Report of Salween Consular Tour 1926

This is a report written by Mr.W.W.Coultas, British consul in Chiang Mai 1 of a consular tour in the Western Part of the Chiengmai 2 Consular District during October, November and December, 1926. The tour will be referred to as Salween Consular Tour. Over to William Coultas:

Salween Consular Tour Joyce, William, Denis Coultas in 1924

Joyce, William and Denis Coultas in 1924. Picture sent to me by Oliver Backhouse

Itinerary Salween Consular Tour

The road adopted followed, roughly, that taken by Mr. Fitzmaurice3 in January and February, 1923, that is to say, the party proceeded in a northerly direction from Chiengmai as far as Muang Pai 4, afterwards visiting, in the order mentioned, Mehongsawn 5, Khun Yuom 6 and Me Sarieng (alias Hminelongyi and previously known as Muang Yuom) 7, and returning again to headquarters by way of Muang Hawt 8, thus completing the usual circuit. As, however, circumstances made it necessary for the tour to be undertaken some weeks earlier than has been customary in previous years and at a time when the rains could hardly be considered completely finished, instead of following the low-lying Me Rim and Me Sa valleys 9, a more northerly course was taken along the basin of the Me Teng 10 with the object of taking advantage of the dryer ground afforded by the higher altitudes of the mountain range that divides the Me Teng drainage area from Muang Pai which was thus approached from the east. Similarly, during the final stage of the journey after leaving Muang Hawt, instead of crossing to the left bank of the Me Ping to establish contact with the railway near Pa Sang 11, the party proceeded on the right bank of that stream as far as Tha Me O, a village thirty-five kilometres south of Chiengmai with which it is connected by road, where it was possible to charter a motorbus for the completion of the distance mentioned. Had the rice crop been harvested, it would have been possible to have followed precedent and, by crossing to the left bank, to have shortened the duration of the journey by one day. The start from Chiengmai was made on October 28th and I returned to headquarters on December 10th, having been absent altogether fourty-four days. Of this period, thirty days were spent on the march and fourteen days at the various stopping places of importance on the route, namely, three days at Muang Pai, five days at Mehongsawn, two days at Khun Yuom and four days at Me Sarieng.

Map of North Thailand in 1934, by R.N.Hillyer

North Thailand in 1934, by R.N.Hillyer. This was more or less the route followed by Coultas. He travelled via Me Teng, so a bit further to the North.

Consular Work

Beyond work of a routine nature such as the issue of certificates of Registration to British subjects generally and of Documents of Passage to Indians trading between Siam and Burma, there is nothing that calls for particular comment under this heading. It is satisfactory to be able to report that complaints against Siamese officials were conspicuous by their absence and that the impression gained as a result of the tour was that everwhere the relations between British subjects and the administration are friendly and cordial. Two questions only appeared to exercise the minds of British headmen and others with whom conversation was held. The first was the perennial one regarding the application to children of British subjects of the Education Act, whilst the second arose out of the more vigourous methods, recently introduced, for the collection of the Capitation Tax.

Education Act

It is now some years since this act was promulgated and reference is made to the application of its provisions to British subjects resident in the Mehongsawn province in the tour reports both of Mr.Fitzmaurice (1923) and Mr.Hillyer (1925). 12
Here it may be briefly stated that since its inception, the application of this enactment to the non-Siamese elements of the population seems to have been carried out with extraordinary leniency and there has never been any suggestion that the alien British residents have had any real grounds of complaint in this connection. That a certain degree of resentment at its introduction still lingers, however, was evidenced by the fact that both at Muang pai, Mehongsawn and Me Sarieng, the subject was mentioned by the respective headman, whilst at Khun Yuom, the Nai Amphur begged me to use my influence to induce local British subjects to abandon their attitude of passive resistance in regard to this law. I am of opinion that this resentment and attitude on the part of the British subjects is not only deserving of little sympathy but will gradually disappear, more especially as in none of the centres mentioned has the British community made any attempt to take advantage of the concessions, which, subject to certain reservations, were made under the Act in the case of private schools might be established to meet the requirements of special communities. On the contrary parents generally appear to have been casually indifferent to the real interest of their children and blindly obstructionist in their reception of an act which, if intelligently administered, should have been welcomed. Whilst it is true that the standard of teaching must remain low so long as the rate of the teacher’s renumeration is proportionately inadequate, it should nevertheless be remembered that, in teaching, the latter rely mainly upon text-book supplied by the Ministry of Education of which they are but the mouth-piece and interpreter. No great call is necessarily made, therefore, upon personal initiative and individually. I had more than one opportunity of examining blackboards recently used by teachers in instructing their pupils and was impressed by the value and general utility of the knowledge which it had been sought to inculcate, more especially in regard to domestic and personal hygiene, subjects which in the past must have been sealed books to the great majority of the population. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the various British communities concerned will take a commonsense view of the questions and exhange their present role of passive resistance for one of interested cooperation.

