Letter from Than Phya Phimon Aisawan, Siamese Governor of Thalang and Than Phya Surintharacha, Siamese Superintendent to Captain Francis Light

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

A letter in Thai to Captain Francis Light from the Siamese authorities, relating to the supply of 4000 muskets by Light to the Siamese government of King Tak Sin.

The letter bears the official stamps of Than Phya Surintharacha, the Superintendent of the eight Müang provinces and Than Phya Phimon Aisawan, the Governer of Thalang.

The letter relates to recent correspondence from Light informing the Siamese authorities that 4000 muskets will be transported to Thonburi (capital of the Kingdom of Siam). The letter expresses satisfaction at this development. It confirms that the King has been informed and has issued a royal pronouncement expressing his favour for Light. It notes that King Tak Sin hopes to amass a total of 10'000 musket. The letter confirms that Light holds the support of the Siam royal government and should be afforded safe passage.

At the time of this letter, the Siamese royal government was experiencing prolonged hostilities with the Burmese. Burmese forces had sacked the former Siamese capital Ayutthaya in 1767. In 1777 the larger trading ports of Tavoy and Mergui were occupied by the Burmese and this letter indicates that arms for the Siamese government were arriving via the smaller province of Thalang.

Administrative / Biographical History

Francis Light was born in Suffolk. Although his date of birth is unknown, his baptism is recorded as 15 December 1740. He was educated at Seckford's Grammar School, Woodbridge from 1747. He entered service as a surgeon's servant on the HMS Mars in February 1754, and subsequently served as midshipman on the HMS Captain, the HMS Dragon and, in 1761, aboard the HMS Arrogant. His employment with the Navy ended in 1763. In 1765 he embarked on a journey bound for Madras and Bombay aboard the East India Company's ship 'Clive'. In India, he secured command of a 'Country Ship' (owned in India and engaged in trade in Eastern waters) belonging to a Madras firm of merchants, Jourdain, Sulivan & Desouza. Light was posted to Kedah with the company, where he quickly attained an influential position with the Sultan of Kedah. From 1771, he was involved in various proposals to cede land belonging to Kedah to the British.

In May 1772 Light settled in the Siamese [Thai] territory of Thalang as a private trader. Here Light acted as an intermediary between the company and the government of the King of Siam [now Thailand]. In 1780, Light proposed the formation of an East India Company settlement at Thalang, but the outbreak of hostilities between the French and English prevented the execution of Light's designs.

Instead in 1786 Light was able to report to the Bengal Government that he had persuaded the Sultan of Kedah [now part of modern day Malaysia] to cede the Island of Penang (Pulau Penang) to the East India Company for a yearly fee. The correspondence of the East India Company reveals that Penang was seen by the company as a more strategic location than Thalang for a permanent settlement. In June 1786 Light was appointed first Superintendent of the new British colony. He landed with his forces in July 1786, and on 11 August the colony was christened Prince of Wales Island. He combined his position as Superintendent with his role as principal merchant.

Light married Martina Rozells, by whom he had 3 daughters and 2 sons. His eldest son, William Light, became the first Surveyor General of Southern Australia and founder of the city of Adelaide. Francis Light died from a malarial attack on 21 October 1794.

Further reading: Steuert, A.F., The Founders of Penang and Adelaide: a Short Sketch of the Lives of Francis and William Light , (London, 1901) Clodd, H.P., Malaya's First British Pioneer: the Life of Francis Light, (London, 1948).

Than Phya Phimon Aisawan was the governor of the Siamese island province of Thalang. A former governor of the provinces of Kra (c.1754) and Phatthalung (c.1766-8), Phya Phimon married the daughter of the hereditary chief of Thalang and became governor of Thalang around 1772. He died in December 1785.

Than Phya Surintaracha was born the son of a high official in the Siamese royal government. He served in the capital and later in the Siamese province of Nakhon Si Thammarat where he was made Uparat (vice-chief). By 1777 he served as the court-appointed Superintendent of the eight müang, a grouping of small peninsular Siamese provinces, the largest of which was Thalang.

Further reading: Simmonds, E.H.S., 'A Letter in Thai from Thalang in 1777' in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studes, Vol. L, Part 3, (1987); Simmonds, E.H.S., The Thalang letters, 1773-94: Political Aspects and the Trade in Arms' in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. XXVI, part 3, (1963). [Copies available in Special Collections Reading Room]

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Acquisition Information

Presented to SOAS by Prof. E.H.S. Simmonds on 09/05/1995.

Custodial History

No custodial history of the letter is known predating the purchase of the letter at a London auction house in 1973.

Related Material

Associated Material at SOAS: 'The Thalang Letters', a set of 59 additional letters in Thai. Most are from the governors of Thalang, Patalung, Puket and Tranfg to Francis Light relating to trades in arms and other goods. (c 1782-c 1791). Originally part of the Marsden Collection. [MS 12157A].

'The Light Letters', circa 1,200 letters in Malay, bound in 11 volumes. Includes correspondence to Francis Light from rulers and dignitaries of the Malay Sultanates in the 1780's and 1790's relating to negotiations and conflicts between Light, the rulers of Kedah and the Governor General in Bengal leading up to and including the settlement of Penang. (1786-1791). [MS 40320].

Associated Material held elsewhere: Francis Light, correspondence and papers (1786-1794) held at the British Library, Manuscript Collections, [Add MS 45271]; See HMC Papers of British Colonial Governors 1782-1900, (1986).