Mission in Siam [Thailand]
The First Missionary in Siam. - Geography of Bangkok. - The First Baptism. - The Chinese Work in Bangkok. - Dr. Dean and other Re-enforcements. - The First Church Organized. - Death of Mr. Slafter. - Progress and Mystery. - The New Testament in Siamese. - Arrival of Mr. Ashmore. - Death of Dr. Jones. - Tokens of Growth. - Another Early Summons. - A Year of Refreshing. - The Siamese Work Suspended. - Changes in the Mission. - Remarkable Ingathering. - Latest Intelligence. - Review.
THE first mission in Asia undertaken by the American Baptists, after the mission in Burmah, was the mission in Siam. The first missionary of the Baptist General Convention to Siam was Rev. John Taylor Jones. He was originally designated to Burmah, and arrived in Maulmain in February, 1831; and had already made such attainments in the language of Burmah, that he was able to preach to the people in their own tongue. But he was set apart by the choice of his brethren to commence a mission in Siam; and, taking passage for that country by way of Penang and Singapore, he arrived in Bangkok March 25, 1833.
Bangkok is the capital of Siam, but only a small portion of the population is composed of
Siamese people. The principal races in the city, besides the Siamese, are the Chinese and Burmans. The city is twenty-five miles from the sea, on the river Meinam, "mother of waters." The river is two miles wide at its mouth, but less than half a mile wide at Bangkok, which covers an island in the river, and extends along both shores, several miles, above and below. The population of the city is variously estimated. Dr. Malcom set it down at about 100,000; Gutzlaff at 410,000; Tomlin estimated the Siamese population at 8,000; Abeel thought the priests alone numbered 10,000. Of the entire population of the city, Gutzlaff estimated the Chinese at 350,000.
The religion of Siam is Buddhism. In this respect, the different races are on the same footing. They all have the same idolatry, and are alike ignorant of the true God. The previous residence of Mr. and Mrs. Jones in Burmah prepared them to be useful at once to the Burmese people in the city; and they embraced every opportunity to tell them of the way of salvation. During the period after they left Maul main, and before they reached Bangkok, they had become somewhat acquainted with the Siamese language, having studied it, with the aid of such teachers as they could find, much of the time for a period of six months.
Mr. Jones sat down to his solitary work of perfecting his knowledge of the language of the Siamese, at the same time making known the gospel message to other races also, as he had opportunity, and to the Chinese through the
Siamese. He did not labor long without seeing some fruit. The Lord's Supper was administered for the first time in Bangkok, December 1, 1833; Mr. Jones and his wife being the only communicants. A week later, Dec. 8, the first baptism was administered. The candidates were three iu number, all Chinese, and all men.
At so early a period in the work, considerable progress had been already made in the preparation of a Siamese dictionary, as a help to future missionaries. In this work Mrs. Jones was an important helper, devoting much time for a whole year in arranging and copying the materials. The Chinese work seemed to be thrust upon the mission from the beginning. But Mr. Jones steadily devoted himself to laboring for the Siamese. Notwithstanding, a little assembly of a dozen Chinese was accustomed to meet at his house for worship, led by Bunti, one of the Chinese converts baptized. They had the Bible in Chinese, and several tracts, which were freely distributed. Mr. Jones had completed in September, 1833, a catechism on geography and astronomy in Siamese, besides translating into that language a small Burman tract containing a summary of Christian doctrines.
In 1834 Rev. William Dean and wife joined the mission. This was the commencement of the Chinese department; and Mr. Dean was the first foreigner who ever studied the Tie Chiu dialect, which is the dialect chiefly spoken by the Chinese of Bangkok. He first preached in that language in August, 1835, to an audience of thirty-four. In two months the congregation
increased to fifty. Three more Chinese converts were baptized in December, 1835; and one of those baptized at the first time of the administration of the ordinance died in Christian triumph in March, 1836, - the first-fruits of the Chinese in Bangkok to Christ. In the mean time, Messrs. Alanson Reed and J. L. Shuck had been appointed missionaries to the Chinese of Siam, and sailed from Boston in September, 1835, reaching Bangkok July 1, 1836. Mr. Reed in March, 1837, took a floating house on the river, and established a new centre for Christian worship two miles above Bangkok, from which many excursions were made, and many tracts distributed. But his labors were of brief duration. On the 29th of August, only five months after the commencement of this enterprise, he was called to put off the harness and to wear the celestial crown. He died at Bangkok at the early age of thirty years. The same month Mr. Shuck was transferred to the empire of China, and commenced a mission in Macao, which, in March, 1842, was transferred to Hong Kong.
