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Phuket History

The Taksin Era

Burmese control of Thailand was shortly terminated in an uprising led by General Pya Taksin who forced the Burmese into retreat, and proclaimed himself king in 1769. King Taksin (1769-1782) established his royal capital in Thonburi a city across the Chao Phraya river from the present day capital of Bangkok. King Taksin then set about reining in a number of rebellious Thai princes and reasserting central control over the entire kingdom including the tributary kingdoms.

The short reign of King Taksin has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy -- complete with palace intrigue, betrayal, and treachery. A charismatic leader steps forward in the darkest hour of his country’s history and rallies his nation to drive out the hated Burmese invaders. He then reunites the kingdom and holds it together during one its most difficult periods. His reward in life and place in Thai history seem a little out of balance with his contributions. King Taksin allegedly became insane and started to regard himself as the second coming of Buddha. Whether true or not, he was deposed by his ministers, who then executed him in the custom reserved for royalty -- by shackling his hands and feet with gold restraints, sewing him into a velvet sack so that no royal blood touched the ground, then beating him to death with a Sandalwood club. During the Ayutthaya period a surprising number of Thai kings are reported to have become insane and were eliminated. As in previous cases, many heirs to the king were also executed. General Chakri a close and trusted aide of the former King Taksin succeeded him to the throne. King Taksin’s status as a warrior hero is very reserved, in many accounts of Thai history if he is mentioned at all it is usually minimal. He certainly has never achieved the near god status of some of the later kings.

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In the late seventeenth century ships of the ‘British East India Company’ transiting the Straits of Malacca were under constant attack from pirates and slave traders. To stem this assault on the prestige of the British flag they sought one or more defensible islands with a good harbor to expand their empire and guard the northern entrance of the Straits of Malacca. Captain Francis Light a merchant with the ‘East India Company’ had lived on Phuket for many years and had traveled and traded throughout the area. He was well aware of the strategic advantages of Phuket Island and Penang, farther down the coast, and he recommended acquisition of both islands. A very energetic man who was fluent in both Thai and Malay, he held secret negotiations with both the Governor of Phuket and the Sultan of the Malay state of Kedah. The then governor of Phuket was under intense pressure to increase the production of tin. The governor sought to cede Phuket to the British in return for commercial concessions. The British had seized control of foreign territories on less pretense than this offered and they apparently seriously considered the proposal.

Captain Light also obtained an offer from the Sultan of the Malay State of Kedah to sell the British the island of Penang. Ultimately the company officials opted to establish only one colony and they felt that Penang Island offered the better harbor of the two. In 1785, Captain Light was off to found the British colony of Penang. At the time, the Sultan was also under pressure from the Thai Royal Court regarding payment of tribute to the Thai king and was seeking both money and protection from the British. In spite of the agreement reached with Captain Light the British never had any intention of going to war to protect the Sultan. After the island had become a colony a short period of hostilities erupted between the Sultan and the British during which it was determined that payment for the island would not be necessary after all.

Copyright 1998-2005 Plain Paper Guide Book Co., Ltd.
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Published by the Plain Paper Guide Book Co., Ltd. by Gary L. Ebsen


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