Five Years in Siam by H. Warington Smyth
From the cover of the White Lotus edition, 1994

Five Years in Siam (1898)
by H. Warington Smyth

Introduction by Tamara Loos
Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University

Praised by a contemporary for having written “by far the best book of recent years” on Siam, Herbert Warington Smyth served as an officer in, and eventually as director of, the newly created Department of Mines between 1891 and 1896, a period of radical transformation in the country.1 Five Years in Siam is, in the main, a geographic and ethnographic account interspersed with personal anecdotes and political opinions. Smyth contributes an unusually detailed perspective on life in Siam, giving a profile of his acquaintances, along with scientific data that is representative of travel literature of the period. Smyth's narrative may be read as colonial travel literature, yet it and its author are atypical in several respects. He was not commissioned by a scientific association or his country, Britain, but by the government of Siam. Another distinguishing factor was that Smyth, a British national, held a significant administrative post in the single remaining independent Southeast Asian country. From this vantage point, he was well placed to witness the tension between the colonial West's economic drive for resources and influence in Siam, and the immense effort on the part of Siam's leaders to maintain independence.

Placing Herbert W. Smyth into genealogical and historical context is crucial to understanding the implications of Five Years in Siam. He was born into a family that had a history of participation, both military and administrative, in the creation and maintenance of the British colonial empire. His grandfather, Rear-Admiral William Henry Smyth, began his career in 1804 when, at the age of 16, he joined the East India Company. Before his death in 1865, W. H. Smyth had written several books, had helped to found the Royal Geographical Society of London (1830), and had been named a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.2 He made a lasting impression on his grandson, as the latter expresses occasionally in his writings.3 While stationed in Naples, the elder Smyth and his wife had their first of nine children, Warington Wilkinson. W. W. Smyth shared with his father an interest in geology and eventually taught mining and mineralogy at the School of Mines in London. Before the birth of his son Herbert Warington in 1867, W. W. Smyth traveled to eastern Europe and Turkey and produced an account of his experiences there.4

One of Herbert Smyth's uncles, Henry Augustus, joined the Royal Artillery, and served in India and Africa, while another, Charles Piazzi, spent the majority of his life observing stars from the Cape of Good Hope.5 Navigational techniques that facilitated colonial expansion depended on astronomical observations such as those made by Herbert Smyth's uncle and grandfather. In fact, nautical maps created by his grandfather not only aided the British navy, but also occasionally guided Herbert Smyth in his journeys along the coasts bordering the Gulf of Siam. Herbert Smyth's only sibling, Major-General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, also served in Africa and India.6 Like his uncles, father, and grandfather, Herbert Smyth was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and other scientific associations.

In addition to the genealogical dimension of Smyth's upbringing, the ideological environment in Smyth's native Britain obviously affected his outlook. He was raised in a society that believed in its own cultural and racial superiority; patriotism and an imperialist vision were linked and propagated in popular culture, from children's literature to Britain's pub scene and music halls. Growing up in an atmosphere that promoted an experience “in the colonies” as a builder of “character,”7 Smyth may have considered a stint in Siam a necessary step in his personal development. After attending Westminster as his father and grandfather did before him, Smyth continued his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. At the age of 24, he sailed for the first time to Bangkok, where before long he would assume the highest position in the newly created Department of Mines.8

Membership in the Royal Geographical Society and the Geological Society of London influenced his perspective on Siam and situated Smyth in the colonial power structure.9 As a member of the RGS in particular, Smyth was an avid reader of its journal and of other travel and geographic literature about Siam. Far from maintaining their reputed scholarly, disinterested position, the scientific societies and most travel literature were inextricably linked with imperial designs and desires. Their innocent, intrepid scouts journeyed throughout the world, protected by the shield of science and legitimized by its claims to objectivity and truth. Articles published in the Royal Geographical Journal exposed Western readers to areas of the world that had commercial potential. J. S. Black, a lawyer for British subjects working in the mines in Siam, wrote for instance that “almost every part of Indo-China [including Siam] is capable of enormous development under proper European management ....”10

In the first volume of the Journal of  the Royal Geographical Society, published in 1831 members drew up a charter that linked the pursuit of geographical knowledge to the “welfare” of imperial England. The Society's goals included the collection and publication of geographic information and the creation of a library to store maps, travel literature, and scientific writings.”11 The RGS was founded in 1830 by men like Smyth's grandfather. and had among its council members military and legal officials. Of the twenty-nine founding officials, eleven were lawyers, ten had military titles, and the remaining eight came from a variety of backgrounds ranging from landed gentry to clergy. In 1893 over 30 percent of the council level members were military officials (13 out of 34).12

