Siam (meaning in Malay the brown race) is called by its people Muang T'hai, "the kingdom of the free," i.e. free from the superstitions of the Brahmins. It is the chief kingdom of the peninsula called Indo-China, or Farther India. Siam proper occupies the middle portion of the peninsula, with all the country surrounding the Gulf of Siam, and stretches between lat. 4° and 22° N., and between long. 97° and 106° E. Its greatest length is 1350 miles, its breadth 450 miles, while its area is estimated at from 190,000 to 300,000 square miles (probably the latter estimate is nearly correct), with a population of between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000.
I. Soil, Climate, etc. — A considerable portion of Siam is covered with mountains and hills. Two mountain ranges, extending mainly southeast from the Himalaya. form general natural divisions from China on thn north, and partly from Anam on the east, and Burmahl and British India on the west. A third range passes through the central regions, and in this is situated the P'hra Bat, or mountain of "the sacred foot" of Buddha. The great river of the country is called by foreigners Menam, or Meinam, and is the Nile of Siam. Its annual inundation commences in June and ends in November, and the area of land thus fertilized is upwards of 22,000 square miles. The coastline may be roughly estimated at 1100 miles, with several excellent harbors. The seasons are two: the wet or hot, and the dry or cool. The former begins near the middle of March, the latter in October. Siam is rich in natural productions. Rice, sugar, pepper, cotton, and hemp are the staple products. There are also many valuable articles procured from the forests — gutta percha, lac, dammar, costly woods, etc. The animal kingdom is very varied, furnishing rhinoceroses, tigers, leopards, bears, otters, musks, civets, wild hogs, monkeys, deer, and elephants, especially the white elephant.
II. Inhabitants and Government. — The Siamese are mainly of Mongolian type, but there is much reason to suppose that they are closely allied to the great Indo-European race. According to the researches of the late king, out of 12,800 Siamese words more than 5000 are found to be Sanscrit, or to have their root in that language, and the rest in the Indo-European tongue. Besides the Siamese, a great variety of races inhabit the territories of Siam, as the Chinese, Cambodians, etc. According to the French consul at Bangkok, Garnier (1874), the population of Siam proper and its Laos dependencies is composed of 1,800,000 Siamese, 1,500,000 Chinese, 1,000,000 Laos, 200,000 Malays, 50,000 Cambodians, 50,000 Peguans, 50,000 Karens, and others. The Siamese proper are gentle, timid, careless, indolent, and yet peaceable and polite. Most of the business is in the hands of the Chinese. Marriage takes place as early as eighteen for males and fourteen for females, without the aid of priest or magistrate, though the former may be present to offer prayers. The number of wives, ordinarily one, may, among the wealthy, reach scores and hundreds, but the first is the wife proper, to whom the rest are subject. Eighty or ninety percent of the males can read, a limited education being gratuitously furnished at the temples.
The government is theoretically a duarchy, practically a monarchy, for although there is a second or vice king, the first or senior king is actual sovereign. The crown is hereditary, and is bequeathed, with the sanction of the nobles, to any son of the queen. The second king seems to occupy the place of first counsellor, and is invariably consulted before taking any important step. The council of state comprises the first king (as president);
the ministers, who have no vote; from ten to twenty councillors, who have to draft new laws, and from their own number elect a vice-president; and six princes of the royal house. The country is divided into forty-one provinces, each of which is governed by a phraya, or council of the first class.
III. History and Religion. — The early history of Siam is entirely unknown. In 1511 the Portuguese, after the conquest of Malacca by Albuquerque, established an intercourse with Siam. In the 16th century Siam was for many years subject to the Burmans, but recovered its independence towards the close of the century. In 1604 the Dutch established relations; in 1612 the first English vessel went to Ayathia. Towards the end of the 17th century a European adventurer, a native of the island of Cephalonia, called Phaulkon, gained the esteem of the king, and was by degrees promoted to an important office in the government. Through his persuasion an embassy was sent to Louis XIV of France, who sent two embassies to Siam in 1685 and 1687, and also a corps of 500 soldiers, who were put in possession of the fortress of Bangkok by Phaulkon. They were expelled in 1690. About 1760 the Burmans laid waste the country and took the capital, Ayathia. In. 1782 the present dynasty ascended the throne, and transferred the seat of government to Bangkok. Treaties were made with the East India Company in 1822 and 1825, and with the United States in 1833.
The religion of the Siamese is Buddhism: nevertheless the lower classes, and in some respects the more enlightened, are profoundly superstitious. They have peopled their world with gods, daemons, and goblins. Over the "footprint of Buddha," on the P'hra Bat, is built a beautiful temple, to which crowds of ardent Buddhists perform long and painful journeys, and millions of costly gifts are offered. The following account of missions is from Appletons' Cyclopaedia (s.v.): "Missions have been carried on by the Roman Catholics, under the greatest vicissitudes, since the middle of the 16th century. The missionaries are French, and their converts were reckoned in 1872 at 10,000, in sixteen congregations. At the head of the mission is a vicar apostolic. Protestant missions date from the visits of Gutzlaff, Tomlin, and Abeel, in 1828 to 1831, and properly from the settlement of Jones in 1833. Missions have been established by the American Baptist Union, and by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; and the American Missionary Association has established several Protestant congregations, schools, and religious papers.
The number of the Baptist congregations in 1874 was 154, and of Presbyterian, 38." For literature, consualt Crawfurd, Embassy to Siam and Cochin China (Lond. 1828); Pallogoix, Description du Royaume Thai, ou Siam (Paris, 1854); Bowring, Kingdom and People of Siam (Lond. 1857); Bastian, Reisen in Siam (Berlin, 1867); Mrs. Leonowen, English Governess at the Siamese Court (Boston, 1870); M'Donald, Siam, its Government, etc. (Phila. 1871); Bacon, Siam, etc. (N.Y. 1873); Vincent, Land of the White Elephant (ibid. 1874).