Mr. Davenport, a preacher and printer, arrived in Bangkok in July, 1836, to join the mission, bringing with him presses and types in both Siamese and Chinese. He labored in Siam about nine years, and then returned to this country on account of impaired health; and died of disease contracted during his mission life, Nov. 24, 1848, aged thirty-nine years.
By March, 1837, Mr. Jones had made some progress in translating the New Testament into
Siamese, portions of which were printed and in circulation. A sheet tract containing the Ten Commandments was printed, to be pasted on the walls of the houses of the people, after the national custom. On the 1st of July, 1837, during the visit of Rev. Mr. Malcom, the first church was formed in Bangkok. The occasion was one of rare interest. The actors, the circumstances, the surroundings, the memories and associations of the past, the hopes and promises and at the same time the uncertainty of the future, made the scene one never to be forgotten.
In the year 1839 Rev. Josiah Goddard was added to the Chinese department of the mission, and Rev. C. H. Slafter to the Siamese. A chapel was built, and three Chinese were added to the church by baptism. The attendance on Chinese worship was about twenty, and on the Siamese, from thirty to fifty. Mr. Slafter earned with him to Siam a second printing-press. Up to this date more than forty thousand copies of different works had been printed, embracing nearly a million pages. An English and Siamese school was taught by Mrs. Davenport; and a small Chinese school by Mrs. Dean, Mrs. Reed, and others.
Mr. Slater's missionary life was soon ended. He reached Bangkok Aug. 22, 1839; and died April 7, 1840, aged twenty-nine. His widow, after an intervening marriage, became the wife of Dr. Dean, and still lives, a loving and efficient worker in the cause of missions. The brief service which Mr. Slafter was permitted
to render to the missionary enterprise is one of the mysteries of Divine Providence, concerning which we are compelled to say, "We know not now, but we shall know hereafter."
In October, 1839, three more Chinese converts were baptized, making the native members nine, and the whole church, including missionaries, seventeen. The New Testament in Siamese was completed, except Hebrews and Revelation, in December of this year; and in 1840 fifty-eight- thousand copies were distributed.
In 1841 another step was taken in advance. Besides the baptism of six Chinese and one Siamese, a class in theology was formed by Dr. Dean; and thus a beginning was made of training native Chinese preachers to aid in the work of preaching the gospel to their countrymen. But in February, 1842, - so precarious are the plans of men under the mysterious operations of Divine Providence, - on account of impaired health Dr. Dean removed to Hong Kong; and, except for a brief visit in aid of Dr. Jones in 1850, he returned no more as a Christian laborer to Bangkok till 1864.
Near the close of 1843, Mr. J. H. Chandler, a printer and machinist, joined the missionary force, after a short residence in Maulmain, and served the Union thirteen years. He was a deacon of the Chinese church, and a man of great mechanical genius. Though not a preacher, his influence in, Siam was very important. Siam at that time, had a king and princes of intelligence and culture, who understood the advantages
of modern improvements, and desired their introduction into the kingdom. One of the princes was in constant intercourse with Mr. Chandler; and the latter both instructed him, and aided him in carrying out his projected improvements. A printing-office on his premises and a steamboat in the river Meinam were among the fruits of this enlightened spirit in the palace. Mr. Chandler was able by his mechanical skill to give a stimulus to the nation in a new direction, which in the end will undoubtedly help the cause of Christianity.