Capitation Tax

As in other provinces throughout Siam, the Mehongsawn Province has seen a considerable tightening up in the methods employed for the collection of the Capitation Tax, and the realization that in future evasion will be by no means so easy an achievement as it has been in the past has come to a rude shock to certain elements of the population. In spite, however, of the new powers vested in them under the recent decreee, the authorities seem, on the whole, to have shown a certain reluctance in resorting this year to extreme measures in dealing with defaulters. It may be expected, however, that in future they will be less lenient. It is a matter for regret that the additional clerical labour which the system would involve makes it impossible for arrangements to be made for the payment by instalments of this and the Education Tax which together amounting to Ticals 5, form a sum which many a poor Shan cultivator finds it difficult to put his hand upan at any moment.

Siamese Officials

Phra Phitake Theb Thani, the Governor of the Province, who happened to be absent on leave at the time of my visit has held this position for the last 5 or 6 years, and previous report show him to have carried out his duties in a satisfactory manner so far as his relations with British subjects have enabled Consular officers to form an estimate of his capacity and character. A recent social scandal in which he was concerned during the past year seem to indicate, however, that whatever his conduct officially, he sometimes seeks his private diversions in a way as seasons hardly calculated to reflect credit upon his official position. As the incident referred to tended to prejudice the personal liberties of a British subject, an enquiry was called for, with the result that the offenders, (for the Governor was accompanied on this occasion by several of his leading officials), were “whitewashed”. As, however, the real facts of the case were widely known throughout Mehongsawn, it is probable that the Monthon authorities were not unaware of the false impression given in the official report and administered a reprimand accordingly. It is to be hoped that their exuberance on this occasion was a temporary effort to mitigate the boredom of exile rather than a fair example of their general habits or behaviour. I was informed on my arrival that the parties concerned had been reconciled and that nothing further was likely to be heard of the incident.

Mae Hong Son Doi Kong Mu sunrise

Sunrise at Wat Doi Kong Mu 2017. Picture by Frans Betgem

Luang Bantherng Thaksinkhetr, the Nai Amphur of Mehongsawn is still personally disliked, (vide Mr.Hillyer’s Tour Report above quoted), but, being under the eye of the Governor, is apparently unable to do any real damage in his official capacity.

Phra Rachpraja, the Chief Judge, has recently been appointed to relieve Luang Worawat in that capacity, the latter having been dismissed, so it is reported, for conduct unbecoming his judicial office. Whatever the actualy misconduct brought home to him, it was freely stated and generally believed in Mehongsawn that the proximate cause of his retirement was a rupture with Phra Phitake, the Governor, who seized the occasion to report officially to the judge’s superiors certain damaging facts which, while previously generally known in the town, had not been considered sufficiently serious to merit official probation. The now Chief Judge, whom I met at Me Sarieng, where he was dealing with cases before proceeding to headquarters, whilst socially not unpleasant, left generally a negative impression. Before his appointment to his present post, he was Chief Judge at Suphanburi.

Khun Nikhon Paowaket has succeeded Luang Charoen as Nai Amphur of Muang Pai, a post which the latter, now over 60 years of age, had held for almost 20 years. The new Amphur only assumed his duties 5 months ago, and so has hardly had time to settle down. His previous post was at Saraphi between Chiengmai and Lampoon.