Smyth's purpose for writing was not solely to point out the commercial value of Siam's natural resources. He did not claim to be a scientist or geographer and wrote for general readers as well as entrepreneurs.13 Yet his opinion is legitimized by his membership in scientific societies, his place in the Siamese government, and later by his position in Britain's colonial administration in Africa. In addition, Smyth derives authority from his familiarity with and citation of well-known predecessors such as Bowring, Pallegoix, Mouhot, and Crawfurd, as well as his contemporaries, Hallett, Grindrod, Young, Vincent, and Colquhoun. Smyth's scholarly interest in Siam distinguishes him from many other Westerners whom he encountered there. He felt that a gap existed in the general travel literature and specialized academic treatises on Siam, a gap that rendered a reliable, accessible account necessary.

It should also be noted that Smyth enjoyed his experience in Siam and his contacts with the Siamese. The cheerful tone that his narrative assumes reflects this and provides a refreshing contrast with other narratives of the period. Smyth's critique of existing literature on Siam stemmed from his condemnation of the lifestyle of members of the Western community in Bangkok, many of whom also produced accounts of the country: “Very charming, too, could this life be, though nothing perhaps could have been more out of touch with that of the people in the midst of which it used to thrive.”14 This isolated Western community knew little of Siam's inhabitants, yet “from it the globe-trotter got his information about the Siamese, and by its after-dinner measurements he 'sized up' their character.”15 Smyth envisioned himself as shattering prevailing myths about an imagined Siamese character when he substantiated, through his experience with the Siamese, that they were not “inveterate thieves,” “incessant liars,” or “wily savages” as other Western writers had readers believe.16 From Smyth's point of view, the question was which Western spokesperson could more legitimately represent Siam to the Western reading public: one who remained sheltered in Bangkok or one who encountered the Siamese in their “natural habitat” and language. The zoological analogy is implicit in his conceptual framework. It demonstrates that, in spite of Smyth's criticism of the blatant racism espoused by his contemporaries, his analysis remained superficial. He never questioned the deeper assumption that only a Westerner could represent Siam to the world because the Siamese were not capable of representing themselves.

Smyth's ability to speak Siamese makes him, in the eyes of his Western reader, privy to the world as perceived by the Siamese. He distinguished himself by explaining that he knew the countryside intimately and by implying that he interacted with the inhabitants daily in their language. Smyth also employs this logic when he argues that he understands “the Siamese perspective” and, in some cases, even agrees with it in opposition to a Western viewpoint. This legitimizing strategy makes his account seductive. A more critical examination of his method, however, reveals that he actually constructs, rather than understands, a “Siamese outlook.” He recognizes various behaviors exhibited by Westerners that he does not like, wished to participate in, or identify with. Smyth supposes, furthermore, that his views coincide with those of “the Siamese” and presumes his criticisms were shared by them. Implicit in this presumption is Smyth's reduction of indigenous viewpoints to one monolithic (male) perspective, namely his own.

For example, in volume one, he criticizes impatient Western travelers who blame inconveniences and delays on the willful design of local officials to obstruct their journeys. “In Indo-China, however, resort to force [on the part of the Western traveler] is a confession of the traveller's inability to comprehend the influences at work around him.”17 “ Smyth believes he fully understands the context within which he works. He sympathizes with the local officials by explaining for them their perspective, paraphrased here. When Westerners approached a local Siamese official with government papers requesting pack animals and attendants, the official had to gather men from the surrounding area. This process frequently took longer than most Westerners were willing to wait, and they would proceed to stomp about the village, fuming with indignation and impatience. Smyth regarded all stormy scenes between Westerners and local officials as the fault of the Westerner, and opined that “one is fain to agree with the jungle folks that the farang [Westerner] is a very difficult fellow.”18

The extent to which he differs from his fellow travelers is only one of degree, as confirmed by his use of the term, "jungle folks." He may have explained from the "native perspective" that the corvée system presented difficulties, but he never questioned the system itself and frequently took advantage of it. The system, originally established to serve royalty and high officials, allowed Westerners to pluck men (not to mention their equipment and farm animals) from their villages for weeks at a time. In fact, Smyth's traveling party can be seen as a manifestation of Western (and royal) privilege in Siam. His entourage usually included a cook, guides, porters and assistants. On his journey to the upper Mekong, for instance, his party consisted of over seventy men. Normal practice for Siam's non-official classes dictated that when they did travel, they relied on themselves and relatives for transportation and accommodation.

