November 21, 2007

Old News: Siam's first newspaper

As with several Western innovations, the first Thai printing press in the Kingdom of Siam* was brought over by Christian missionaries. And with the printing press, along with techniques of Western medicine, Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, a native of New York state, managed to revolutionize life in Thailand in many ways, despite his failure to convert the natives to Christianity. Known popularly to this day as หมอบรัดเลย์ (or one of several spelling variations**), Dr. Bradley performed the first modern surgery, published the first newspaper, and other publishing firsts, including the first printed Thai-Thai Dictionary.

Bradley's printing press arrived in Siam in 1836, the year after he did, and promptly was put to work. His newspaper, the Bangkok Recorder, had two printing runs. One in the 1840s, and then again in the 1860s, eventually being shut down because it couldn't break even. Recently I've acquired a scan of the entirety of the 1865-1866 year, or the first year of the newspaper's second run. It's truly fascinating. The range is broad, with everything from local and foreign news to translations of selections from the U.S. constitution to explanations of anatomy or other scientific principles--even the occasional joke. Naturally, then, I can't keep it to myself. So I will periodically post interesting articles or tidbits from the Bangkok Recorder, known in Thai as หนังสือจดหมายเหตุ (which means, essentially, "newspaper", though that term has long been supplanted by หนังสือพิมพ์, and is now used to mean "record of events", which is another literal interpretation of the term), or by the transliteration of its English name, บางกอกรีคอเดอ. Here's my first selection, an explanation of advertising, published November 3, 1865:

In modern type with extra spaces between words removed:
ข้าพเจ้าผู้เจ้าของจตหมายเหตุนี้ได้ยินข่าวว่า, คนที่ซื้อบางกอกรีคอเดอสงไสว่า, เหตุไรได้เอาความลงซ้ำนัก. เหมือนอย่างที่ว่าด้วยอู่ใหม่นั้นได้ลง ๒ หน ๓ หนแล้ว. ข้ออื่นก็มีหลายข้อที่ลงซ้ำหลายครั้ง. เหตุผลประการใดจึงเปนอย่างนี้. หาความใหม่ ๆ ไม่ได้ฤๅ. เขาสงไสบ่นเพ้อไปอย่างนี้, เพราะเขาไม่รู้ธรรมเนียมจตหมายเหตุ. ข้อที่ลงซ้ำอย่างนั้นเปนความอย่างหนึ่ง, ที่เจ้าของเนื้อความนั้นปราถนาจะให้คนทั้งปวงดูทุกทีทุกครั้งไม่ลืม. เหมือนเรื่องอู่ใหม่นั้นเขาก็จ้างให้ลงพิมพ์ทุก ๆ ครั้ง, ด้วยให้ค่าจ้างราคาครั้งละ ๒ เหรียน. ข้อความที่ลงซ้ำ ๆ อย่างนี้, อังกฤษเรียกว่าแอดเวอไตศเม็นต์. ใคร ๆ ปราถนาจะให้ลงซ้ำก็จำเปนให้ลงตามธรรมเนียม, ที่จะปัดเสียไม่เอาก็ไม่ได้. บางทีข้อความที่ลงซ้ำ ๆ เช่นนี้, ในจตหมายเหตุฉบับหนึ่งมีถึง ๓ น่า ๔ น่าก็มี, เนื้อความใหม่ ๆ มีแต่ ๒ น่า. แต่แรกข้าพเจ้าหมายว่าจะทำเนื้อความใหม่ ๆ ลงในจตหมายเหตุให้ได้ ๔ ใบทุกที ๆ. เหนคนชอบใจได้มากจึงได้จัดแจงให้มี ๖ ใบ. แต่ในใบที่ ๕ ที่ ๖ นั้น, ก็คงจะมีเนื้อความซ้ำต่อไปบ้างเล๊กน้อย. อย่าให้ผู้ซื้อว่ากะไรเลย, ด้วยให้เกินไปมากกว่า ๔ ใบที่ได้สัญญาไว้แล้ว.
And a translation:
I, the owner of this newspaper, have heard that those who purchase the Bangkok Recorder wonder, "Why are so many things reprinted? Like the article about the new dock, it's run 2 or 3 times already. There are many other items which have been reprinted many times. What is the reason for this? Can't they find new material?"
They wonder and complain ramblingly like this, because they don't know the customs of newspapers. Those items which are reprinted are a type of article, the owner of which wants everyone to read and remember. Like with the story about the new dock, they pay for it to be printed every time, paying 2 dollars per time. An article that is repeated like this, in English is called 'advertisement'. Whoever wants to reprint something must be allowed according to the custom, and can't be rejected. Sometimes in an issue of the newspaper there are up to 3 or 4 pages of reprinted articles like this, with only 2 pages of new material. From the start I intended to publish 4 sheets of new material in the paper every time. I saw that a lot of people liked it so I arranged for 6 sheets. But in sheets 5 and 6, there will likely be some of these repeated articles. No one should criticize, because I'm already giving more than the promised 4 sheets.
In this day and age it's rather bizarre to imagine when--just a century and a half ago!--anyone would have been puzzled by advertising. Times have changed.

From a language perspective, it's interesting to see the differences in spelling. In this brief piece we see สงไส, น่า in the sense "page", ฤๅ meaning หรือ, and เปน and เหน without ไม้ไต่คู้, among other things. We also see that spelling English as อังกฤษ dates back at least this far. Overall, quite comprehensible for the modern reader.

If you have a particular request for what feature from this newspaper you want to see, drop me an email

* The actual first printing in Thai script was done out of the country, also by missionaries. Bradley's press was the first physically in Thailand.
** I've also seen หมอบรัดเล, หมอบลัดเล, หมอปลัดเล, and หมอปรัดเล, among other possible permutations.


  1. Thank you very much for this, I've enjoyed this post immensely. I'll be looking forward to your next translation from the Bangkok Recorder.

  2. Very fascinating from a historical and etymological perspective.

  3. Thanks to you both for reading. There's certainly no shortage of material from the BR. I'll try to make this a regular feature. Plus, I just like reading it. I've been trying to find the issue that breaks the news about Lincoln's assassination, for instance.

  4. I sold about 20 different copies of these papers to two friends in Bangkok. Both of them still hold to them. I wish he put them to the show like you did.
    isvasu at hotmail