Khun Prasarn, the Nai Amphur of Khun Yuom, seems to have himself well-liked by all classes of British subjects with whom I conversed in that village and there seems no doubt that he has the welfare of the inhabitants at heart and endeavours to interpret as leniently as possible  such laws as he is called upon to apply in the performance of his duties. He gave the impression of being a hard-working and conscientiously official.

Luang Nikorn Phajakhetr, the new Amphur at Me Sarieng, was absent on leave at the time of my visit, so that we did not meet. He was formerly Nai Amphur at Chiengrai and was appointed to succeed Luang Phibun Boriharn at Me Sarieng about a year ago. Whilst I heard nothing against Luang Nikorn, it was evident that he did not enjoy the same popularity as his immediate predecessor upon whom Mr.Hillyer reported favourably in 1925 and who has been transferred to Utaradit.

British Headmen. It is a matter for regret to have to report that the venerable Maung Sein Dine, the Headman at Me Sarieng, is ageing rapidly and it is to be feared that he wil shorlty have to be replaced. Meanwhile his failing health make his duties as Headman somewhat burdensome. I was informed that in many matters he relies upon the assistance of his sone who is reported to be a capable youth.

At Mehongsawn, Maung Padaing Hlaing, continues to perform his duties as Headman in a satisfactory manner, his relations with the local Siamese officials appearing to be excellent. The only criticism I heard of him was that, if anything, he was too retiring. At Muang Pai, Maung Pay Gyi, the former Headman, has resigned that position in order to resume service under the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. The present Headman is a Shan, named Chong Ariya, who although one of the leading traders in the town, does not present appear to carry the same weight as his predecessor.
At Khun Yuom, Chong Kham, appears to perform satisfactorily the duties of Headman though they would appear to be less arduous there than in the other centres mentioned.

Communications

Except within the actual limits of the centres visited, no roads or cart-tracks exist throughout the whole province, while the jungle paths and mountain tracks by which these places are linked up are indescribably rough and primitive, hardly a single stream being spanned by a bridge. Fortunately, the majority of the streams are not formidable in respect either or breadth, depth or current but for this travellers must be grateful to providence and not to Government. Frequently a boulder-strewn bed of a stream is the only path for several hundred of yards, whilst, during the tour, the elephants were on several occasions seriously delayed on account of the dense overgrowth which had to be cut by the mahouts before a passage could be forced. Nowhere does any money appear to have been expended by Government, to facilitate communication by road.

Posts and Telegraphs

A bi-weekly mail runs between Chiengmai and the capital of the province, but the other centres have to be content with an irregular service. It is significant that for the delivery and despatch of their external correspondence Messrs. the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation 13 use their own runner between Papun14 and Me Sarieng, a service which many other residents in that town are allowed to utilize. It is reported, however, that the Siamese government has recently decided to establish a Post office at Me Sarieng with a branch office on the frontier opposite Papun and that this improvement will be introduced before the end of the current financial year. If this scheme materializes, it is not impertinent to express the hope that at the same time something my be done to improve the ferry service across the Salween River used by travellers between Papun and this province in regard to which I heard reports which, if true, would appear creditable to neither of the two governments of Burma and of Siam, the service being farmed out to the highest bidder. If reports are accurate, this service is at present under-staffed and the boats available both insufficient numerically and unseaworthy.

Front of the old BBTC office in Mae Sariang

Wooden house in Mae Sariang, dating back to 1900. We are trying to find out more about the history of this house. Picture by Frans Betgem 2018.

At the present moment, the only telegraph line in the whole province is that which links Mehongsawn with Chiengmai, whilst a telephone line runs from Mehongsawn to Khun Yuom and thence to Me Sarieng. Some two years ago a similar line also linked Muang Pai to Mehongsawn, but was abandoned. Occasional glimpses of it may still be seen, but so few posts survive that the greater portion of the line has disappeared under a tangle of undergrowth. It is rumoured, however, that simultaneously with the inauguration of an improved postal service, the work will be put in hand of substituting telegraphic for telephonic commmunications where the latter now exists and of construction a telegraph line to connect Chiengmai with Me Sarieng.

