Letter from the acting Phrakhlang Phya Phiphat Kosa in Siam to the Supreme Government in Batavia, 13 January 1769, and the answer from Batavia, 29 May 1769

Siamese War Elephant

Introduced Dhiravat na Pombejra (Former Associate Professor Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok)

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The Siamese letter was written by the Phya Phiphat Kosa, probably the acting phrakhlang minister at the beginning of King Taksin’s reign. The title phiphat kosa usually denotes the deputy Phrakhlang. The letter was a direct attempt to entice the VOC to return to Siam and reopen its factory in the kingdom. The Siamese minister tells of the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, and maintains that the kingdom had, under “Phiatak” (Taksin), been restored to its former flourishing state.

When King Alaungpaya of Burma invaded Siam in 1760 and destroyed some of the suburbs of the city of Ayutthaya, the VOC lodge was partially damaged and looted, and the resident Nicolaas Bang fatally injured. [1] It was a traumatic experience the Dutch did not forget quickly, especially when, hardly five years later, the new Burmese king Hsinbyushin sent more armies to invade Siam.

In December 1765 the VOC shut down its factorij in Ayutthaya and left Siam. The final letter written by a VOC resident in Siam, Abraham Werndlij’s of 18 November 1765, was full of fear, certainly a marked lack of confidence in the ability of the Siamese court to stem the Burmese attacks. [2] Werndlij and his colleagues were proven right, as Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in April 1767: the city was sacked, its palaces and temples pillaged and thousands of its inhabitants taken away to Burma.

Two important points arise from the contents of Phya Phiphat Kosa’s letter: his insistence that “Phiatak” had been instructed by the last king of Ayutthaya to leave the city and go to Chanthabun to obtain more help for the defense of the royal city; in other words, he did not flee or desert the king. The second key point is that the people who had fled the ravages of war returned from the forests and “chose” Taksin as their king. The letter is careful to stress King Taksin’s legitimacy as ruler of Siam: even if he had no hereditary claim to the throne, he was entitled to rule on account of the people’s acceptance of his authority at a time when there was no-one else available to be king. The latter point no doubt alludes to the absence or death of members of the old royal family.

The issue of his legitimacy to rule Siam was to dog King Taksin for much of his reign, especially in his attempts to gain formal recognition from China. Indeed, the Qing court only gave formal recognition of Taksin as king of Siam late in his reign, in 1781. The ANRI also has in its collection (as part of the Batavia Castle Dagregister) a letter written to the Hoge Regering from Chao Si Sang and Chao Chui [3], two Siamese royal princes who had survived the Burmese invasion and had sought refuge in Cambodia, further proof that Taksin’s right to be legitimate king of Siam was indeed contested by members of the old dynasty, from Prince Thepphiphit (defeated and executed by King Taksin early on, soon after the fall of Ayutthaya) to these two princes, whose ambitions also came to naught.

Chinese traders acted as middlemen in the contacts between Siam and the VOC. The junk of a “Tjien Heeng” carried the letter and gifts of the Thonburi court to Batavia. In later letters exchanged between the two parties many more Chinese skippers’ names are mentioned. [4] The Chinese element in both the economy and the court during King Taksin’s reign provides a counterpoint to the king’s conscientious attempts to revive the traditional Siamese state, still called “Thawarawadi Si Ayutthaya”, at his new royal city of Thonburi, reconstructing its administrative structure, religion and culture.

The Governor-General and Council’s reply to the letter of Phiphat Kosa was of course courteous, and neatly avoided committing to a VOC return to Siam by alleging that permission to do so had to be sought from the Prince of Orange. But trade with Siam was not by any means ruled out. Indeed trade was carried on between Thonburi/Bangkok and Batavia even beyond the dissolution of the VOC. From the initial demands for flintlock guns to fight its various enemies the Siamese court began to ask for other goods to be sent from Batavia, such as diamonds. [5] Siamese sappanwood was usually the merchandise bought in exchange by the Dutch. The continuation of Dutch-Siamese trade post-1767, although it was carried out through Chinese proxies, was nevertheless the foundation for a revival of formal diplomatic ties between the Bangkok court and the Netherlands in the mid-nineteenth century.



[1] See 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. 206-208.

[2] Dhiravat na Pombejra, “Fleeing the ‘Enemy’: The Final Dutch Letter from Ayutthaya, November 1765” in Winai Pongsripian (ed.). Chatusansaniyachan. Bangkok: The Historical Commission, Ministry of Culture, 2004, pp. 327-345; Bhawan Ruangsilp, Dutch East India Company Merchants, pp. 212-218.

[3] ANRI, VOC, Archives of the Supreme Government, Daily Journals of Batavia Castle, 3574, fs. 305-309. Prince Thepphiphit was a son of King Borommakot and thus half-brother to King Ekathat, the last Ayutthaya king; Prince Si Sang was a grandson of Borommakot; while Prince Chui was a grandson of King Thai Sa. The Dutch had earlier plotted to put Prince Thepphiphit on the throne of Kandy, unsuccessfully.

[4] See for instance the letters from the Phrakhlang to the Hoge Regering in 1771 and 1772, VOC 3338 (fs. 255-261) and VOC 3339 (fs. 714-717 verso).

[5] Leonard Blussé. “Whimsical wishes of Siamese kings: the correspondence of King Taksin and King Rama I of Siam to the High Government of Batavia (1769-1809)”, paper presented to the 13th IAHA Conference, Tokyo 1994.

Dhiravat na Pombejra, “Letter from the acting Phrakhlang Phya Phiphat Kosa in Siam to the Supreme Government in Batavia, 13 January 1769, and the answer from Batavia, 29 May 1769”. In: Harta Karun. Hidden Treasures on Indonesian and Asian-European History from the VOC Archives in Jakarta, document 28. Jakarta: Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, 2016.