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«Note: Captain Alexander Hamilton collated an account of his voyage to Cambodia and Siam in 1718 with accounts of his experiences in Pegu and ...»

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Captain Alexander Hamilton collated an account of his voyage to Cambodia and Siam in 1718 with accounts of his

experiences in Pegu and elsewhere on earlier travels, as well as information he had gathered about certain other

locations (such as Arakan) in his A New Account of the East Indies (Edinburgh, 1727). While the original account also included accounts of parts of the Malay world and “Cochinchina,” these have been excluded from the following text. The account begins with a brief account of Chittagong and concludes with eastern mainland Southeast Asia.

The best biographical account of Hamilton is that by William Foster in his introduction to the 1930 reprint of the text (London, Argonaut Press).


_________ Account of Pegu and the Voyage to Cambodia and Siam in 1718 Captain Alexander Hamilton Chittagong Xatigam [Chittagong] is a town that borders on Bengal and Arackan, and its poverty makes it a matter of indiffer- ence whom it belongs to. It was here that the Portugueze first settled in Bengal, but the dangers their ships run in coming thither in the South-west monsoons, made them remove to the bandel at Hughly. The Mogul keeps a Cad- jee or judge in it, to administer justice among the pagan and Mahometan inhabitants, but the offspring of those Portugueze that followed the fortune of Sultan Sujah, when he was forced to quit Bengal, are the domineering lords of it. It is not so fertil in corn as Bengal, and has but few cotton manufactories, but it affords the best timber for building, of any place about it. The river has a deep enough entrance, but is pestered with sand banks, and some rocks within. I have known some English ships forced from Point Palmeira by stress of weather thither, and had safe riding till the North-east monsoons came to relieve them. The government is so anarchical, that every one goes armed with sword, pistol, and blunder-bush, nay, even the priests are obliged to go armed, and often use their arms to as bad ends as the licentious laity, and some of the priests have died martyrs to villainous actions.

Arakan Arackan is the next maritim[e] country to the Southward of Bengal, and in former times made some figure in trade.

It was into this country that the unfortunate Sultan Sujah came a supplicant for protection, when Emirjemal chased him out of Bengal. He carried his wives and children with him, and about two hundred of his retinue, who were resolved to follow his fortune, and he carried six or eight camels load of gold and jewels which proved his ruin, and in the end, the ruin of the kingdom of Arackan.

When Sultan Sujah first visited the king of Arackan, he made him presents suitable to the quality of the donor and receiver, the Arackaner promising him all the civilities due to so great a prince, with a safe asylum for himself and family. When Emirjemal knew where Sultan Sujah had taken sanctuary, he sent a letter to the king of Arackan, wherein he demanded the poor distrest prince to be delivered up to him, otherwise he threatned to bring his army into his country to take him by force. The threatning letter wrought so far on the base Arackaner, that he contrived ways and means to pick a quarrel with his guest, to have a pretext to oblige Emirjemal, at last he found a very fair one.

Sultan Sujah having a very beautiful daughter, the king of Arackan desired her in marriage, but knew well enough that Sultan Sujah would never consent to the match, he being a pagan and she a Mahometan. Her father SBBR 4.2 (Autumn 2006)


used all reasonable arguments to diswade the Arackaner from prosecuting his suit, but in vain, for the Arackaner grew daily more pressing, and Sultan Sujah at last gave him a flat denial, on which the base king sent him orders to go out of his dominions in three days, and forbad the markets to furnish him any more with provisions for his money.

Sultan Sujah knowing it would be death for him to go back to Bengal, resolved to pass over some mountains overgrown with woods, into the king of Pegu’s dominions, which were not above one hundred miles off, and so next day after summons, with his family, treasure, and attendants, Sultan Sujah began his march, but the barbarous Arackaner sent a strong party after him, who overtook him before he had advanced far into the woods, and killed most of Sultan Sujah’s company, and seized the treasure, and brought it back in an inglorious triumph. What became of Sultan Sujah and his fair daughter, none could ever give a certain account; whether they were killed in the skirmish, or whether they were destroyed by wild elephants and tigers in the woods, none ever knew, but the Arackaners alledge they were destroyed by the wild beasts of the woods, and not by the more savage beasts in human shape.