As shown, Smyth takes part in the imperial system yet differentiates himself from his contemporaries by asserting that the Siamese should be treated with understanding. After legitimizing his point of view as more accurate because of his intimate connection with the Siamese, Smyth proceeds implicitly to denigrate them, thereby unwittingly reaffirming the prejudices held by the Western community in Bangkok.19 A deeper examination of his attitude reveals his adherence to imperialistic assumptions of Western, white superiority. Smyth applies Eurocentric standards of moral character and behavior to Siam's population, relegating the Asian to a lower rung on the ladder of racial hierarchy. By not questioning his own belief system, then, Smyth implicitly supports colonial endeavors in Siam.

The privileges that Smyth takes for granted are a manifestation of racial concepts prevalent in the era. In every town that he visits the author remarks on the ethnic composition of the population. He categorizes individuals as members of a particular race, assigns to them a predetermined moral character linked to their race, and then locates the race relative to his own. Smyth is not atypical in his imposition of predetermined prejudices upon individuals. In fact, he employs a relational approach to the Siamese, trying to understand their reasoning in the context of Siam. It is this stance that renders his interpretation appealing but perilous. Though he never explicitly explains this procedure of racial and moral categorization (and may not have been conscious of it), he employs it as a strategy of control that allows him to maintain his separateness and superiority. Involved in the process is the homogenization of a race and the reduction of individuals to a collective "they." As Mary Louise Pratt observes, "these descriptive practices work to normalize another society, to codify its difference from one's own...."20

Using Eurocentric morality as his standard, he locates the homogenized racial groups he encounters on a hierarchical scale, the pinnacle of which is occupied by white Westerners. In addition to a more general East-West opposition that guides his categorization, Smyth constructs a more detailed breakdown of the Asian population into Siamese, Chinese, Burmese, and Shans, among others. Although the notion of "race" itself is problematic, let alone the reduction of Siam's population to specific races, it is used here to elucidate Smyth's conceptual framework. The Siamese, for example, are good people in general but only by accident and when there is no reason to be otherwise. "The question of right or wrong does not enter the calculation" and only a few have the power of foresight to predict the consequences of their actions.21 Ironically, Smyth's refusal to acknowledge that non-Westerners are capable of self-awareness and morality points to a lack of awareness of his own assumptions about a universal (Western) morality. This lack demonstrates the limits of Smyth's insights into the lives of the people among whom he worked for five years.

Most often physical characteristics accompany racial categories. Rarely does Smyth refer to a racial group without adding a descriptive adjective. Expressions such as big-bodied Shans, stout southern Lao, and small-headed Siamese suffuse his prose. Smyth's most vehement prejudices, however, are reserved for the Chinese in Siam. In a telling sequence of associations, the author links the stench in Bangkok to "dead dogs, diseased Chinamen, or festering drains .... "22 When he enters the Chinese section of Bangkok, he is confronted with difference, with a world that he is not privy to and does not understand. Thus, he portrays it as hell, where anything can happen. Smyth describes the area as hellish, broken, choking, thief-ridden, filthy, diseased, and perilous, though he passes through it unscathed. Compare this to his heavenly portrayal of the Siamese sector as soothing, calm, glistening, bright, full of the sounds of children, and marked by trees, water, and gardens.23  The Chinese and the Siamese sections shared the same sky and sun, yet its blue color and "strong light" brighten only the latter and fail to penetrate the former. To Smyth, dirt and disorder mean barbarity and immorality. He imposes this uniformly negative definition of the Chinese on all Chinese in spite of the many exceptions he encounters. For example, the Chinese Rajah of Trang maintained a clean, orderly town, with well-maintained public works and a village system based on the British-Burmese model. His ethnicity is irrelevant to his spotless qualities as a ruler. However, a few pages later he mentions a Chinese settlement: "It is a filthy place, as all Chinese towns are...."24 In the second case, filth is attributed to the Chinese whereas in the first case, cleanliness is not linked to ethnicity.

