Franco-Siamese War

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Franco-Siamese War (1893)
Art of Paknam incident.jpg
French ships Inconstant and Comète under fire in the Paknam incident, 13 July 1893
Result French victory; Entente Cordiale
Laos ceded to French Indochina

Flag of France (1794-1958).svg French Republic

Flag of Thailand 1855.svg Kingdom of Siam
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Auguste Pavie
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Jean de Lanessan
Flag of Thailand 1855.svg Chulalongkorn
Flag of Thailand 1855.svg Devavongse
Flag of Thailand 1855.svg Bhanurangsi
Flag of Thailand 1855.svg Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu

The Franco-Siamese War of 1893 was a conflict between the French Third Republic and the Kingdom of Siam. Auguste Pavie, French vice consul in Luang Prabang in 1886, was the chief agent in furthering French interests in Laos. His intrigues, which took advantage of Siamese weakness in the region and periodic invasions by Vietnamese rebels from Tonkin, increased tensions between Bangkok and Paris. Following the conflict, the Siamese agreed to cede Laos to France, an act that led to the significant expansion of French Indochina.

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

Auguste Pavie French diplomat and explorer; active in French Indochina

Auguste Jean-Marie Pavie was a French colonial civil servant, explorer and diplomat who was instrumental in establishing French control over Laos in the last two decades of the 19th century. After a long career in Cambodia and Cochinchina, Pavie became the first French vice-consul in Luang Prabang in 1886, eventually becoming the first Governor-General and plenipotentiary minister of the newly formed French colony of Laos.

Luang Prabang District & municipality in Louangphabang Province, Laos

Louangphabang, or Luang Phabang, commonly transliterated into Western languages from the pre-1975 Lao spelling ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ as Luang Prabang, literally meaning "Royal Buddha Image", is a city in north central Laos, consisting of 58 adjacent villages, of which 33 comprise the UNESCO Town Of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site. It was listed in 1995 for unique and "remarkably" well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, a blend of the rural and urban developments over several centuries, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries.


This conflict succeeded the Haw wars (1865–1890), in which the Siamese attempted to pacify northern Siam and Tonkin.

Haw wars

The Haw Wars were fought against Chinese quasi-military forces invading parts of Tonkin and the Siam from 1865–1890. Forces invading Lao domains were ill-disciplined and freely plundered Buddhist temples. Not knowing these were remnants of the aftermath of the Taiping Rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan, a heterodox Christian convert, the invaders were confused with Chinese Muslims from Yunnan called Haw. Forces sent by King Rama V failed to suppress the various groups, the last of which eventually disbanded in 1890.


Punch Magazine cartoon showing the "French wolf" looking across the Mekong towards the "Siamese lamb" The French Wolf and The Siamese Lamb.jpg
Punch Magazine cartoon showing the "French wolf" looking across the Mekong towards the "Siamese lamb"
A cartoon from the British newspaper The Sketch shows a French soldier attacking a Siamese soldier depicted as a harmless wooden figure, reflecting the technological superiority of the French troops. Franco-Siamese War Cartoon.jpg
A cartoon from the British newspaper The Sketch shows a French soldier attacking a Siamese soldier depicted as a harmless wooden figure, reflecting the technological superiority of the French troops.

The conflict started when French Indochina's Governor-General Jean de Lanessan sent Auguste Pavie as consul to Bangkok to bring Laos under French rule. The government in Bangkok, mistakenly believing that they would be supported by the British government, refused to concede territory east of the Mekong and instead reinforced their military and administrative presence. [1]

Mekong river in Southeast Asia

The Mekong is a trans-boundary river in Southeast Asia. It is the world's twelfth longest river and the seventh longest in Asia. Its estimated length is 4,350 km (2,703 mi), and it drains an area of 795,000 km2 (307,000 sq mi), discharging 475 km3 (114 cu mi) of water annually. From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through China's Yunnan Province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In 1995, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to manage and coordinate use of the Mekong's resources. In 1996 China and Myanmar became "dialogue partners" of the MRC and the six countries now work together in a cooperative framework.

