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Danish History in Northern Thailand



King Chulalongkorn went out of his way to honor Hans Marqvard Jensen. He donated the tombstone, formed as an obelisk, still to be seen at the graveyard for foreigners in Chiang Mai.


Hans was born in Vindegade 54, Sct. Knuds Parish, Odense, on April 3, 1878. Vindegade is a part of one of the very old districts in the town center, quite near the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and the idyllic ‘The King’s Garden’. His father, Rasmus Jensen, was registered in the census papers as a carpenter, his mother Marie, as a housewife. Hans had an older sister, too. The family lived in the front house on the plot and had a maid. Besides being a carpenter, his father also owned a small farm in Bolbro, at that time in the outskirts of Odense.

From the military archives we then learn that Hans served in The Royal Life Guards in Copenhagen. He was accepted at the officers’ academy and appointed second lieutenant the eighth of October 1898. It is mentioned that Hans Marqvard Jensen was E.K 3a [egnet for krigstjeneste]. In translation it reads: ‘Fit for service in war’. And into war he went, to one of the most isolated places of Northern Siam.

In the autumn of 1900, Marqvard Jensen was seconded from the Danish army and assigned as second lieutenant in ‘The Royal Siamese Provincial Military Police’. From urban Copenhagen and a secured career, to wooden villages and elephant tracks around 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, a mind-blowing difference in everything from climate to food and eating habits.

General, Gustav Schau

King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1853-1910) was absolute monarch and the great modernizer of Siam, from railroads to schools. The country itself could provide neither skilled labor nor technicians and engineers. The King was wary of colonists, since the neighbor to the west, Burma, was a British Colony, Laos to the north and east, French. For skilled labor, technicians and other professionals, the king often preferred foreign expert help from minor countries without colonial aspirations. For example the admiral of the Siamese fleet Andreas Richelieu was a Dane, son of a pastor in Jutland. He later became a member of the board of directors of EAC.
The commander of The Royal Provincial Military Police was another Dane, the highly respected Colonel, later General, Gustav Schau. He had many Danish officers in his service.
With all these close interconnected relations it could well be imagined that the tall, blond young man was patted on the shoulder by high ranking superiors and encouraged to accept some years of service in the Far East.
Hans Marqvard Jensen arrived in Bangkok onboard an EAC freighter around Christmas 1900.

It was around Christmas 1900 that Hans Marqvard Jensen arrived in Bangkok. He was ready to start his career as newly appointed Premier Lieutenant in The Royal Thai Provincial Military Police, or ‘Gendarmerie’ as it was then often called. This institution was formed by the government of the absolute Monarch King Chulalongkorn in 1897, with a Dane, then Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Schau, as its first commander in chief. It also included many Danish officers in the ranks.

The overall task of the corps was to keep some order in the provinces, where no other real force, such as police, existed. Murders, gang robberies and theft, especially of cattle and teakwood, were rampant. Smuggling of opium, too, was widespread, thereby bypassing the government’s monopoly on this trade. The Sovereign needed to establish his authority, especially in the disputed and very unruly areas of The North.

The young Premier Lieutenant of 22 years was first stationed at the corps facilities in Nakorn Ratchasima, then (and often still) known as Korat. From there, he went to Prachinburi, Ayutthaya, and finally Chiang Mai in early 1902. He must have lived a disciplined and Spartan life. A list of his belongings includes almost exclusively necessities such as a mosquito net, one tent, a lot of sundries for making cartridges, a travelling trunk, some plain teak-wood tables, one plain teak-wood bedstead, one carry stove, one camp wash basin, cartridges, two pairs of spurs, the most needed kitchen utensils and two egg-cups, etc. No luxuries or precious items at all.

Among ‘extras’ Hans possessed were two sitting Buddha images, a Richard Andree’s famous World Atlas, a native sword, one cigarette case, an open box of cigars and ten photographs in frames; presumably images of the family back in Odense, Denmark.

In the spring of 1902 Bangkok had virtually no control over the situation in The North. The region was at that time not fully integrated into Siam. Furthermore, many migrant workers, mainly belonging to the Shan tribe from Burma, felt oppressed and humiliated by the Southern Siamese officials. Consequently they started a rebellion. From the mines where they were working, they went to the provincial town of Phrae, looted the place, and killed the governor and at least 20 officials.

After some skirmishes with gendarmes and militia, who eventually ran away, they got hold of a large number of efficient German Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and some ammunition. Then they marched on Lampang, south of Chiang Mai, a much bigger and wealthier provincial town. Geographically Lampang was sort of the ‘key’ to The North. These historical details to establish the context, in which Marqvard Jensen played the major role, became the Hero of Lampang — and died. He was sent to the town from Chiang Mai with orders to lead the town defense. In Lampang, barricades were built and a colorful group of militia and gendarmerie were supposed to defend the place. In the meantime officials and their numerous staff fled to Chiang Mai with all the valuables.