The Chinese were exempt from corvée demands, and were in control of much of Siam's domestic trade networks. Calling them the Jews of the East, Smyth argues that the Chinese did not merit these privileges that gave them an advantage over the Siamese. What Smyth fails to point out is the fact that Chinese opium, alcohol, gambling and lottery monopolies provided the Siamese government with 40 to 50 per cent of its revenue during the last half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, as Chinese laborers were the main consumers of these services and commodities, they increased government revenue to the detriment of their own welfare. It was, for example, illegal for a Siamese man to smoke opium unless he adopted the Chinese style of dress and queue.25 In another instance, Smyth plays down the fact that five thousand Chinese laborers perished while constructing a particular section of Siam's railway, a public works project regarded as necessary before Siam could enter the community of independent, civilized (i.e., Westernized) nations.26

The Chinese, then, occupy a lowly position in Smyth's imaginary racial hierarchy. On the other hand, "the Siamese, with his cheerfulness and friendliness, his hospitality and gentleness, his patience under trial, and his charming simplicity, can, in comparison with many Asiatic races, and not a few specimens of the latterday farang, hold his head high."27 The justificatory system Smyth employs is circular. The Asian is measured by Western white man's standards of moral character and invariably does not measure up. This lack or insufficiency explains the difference between Asians and white Westerners, the difference is seen as a lack, and the lack establishes the Asians on a rung below Western whites. In Smyth's paradigm, the African occupies the lowest position in the hierarchy. "The defects which render it impossible that the Negro will ever attain to any degree of true civilisation, and which doom him to remain on a lower scale than the most primitive race in Asia, have also prevented his thinking an original thought...."28 The impulse to categorize subjects was part of a larger, scientific drive on the part of Westerners to know the world. The will to classify a race by extracting a group of people from their particular surroundings and placing them in their appropriate location in a scientific, Eurocentric system had its corresponding drive in the field of natural history. Scientific societies in Europe, as already mentioned, played a defining role in this design.

As mentioned above, Smyth's personal history and internalization of Britain's imperial vision influenced his conception of Siam. However, the broader, regional situation and the conditions in Siam frame Smyth's personal narrative as well. He arrived in Bangkok at a crucial moment in Siam's struggle to maintain independence from France on its eastern flank, and from the British in Burma and the Malay States. Rapid colonization of Siam's neighbors and impingement on its own borders clearly demonstrated to Siam's leaders that their independent status was largely dependent upon relations between these two colonial powers. The Siam question, frequently mentioned by nineteenth-century writers concerned with the region, referred to Anglo-French competition for territory in Southeast Asia, and more specifically to Siam's survival as an independent country. Anglo-French rivalry rendered detailed knowledge of Siam's geographic outlines necessary before Siam's leaders could maintain and strengthen its independence. Siam had to become a more cohesive geographic entity to retain outlying provinces that it claimed.29

Colonial strategies of control occurred at the level of both military engagement and economic competition. While Westerners assisted the Siamese government in its reforms, Western nations contended for economic primacy in Siam. Since the opening of the country to extended international trade in 1855, Britain had far outpaced its competitors. According to Smyth and others, over 90 per cent of the trade with Western countries or their colonies was in British hands by the 1890s.30 One of Smyth's contemporaries remarked on British economic interests in Siam, "The interests of commerce, as understood in England, do not require annexations of territory, provided that in such territory order is maintained, the law equitably administered, treaties observed, and access to markets freed from vexations and invidious restrictions.”31 Smyth carried out his work in the Department of Mines with a similar attitude. In his writing, he snubs France by implicitly comparing British success with French failure in their respective economic endeavors. For example, in his discussions of the opening of a railway between Bangkok and Khorat (present-day Nakhon Ratchasima), Smyth presents a logical argument in favor of the natural flow of goods along this line. He then presents as irrational exaggeration the French opinion that because the Khorat area was populated by Cambodians, its Khorat trade should naturally pour into French-controlled Cambodia. The use of nature as a legitimization for economic exploitation was a common practice in colonial debates.

The most intense period of confrontation over Siam occurred between 1889 and 1902, which explains why Smyth, a resident of Siam during part of that time, refers frequently to French claims on Siamese territory.32 Smyth directly addresses the issue of Siam's independence in a detailed, firsthand account of the 1893 Paknam incident in which the French sent gunboats upriver to Bangkok. In the course of the journey upstream, a skirmish occurred between Siamese forces (led by Danish commanders) and the French warships.33 The British did not, as many had expected, come to Siam's aid, and Siam's poorly equipped and untrained forces lost the short battle. The French representative in Bangkok, Auguste Pavie, delivered an ultimatum to King Chulalongkorn (r.1868-1910) which resulted in, among other losses, the cession of Siam's territory on the east bank of the Mekong River.