Trade, Commerce and Population

There is little to add to the remarks upon the subject made in the two immediately preceding reports already referred to.
So far as the cultivation of padi is concerned, the mountainous character of the province and the paucity of cultivable land make it impossible for it to support a large agricultural population, whilst the gradual curtailment of the forest operations of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation is further reducing the number of individuals to whom its activities offered an alternative means of livelihood. Already several hundred Shans and Burmans are said to have migrated back to Burma leaving Me Sarieng to find employment in the transfrontier tinmines. It is estimated that all forest working on the part of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation will cease absolutely in the province of Mehongsawn before the expiry of five years.

Salween Consular Tour Pai paddyfield

Rice field near Muang Pai, 2018. Picture by Frans Betgem

I was informed that, besides teak, many other kinds of valuable commercial timber are found in the Salween district, but that difficulties of transport, (such woods unlike teak, not being floatable), make its extraction impossible at present. The same remarkt would apply with equal truth to minerals, were they ever to be discovered there in paying quantities. The crying need of the province would appear to be for roads and bridges, but for the expense of survey alone would be incalculable, whilst the resultant monetary return would remain problematical. It seems unlikely that, in the present financial stringency, the Siamese Government will initiate a comprehensive road-building scheme without the stimulus of expected returns, whilst it is equally improbable that capitalists will waste time and money exploring the possibilities of the country without the insurance that the difficulty of transport will in the near future be eliminated. The problem, so far as one can see, can be solved only by a determination on the part of the Siamese government to open up the province as an end in itself irrespective of calculations as to profit and loss. If this were done scientifically and systematically, results, inevitably good, would doubtless follow in time.

Crime

Except for petty offences, the province from all accounts seems to be singularly free of crime except along the Burmese border which is from time to time terrorized by armed bands of marauders collected from both sides of the frontier. The bona fide inhabitant of the province is, however, generally of a peaceable and law-abiding disposition and the police have an easy time. I was informed that poppy cultivation for opium manufacture is still carried on amongst certain hill-tribes and that a fair amount of the non-government product was on the market. It appears to be very doubtful whether the police are at present making any genuine effort to track down the gardens and punish the cultivators, while the difficult nature of the country, which has to be seen to be realized, demands that repressive measures, to be effective, shall be comprehensive, well-organised and sustained.

H.B.M.Consulate, Sd/- W.W.Coultas
Chiengmai
18th December, 1926

The feature picture of this article shows the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation office in Mae Hong Son in 1968. Picture from Charles Keyes.

  1. William Witham Coultas was born on February 17, 1890 and died on November 10, 1973. He married Joyce Visger Lloyd in December 1919 in London. He was in Siam from 1913 onwards. In 1937 he became Consul-General in Saigon before being transferred back to Bangkok in 1938. In December 1941 Joyce and William were interned in the Legation but later exchanged with Japanese diplomats in the UK. Their children were already abroad.
  2. Chiang Mai was spelt “Chiengmai” in those days
  3. H.Fitzmaurice M.B.E., C.M.G. was consul in Songkhla and Chiang Mai and Consul-General in Batavia, the Netherlands Indies
  4. Pai is a small town in northern Mae Hong Son province
  5. Mae Hong Son is the capital of Mae Hong Son province
  6. Khun Yuam is a district capital south of Mae Hong Son town
  7. Mae Sariang is in the south of Mae Hong Son province, located on the Yuam River
  8. (Muang)Hot is a town in the south part of Chiang Mai province.
  9. Mae Rim and Mae Sa are tributary rivers of the Ping River
  10. the Mae Taeng River is a tributary river of the Ping River
  11. Pasang is a town just south of Lamphun
  12. Reginald Arthur Nicholas Hillyer was consul in Chiang Mai and later in Haiti and Philadelphia
  13. The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited (BBTC) was formed in 1863 by the Wallace Brothers.The BBTC entered into the Siamese teak market in the late 1880s. The BBTC was the largest teak merchant in Burma and Siam by the mid 1890s, a position it held until the middle of the twentieth century. The BBTC was the only British company active in the Salween area. As far as I know the BBTC stopped their logging activities in the Salween area in the late 1920s. See also the company website
  14. Papun is a town in Kayin State in Myanmar. It is on the east side of the Yunzalin River. It was formerly one of the headquarters of the Karen National Union and the Karen National Liberation Army.

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