So much treasure never had been seen in Arackan before, but to whom it should belong caused some disturbance. The king thought that all belonged to him, those that fought for it claimed a share, and the princes of the blood wanted some fine large diamonds for their ladies, but the tribe of Levi found a way to make up the difference, and perswaded the king and the other pretenders, to dedicate it to the God Dagun, who was the titular god of the kingdom, and to depositate it in his temple, which all agreed to; now whether this be the same Dagon of Ashdod, mentioned in the first Book and fifth Chapter of Samuel, I do not certainly know, but Dagun has a large temple in Arackan, that I have heard of, and another in Pegu that I have seen.

In 1690, a king of Arackan dying without issue, two princes of the blood quarrelled about filling up of the vacancy, they both took arms, and both had an eye upon the treasure, which so frightned the priesthood, that they removed Sultan Sujah's treasure to another place only known to themselves; and those two hot blades pursued their quarrel so warmly, that in one year themselves and families were intirely cut off, and the kingdom has continued in anarchy ever since.

Arackan has the conveniency of a noble spacious river, and its mouth is both large and deep enough to accommodate ships of the greatest burden into a spacious harbour, large enough to hold all the ships in Europe.

When the English left Bengal in anno 1686. Mr. Charnock came thither with half a dozen of great ships, to pass the South-west monsoons away, the country assisted them plentifully with provisions, but they had no other commerce; they had no less than six fathoms water going in to the river, and in some places within, above twenty.

The country produces timber for building, some lead, tin, stick-lack, and elephants teeth.

The sea coast of Arackan reaches from Xatigam to Cape Negrais, about four hundred miles in length, but few places inhabited, because there are such vast numbers of wild elephants and buffaloes, that would destroy the productions of the ground, and tigers to destroy the tame animals, that they think it impracticable to inhabit it, only some islands in the sea are peopled with some poor miserable fishers, who get their bread out of the water, to keep them from starving, and they live out of the way of oppression.

There are some of the Mogul’s subjects who trade to Arackan for the commodities above mentioned, and sometimes they meet with good bargains of diamonds, rubies, &c. precious stones, and gold rupees, which are to be supposed are some of Sultan Sujah’s treasure, pilfered by the avaricious priests.

There are abundance of islands on the Arackan coast, but they lie close to the shore, only the Buffalo Islands lie about four leagues off, and there is a rock that shews its head above water about the middle of the chanel, between those islands and the continent. The chanels among the Buffalo Islands seem to be clear of danger, and above twenty fathoms water in them, but about eight leagues off the North end of the great island of Negrais, is a dangerous rock that only appears above water in the low ebbs of spring tides, it lies in fifteen fathoms water, and twenty yards off are thirteen fathoms.

The other island of Negrais, which makes the point called the Cape, is a small, low, barren rocky island, it is often called Diamond Island, because its shape is a rhombus. About the year 1704, four French ships went to careen at the great Negrais, and turning in between the islands, one ship of seventy guns called L’ Indien, run aground on some rocks lying on the inside of Diamond Island, and was lost, but the rest saved the men, and all her portable furniture.

Three leagues to the Southward of Diamond Island, lies a reef of rocks a league long, but they do not appear above water, tho’ they are conspicuous at all times by the sea breaking on them. There is a good chanel between the island and them, above a league broad, and eleven or twelve fathoms deep; the rocks are called the Legatti, or, in English, the Lizard.