Smyth treats this incident as a issue between France and Siam, thus relieving Britain of responsibility despite the fact that the incident was intimately related to a larger competition for territory engaged in by Britain and France. His perspective counters that of his contemporaries who denied Siam agency in the conflict and treated it as a battleground for France and Britain.34 The incident was a defining moment in the relationship between Siam and Britain (not to mention between Siam and France) because it exposed the limits of Siam's defensive capability and those of British intervention or participation in Siam's affairs.

Largely as a result of European military and economic pressure on Siam, its leaders initiated reforms that reorganized the tax system to compensate for the loss of revenue caused by the Bowring Treaty, and strengthened Siam's control of its territory and population by centralizing power in the hands of the monarch at the expense of strong regional ministries and of semi-autonomous provincial leaders. This process began during the reign of King Mongut (r.1851-1868) and was continued by King Chulalongkorn, the monarch whom Smyth served.35 One consequence of the reforms, spearheaded by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, was the creation of functionally differentiated ministries that streamlined the government and established a stable bureaucratic structure. Modernization of the bureaucracy strengthened the domestic position of Siam's leaders and contributed to their ability to maintain Siam's independence.

The Department of Mines initially fell under the Ministry of Agriculture and, like many departments, was directed by a European. Its purpose was to "supervise and control all matters pertaining to the mining industry with special reference to mining rights, concession boundaries," and record-keeping."36 The department was established in order to mediate mining disputes in the south between European concessionaires and local officials and workers. Smyth served as secretary and Herr de Muller managed the department from its inception in 1891 (Smyth succeeded him in 1895). His duties included scouting for potential mining sites and arbitrating contested claims. A glance at his travel route, which included all of Siam's frontier provinces, highlights the fact that Siam and its boundaries were newly drawn. It is this itinerary that determines the chapter headings in his book. Significantly, the majority of Smyth's time was spent outside Bangkok and on the frontiers. In 1892-93 he ventured to the area now known as the Golden Triangle, then as the upper Mekong, in order to report on mining resources. French claims on territory on the left bank of the Mekong prompted the publication of his results.37 In 1894, Smyth traveled along the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, stopping off in British territory, before he reached the furthest southern point of his journey, Trang. The next year, after succeeding de Muller as director, Smyth proceeded to the southeastern territories then ruled by Siam: Battambang, Pailin and Chantaburi. Finally, in 1896, he completed his tour of Siam's frontier areas by examining sites along the east coast of the peninsula down to Songkhla. His itinerary demonstrates that the Siamese government was in the process of centralizing its control over outlying, nearly autonomous zones. Scientific knowledge, in the form of cadastral and mineral surveys of the areas, was a necessary step in the broader centralization and commercialization processes.

In his capacity as an official in the Department of Mines, Smyth surveyed the country's landscape for commercially valuable natural resources, and then pointed out potentially exploitable areas to the government and to Western entrepreneurs who read his work. However, what might at first glance appear to be a conflict of interests between his loyalty to England in its commercial pursuits in Siam and his duty to the Siamese government was actually an alliance. Smyth and other Westerners placed in similar advisory roles were invited to Siam in a determined effort on the part of Siam's leaders to control their own country by selectively applying to it British colonial methods of rule.38

In 1891 Smyth began to explore the geological make-up of Siam. Though he did not claim to be a discoverer, he was the first author to write in English about the gem mines located in Chantaburi and Pailin.39 While in Siam in 1821-22, John Crawfurd was informed by his guides of the existence of sapphire, ruby and topaz stones in the Chantaburi area. He devotes little attention to them except to point out that they were monopolized by the King of Siam.40 Writing in 1886, M. Brien, a French explorer sent to survey the Cambodian provinces then under Siamese suzerainty, itemized the gems being mined in Pailin.41 Other than these two men, those who traveled to the southeast before Smyth do not list gems among Chantaburi's export items nor do they mention the presence of Burmese or Shans, the principal gem miners of the region.42 Smyth speculated that the Siamese had known of the existence of the gems for centuries and that the government had guarded the secret. The mines were opened in the 1860s and caused a small population explosion consisting of Shan and Burmese immigrants who came to mine the area.43 Smyth includes a map of the province that locates major ruby and sapphire diggings and gives specific information about the difficulties in governing the areas. The mining settlements included anywhere from 25 to 3,000 diggers depending on the capital involved.