Marqvard Jensen managed to beat off the Shan, he himself in the frontline of the battles, lasting for days, around in town, encouraging, stopping mutiny and sidetracking infighting. When also the Shan leader got killed, the survivors ran away, beaten.

A few days later Marqvard Jensen decided to pursue the Shan back towards Phrae, and set out with a small contingent of gendarmerie. At kilometer 130, near the village of Ngao, south of Phayao, they were engaged by another group of Shan from Laos, and as bad luck would have it, he got shot in the left side of the breast and died. His troops then fled. What was left of the allegedly mutilated body was picked up the next day and taken back to Lampang, but there were no further attacks on this important town.

The graveyard has been in continuous use from 1900 until the present day

The Ministry of The Interior in Bangkok recognized Marqvard Jensen’s victory and bravery by for many years decorating the Entrance Hall with an enlarged photo of him. I have no doubt that the Minister knew and acknowledged that the defense of Lampang broke the back of the Shan rebellion. After this battle, regular army troops were hastily sent up from central Siam and some order restored.

The Burmese Shan were British subjects, and in the event of their success, the colonial power might well have felt tempted to occupy Northern Siam. In fact, there were strong rumors to that effect.

On the 16th of October 1902, an official memorandum, a Death Certificate, was forwarded from Captain August Kolls, liaison officer of the Gendarmerie, to the acting Danish Consul General, Mr. d’Abaza. The memorandum states that “Captain Hans Marqvard Jensen was shot to death on the 14th of October, 1902 at Muang Ngao, Nakon Lampang”. Somewhere along the way he had been promoted to Captain.

On the 7th November, the Consulate acknowledged that they had received from Colonel G. Schau “1000 Ticals, being the amount due to the late Captain Jensen as his salary for September and October, 1902”. His salary was 500.00 Tikal’s per month, worth approximately 485.00 Danish Crowns (In 1897 the exchange rate was stipulated as 1 Tikal = 0.97 Danish Crowns). At the same time, by comparison, a blacksmith at Allerups Machine Works in Odense, Denmark, earned around 110.00 Danish Crowns per month. So, absolutely a fair salary, but not exorbitant taking conditions and hardships into consideration.

The story doesn’t quite end here, though. King Chulalongkorn went out of his way to honor Hans Marqvard Jensen. He donated the tombstone, formed as an obelisk, still to be seen at the graveyard for foreigners in Chiang Mai. He also decided to award Hans’ mother, Marie Jensen, an annual pension of 3,000.00 Tikal’s per year, half of her sons’ salary. She was a widow, and in accordance with Siamese traditions, her only son should have taken care of her in old age. She enjoyed the pension, administered by EAC, until she died in 1938.

Captain Marqvard Jensen’s bravery is not forgotten, and his name has been recalled now and then through all these years.

In 1929 a Dane, Mr. Steiner wrote to The Committee for The Danish Society and told them that the original eight foot tall memorial post at kilometer 130 had fallen to pieces. It bore the inscription: ‘Here fell Captain Jensen in a battle with the Shan’ (translated from Thai).

Mr. Steiner then collected two pieces with the inscription and forwarded them to the Society. He then suggested that the small area where the Captain actually fell, 30 meters from the road should be registered and that a small memorial stone should be placed there. He asked the Society to bear the expenses.

Recently a foreign friend told Mr. Torben Poulsen, a Dane residing in Chiang Mai, that the inscription on the obelisk of Hans Marqvard Jensen was no longer readable and the stone was dirty. He asked the Embassy for support to renovate the memorial, but in the end found that all he needed was some scouring powder and a bit of elbow grease. He then did the job himself.

And so, the name of the courageous Danish Captain who broke the back of the Shan rebellion and helped the Kingdom regain control of the North is again readable and his reputation lives on – at least among us who live here, know the conditions and respect him.

Hans Marqvard Jensen

From Lampang you first drive on a plateau with that wide and harmonic view which you find only in northern Thailand; especially in the still pale morning light before nine o clock. Then the road leads into a valley and starts winding uphill and you see the mountains on both sides, they come closer and closer. Eventually you reach Baan Maeka Tok Wak at kilometer stone 829, shortly before the town of Phayao.

It was here Hans fell in battle October 14, 1902, 24 years old, while pursuing the remains of the Shan rebels he had earlier almost crushed in front of Lampang town (read more in Scandasia, October and December 2009). The memorial is still here and in good shape, but it took some time to find it.

