WAR Wood travels to Phre and Nan in 1919

Introduction

William Alfred Rae Wood was British consul in Chiang Mai from 1913 until 1931. In January 1919 he undertook a consular tour to Phre  (Phrae) and Nan. Below is the full report he wrote after the tour. I have added pictures, notes and links. I found this document in the British Library.

Frans Betgem

These are the first two pages of the report:

Report on tour to Lampang, Phre, Nan and Prayao Districts

January 1919

Service arrangements rendered it necessary that the Tour which I undertook this year should not extend beyond a period of about one month. I was therefore, unable to study present conditions in the Eastern part of my Consular District so closely as I should have liked to do.
Leaving Chiang Mai on January 4th. I arrived next day at the Railway Tunnel at Khuntan, where Mr.Catella, Section Engineer, kindly lent me a construction train to take myself and staff to the present terminus Pang Yang; at Phang Yang I caught the evening (and only daily) train, and arrived at Lampang the same night.

Engineers and workers at the Khuntan Tunnel

Engineers and workers at the Khuntan Tunnel during construction. Source and date unknown

Railway

It is hoped that the construction trains will run to Pang Chompu, about 35 miles from Chiengmai, by June next, this rendering it fairly easy to go from Chiengmai to Lampang in a day.

Lampang

Lampang has changed greatly since I was stationed there in 1913. The road to the Railway Station and the narrow streets of the town are thronged with large numbers of motor-cars, harries, carts and rickshaws, and even in January the clouds of dust stirred up by all these vehicles hung like a continual cloud over the town. No arrangements are made for watering the streets, and residents state that in March and April the dust is almost unbearable.

Railway Station Lampang

Lampang Railway Station. Date and source unknown.

I doubt whether, in spite of the rush and bustle now discernible at Lampang, the place is much more prosperous than of yore. The Railway has brought up a few more inhabitants, and a few more shops have opened to supply them; but in Northern Siam rice and teak are the only two things which really count. The Teak Industry has not been extended of late years in Lampang Province, and there are very few unleaded forest areas remaining to be opened in the future. As for rice, the crop is almost always bad, and last year’s crop was no exception. There is a constant migration of Lampang peasants northwards to Chiangsaen district, and many ultimately pass over into the State of Kengtung. The emigrants say that the water obtainable by irrigation is insufficient, in most parts of the Lampang Province, to supplement the rainfall, and as the ground is less fertile than in many other parts of Northern Siam, the business of paid planting entails much harder work and shows poorer results than in provinces farther North. Paid and rice are imported into Lampang almost every year from Prayao 1 and elsewhere.

Irrigation Schemes

Several schemes for damming the Me Wang River North of Lampang, and introducing an extensive system of irrigation have been discussed. The most elaborate was that of Mr.W.B.Freeman, an American civil Engineer, in the year 1918 2. As a work of this kind would be expensive, the Siamese government have, however, never taken any definite steps in the matter.

Crime at Lampang

The prevalence of crime of all kinds, more especially cattle and buffalo stealing, has several times been commented on by Vice-Consul Fitzmaurice 3. Some attribute this state of affairs to the advent of the railway, but I understand that in several parts of Siam very remote from the railway line things are just as bad, and I am therefore inclined to lay the blame on the inefficient methods of Siamese officials.
Certain it is that many victims of robbers and criminals do not even report their losses to the Siamese officials, saying that if they were to do so they would only be kept waiting for a long time, be made to sign a lot of forms, and in the end get none of their property back.

Roads in Lampang District

The Department of Ways and Communications has, of late years, greatly improved many of the roads in the Lampang District. It is now possible to go from Lampang to Muang Ngao (60 miles) by motor-car, and to Chiengrai (180 miles) by bicycle.

Lampang Court

The Chief Judge of the Monthon and International Court at Lampang, Phra Thipvitun, – who has been there since 1911, is shortly to be transferred to the Criminal Court at Bangkok, and will be succeeded by Phra Ram of Pure. Phra This has done good work at Lampang, and I doubt whether the change will be much appreciated by the public of Lampang.

Deputy Lord Lieutenant at Lampang

Phra Surindr Rajasena, Deputy Lord Lieutenant at Lampang, was absent at the time of my visit. I understand that he hopes shortly to be promoted to a better post. He is a careful and hardworking official, and deserves promotion.

