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Siamese White Foremost among the biographies that Maurice Collis wrote during his wide ranging literary career is Siamese White an account of the career of Samuel White of Bath who during the reign of James II was appointed by the King of Siam as a mandarin of that country The book superbly embodies that old adage truth is stranger than fiction 'A magnificent story full of interest and excitement but there is to it than that Collis who has lived for years on the scene of these high happenings is able to give us a first hand picture of a fascinating land of a lovely archipelago of rivers and rapids of an immemorial track through jungles haunted by tigers and malaria' The Evening Standard Having postponed to read this book presumably taken as a novel since my college years in the late 1960's I've recently decided to have a go with it due to my ongoing interest during my 12 year retirement in anything Siamese or Ayutthayan around the 17th century as perceived written and published by foreign travelers merchants diplomats etc Indeed it was like my long familiar friend coolly and patiently perching on the shelf kept waiting for me to have a look inside As far as I recalled our encounter I didn't like its title and I had never read or known Mr Maurice Collis before till I read his biography and verify my misunderstanding of this book on its new classification as a biography There're two vivid points I still recall; first for some reason I wondered what and didn't feel interested in its front cover showing one of those richly decorated ceremonial royal barges depicting what I came across and knew about them later during my reading on Siamese history in the reign of King Narai who famously allowed some French Jesuits to propagate Christianity in Siam and supported diplomatic ties by sending his two Siamese embassies to King Louis XIV; they hoping to convert him to Catholicism and second I didn't understand the title SIAMESE WHITE itself since WHITE in this context might mean a colour ambiguous meaning or a family name of someone worked for Siam then fondly entitled SIAMESE Interestingly I have not found his biography as a key topic itself in the Wikipedia; however according to chapter 1 WHITE GOES EAST Samuel White was born in England around 1650 went east to work at Mergui Mergen as called by the English มะริด marid in Thai; eventually he being appointed as the English governor of Mergui fort by King Narai Moreover the following paragraph taken from the topic Rising French Influence in the Narai website above would provide light on his life and work at Mergui and in SiamSamuel White the English governor of Mergui fort appointed by Narai and a close associate of Phaulkon entered into conflict with the English fleets from India in 1687 leading to the English blockade of Mergui The Siamese native mandarins massacred the local Englishmen out of frustration With English fleets threatening his kingdom Narai decided to placate the English and executed the mandarins as well as an 11 line topic on Samuel White in his elder brother George White webpage To continue If you are interested in some of history's strange byways you could hardly do better than to read the works of Maurice Collis 1889 1973 Starting out as a British civil servant in Burma Collis had accumulated a vast store of information about Southeast Asia which he set about using in a series of books that are obscure intriguing and yet paradoxically important in describing the European colonial experience in that part of the worldParticularly interesting are The Land of the Great Image about the Portuguese in Arakan now part of Burma; Foreign Mud about the Opium War in which the English fought and won a war with China to force them to become buyers and users of opium produced by the East India Company; Raffles a biography of the founder of Singapore Sir Stamford Raffles; and now Siamese White the biography of a slippery pirate who sailed under the Siamese flag in the late 17th century I also add one work from the New World Cortez and Montezuma a wonderful re telling of Bernal Diaz del Castillo's memoir of the conuest of the AztecsThe above list sounds as if it had been thought up by Jorge Luis Borges in one of his obscure short fantasies In actual fact they are the works of a historian who though not much read today still remains in print because his works are so fascinatingThe White of Siamese White is Samuel White originally in the employ of the East India Company and later a shahbandar of the King of Siam running various piratical activities from his headuarters at Mergui now part of Burma He is betrayed by his secretary Francis Davenport but first he decides to celebrateBut the morrow was Easter Sunday and 'improper for any business of that nature ie absconding with the money' He might burn Mergui but he would not pack on the Day of Resurrection Instead he gave a great party for the whole station All the Europeans on that distant shore were invited It was a noble entertainment says Davenport White was at his best He was of course the master; his house was the centre of interest the place about which rumour was always busy Every merchant every farmer bazaar girls water men looked up at it standing above them on its height as they went about their labours It represented everything that was important that mattered White was a great lord in that place On this Easter night his windows were all lit; there was coming and going; sedan chairs arriving the welcome toasts; without crowds standing and watching in the darkness He himself knew that the end was near some kind of an end and it mellowed and saddened him Davenport had hardly seen him with a manner so gentle and grandWhat kind of an end was to meet Samuel White and his protector in the Siamese capital Constant Faulcon a Greek who had become the most powerful politician in Siam after the ailing king comes fast and furious on the heels of this Easter feastYou can't imagine stuff like this and it was all true Collis is superb at following the threads of his story through to the end in Britain and India The ending which I will not divulge is absolutely brilliant in showing the political crosscurrents of the day right after the Glorious Revolution and accession to the throne of William of Orange A truly magnificent read Entertaining and very surprisingly story of a part of south east Asia's early history with Europeans which hardly does Europe credit Written in the early 20th c based on papers and activities from the 17th century it covers the early East India Trading company pirates English Thai relations and a picture of what life was life in those times of colonialism Can be uncomfortable to read as the attitudes of those in both time periods to non Europeans even to non English TBH are disdainful on a good day Educational and fascinating

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