Important People in the Development of Thai Railways, Part 3: Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, monarch of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901 and Empress of India from 1876 to 1901, never went to Thailand nor was Thailand under British colonial rule. Nonetheless she had an important, if subtle role, in the development of Thailand’s railway network.

Queen Victoria played a role in the development of Thailand's railway network
Queen Victoria played a role in the development of Thailand’s railway network

Gift of a model train

In 1856 Queen Victoria sent a model railway to King Rama IV as a gift. This would have been the first time that anyone in the upper echelons of the Royal Court in Thailand would have seen a working train, albeit a scale model of one.

King Rama V, in whose reign the first full sized trains started operating in Thailand, was 3 years of age when the model railway arrived in Thailand and the excitement that the young future king must felt when he first saw this exciting new toy may well have inspired him later in life develop a functional railway network in Thailand.

King Rama IV

King Rama IV, also known as King Mongkut, is a fascinating historical figure whose contribution to the development of modern Thailand is often unappreciated in comparison to the achievements of his son, King Rama IV. For a variety of reasons, prior to becoming King, Prince Mongkut spent 27 years has an ordained Buddhist monk. His status as a monk allowed him freedoms to travel around Thailand and study that would have normally have been forbidden to young princes in the socially conservative Royal Thai court of the time.

Alongside his religious observances, Prince Mongkut spent time learning foreign languages and Western sciences. As King he encouraged Western education in Thailand and famously decreed that Thailand should adopt Western geography. Prior to King Rama IV the world, according to the Thai religious and political authorities, was officially flat.

King Rama V

Encouraged by his father, and possibly his English tutor Anna Leonowens, the future King Rama V, Prince Chulalongkorn, developed a deep interest in modern scientific and social ideas. As King he abolished slavery in Thailand, introduced formal land ownership rights available to the wider population, created a modern standing army, and in 1901 opened the first public long distance passenger railway line in Thailand running from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima.

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