crunching on all the historical nuggets unearthed as Graham Jefcoate sits down with editor Pim Kemasingki to talk Chiang Mai history. 

Graham is an author and librarian who worked for the British library for many years, leading the charge to digitise th library in the 1990s and specialising in rare books. Born in England 71 years ago, he spent much of his adult life in Germany and the Netherlands, working in academic libraries. He has been in Chiang Mai on and off for many years and recently has become a regular contributor to the popular Chiang Mai Memories Facebook page.

Graham has recently spent time at the British National Archives where he has unearthed a treasure trove of information about early 20th century expatriates living in Chang Mai. 

He has used his librarian experience to continue to change previous narratives about expatriates, shining a spotlight on how active, cohesive and strong the expatriate community of Chiang Mai used to be, “punching above its weight.” 

Pim and Graham sit down and discuss life at the turn of the last century for foreigners in Chiang Mai – who were the players, the influencers and what challenges they faced living here.  

“Teak wallahs married under local circumstances, northern women, and set up households and had children…no missionaries did this, but many British men did,” tells Graham.  

“They used to drink very heavily, their lives are extremely interesting. We know a lot about them from many sources. The Bombay Burmah personnel records survived in London. Records include the recruitment of people and you could see the snobbery. They liked a public school man, and if you weren’t English public school you were a bit suspect…this kind of thing. Fascinating.” 

Graham goes on to talk about finding letters sent home to the US from the wife of a missionary, Dr. Court, in Chiang Mai which was very interesting, “her letters to her family in America have survived and many of the lives of the teak wallahs can be reconstructed by her letters. She was very partial to many of the teak wallahs because when they became ill in the days before ICU she and her husband looked after them in their house. She was very fond of many of them. Not all of them were rioters. That is one of the things I want to do in my book is to explain that the missionary teak wallah dichotomy8 wasn’t really there. The community lived much more as a community. They lived and worked very closely together. The medical mission depended on the cash of the teak company’s from private practice money. While the British and French government had no medical offices up north, so they funding and relied on [US] missionaries. The leper asylum for instance was supported for many years by money raised at Christmas meetin