Robert Hunter in Siam

When Siam emerged from isolation, writes W.S. Bristowe, a fiery Scottish sea captain settled for twenty years in Bangkok.

The remarkable seventeenth-century story of Constant Phaulkon needs no retelling, save in brief outline, as a reminder of the isolationism caused by his sojourn in Siam.

His Greek name Yeraki meant a bird of prey, and this was anglicized to Falcon or Phaulkon after he had fled his island home in Cephalonia to join a British ship as cabin boy about the year 1660.

Phaulkon turned up in Siam some eighteen years later as Mate and Factor on board an East India Company trading vessel, and here he decided to settle for the rest of his life in the old capital of Ayuthia.

Phaulkon was immensely shrewd and, having aroused the antagonism of his employers by competing with them, he allied himself closely with their rivals, the French, who were presently to reward him with the titles of Count and Knight.

As a man of business with a knowledge of many languages, he made himself extremely useful to the Siamese and, true to his name of Phaulkon, he soared high before his final stoop.

From superintendent of Siam’s foreign trade, he rose to the highest rank in King Narai’s service and became his principal Minister, with the rank of Chao Phya. His power seemed infinite.

Unhappily for Phaulkon, an uprising took place at the time of his master’s death and he was arrested on a charge of treason. Besides having influenced the King to favour a successor other than one of his own sons, Phaulkon was thought to have been plotting to bring Siam under French domination. He was executed in 1688.

Phaulkon’s machinations caused all Europeans to be swept out of the Kingdom, and for the next century and a half Siam suffered stagnation for her self-imposed policy of isolationism.

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