On Christmas morning, Manuel texted me to ask if I was interested in an old Siam passport document. Of course, I was, as Siam passport-related documents are scarce to find. It took me, e.g., a decade to find a 1937 Siam passport at a flea market in Bangkok.
Thai people do usually not collect much Ephemera, except it is something from the Royal Thai family – maybe. Hence, I was delighted that Manuel contacted me. SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
Not a passport but a Siam passport application, which is even more astonishing and rare. The document is in English and with a photograph in an oval form of the applicant. A relatively simple printed form asks the particulars of the applicant, which has to fill out the form in handwriting, of course.
The application is from the Siam Legation in Paris. Now, who is the applicant? The surname is known to any Thai and maybe also to foreigners long enough in Thailand and are interested in the country’s history. The man in the photo is THERD BUNNAG, a friend of PRIDI BANOMYONG, founder of the Thammasat University, the Bank of Thailand, and the 7th Prime Minister of Thailand.
Pridi wrote, “Some of my fellow students in France call me “Professor” for various reasons. Some later became a judge in Siam and visited me at my residence on the outskirts of Paris. Mr. Therd told his family that I was his friend and teacher. In addition to receiving advice on studying, I also helped review subjects for him before taking the final exam. Many people called me because of this.” SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
The Bunnag family, descended from the most significant non-royal persons in Ayudhya and Siam, must be the most prominent family in Thailand. The Somdetch Chao Prayas and Chao Prayas titles belonged to the clan more than any other family in the land, leaving the lesser titles to other families.
A brief Bunnag family history
Sheik Ahmad was a Persian who immigrated to Ayudhya and served King Narai. He was the ancestor of the Bunnag family (1656-1688). He adopted Chao Praya Bavorn Rajanayok, and his daughters married various Siamese Kings. His descendants all held the titles of Chao Prayas and Prayas.
Sun and Moon
The two most significant people in recent history are Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Prayurawongse (1788–1855) and Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Pijaiyati (1791–1857). The former is known as the Sun, and the latter is known as the Moon; they were given these names when King Rama IV granted them the title of Somdetch Chao Prayas.
These two men, who belonged to the sixth generation of the Bunnag dynasty and were brothers, served directly under Kings Rama I, II, III, and IV in the civil service. After Kings Rama IV and Second King Pinklao, The Sun rose through the ranks until he was appointed Minister of Defense and, ultimately, Regent of Siam. His brother, the Moon, oversaw the kingdom’s finances and was appointed a second Siamese Regent; he was the fourth most powerful man. SIAM Passport Document Bunnag
Somdetch Chao Praya Borom Maha Sri Suriyawongse
The son of the Sun was an intelligent young man who worked in the country’s financial and diplomatic sectors. He was also King Rama III’s most trustworthy advisor, was present when the king passed away and was one of the powerful Bunnags to meet with the incoming King Rama IV when he was still a monk. He also picked up the skill of building ships, and for H.M. King Rama IV, he constructed the first Siamese warship, the Suriyamonthon.
To allow King Rama V to ascend to the throne, he was appointed Regent of Siam (1868–1873) by the cabinet of the 20 most senior members of the country.
He was the last person in Siamese history to hold the title of Somdetch Chao Praya, which was given to him by King Rama V.
I also learned from Manuel that surnames weren’t formally adopted in Thailand until the first half of the 20th century (1915). As a result, many Thai family names are very recent creations, dating back only two or three generations. Thai law prohibits adopting a surname that is the same as another family.