Letter from the Chaophraya Phrakhlang on behalf of King Thai Sa (r. 1709-1733) to the Supreme Government in Batavia, (received) 9 March 1730, and the answer from Batavia, 3 August 1730

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Introduced Hendrik E. Niemeijer, Senior Lecturer in Maritime and World History (Diponegoro University, Semarang)

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Anyone who reads this letter from the Chaophraya Phrakhlang on behalf of King Thai Saa (ruled 1709-1733) would have to draw the conclusion that the VOC was a pretty careless textile trader. Their quality was worth nothing. The Phrakhlang complains that the kinds of cotton cloths delivered were not in accordance with the samples that had been provided. He indicates that Siam could also buy the textiles itself in India. The Siamese market is abundantly supplied with Indian textiles, and the VOC should not send too many.

But there was more criticism of the VOC. According to the letter, the Supreme Government in Batavia treated horses brutally. The 40 to 50 horses that the Siamese horse-traders bought in Java and according to the annual custom were allowed to send on a VOC ship were all transported on one ship that was too small. When they arrived in Ayutthaya it turned out that the whole consignment was completely neglected and badly emaciated. After they were unloaded several pegged out on the spot. In this way they lost a quarter of the livestock. Batavia was asked in future to use two ships for transporting horses.

And as if all this was not bad enough, the Opperhoofd (Senior Trader) Rogier van Alderwereld had beaten up a translator at the VOC lodge. The translator refused to weigh more rice for the Company than his instructions from the Phrakhlang permitted. Batavia was urgently requested to replace the high-handed head. The old translator was a respected man who had wrongly been so badly treated that his face was swollen, and his body here and there was beaten black and blue. In Ligor the Dutch did not behave themselves any better, by seizing a vessel carrying tin that was intended for the king.

When one looks closely at the pitch and content of this letter from Siam, there is no avoiding the impression that the Siamese court was indignant at the presence and the manners of the Dutch representatives. The tone of the letter is self-assured, or even superior. The message in the end is, foreigners and outsiders may come and pursue their trade in Siam, but that has to be done according to established customs and without mistakes, in keeping with the proper agreement and mutual friendship. Actually they are saying: if the foreigners don’t adapt themselves enough, then they can leave. And this is how most of the letters from the 18th century are pitched. There is a very large contrast with the style and tone of the diplomatic missives that reached Batavia from princes and sultans in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago. Siam displays itself as confident, proud, independent and full of self-respect.

The reply from the Supreme Government was professional and without emotion – a diplomatic letter of the modern sort. The reports of the misconduct of Opperhoofd Van Alderwereld were received with regret, and he was swiftly replaced. It was admitted that on various points the Phrakhlang was right, and the VOC would make efforts to be a better supplier of textiles. The letter was accompanied by a set of silver from Europe and attar of roses; and in future a bigger ship would be used for transporting horses. As well as fresh horses, Siam received two Persian horses as a bonus. Relations were restored.



Bhawan Ruangsilp. Dutch East India Company Merchants at the Court of Ayutthaya: Dutch Perceptions of the Thai Kingdom, c. 1604-1765. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007, pp. 180-194.

Brummelhuis, Han ten, Merchant, Courtier and Diplomat. A History of the Contacts between the Netherlands and Thailand. Lochem-Gent: de Tijdstroom, 1987.

Dhiravat na Pombejra. “Javanese horses for the court of Ayutthaya” in Greg Bankoff and Sandra S. Swart (eds.). Breeds of Empire. The ‘Invention’ of the Horse in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa 1500-1950. Copenhagen: NIAS, 2007, pp.65-81.


Hendrik E. Niemeijer, “Letter from the Chaophraya Phrakhlang on behalf of King Thai Sa (r. 1709-1733) to the Supreme Government in Batavia, (received) 9 March 1730, and the answer from Batavia, 3 August 1730”. In: Harta Karun. Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 25. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2016.