In 1844 the missionaries travelled several miles into the interior to distribute tracts. They made arrangements to commence an out-station some miles away from Bangkok. About this time a house and land were purchased in Bangkok for aged, poor, and sick members of the church. Thus religion bore its legitimate fruit. The same year the New Testament in Siamese, by Dr. Jones, was finished and published. But the next year mission-work in the Siamese department was suspended, on account of the absence of Dr. Jones, who found it necessary to revisit his native land. Mr. and Mrs. Davenport, also in impaired health, were obliged to relinquish the mission. Mr. and Mrs. Jencks joined the mission Dec. 14, 1846, but made only a brief stay on account of the feebleness of Mrs. Jencks, who died a year afterwards on the passage home. Some attention was given to compiling a Tie Chiu dictionary for the benefit of present and future missionaries. Calls for religious tracts became more numerous, an unusual
number of which went into the families of princes and nobles. About seventy copies found their way into the family of one of the highest princes, who sent his servant every Sabbath for a long time to obtain them. The Chinese hearers at the chapel now numbered from thirty to forty-five.
In March, 1848, Mr. Goddard removed to Ningpo, in China, and commenced a mission there, which still lives - the son now having in efficient charge the work which his father efficiently-began. Mr. Goddard was a missionary in Bangkok eight years, and in Ningpo six, - a man of good report, and still spoken of in China with honor.
Miss Harriet H. Morse, who had been previously connected with an Indian mission near Lake Superior, joined the mission Feb. 18, 1848, specially to labor in the Siamese department. She did excellent service till January, 1855, when failing health compelled her to return to America.
Mr. and Mrs. Ashmore joined the mission in April, 1851, and remained in connection with it nearly seven years. Mr. Ashmore has since been a most efficient and trusted missionary at Swatow, in China. The native church now began to understand and practise the grace of liberality. In 1848-49 they supported the principal native assistant entirely for the year, besides sustaining two schools, in part, more than six months. In 1850 the assistant died, and Dr. Dean returned for a few months from Hong Kong to Bangkok. The church numbered
thirty-five members, of whom thirty were native believers.
A great calamity now befell the mission. Jan. 4, 1851, the buildings and property of the mission were entirely destroyed by fire, involving a loss of from ten to fifteen thousand dollars. And still another disaster: in September of this year Dr. Jones died, the father of the mission. He was an excellent and highly honored missionary, and won the respect and esteem of the Siamese court. His knowledge of the language is said to have been wonderfully extensive and accurate, and the testimony of some of the best-educated of the people was that in this respect few natives could equal him. This year a decree was issued, tolerating Christian worship and missionary itineracy. By invitation of the king, the female members of the mission visited the palace daily, to instruct the ladies of the court in English. The contributions of the church were equal to one dollar per member.
In 1853 eight Siamese converts were baptized. In 1854 Mr. Chandler, who had been temporarily in America, returned to the mission, and Rev. Robert Telford was added to the laborers. He did faithful service for ten years, and returned to the United States in 1864, on account of the failure of Mrs. Telford's health. After the death of Dr. Jones, Rev. S. J. Smith, born in Hindostan, and who had been associated with Dr. Jones for several years, having been appointed a missionary in 1848, married the widow of Dr. Jones, and has ever since
been helpful in the Siamese work. Mrs. Smith, being familiar with the language, taught a boarding-school of forty-two pupils in 1857 at private charges. The next year her pupils numbered sixty-six; the Bible and religious works were the principal text-books. Mr. Smith, as interpreter for the Siamese government, and owning an extensive printing-establishment, bears his own expenses, and labors as he has opportunity in the gospel, without being any longer dependent on the funds of the Union.
A second place of public worship was opened in 1859, and in 1860 there was a period of special religious interest. The native members formed a "Society for the Diffusion of the Religion of Jesus," which supported one colporter.
In 1861 a new chapel was erected, and more than two thousand dollars were subscribed towards the building by the first and second kings, nobles, princes, &c. In 1863 the Chinese church, by the departure of Mr. Telford, was left without a missionary. The Chinese church then numbered thirteen, and the Siamese twenty-eight. Since that time, no missionary has been sent from this country to labor in the Siamese department.