Events were brought to a head by two separate incidents when Siamese governors in Khammuan and Nong Khai expelled three French merchants from the middle Mekong in September 1892, two of them, Champenois and Esquilot, on suspicion of opium smuggling. [1] [2] Shortly afterwards, the French consul in Luang Prabang, M. Massie [ who? ], feverish and discouraged, committed suicide on his way back to Saigon. [1] [2] Back in France, these incidents were used by the colonial lobby (Parti Colonial) to stir up nationalistic anti-Siamese sentiment, as a pretext for intervention. [2] [3]

Nong Khai Town in Nong Khai Province, Thailand

Nong Khai is a city in north-east Thailand. It is the capital of Nong Khai Province. Nong Khai city is administered as Mueang Nong Khai District.

Opium Dried latex obtained from the opium poppy

Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy. Approximately 12 percent of the opium latex is made up of the analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin and other synthetic opioids for medicinal use and for illegal drug trade. The latex also contains the closely related opiates codeine and thebaine, and non-analgesic alkaloids such as papaverine and noscapine. The traditional, labor-intensive method of obtaining the latex is to scratch ("score") the immature seed pods (fruits) by hand; the latex leaks out and dries to a sticky yellowish residue that is later scraped off and dehydrated. The word "meconium" historically referred to related, weaker preparations made from other parts of the opium poppy or different species of poppies.

The death of Massie left Auguste Pavie as the new French Consul. In March 1893 Pavie demanded that the Siamese evacuate all military posts on the east side of the Mekong River south of Khammuan, claiming that the land belonged to Vietnam. To back up these demands, the French sent the gunboat Lutin to Bangkok, where it was moored on the Chao Phraya next to the French legation.


A lutin is a type of hobgoblin in French folklore and fairy tales. Female lutins are called lutines.

Bangkok Special administrative area in Thailand

Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in central Thailand, and has a population of over eight million, or 12.6 percent of the country's population. Over fourteen million people lived within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region at the 2010 census, making Bangkok the nation's primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand's other urban centres in terms of importance.


When Siam rejected the French demands, de Lanessan sent three military columns into the disputed region to assert French control in April 1893. Eight small Siamese garrisons west of the Mekong withdrew upon the arrival of the central column, but the advance of the other columns met with resistance. In the north, the French came under siege on the island of Khoung, with the capture of an officer, Thoreaux. In the south the occupation proceeded smoothly until an ambush by the Siamese on the village of Keng Kert resulted in the killing of French police inspector Grosgurin. [4]

Khong Island island

Khong Island or Don Khong is the largest island and the seat of administration in the Si Phan Don riverine archipelago located in the Mekong River, Khong District, Champasak Province, southern Laos.

Killing of Inspector Grosgurin

Inspector Grosgurin was a French inspector and commander of a Vietnamese militia in Laos. Like Auguste Pavie, he had been engaged in several exploratory expeditions in the region. [4] :18 [5] He was a member of one of the French armed columns dispatched in April 1893 by Lassenan to cross the Annamite Range into the Lao area of Khammuan (modern Thakhek) [2] and to occupy the disputed territory. The column was at first successful in evicting the Siamese commissioner at Khammuan by 25 May. [4] [5]

Shortly afterwards on 5 June, the Siamese commissioner organized a surprise ambush on the village of Kien Ket, where Grosgurin, confined to his sickbed, had encamped with his militia. [4] [5] The commissioner had apparently been instructed by Siamese government representatives to "compel their [French troops] retirement, by fighting, if necessary, to the utmost of their strength". [2] [6] The ambush resulted in the razing of the village and the killing of Grosgurin and 17 Vietnamese. [6]