Maung Shwe Att, former British headman

While at Lampang I publicly presented to Maung 4 Shwe Att, retired Burmese British Headman, the Sanad conferring on him the Burmese Title “Ahmudan Gaung Tazeik Ya Min” and the gold medal appertaining thereto, recently received from Rangoon. A large number of persons of all races where present at the ceremony, which gave great satisfaction to the Burmese and Shan communities.
Maung Hoo Min, the present British Headman, is in every way satisfactory. I didn’t not stay long enough in Lampang to do much ordinary work, but left on January 9th., arriving at Phre the same evening.

Roads in Phre District

The road from Denchai Railway Station to Phre (18 miles) is now in passable condition, though the dust on it exceeds anything I have ever experienced before. This road, like other main roads, has been taken in hand by the Department of Ways and Communications, hence its comparatively good condition. The road in the city of Phre, on the other hand, which are supposed to be looked after by the local authorities, are extremely bad. Repairs appear to be performed by heaving cartloads of broken bricks onto the roads, and leaving the public to roll them in with the wheels of their carts and other vehicles. Phre now looks rather a shabby and desolate place. The government buildings are in good order, but most of the private residences look dilapidated, and have broken fences. The population of Phre Province is poor, and the administration is not of a kind calculated to encourage industry or thrift.

Crime at Phre

Crime is more rampant even than in Lampang, and it is said that comparatively few of the criminals are ever brought to justice.

Rice Crop at Phre

Like at Lampang, the rice crops are as a rule, poor. The 1917 crops where rather better than usual, and were almost all sold to Chinese speculators at Denchai, the people presumably relying entirely on another good crop in 1918, and wanting ready money to gamble with. American missionaries and Managers of Foreign firms advised the Siamese authorities to stop this wholesale export of the good reserves of the District, but nothing was done. In 1918 the rice crop was poor, and as nothing remained over from 1917, rice has now to be imported from Chiengkham and elsewhere and is sold at high prices. People who have not money to buy rice take to crime. Strange though it may appear, part even of the 1918 rice crop, poor though it was, was exported to Bangkok.

Lord Lieutenant of Maharat

Phya Phetcharat, the Lord Lieutenant of Maharat Circle, was unfortunately absent from Phre while I was there. I have never had an opportunity of meeting him. He is liked by all classes of the community, but it is generally agreed that he is too old and too lacking in energy to be suitable for his present rather difficult position. He is more or less under the thumb of Phya Yawt Muang Kwang, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Phre, a man who, as already reported by Vice-Consul Fitzmaurice, is not at all well thought of. All the people at Phre whom I asked to give their opinion about Phya Yawt, English, American, Danish, Burmese and Shan, showed extraordinary unanimity in expressing dislike for him, though on various grounds. Some said he drank too much, some that he was not honest, some that he was lazy; but nobody had a good word for him. Certain it is, that under the régime of Phya Petcharat and Phya Yawt, the Province of Phre has not tended to advance.

Judge at Phre

The Judge at Phre, Phra Ram Montadula, formerly Luang Suk, is, as stated above, shortly to be transferred to Lampang as Chief Judge. I heard no complaints about him, but he does appear intelligent, and his habits are unpleasant, as he chews beter to inordinate extent, and is constantly spitting and making most disagreeable noises.

British Headman at Phre

The British Headman at Phre, Chong Nanta, appointed by Mr. Le May in 1914, seems a competent man, and is liked and respected both by British subjects and by Siamese. He is not particular clever, but I have found that our Shan subjects usually distrust Headman possessing too much brainpower, and constantly complain about them.

Road from Phre to Nan

Leaving Phre on January 14th. I arrived at Nan on January 18th. The road from Phre to Nan does not seem to be much better than it was when I first traversed it in 1905, except the two sections, about 16-18 miles long each, near Nan and Phre. The remaining 40 miles is a mere jungle track, crossing the Me Kami River 63 times and the Me Samun about 20 times. The project mooted in the year 1914 of building a motor road from Phre to Nan has been entirely abandoned, as the cost was found to be prohibitive.