In August, 1864, Rev. Cyrus A. Chilcott sailed from New York to join the Chinese mission in Bangkok. High hopes were centred in his coming. Young, ardent, gifted, it was easy to anticipate for him many years of usefulness. But God seeth not as man seeth. In just one year and five days his labors on earth were
ended, and he was called to higher service. Miss Fielde, his betrothed, left this country to join him, eleven days before his death. No telegram could reach her in mid-ocean, and she learned her loss only on her arrival in China. But she remained a faithful and devoted missionary for several years in Bangkok, and since that time in connection with the mission at Swatow, in China. Dr. Dean returned, after several years' absence, to Bangkok, and Miss Fielde labored under his direction.
In the report of 1867 is a mingled wail of sadness and song of hope. The work, though feeble, was, in the judgment of Dr. Dean, worthy to be cherished and carried forward. Since the church was organized, in 1837, fifty-one Chinese had been baptized. Much preparatory work had been done, and there was sufficient ground to labor on in hope. God "himself knew what he would do" - as the sequel will prove.
Rev. William M. Lisle and wife joined the mission, full of hope, in January, 1868; but he was almost immediately prostrated by disease, and compelled to flee for his life to his native land. The next year, 1869, the mission was re-enforced by Rev. S. B. and Mrs. Partridge. Mr. Partridge had been a signal-officer of great bravery during the war of the Rebellion, and was fitted to do valiant service for Christ. He came at the right time. The year preceding had been a year of precious ingathering, such as the mission had never seen, and forty-five Chinese converts were baptized, - a number
equal to all that had been baptized during the preceding thirty years of the mission. Many of these converts resided at the out-stations, and they were the garnered fruit of the labors of many missionaries now departed or fallen asleep. The year 1868 was also a year of rich blessing. Two chapels were dedicated, and two churches organized at the out-stations.
In 1869 the work for the specific benefit of the Siamese was suspended, for the reasons that no very satisfactory results of labor had been reported for several years, the work for the Chinese in Bangkok was far more encouraging, and other fields of more promise claimed all the funds that were at the command of the Committee. Notwithstanding, through the present Mrs. Dean and Mr. and Mrs. S. J. Smith, all of whom understand the Siamese language, seed has continued to be sown among the people of that race, in the hope that it may be watched over by the Divine Spirit, and by and by bring forth fruit unto eternal life.
In 1871 Miss Fielde was transferred to the station at Swatow. In 1872 the question was suggested by the Executive Committee, whether it was expedient to maintain a mission for the Chinese at Bangkok, instead of concentrating the efforts of the brethren on some spot in the great empire of China itself. Dr. Dean, with his knowledge and wide and long experience, favored the continuance of the work in Bangkok. Mr. Partridge, however, was transferred to Swatow four years from the time he began his work; and Dr. Dean was left alone, with
his family, in Bangkok, in charge of the Chinese department. Mrs. Dean, who learned the Siamese language in the earlier period of her residence in Siam, continued to teach the women and children of that race; and in 1872 two of the former were baptized. The number of members on the roll of the three churches was seventy-eight; but the lamp burned somewhat dimly. However, in the year 1873, thirty were baptized, and three or four young men were instructed in a theological class, with reference to future usefulness as preachers of the gospel
The year 1874 was the most remarkable in the entire history of the mission. All the out-stations received large additions by baptism, as well as Bangkok; two new churches were constituted, two chapels were finished, and a pastor ordained. The spirit of inquiry was awakened among the Siamese: the women, and even Buddhist priests, came to Mrs. Dean for instruction. Many others abandoned idolatry, and asked for baptism, professing their purpose to lead Christian lives. When we hear of eleven baptized at one station, seventeen at another, twenty-five at a third, and eighty-four at a fourth, we cannot forbear to exclaim, "What hath God wrought!" The additions by baptism to all the churches were one hundred and forty. The pastor's heart was made glad, like Simeon's in the temple. The work continued into the next year, and ninety more were baptized, making the whole number three hundred and seventeen. The following is a summary of Dr.
Dean's labors up to the year 1876. In his forty years of service, Dr. Dean has gathered six Chinese churches, superintended the building of four Chinese chapels, ordained three Chinese pastors, besides training two who were ordained by others, and baptized three hundred and thirty-nine Chinese disciples, of whom twelve became preachers of the gospel. The year 1876 indicated a natural reaction after so great a blessing. This year also Dr. Dean made another brief visit to his native land; and his absence was evidently felt by the people, who, notwithstanding the presence of their native pastors, were as sheep without a shepherd.