The incident and the death of Grosgurin became known as the "Affair of Kham Muon (Kien Chek)" and was ultimately used as a pretext for strong French intervention. [2] [7]

Paknam incident

As a result, relations between Bangkok and the West soured, with France demanding reparations. The British sent three navy ships to the mouth of the Chao Phraya, in case evacuation of British citizens became necessary. [1] In turn the French went one step further in July 1893 by ordering two of their ships, the sloop Inconstant and the gunboat Comète, to sail up the Chao Phraya towards Bangkok, without the permission of the Siamese. They came under fire from the fort at Paknam on 13 July 1893. [8] The French returned fire and forced their way to Bangkok. [2] :209–210

With guns trained on the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the French delivered an ultimatum to the Siamese on 20 July to hand over the territory east of the Mekong and withdraw their garrisons there, to pay an indemnity of three million francs in reparation for the fighting at Paknam, and to punish those responsible for the killings in the disputed territory. [2] When Siam did not immediately comply unconditionally to the ultimatum, the French blockaded the Siamese coast. [2]

In the end the Siamese submitted fully to the French conditions after finding no support from the British. [3] In addition, the French demanded as guarantees the temporary occupation of Chantaburi and the demilitarisation of Battambang, Siem Reap and a 25 kilometre-wide zone on the west bank of the Mekong. [2] The conflict led to the signature of the Franco-Siamese Treaty, on 3 October 1893. [2]

Franco-Siamese trial

Following the killing of Grosgurin, the Commissioner of the Kammuon District, Phra Yot, was acknowledged by his government to have been the responsible official, although was he initially acquitted of wrongdoing in a trial in March 1894. [6] [9] A "Franco-Siamese Mixed Court" was subsequently convened in June 1894. [6] The court determined that Phra Yot had brought extra forces to surround the house in Kien Ket occupied by the ill Grosgurin, outnumbering his small Vietnamese militia; that Grosgurin and those Vietnamese who had not managed to escape had been killed and the house subsequently set on fire on the orders of Phra Yot. [7] [10]

In a joint agreement between the Siamese and the French, Phra Yot was condemned to 20 years of penal servitude. [6] The solicitor for the defense was the Ceylonese lawyer William Alfred Tilleke, who was later appointed Attorney General of Siam and granted a peerage by the king. [7] [11] [12] The Royal Thai Army fort Phra Yot Muang Khwan in Nakhon Phanom Province on the border between Thailand and Laos commemorates Phra Yot. [12]


Territorial claims abandoned by Siam in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The result of the Franco-Siamese War was the cession of Laos (dark blue) to France in 1893. ThailandWithFlags.gif
Territorial claims abandoned by Siam in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The result of the Franco-Siamese War was the cession of Laos (dark blue) to France in 1893.

The Siamese agreed to cede Laos to France, significantly expanding French Indochina. In 1896, France signed a treaty with Britain defining the border between Laos and British territory in Upper Burma. The Kingdom of Laos became a protectorate, initially placed under the Governor General of Indochina in Hanoi. Pavie, who almost single-handedly brought Laos under French rule, saw to the officialization in Hanoi.

The French and British both had strong interests in controlling parts of Indochina. Twice in the 1890s, they were on the verge of war over two different routes leading to Yunnan.[ citation needed ] But several difficulties discouraged them from war. The geography of the land made troop movements difficult, making warfare more costly and less effective. Both countries were fighting a difficult conflict within their respective colonies.[ citation needed ] Malaria was common and deadly. Ultimately, the imagined trade routes never really came into use. In 1904, the French and the British put aside their many differences with the Entente Cordiale, ending this dispute in southeastern Asia.

France continued to occupy Chanthaburi and Trat up until 1907, when Siam ceded to it the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Sisophon.