Smyth does not attempt to disguise his connections with European companies involved in the diggings. From the moment of his arrival in Chantaburi, then occupied by the French, he spent his time in the company of two officers from the Siam Exploring Company and Mr. Ainslie, a scout for the Borneo Company. He is both promoter of Siam's natural resources and supporter of economic imperialism in Siam.

Smyth's account of a dispute between a British company and a local headman, Mong Keng, a Shan in charge of Pailin's mining settlement, clearly reflects the complexities of the disagreements he had to resolve. The British Consulate in Bangkok owned a mining concession in Pailin and named a British subject, Mong Keng, as local headman. The Siamese monarch granted the official title of luang to Mong Keng as well, thereby legitimizing his rule within the Siamese system. While Mong Keng was village headman, he kept crime tightly under control, maintained public works and lavishly contributed to local religious ceremonies. However, Mong Keng eventually monopolized all the tax farms in Pailin and became more of a threat than an asset in the opinion of British and Siamese government officials. The British managers felt that their profits were insufficient and lamented their lack of control over Mong Keng. Adjudication in their favor reflects the importance of their complaints to the Siamese government, which also saw an opportunity to deprive a provincial strongman of his power. Mong Keng was stripped of his titles, and the price of the tax farms-fixed by the Siamese government-was increased to a prohibitive sum. The British, through a syndicate, bought his shares: "It was one more instance of the meeting of the East and of the West, the patriarchal despot and the limited liability company; and they were not compatible."44 Smyth reports indifferently that as a consequence of the takeover, public works were neglected entirely and religious festivals ceased. By 1902 all of the gem mines in southeast Siam were owned by a British company.45

Accompanying the geographic content of the book is advice on how to conduct business most lucratively. Though Smyth's treatment of the mining disputes disappointed his business-minded readers who drew negative conclusions about purchasing a mining concession, he encourages them by explaining that proper use of native labor and methods could make a European enterprise profitable.46 This direct advice, however, rarely surfaces in Five Years in Siam, and is more characteristic of Smyth's comprehensive writing style than a desire to make recommendations to those contemplating methods of mineral extraction. Certainly, he bears responsibility for the consequences of his advice, but other writers more blatantly counseled commercial investors.

Smyth published Five Years in Siam in 1897. After leaving Siam, he spent the years 1898 to 1901 working for the Siamese legation in London. The British government then posted him to South Africa, where he served as the Secretary for Mines in Transvaal, a region in the northeast. He remained in Africa until 1927 when, at the age of 60, he retired. By that time he had married Annabel Sutton, had had four children and had written several books and numerous articles, including a fictional account of his experiences in Siam47 His narrative journey through Siam opens a window onto events in the country during a period of intense, domestic transformation. As an Englishman who spoke Thai and held an administrative post that allowed him to travel widely, he could offer a unique perspective. Though Smyth's role in maintaining commercial imperialism cannot be ignored, it must be put into the context. Seen from this angle, his attempt to imagine and understand Siam is not only an important contribution to literature about the country, but also sheds light on British intentions there.

Note on Stories by Herbert Warington Smyth:
Many of his short stories appeared in the popular journal, Blackwood’s. It was in this magazine that British readers were first exposed to the writings of other colonial officials such as Joseph Conrad.

Other Books by Herbert Warington Smyth:
Herbert Warington Smyth, Chase and Chance in Indo-China (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd., 1934)
Herbert Warington Smyth, Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd., 1929)


  1. J.G.D. Campbell, Siam in the Twentieth Century (London: Edward Arnold, 1902), v.

  2. Concise Dictionary of National Biography (hereafter cited as CDNB), Part I (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 1219. CDNB, 18 (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1921), 600.

  3. Herbert Warington Smyth, Chase and Chance in Indo-China (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd., 1934), 141, and Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons Ltd., 1929), viii.

  4. Warington Wilkinson Smyth, A Year With the Turks (New York: Redfield, 1854). The map accompanying his account divides up Turkey and eastern Europe according to "different races of the population." Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 47 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1891), 52.