In 1877 we find a report of six churches, 418 members, and 61 baptized during the year. At one of the out-stations 24 were baptized, and 80 sat down together at the Lord's Supper. Every one of the newly baptized gave his contribution towards a new chapel about to be built. At another out-station, seven were baptized, and another chapel in the place of one that had been burned was projected. The pastor was a Chinese convert, the first baptized at that point. A very effective force of native preachers is being raised up; one of the native preachers is supported by the church, another by Dr. Dean. There are seven chapels, two ordained and six unordained native preachers, six churches, and five out-stations. The Chinese work in Bangkok is apparently crystallizing into permanent form, and with an increase of laborers it would be even more fruitful.
Singularly enough the Government of Siam has arrayed itself in favor of the religion of Christ. A proclamation was issued in October, 1878, of which the following is an extract: -"Whoever is of the opinion that any particular religion is correct, let him hold to it as he pleases: the right or wrong will be to the person who holds to it. In the treaties and in the customs of the kingdom of Siam, there is no prohibition against persons who shall hold to any particular religion. If any one is of the opinion that the religion of the Lord Jesus is good, let him hold to it freely."The mission to the people of Bangkok has been full of vicissitudes; and the residence of the missionaries there has been, generally, of brief duration, Dr. Jones, the first resident at the station, was there eighteen years; Dr. Dean has labored there twenty-two years; Mr. Davenport and Mr. Telford, nine years each; Mr. Goddard, seven and a half; Dr. Ashmore and Miss Morse, seven years each; Miss Fielde, six years; Mr. Partridge, four years; Mr. Chilcott, one
"Whenever there is government work, persons who hold to the religion of the Lord Jesus must perform it. No religion is henceforth allowed to interfere in government work. Whoever shall hold to any system of religion, let him do so freely. Let no Phraya Lao, Taosaan, or common person, being a relative or a master of a person holding to the religion of the Lord Jesus, interfere in any affair which that religion does not permit or allow to be done, as worshipping spirits, feasting spirits, and various employments on Sunday. Let there be no compulsion or constraint to practise or to do any thing of the kind: it is absolutely forbidden. Only war and business of absolute importance are excepted. At such times they must serve on Sunday, but let there be no impositions."
year; Mr. Slafter, less than eight months; Mr. Reed, five months; and Mr. Lisle was forced to return home immediately after his arrival. Dr. Jones, Messrs. Davenport, Goddard, Chilcott, Slafter, and Reed, are dead; Dr. Ashmore, Mr. Partridge and wife, and Miss Fielde, were transferred to China.
The history of this mission illustrates the nature of the pilgrim-life of missionaries, moving hither and thither like shepherds' tents; the long and discouraging labors which often seem of little avail; and the manner in which, at his "set time," God interposes, and the seed, long buried, springs to life, and brings forth fruit.
Dr. Dean wrote, some time since, in this strain: "The cause is the Lord's, and his work is soon to prevail, however much may be the trial to our faith and patience. The everlasting God, Jehovah, fainteth not, neither is weary: therefore we need not faint"
In January, 1879, the king of Siam published a proclamation of religious freedom to all persons in his kingdom. Within the last few years, also, he has instituted many other measures of reform, and is considered the most civilized and progressive native ruler in Asia, with the exception of the emperor of Japan. Mrs. Dean was obliged to return to America in 1881 on account of failing health, and died in Boston, Mass., Jan. 16, 1883. Dr. Dean still remains on the field, and in 1882 Rev. L. A. Eaton went out to assist him in his work. The Chinese, among whom they are laboring, are rapidly increasing in numbers and in commercial and political strength in Siam. In this respect they offer an encouraging field for missionary work; but they have formed protective societies among themselves, which are very powerful, having even the power of life and death over the members. These societies are hostile to Christianity and to the government, so that the mission is laboring under considerable disadvantage at present. The churches number five; and the members are given at five hundred, which is probably far too high an estimate.
[S. F. Smith, Missionary Sketches: A Concise History of the American Baptist Missionary Union, 1885, pp. 173-188. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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