In the Pirate's lair: MY Andaman Explorer uncovers the roots of British Burma

14 Jun 2019 by Admin

People who often choose Pandaw for their cruises would know its passion for the rich history of British colonial era in Myanmar. This passion is the fundamental factor for the foundation of the pioneering company of Pandaw. During 21 years of cruise operation, countless onboard lectures and guided tours have been organized to give the passengers an insightful look into the roots of British Burma.

Our Luxury Myanmar River Cruises' new cruising route on the sea from Ranong to the Mergui Archipelago (which started from October 2nd, 2016) really made us excited because this is the very new chapter in the history of development and growth of Pandaw. During 11 days of the exploring trip on the sea, the main highlight is the visit to the port of Mergui (previously called Mergen and now given the name Myeik). This place is said to be haunted by the spirit of “Siamese White”.

The Map of Lower Burma and Mergui in the 17th Century

Who was that again? Samuel White (1650 – 1689), whose name has been long forgotten, was among the most audacious rascal throughout the history of the East India Company. The tale about the life of this man seemed to be too incredible for people to believe, just like a fictional story or a tailor-made script for Hollywood action movie.

When White was a young man, he began his career as a Bristol mariner who was in the search for fortune via the system of the East India Company, which was founded in 1600. Akin to many other men, he soon realized that in a place where every changed quickly, the best way to earn huge sums of money was by getting around the laws. However, when the avaricious greediness, threats, and violence shifted to mayhem and killing and a direful climax, White eventually became a notorious pirate.

That’s all what we know about the life of Samuel White thanks to the valuable book “Siamese White (first published in 1936 and reprinted in 2008)” written by Maurice Collis (1889 – 1973). The author, an Anglo-Irish, was originally an administrator and then pursued the literary career. He mainly lived in Mergui, and all the ups and downs in his time serving in Myanmar is a captivating story itself. From all the things mentioned above, we can confidently say that people who have booked or consider booking a cruise into the history of the Mergui Archipelago, where was once dominated by pirates, will find “Siamese White” a useful book to learn about the general background of the place.

The Book "Siamese White" by Maurice Collis

Nowadays, the majority of people think that the appearance of British people in the East was a phenomenon of the 18th and 19th century. However, as soon as the mid 17th century, the East India Company had developed commercial and seemingly diplomatic operations in the Indian Ocean with a deep and sophisticated scale. This period was just a few years before the publication of Robinson Crusoe, it was the age of periwigs and tri-corn hats under the reign of James II in Britain. The story of Collis about an “English man who made a fortune in the ups and downs of political activities in the East” reads like the adventure of just a man. However, the story is of much greater historical significance. Nowadays, academics and researchers still refer to this book as one of the main sources of information on the early arrival of European in South East Asian Region.

Who was Samuel White?

He was an audacious and totally immoral fortune-hunter, who was the master of the vicious groups of unlicensed traders around Tenasserim on the West coast of the Kra Isthmus. This territory had such a strategic position that Siam and Burma went into continuous and bloody wars over centuries to gain the control. In present, the former Tenasserim has become a province of Myanmar named Tanintharyi where the very first coastal adventure of the MY Andaman Explorer began.

Beginning his career at a very low position in the complicated trade network, White soon climbed to the highest rank as the master. Back then, Mergui was the doorway to the Indian and European traders who wanted to access to the capital of Thailand, Ayudhaya (Ayutthaya in present), which was the forwarding storage for people from the West and the Middle East who wanted to trade with China and Japan. Through the relation of his brother with a renowned Greek-born adventurer named Constantin Phaulkon, a mandarin in the reign of King Narai of Thailand, White was nominated to become a servant of the King at Ayadhaya, who controlled the Indian Ocean at that time.

The Portrait of Constantine Phaulkon

Today, no image of the notorious White remains, there just some illustration of a current-day British explorer, but his figure has been clearly formed in the book written by Collis. From the book, we know that Samuel White was a practical man who sought every possible opportunity to make fortune. He tried to beat the Muslim trader who used to make deals with Siam, whilst taking advantage of his official status to make deals with allies and enemies alike.

White’s fortune soon piled up through audacious raids in coastal regions and cruel piracy. He continuously planned his escape with the stolen assets from his hideout in Mergui and returned to Britain. For many times, the British and the Siamese were almost able to catch him, just a few steps away from catching this notorious pirate.

In 1687, all the events came to a climax. While planning his insane escape, the drunken Samuel White, who had become a wicked killer having the habit of executing people without hesitation, ordered a chaotic crazed massacre of 60 foreigners in a community in Mergui. This is merely one page amongst many stories and tales of the enthralling and horrible history of Mergui.

The French Map of Siam

The life and career of Samuel White have many aspects which have been well-recorded. Davernport, a loyal fellow of White, faithfully recorded all what White said. A found piece of the document reads:

“If the Lieutenant and Captain of the King come here and speak to me that I am obliged to go to Madras and use their power to force me to go there, I will shoot them with my very own hands and use the King’s Commission to clean my ass”.

We have to assure that this is not a fiction, but a true story because it is relatively intricate, full of distractions, vague purposes, and incomplete characters. However, as a time portal into the modern life, the color and atmosphere of the first encounter of British with Burma, it is unparalleled.

To explore other mystical lands in Burma, you can take a Burma River Cruise and enjoy unforgettable experiences. 

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