  5. CDNB, 18: 598. CDNB, 1901-1950, Part II (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 403, 1218.

  6. Who Was Who, 1941-50, IV (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1952), 1077.

  7. John MacKenzie, ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), 9, 233.

  8. Who Was Who, 1941-50,1076.

  9. Who Was Who, 1941-50, 1076.

  10. J. S. Black, "Journey Round Siam", The Geographical Journal, vol. 8, no. 5 (Nov. 1896), 432.

  11. Royal Geographical Society of London, I (London: John Murray, 1831), v, vi.

  12. The Geographical Journal, l (London: The Royal Geographical Society, 1893), title page.

  13. Many of his short stories appeared in the popular journal, Blackwood's. It was in this magazine that British readers were first exposed to the writings of other colonial officials such as Joseph Conrad.

  14. Herbert Warington Smyth, Five Years in Siam: From 1891 to 1896, I (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898): 15-16. [Hereafter Smyth, FYS.]

  15. Smyth, FYS, I: 15-16.

  16. Smyth, FYS,I: 8, 10.

  17. Smyth, FYS,I: 10.

  18. Smyth, FYS,I: 96.

  19. In 1902, there were just over one thousand Europeans and Americans in Siam, one-third of whom were British. Campbell, 45.

  20. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), 64.

  21. Smyth, FYS,1: 25.

  22. Smyth, FYS, I: 17.

  23. Smyth, FYS, I: 17-18.

  24. Smyth, FYS, II: 10-11.

  25. For a detailed analysis, see G. William Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957). Because the queue, worn only by men, is specified in the decree, the decree can be applied only to Thai men, not to Thai women.

  26. Smyth, FYS, I: 244-245.

  27. Smyth, FYS, I: 25.

  28. Smyth, Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia, 14.

  29. For a thorough analysis of this process, see Thongchai Winichakul, "Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of Siam" (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sydney, 1988). It should be kept in mind that the first official map of Siam in its entirety, based on surveys conducted by two British officials, was published in 1887. Tej Bunnag, The Provincial Administration of Siam, 1892-1915 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977), 72.

  30. Smyth, FYS, I: 148. W.L. Courtney, "The Partition of Indo-China," Fortnightly Review, New Series, 59 (Jan. - June 1896), 375.

  31. Courtney, 373.

  32. Chandran Jeshurun, The Contest for Siam, 1889-1902 (Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1977), 49-95.

  33. Henry Norman, The Peoples and Politics of the Far East (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904), 465-466.

  34. Henry Norman, 464-467. Courtney, 370-383.

  35. For a complete account of this process, see Bunnag. For a focus on the role of the monarchy during this period, see David K. Wyatt, "Mongut and Chulalongkorn, 1851-1910," in Thailand: A Short History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 181-222.

  36. Paul F. Scholla and Associates, Mining Resources and Mining Investment Potential in Thailand (Bangkok: Private Enterprise Division, Agency for International Development, United States Operations Mission to Thailand, 1965), 3.

  37. Herbert Warington Smyth, Notes of a Journey on the Upper Mekong, Siam (London: John Murray, 1895), v.

  38. King Chulalongkorn visited Europe, British India and the Straits Settlements to observe their administrative systems.

  39. The Cambodian provinces where Pailin is located were under Siamese rule until 1907.

  40. John Crawfurd, Journal of an Embassy to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1967), 419-420.

  41. M. Brien, "Apercu sur la province de Battambang," Cochinchine Francaise, Excursions et Reconnaissances, 11, no. 25 (Jan.-Feb. 1886), 10-12.

  42. B.J. Terwiel, Through Travellers' Eyes: An Approach to Early Nineteenth Century Thai History (Bangkok: Duang Kamol, 1989), 187.

  43. Smyth, FYS, II: 171.

  44. Smyth, FYS, II: 211.

  45. Campbell, 44.

  46. Campbell, 42.

  47. His autobiographical, fictional account, Chase and Chance in Indo-China, might be read alongside this publication for insights into Smyth's outlook. Its narrator, "H. W.," works with people who have the same names and personalities as did Smyth's actual associates in Siam. His duties at the Department of Mines, the time period and even the episodes are familiar. There is, however, an element of fantasy that the rubric of fiction allows him to pursue.

This introduction is reproduced through the kind courtesy of the author, Tamara Loos. Dr. Loos is an Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University specializing in Southeast Asian, gender and legal studies. She is currently a Radcliffe Institute Fellow.