–  –  –

The sea-coast from Negrais to Syrian Bar, is in the dominions of Pegu, there are some of the mouths of Pegu River open on that coast into the sea. Dolla is the first, about fifty miles to the Eastward of Negrais. China Backaar is another about forty miles to the Eastward of Dolla, and between these openings there is a dangerous bank of black sand, that runs four or five leagues out into the sea, and so far off there are but fourteen foot water. About sixty miles to the Eastward of China Backaar, is the Bar of Syrian, the only port now open for trade in all the Pegu dominions.

If by accident a ship bound to Syrian, be driven a league or two to the Eastward of that river’s mouth, a strong tide carries her on hard sands till she sits fast on them, for anchors are of no use to stop them, because of the rapidity of the current; at low water the ships are dry when on those sands, and the sea leaves them, and retires five or six leagues, at which time the shipwrackt men walk on the sands toward the shore for their safety, for the sea comes back with so much noise, that the roring of the billows may be heard ten miles off, for a body of waters comes rolling in on the sand, whose front is above two fathoms high, and whatever body lies in its way it overturns, and no ship can evade its force, but in a moment is overturned, this violent Boer the natives call a Mackrea.

About six leagues from the bar of Pegu River, is the city of Syrian, it is built near the river’s side on a rising ground, and walled round with a stone-wall without morter. The governor, who is generally of the blood-royal, has his lodgings in it, but the suburbs are four times bigger than the city. It was many years in possession of the Portugueze, till by their insolence and pride they were obliged to quit it. The ancient city of Pegu stands about forty miles to the Eastward of Syrian, the ditches that surrounded the city, which are now dry, and bear good corn, testie that few cities in the world exceeded it in magnitude, for they are reckoned six or seven leagues round their outward polygon.

It was the seat of many great and puissant kings, who made as great a figure as any in the East, but now its glory is in the dust, for not one twentieth part of it is inhabited, and those are but the lower class of people who inhabit it. The cause of the ruin of the kingdoms of Pegu, Martavan, and some others under the dominions of Pegu, I had from some Peguers, in several discourses with them about that revolution, which was thus.

There was great love and friendship between the kings and subjects of Pegu and Siam, being next neighbours to one another, and they had a good intercourse of trade, both by land and sea, till in the fifteenth century, a Pegu vessel being at Odia the chief city of Siam, and when ready to depart for Pegu, anchored one evening near a little temple a few miles below the city, and the master of the vessel, with some of his crew, going to worship in that temple, seeing a pretty well carved image of the God Samsay, about a covet high, fell in love with it, and finding his priests negligent in watching, stole him away, and carried him on board prisoner for Pegu. When the negligent priests mist their little god they were in a deplorable condition, lamenting their loss to all their neighbouring priests, who advised them to complain to the king of Siam of the theft, which accordingly they did, imploring his good offices with the king of Pegu, to have their god sent back; and it happened that by the unseasonable flood in the river that year, there came to be a great scarcity of corn, which calamity was imputed by the priests to the loss of Samsay, upon which the pious prince sent an embassy to his brother of Pegu, desiring the restitution of the image, whose absence had caused so great loss and clamour in his country.

The king of Pegu being as great a bigot as his brother of Siam, would by no means deliver back a god who had fled from the impieties of his native land to him for protection, and with that answer sent back the Siam ambassador, who was not a little mortified with the disappointment.

Since fair means could not perswade the Peguer to send back the little god, the Siamer was resolved to try what force would do, and accordingly raised an army of two or three hundred thousand men to invade the king of Pegu’s dominions, and the first fury of the war fell on the Province of Martavan, being contiguous to the territories of Siam, and with fire and sword destroyed the open country almost to the gates of the city of Martavan, where often the king of Pegu kept his court, and was formerly the metropolis of an independent kingdom, before Pegu reduced that country by conquest to be a province of theirs.

After the Siamer had satiated his cruelty and rage, by the destruction of many poor innocents, he retired back to his own country very much elevated with pride and vain-glory for his great atchievements, but next year SBBR 4.2 (Autumn 2006)


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