Public Beheading in Siam: Three True Stories of Crime and Punishment in the Siam of Old (Part 3 – Pra Preecha: Despotic Madman or Innocent Victim?)Posted: June 26, 2011
The story of Pra Preecha is a complicated one, and – like many other things in the orient – shrouded in a mysterious web of lies and treachery, that the westerner can scarcely comprehend. In a country where the truth often amounts to the same thing as a lie, it hardly seems surprising that there is no singular, concrete account of what happened to this middle-ranking Siamese official. Some say he was innocent of all charges, and cruelly framed by the rival Bunnag family, who were afraid that Pra Preecha’s own Amatayakun family would steal their thunder, and knock them off the top spot as Siam’s number one influential family of rank. Others say that Pra Preecha was a despotic madman, who murdered numerous prisoners working at the Kabin gold mine, while embezzling large sums of money to enrich himself and his family.
On March 11, 1879, Pra Preecha married Fanny Knox, the daughter of the British Consul Thomas George Knox and his Siamese wife, Prang Yen. Some believe that he married Fanny as a way to avoid punishment from the Siamese government. Pra Preecha, sensing the brewing storm, put all of his assets in his wife’s name. Not long after the wedding, he was arrested and put on trial for his alleged crimes.
Meanwhile, Fanny was pregnant with her new husband’s child, which inspired her father to intervene and try to save Pra Preecha. He took his case to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) asking him to help his friend, who he believed was being wrongly framed by the Bunnag family. King Chulalongkorn was a personal friend of Pra Preecha, and made it clear that he had no wish to see him punished if he was not guilty of the alleged crimes. During this time, more scandalous rumours of Pra Preecha’s malfeasances were surfaced and a number of his family members were also put under arrest.
Knox’s intervention in the affair cost him his post as Consul and he was recalled to London, where he was later given the title Sir Thomas George Knox.
Pra Preecha’s trial got underway in mid-1879. An article in The New York Times of April 12, 1880, said that “[the] trial is admitted by all intelligent persons to have been a complete farce, since he was not allowed to cross-question witnesses who accused him of murder, nor was he permitted to refer to his books when called upon to account for sums drawn by him as expenses for the gold mine.” Although Pra Preecha eventually admitted to stealing gold from the King’s mines, some believe he made the confession in the hope that he would be spared the cruel torture that so many criminals of the time suffered until they confessed. He was found guilty, and his execution date was set for November 24, 1879. Not long before the execution took place, Fanny departed to England along with her newly-born baby and two of Pra Preecha’s children from another marriage.