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.

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