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Rama III Third king of Siam of the Chakri Dynasty

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Muang Phuan former country

Muang Phuan was a historical principality on the Xiangkhoang Plateau, which constitutes the modern territory of Xiangkhouang Province, Laos. Among the Lao, Phuan, and Thai muang has a dual meaning of “city” or more broadly “country of” and xieng means “walled.” The two terms were often used together for major city states under the Southeast Asian mandala model, thus Muang Xieng Khouang would be transcribed as the “Walled City/Country of the Phuan”.

Samut Prakan Province Province in Thailand

Samut Prakan is one of the central provinces (changwat) of Thailand, established by the Act Establishing Changwat Samut Prakan, Changwat Nonthaburi, Changwat Samut Sakhon and Changwat Nakhon Nayok, Buddhist Era 2489 (1946), which came into force 9 March 1946.

Khuang Aphaiwong Prime Minister of Thailand

Khuang Aphaiwong, also known by his noble title Luang Kowit-aphaiwong, was three times the prime minister of Thailand: from August 1944 to 1945, from January to May 1946, and from November 1947 to April 1948.

Franco-Thai War war

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French Protectorate of Laos former country

The French protectorate of Laos was a French protectorate forming part of the French Colonial Empire in Southeast Asia. It consisted of much of the territory of the former kingdom of Lan Xang and was part of French Indochina from 1893 until it was granted self-rule within the French Union in 1946. The Franco-Lao Treaty of 1953 establishing Laos as an independent member of the French Union. Under the Geneva Conference following France's withdrawal from Indochina after the First Indochina War, Laos was granted independence in 1954.

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The Indochina Media Memorial Foundation (IMMF) was founded in 1991 by British photographer Tim Page, who survived multiple wounds while covering the Vietnam War. The foundation was set up to honor the memory of the more than 320 journalists from all sides who died while covering the conflicts in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1945 to 1975. Its other main aim was to assist colleagues in a region that was emerging from decades of war, poverty and isolation-remembering the dead by helping the living.

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Paknam incident

The Paknam Incident was a military engagement fought during the Franco-Siamese War in July 1893. While sailing off Paknam on Siam's Chao Phraya River, three French ships were fired on by a Siamese fort and force of gunboats. In the ensuing battle, France won and blockaded Bangkok, which ended the war.

Pakxan District & municipality in Bolikhamsai Province, Laos

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French Indochina in World War II

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William Alfred Goone-Tilleke (1860–1917) was a Ceylonese-Siamese lawyer, entrepreneur and aristocrat. He was the founder of the law firm Tilleke & Gibbins, a privy councilor and second Attorney General of Siam (1912–1917). In Siam he was also known as Phraya Attakarnprasiddhi.

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The Phra Chuthathut Palace or Sichang Palace is a summer royal residence built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn the Great on the Sichang Island in Chonburi Province. After the French occupied the island during a conflict with Thailand over control of neighboring Laos in 1893, the royal residence was largely abandoned. Parts of the unfinished halls were removed and were used for the new Vimanmek Mansion in Bangkok. Since leaving the royal control, the palace has been used by various affiliations and authorities. Today, Chulalongkorn University occupies the palace for its "Sichang Marine Science Research and Training Station" and established the Chutathut Palace Museum of Chulalongkorn University, maintaining and preserving the palace.


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  5. 1 2 3 de Pouvourville, Albert (1897). "L'affaire de Siam, 1886-1896". Chamuel{{inconsistent citations}}
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 The Peoples and Politics of the Far East (1895) by Sir Henry Norman, p.480-481
  7. 1 2 3 "The Case of Kieng Chek Kham Muon before the Franco-Siamese Mixed Court. Constitution of the Mixed Court and rules of procedure". Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  8. ''Commerce in War'' by Llewellyn Archer Atherley, p.182. 1907. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  9. "archive" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  10. "archive" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  11. "Official history of Tilleke & Gibbons". Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  12. 1 2 Loos, Tamara (2006). Subject Siam: Family, Law, and Colonial Modernity in Thailand. Cornell University Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN   0-8014-4393-8 {{inconsistent citations}}

Further reading