The monument is obviously being kept clean, the inscription is very clear; the horses and elephants symbolize the modes of transport used by the gendarmerie.  The inscription reads, in direct translation by Pornpan Boonpattanaporn:

Captain H.M. Jensen Age 24 years, Danish

‘Was invited by Lieutenant Colonel Phraya Wasutiep [alias Gustav Schau]to be a policeman in Provincial Police Department in BE 2443 [1900]. Later, was promoted to Captain in the position as trainer in the provincial police in Chiang Mai. Died while on duty suppressing Ngaew [Shan] rebels in Phayao. Was ambushed by Ngaew

rebels by the road at Ban Mae Ka Ta Kam Phayao. Was Thai policeman of Danish blood, born in BE 2431 [1878]. Died on the 14. Of October 2445 [1902].

It seems that also Danes visit this most remote place; there is a little Danish flag and many offers.

We gave our offer to the brave Captains spirit; stayed on for a while and then went back and took highway 103 south from Ngao to the old fortress town of Phrae. The hills and mountains are green and quite low trees are growing, but there are none of the 30 – 40 meters old teaks with the branches starting around 20 – 30 meters up.

While you drive here you don’t need to have your eyes glued to the tarmac all the time and it is not so tiring to drive long distances. The highways in Northern Thailand are often of high standard but with less traffic. The local MP’s always and successfully advocates the best highways for their constituencies; their uncles are often also the contractors, practical.

EAC in Phrae

The Shans tribe’s people who worked in the mines east of Muang Phrae felt most exploited and oppressed by the stationed Siamese authorities, they burned down the fortified town in 1902, killed the governor, some 20 staff and also the few Siamese locals.

The gendarmes of the substation were there to protect property, local or foreign, but they fled the scene, leaving their modern Mannlicher-Schoenhauer rifles behind for the Shans to pick up. There were no trained officers and Hans Marqvard Jensen never reached the town.

According to letters to EAC in Bangkok from Forest Manager J. Fengers, the compound of the city Phrae was left untouched by the uprising. It now sits near the river and just within what is left of the ramparts and moat, in the southern part of the medieval town, Muang Phrae. It is a peaceful and shady place with the colonial style buildings placed practical around, there are many old oak-like trees Furthermore a little area with teaks, provided with their Latin names.

In the former EAC head office there is an excellent little teak museum. This museum and the pleasant compound is not on the list of tourist attractions for Phrae Province, it belongs to ‘Forestry Training Center’, 33 Koom-Derm Road, Nai Vieng, Muang Phrae’, telephone 054 511 048.

The golden wood

King Chulalongkorn went out of his way to honor Hans Marqvard Jensen. He donated the tombstone, formed as an obelisk, still to be seen at the graveyard for foreigners in Chiang Mai

By the staircase of the headquarters is exhibited an early EAC invention. In order to lessen the burden for the elephants pushing the logs for long distances down to the river, the pieces were placed on heavy carts. The elephant or a buffalo was then harnessed and thus had a much easier pull. Later more and more advanced equipment were brought to use, but the elephants remained necessary to get the logs down from the rocks and cliffs.

Another interesting item is the stamp or hallmark. Along the rivers in the north, mainly Ping, Nan and Yom there were many companies holding teak-concessions and they all floated their timber downstream towards Bangkok.

It was, of course, necessary that all and every log could be identified; therefore those of EAC were branded with this stamp. The year is 1933, so we can presume it was used for the logs sent floating that year.

Furthermore there was the royalty to be paid. In Nakhon Sawan the King’s clerks counted the stamps on the logs from each concession and cashed in the substantial fee. Around Nakhon Sawan rafts were made of the logs, the rafts were then manned 24 hours

Theft was rampant; the thieves hid the wood in the swamps and then demanded ransom from the crew of the rafts to get it back. But here The Provincial Gendarmerie under Phraya Vasuthiep, alias Lieutenant-Colonel Gustav Schau, showed efficiency; by setting up sub-stations along the critical parts of the river. They managed to reduce the theft to almost zero, securing that all of the very valuable teak reached the companies in Bangkok, as fast as possible.

Also images of the long forest saws with handles in both ends can be seen. But for many years they were not in use. Mountain tribe people, ‘kamuks’ named, formed the logging teams; they were the experts and they preferred their own axes with long shafts but small blades. First they ‘ringed’ the chosen trees, they were normally at least 50 years old; cut a ring the whole way round, quite deep. Then the tree died and dried out. After a year it was then logged and now the wood would float on the water, cut fresh the hardwood would sink.

In the museum there are of course many photos and other images of the elephants. The photos are old and yellowed, often dark. In the tropical forest here, the trees and other vegetations prevent the daylight from reaching the forest floor.

But neither on the compound, nor in the forests of Phrae did we meet any elephants, not even their dung; they have left forever, maybe they are in Bangkok.

news Flemming Winther Nielsen

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