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Bowring Treaty signed with Bangkok 18th Apr 1855

Singapore became a British settlement in 1819, about the same time the Siamese kingdom was extending its political influence in the Malay Peninsula. To ease Anglo-Siamese tensions, the British sent diplomatic missions to Siam. The missions had commercial intentions as the founding of Singapore gave new stimulus to British trade in Southeast Asia.[1] The earliest venture was led by John Crawfurd in 1822 but he was unsuccessful.[2] At the end of 1825, with victory in the Anglo-Burmese war in sight, the British tried again and Siam reciprocated, keenly aware of the British onslaught on their next-door neighbour. This led to the 1826 Burney Treaty that allowed British merchants to trade in Bangkok. However, the treaty, with its prohibitive clauses and high duties, left British and European merchants, especially those in Singapore, clamouring for more.[3] Also, the second Anglo-Burmese war of 1852-53 brought Burma formally under the British sphere, making it high time for new economic arrangements with Siam.[4]

On 18 April 1855, Sir John Bowring, then Governor of Hong Kong,[5] successfully concluded a new treaty with Siam that was "of the most satisfactory character".[6] The Bowring Treaty removed extensive barriers to British trade by ending the Siamese state's trading monopolies. The liberal terms included a single duty on all imports and exports, the abolition of prohibitive tonnage duties, freedom of trade between British merchants and Siam citizens, and the removal of prohibitions on rice export. British ships were also allowed to trade at all Siamese ports and on the same conditions as Siamese and Chinese junks.[7]

The new treaty took effect on 6 April 1856.[8] The dramatic rise from this commercial freedom was immediate. In 1856–57 alone, 145 British ships from Siam arrived at Singapore.[9] The Bowring Treaty brought Siam into the Southeast Asian trading networks and its benefits extended to Chinese merchants in Singapore.[10] One of them was Tan Kim Ching, who made his fortune from the rice trade with Bangkok. He was also appointed the first Siamese Honorary Consul in Singapore in 1863.[11]

1. Allington, K. (1967, November 13). First major European venture to Siam. The Straits Times, p. 14; Webster, A. (1998). Gentlemen capitalists: British imperialism in South East Asia, 1770–1890 (p. 159). London; New York: Tauris Academic Studies. Call no.: RSING 959 WEB.
2. The Straits Times, 13 Nov 1967, p. 14.
3. Webster, 1998, pp. 160, 164.
4. Auslin, M. R. (2004). Negotiating with imperialism: The unequal treaties and the culture of Japanese diplomacy [online book] (p. 36). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from NLB digital library. Call no.: 327.5207309034 AUS. (To access this ebook, please login to NLB's digital library @ http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg).
5. Auslin, 2004, p.36. (To access this ebook, please login to NLB's digital library @ http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg).
6. Siam. (1855, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperS; Siam. (1855, December 15). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Vol. XIV (75), p. 3. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from The National Library of New Zealand Paperspast website: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
7. European intelligence. (1855, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Webster, 1998, p. 161.
8. The Straits Times, 8 May 1855, p. 5.
9. Webster, 1998, p. 161.
10. National Archives of Singapore. (c2005). Ode to friendship. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from National Archives of Singapore website: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/
11. Miyata, T. (2006). Tan Kim Ching and Siam "Garden rice". The rice trade between Siam and Singapore in the late nineteenth century. Intra-Asian trade and the world market (pp. 114–132). London: Routledge. Call no.: RBUS 382.095 INT; Close ties can be traced from history. (1985, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The information in this article is valid as at 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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