Nan

Nan, on seeing it again after 8 years, impressed me strongly by its utter stagnation and lack of progress. It seems to have been left behind in the march of civilisation. Not only grass, but large bushes, grow in the streets. Everyone, at Nan, except a few persistent gamblers, goes to bed early and gets up late and nobody ever seems to be in a hurry. In Nan, person who could be described as ‘smart” either in appearance or behaviour, are very rare.

 

old picture Wat Phumin Nan

Wat Phumin Nan. Source: Chiangmainews

Deputy Lord Lieutenant at Nan

Phya Woravichai Vudikorn, who has succeeded the egregious Phya Ram Rajadet as Deputy Lord Lieutenant at Nan, has done very well on the whole. His personal character and conduct command general respect, and rascality of any kind on the part of officials is not winked at as it was in Phya Ram’s day. I doubt, however, whether Phya Woravichai possesses youth and energy enough to rouse Nan from its sluggishness.

Assistant Governor at Nan

On the whole, I prefer sluggish Siamese officials to those who display needless energy over paltry matters. There are two of the latter class at Nan, viz: – Luang Chamnan, the Assistant Governor, and Nan Tong Yi, the Public Prosecutor. Luang Chamnan made himself notorious as Divisional officer (Yai Amphur) of Mehongsawn, by harassing British subjects in every way. At Lampang his actions and utterances did not command themselves to his Majesty’s Vice-Consul. Shorty before being transferred to Nan, he was strongly suspected of complicity in a burglary. Since he has arrived at Nan, he has made himself pretty unpopular there,  and is, I gather, rather a thorn in the side of Phya Woravichai.

Public Prosecutor

Nai Tong Yu is one of those Public Prosecutors, fairly common in Siam, who devote most of their energy to prosecuting people for petty offences under various Regulations. This gives them very little trouble, as people often plead guilty to petty offences, even if innocent, other than waste the inordinate amount of time taken up by defending a case in a Siamese Court. A handsome percentage of convictions out of case entered is thus obtained.

Prosecutions under Firearms Act

Nai Tong Yu annoyed me considerably by persisting contrary to the advice of Phya Woravichai, and in defiance of suggestions made by all the Judges of the District Court, in prosecuting two British subjects, named Chong Metha and Natha Singh, for neglecting to renew their gun licenses. Both these men offered to pay a fine, but this merely encouraged Nai Tong Yu to persist with the charges, as he thought he would have two more convictions to record. Ultimately the International Court at Lampang inflicted small fines on these two men and refused to confiscate their weapons.
When I visited the Gaol with Colonel Springer one of the prisoners (not a British subject) made serious allegations against Nai Tong Yu, saying that the latter had ordered specially large chains to be put on him owing to personal spite.
Altogether, I formed the opinion that Nai Tong Yu is not suited for so important a post as Public Prosecutor at Nan.

Judge at Nan

The Judge at Nan, Phra Paichit (fomerly Luang Saraks) is not highly spoken of. I complained about this Judge when he was stationed in Phre in 1923, and it is supposed that he was transferred to Nan in consequence of my complaints. No definite allegations have been made against him of late, but he is still said to be overbearing and harsh in his manner to litigants. I am told, moreover, that he drinks too much. I understand however, that he is likely to be transferred to Southern Siam before long. On the whole, Nan will be well rid of him.

Cremation of old Prince of Nan

The old Prince (Prachao) of Nan died last year, and is to be cremated this month (March). The ceremony will be more elaborate than anything hitherto seen at Nan.

Chao Uparaj of Nan

The Chao Uparaj has not yet been appointed by the King of Siam to the vacant post of Chief, but I understand that this will be done after the cremation of the old Prince. The Chao Uparaj will only be made Chief (Chao Luang) not Prince (Phrachao) and it is generally thought that on his death the Siamese government will allow the Chiefship of Nan to become extinct. As the Chao Uparaj is 73 years of age, we may therefore expect to see nan become an ordinary Siamese Province in a few years. The Chao Uparaj is another of the few people at Nan who seems to possess some energy. He thinks nothing of riding to Wiengsa and back in a day (35 miles) and at a dinner given in my honour by Phya Woravichai he kept us all in roars in laughter with this “tall” tiger stories and other racy anecdotes.