At the time of writing the "Introduction" to the 1994 reprint of Five Years in Siam, she was a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Cornell University. In her remarks she expressed thanks to Professor David Wyatt and Peter Tarr for their assistance and editorial assistance.

About the Author of Five Years in Siam

Herbert Warington SMYTH was born on June 4, 1867 and died December 19, 1943 at age 76, He was a Barrister and was widely traveled. He was to serve as Director of the Department of Mines in Siam, Secretary for Mines in the Transvaal, Commissioner for Mines in Natal and as Secretary of Mines and Industries in the Union of South Africa. He was the author of several books, including: Five Years in Siam, Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia, Sea Wake and Jungle Trail and Chase and Chance in Indochina. He was a Fellow of the Geological Society and the Royal Geographical Society, a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve (1915-1918) and was honored as a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George and as Commander of the Order of the White Elephant of Siam. He married Amabel Mary Sutton in 1900. He was first cousin to Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (B-P, founder of the World Scouting Movement).

Books by H. Warington Smyth

  Five Years in Siam (1898). Chapter I: The River and Port of Bangkok.
  Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia (1906). "Illustrated from drawings by E.W. Cooke, R.A., W.L. Wyllie, A.R.A., W. Robins, Sir W. Warington Smyth, F.R.S., Major Nevill Smyth, V.C., and the author. A momentous work of reference for world sail. There is more concentration of eastern sail types in this book than in any of our other reference volumes on the subject and each is fully illustrated in a volume that is just stuffed with illustrations.... There are also line drawings and/or sail plans of a number of the craft described, including a Norwegian Pilot Boat, a Northland Boat, a Norwegian Skiff, a Redningskoite, a Scotch Fifie and a Scotch Zulu. A thorough-going reference indeed!"  (Description from D. N. Goodchild, "The Shellback's Library").
  Sea Wake and Jungle Trail (1925). "Mr. Warington Smyth, who is head of the Mines Department in South Africa, is not only one of those fortunate authors who is equally skilled with pen and pencil, but also an exceptionally expert, practical sailor, as his previous book, `Mast and Sail,' testifies. He is thus able to depict as well as to describe his various experiences and adventures during many years' travel. His devotion to animals and to the sea is such that he has the power of treating them as personal friends, and, above all, he has the gift of humour, which enables him -and his friends-to. see the bright side of everything." (From the publishers advertisement for Sea Wake and Jungle Trail).
  Chase and Chance in Indochina (1934). "Autobiographical, fictional account, Chase and Chance in Indo-China, might be read alongside this publication (Five Years in Siam) for insights into Smyth's outlook. Its narrator, "H. W.," works with people who have the same names and personalities as did Smyth's actual associates in Siam. His duties at the Department of Mines, the time period and even the episodes are familiar. There is, however, an element of fantasy that the rubric of fiction allows him to pursue." (From the Introduction to Five Years in Siam by Tamara Loos of Cornell University).

  Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, M.A., F.R.S. was the father of H. Warington Smyth and Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth. He was a brother of Henrietta Grace Smyth Baden-Powell and Uncle to B-P. He was Professor of Mining and Mineralogy at the Royal School of Mines, President of the Geological Society of London in 1866-1868 and a Fellow of the Royal Society. After university, he spent more than four years in Europe, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, paying great attention to mineralogy and mining. Among his published works were A Year with the Turks” (1854), and A Treatise on Coal and Coal-Mining” (1867). He was knighted in 1887.
  Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, brother of  H. Warington Smyth and B-P's first cousin. He had a distinguished career in the army, rising to the rank of Major-General. He won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Khartoum.
  Admiral William H. Smyth, grandfather of H. Warington Smyth, rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy to retire as an Admiral in 1863. He was a noted hydrographer and astronomer and was Vice President of the Royal Society. According to his great-grandson, his charts of the Mediterranean were still in use in 1961. His "Cycle of Celestial Objects" remains a classical text in the history of astronomy and was republished in 1986.
B-P's Mother: Henrietta Grace Baden-Powell, 1824-1914. Links to Admiral W. H. Smyth (B-P's grandfather) and other members of the Smyth family including: Charles Piazzi Smyth, Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, H. Warington Smyth, General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth and Nevil Maskelyne. She was the aunt of both H. Warington Smyth and General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links based on the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. They are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P's brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell as well as to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.
  Baden-Powell Home Page

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