The Chao Uparaj, however, though an amusing companion, does not bear a high reputation for probity, and a Consular officer never visits Nan without some British subject complaining that the Chao Uparaj has got the better of him in regard to some timber deal. This year one Maung Kwang claimed Rupees 6000 for teak logs, alleged to belong to his, which the Chao Uparaj has sold to Ram Rakhamal. I spent a great deal of time trying to settle this case, but failed to do so (entirely owing to the vacillation of Maung Kwang himself) and litigation, extending over several months, is likely to result.

Ram Rakhamal

Ram Rakhamal, who was at one time not wholly free from suspicion. Of seditious leanings, is a man who exercises considerable influence in Nan. He is closely connected with the Chao Uparaj in his timber transactions, and is said to advise him in regard to other matter as well. Ram Rakhamal is shortly returning to India for a few months.

British Headman at Nan

Maung Nu, the British Headman is a man of great intelligence, but he is not so popular amongst the Shans as might be wished. Personally, I regard him as a most useful man. He speaks and writes Siamese well, and is on friendly terms with Phya Worivichai, so that he is able to discuss and arrange all kinds of petty matters without constantly applying for the assistance of HIs Majesty’s Consular officers.

Colonel Springer

Colonel N.Springer of the Gendarmerie, is shortly to be transferred to Phre, to make his headquarters at the capital of the Circle. He has recently received the Siamese title of Phra Pleng Satarn (he was. Formerly a Luang) and he seems unreasonable vain of it. Colonel Springer has been, since the ‘turn of the tide’ in July 1918, strongly pro-Ally in his sentiments. Previously, he was one of the “strictly neutral” Danes.
Colonel Springer is a zealous and energetic officer and exercises a good influence over the Siamese in many ways. He is never tired of preaching that officials are paid by the people to work for them, an idea which appears very strange to most Siamese officials, who consider that the people were created by the Almighty for the purpose of paying taxes and doing corvée labour.

Gaol at Nan

While at Nan I went over the goal. This institution is not, I think, quite up to the level of other gaols in Northern Siam. The prisoners are not provided with proper pillows and blankets, and many of them have to supply their own clothes. Moreover, the prisoners serving life sentences are not all given useful work to occupy their minds, but are kept in the cells almost all the time, doing nothing, which must have.a very stupefying effect. I spoke to the Viceroy about this matter, and I hope that he will have some improvements introduced during the visit to Nan he is making this month.

Peridot Mines on Wa River

While at Nan I met Maung Zaya, the British Headman at Chantaboon, who is interested in a peridot 5 mine recently discovered on the Wa River, an Eastern tributary of the Nan River. The Chao Rajabut of Lampang and some Siamese officials propose to enter into partnership with Maung Zaya, should he succeed in obtaining a mining license. I am not a judge of peridot, but the specimens shown to me Maung Zaya and other seemed very inferior to those which I have seen in London and Colombo, being more or less opaque and of a dark green colour resembling jade. Maung Zaya has wasted a good deal of time and money during his lifetime over worthless gem mines in Northern Siam (Prayao, Muang Long & c.) so I trust he will find his present venture a profitable one. I am not, however, very hopeful.

Routine work at Nan

I had a good deal of Estate and other routine work at Nan, and should have liked to have stayed there for at least another week. Some of the closed half areas of teak forest to the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation near Nan will be opened for working next year. It is probable that the Corporation will open an office at Nan. This will waken the place up a little, and increase all kinds of trade to some extent.

Rice Crop at Nan & Crime at Nan

The rice crop at Nan was good last year, and there is not much poverty in the Province. We must, therefore, attribute to slack administration the fact that cattle and buffalo stealing is very prevalent. I expressed surprise, in speaking to Nai Tong Yu, the Public Prosecutor, that he was able to spend three whole days prosecuting Natha Singh for being a month late in renewing his gun license, whilst buffalo thefts were committed every day in the immediate vicinity of the city. But Nai Tong Yu failed to appreciate the point.

Nan to Prayao

I left Nan on January 25th, and arrived at Prayao on February 1st. The journey could have been made in one or two days less, but one day was wasted owing to an accident, and half a day or more owing to the guides I had engaged not knowing the way. In Northern Siam guides seldom do know the way, but make surreptitious enquiries of people they meet along the road. I append an itinerary showing the stages I took from Nan to the Chiengrai – Chiengmai road; as this route is not often taken by Consular officers, the itinerary may be of use for future reference.

Prayao

I arrived at Prayao early in the morning, and only spent one day there, working till late at night. There were no complaints against Siamese officials and everybody seemed to be happy and contented, except three Pathan brothers, who were engaged in the usual acrimonious disputes amongst themselves.

Pathans at Prayao

Another Pathan of Prayao, Salam Khan, was murdered about three months agony being stabbed in the back. This man had had a lawsuit with a British Headman, Chong Inta, regarding a pariah dog, and it was whispered in Prayao that Chong Inta might know more about the circumstances of the murder than anyone else.

British Headman at Prayao

Chong Inta, who is a sensible man, and popular amongst the Shans, admitted to me that he found it a great nuisance having Indians at Prayao. There are now two or three Pathans in each of the small towns in Northern Siam, and it can be easily be imaged that they are not at all popular.

Crops at Prayao

Prayao is a place where rice and all kinds of food are plentiful and cheap. The crops are almost always good, and rice is exported to Phre and Lampang in large quantities. I met two bullock caravans, each of over 100 bullocks, taking pedi to Phre and Prayao. Leaving Prayao on February 2nd. I arrived back at Chiengmai on February 6th, my elephants getting in on the following day.

Unpopularity of Siamese amongst the Laos

In Mr.Fitzmaurice’s Report on his tour to Muang Fang he commented on a growing dislike to the Siamese shown by the population. I noticed the same thing myself, but I do not think it shows, as Mr.Fitzmaurice suggested, the germ of a desire for Lao self-determination. I do not consider that the Laos are sufficiently advanced to grasp the idea of self-determination. What they feel is that they pay more and more taxes to the Siamese as the years go by and that they receive no apparent benefits in return. Property is not any too secure, justice is extraordinarily slow, and one regulation after another is brought into force, which to the Lao’s mind appear to be simply so many devices for worrying and annoying him.

Surnames

To take a single example, the introduction of surnames is looked upon as a mere nuisance. The Laos do not want surnames. They have never had them, they do no use them when they have got them, and they usually forget them. Yet people are expected to walk considerable distances in order to register surnames, and may very likely be kept waiting for 24 hours or more if the Divisional officer happens to be busy.
To put it briefly, the Laos, who some four or five years ago were getting rather more contented with Siamese rule, are now beginning to feel, as they did in 2002, that the Siamese are a race who were placed in the world for the purpose of worrying people.
My present Siamese Clerk, Nai Prawat, is a Bangkok man. While on tour I noticed that whenever I sent him out to engage guides or procure anything required he was very unsuccessful. He had, moreover, some difficulty at times in buying food, My servants told me that the country people did not like Nai Prawat, because he is a Siamese.
An English lady who recently visited Chiengmai had a similar experience. She was unable to engage anyone to cook food for her Siamese maid, though she offered very high wages. On discreet enquiries being made by me, I elicited the explanation: “people here don’t like cooking food for a Siamese”.
Siamese officials, of course, do not notice this. Being in a position which enables them to make themselves very unpleasant if they are not well treated, they get all they require; but the Laos will not go out of their way to oblige non-official Siamese.

It is necessary to observe, however, that the circumstances to which I have alluded have perhaps less significance here than would be the case in other countries, as the Laos are notoriously disinclined to put themselves to inconvenience for anybody, Siamese or otherwise.
Besides the itinerary, I have annexed to this Report a sketch map, showing the route taken, and a comparative statement showing the value of paid in different places visited.

Chiengmai. WAR Wood
March 1st, 1919 Consul

  1. A W.B.Freeman appears in the 1914 Directory of Siam and Bangkok. He worked for the Dept. of Ways of Communication of the Thai government
  2.  
  3. Burmese name or title. A boy will be called “Maung” (“young brother”) till he is about twenty, and a girl “Ma.” But Maung and Ma are also common personal names, as with the well-known writers Dr. Mauing Mauing and Ma Ma Lay. An older man will address a much younger one as “Maung,” while a landowner or a businessman would address a tenant farmer or laborer as “Maung.”
  4. Peridot is a gem that is of a yellowish-green color. Peridot was used in early Egypt as far back as 2,000 B.C.E. Pharaohs and leaders, including Cleopatra, heavily used peridot to adorn their robes and goblets, believing that peridot had magical powers

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