– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Early Thai students at Balliol College

Notes by Anna Sander, college archivist and curator of manuscripts, 2016.


The Universities Tests Act opened Oxford to non-Anglicans in 1871; before this date, membership of the University, and the right to take Degree Examinations, was closed not only to non-Christians, but also to British Roman Catholics, Protestants and Non-Conformists. This profound change took effect gradually; Balliol was among the first colleges to open in practice and principle, as well as in theory, to overseas students and those of other faiths. Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses 1715-1886 includes a final section on ‘Indians, etc.’ (shown below) – students from the Indian subcontinent and what would have been referred to then as the Near, Middle and Far East. The college affiliations speak for themselves. There are in fact 15 Balliol men on the list of 22 names; Tomatsune Iwakura transferred to Balliol in Hilary Term 1874. In addition, Jogendra Nath Sircar (Balliol 1874) should also be on the list.


Early Thai students  at Balliol College

The information below is drawn chiefly from the 2nd and 3rd editions of the Balliol College Register (1934), and covers students matriculating from 1871 up to the 1930s. Names are often recorded in college documents with several historical spelling variants and configurations.

1871: As far as can be ascertained from the records, the first Thai student in Oxford was a Balliol man: Sootchai Bhanuwongse [Sootshai Bhanuwongsee], born October 1851, the eldest son of Chruppya [Chao Phya Bhanuwongs], of Bangkok, Siam. He matriculated from Balliol on 25 October 1871, aged 20, and stayed for one year – this was the same year that the Universities Test Act came into effect. Unfortunately we have no other information about his time at Balliol, or any photos.

1873: Two years later the second Thai student, evidently the younger brother of the above, came to Oxford, though not to Balliol College: Surawongse Leck, third son of Chow Phyia of Bangkok. He matriculated from St Alban Hall (later absorbed into Merton College) in 1873 at the age of 19.

Several of the early Thai students attended English schools before coming to Oxford; this would have given them an introduction to English culture, educational systems and institutional life before starting university. More early Thai students at Balliol College, listed in the Oxford manner by year of matriculation (the year they began their Oxford studies) rather than year of graduation:

1883: Prince Svasti Sobhana of Siam (title Somdech krom pra Svasti Vartana Visistha), born 23 December 1865, youngest son of Maha Mongkut, King of Siam. Educated at the Royal College in Bangkok before coming to Balliol in Trinity Term (May) 1884. He stayed two years, until 1886. His Balliol tutors were WH Forbes, a Classicist, and GF Nicholl, Professor in Oriental Languages. He later became a Privy Councillor of Siam; a member of the Board of Local Government, of the Judicial Committee of the Pricy Council, and of the Code Commission of Siam; he was made Special Commissioner Justiciary for the Province in 1891. From 1892-1894 he held the position of First Minister of Justice, becoming Major-General of the Infantry Reserve in 1893. He was made Guardian to the Heir Apparent and was Plenipotentiary in Europe 1893-1897. His active career ended with the post of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 1911-1919; after his retirement in 1919 he was mainly engaged in the study of Sanskrit, Pali, Comparative Philosophy and Buddhist Literature and Law, in connection with which he became a member of the Asiatic Society of Great Britain. He married, in 1900, the Princess Abhabarni, daughter of Prince Bijit: they had four sons and a daughter, who became Queen Rambhai Barni of Siam.


1889: picture3aKitiyakara Varalaksna, Prince of Chandaburi, Siam, born 8 June 1874, eldest son of King Chulalongkorn. Educated at Rockville School in Edinburgh, and privately, before coming to Balliol in Trinity Term (May) of 1890. He stayed at Balliol for two years, and his tutors were WH Forbes and AL Smith, a modern historian. He held the posts of Siamese Government Director General from 1899 and Comptroller-General of Finances from 1902. He became both Minster of Commerce and Communications and President of the Financial Council in 1923, and both a member of the Supreme Council and President of the Opium Commission in 1925. After becoming President of the Civil Service Commission in 1929, he soon retired. He married Apsara Saman, daughter of Prince Devawongse of Siam in 1895: they had six sons and six daughters. Kitiyakara Varalaksna died on 27 April 1931.  Balliol holds one photo of him, PHOT 20.12A Brackenbury Society (Balliol history undergraduates) 1891.


1899: Tanapicture2aya, Mom Chao,born 24 November 1880, son of HRH Prince Chakravarta of Siam. He was educated at Bath College before coming to Balliol for a year. During his time at the college his tutors were AL Smith and HWC Davis, both modern historians. He became Chief of the Foreign Office in HM Private Secretariat in Siam, but died sadly young in 1913. We have one photo (PHOT 30.35) of him, as a member of the Balliol College 2nd Torpid crew, taken spring 1900. Prized as a rowing cox (the person responsible for steering the boat and controlling its speed, and the only one who can see where the boat is going) for his light weight – 8 st 8 lb or 54 kg. This is the traditional position for the cox in these crew pictures – perhaps because it closely resembles his cramped position in the boat.

1908picture7a: Alexander Evelyn Cardew – an Englishman included in the list because of his close connections with Thailand later in his career.  After studying Classics and playing several sports at Balliol, he served in the Egyptian Civil Service from 1913-1924, and became Tutor to Siamese Government Students in England from 1927. He was awarded the Siamese Order of the White Elephant in 1931.


1910: [Waipicture6adyakorn, Wan (Mom Chao); Varnvaidya (HSH Prince);]  Bonsprabandh, Wan Waithayakorn Krommun Naradhip (Major-General HRH Prince), born 25 August 1891, son of HRH Prince Naradhip of Siam. He was educated at King’s College, Bangkok (King’s Scholar) and Marlborough College in England before coming Balliol for a full four-year degree course 1910-1914. His Balliol tutors were FF Urquhart, NS Talbot, a theologian and HWC Davis, another modern historian. He took his BA in 1917 and MA in 1926. After Oxford, he achieved a Lauréat from the École des sciencespolitiques in Paris. Returning to Siam, he entered the Diplomatic Service in 1917, becoming Secretary of the Paris Legation in 1919, First Secretary of the Foreign Office in Bangkok in 1924, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1926, and Minister to London, Brussels and the Hague in 1928. He served as Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations from 1929 and became Vice-Chairman of the World Court Conference in Geneva and Rapporteur to the Assembly in 1930, as well as the Chairman of the Agenda Committee of the Assembly. Following his resignation, he was employed as Head of the English Department at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok before taking up further positions including Ambassador at Washington (USA), Minster of Foreign Affairs and President of the United Nations General Assembly. He became Deputy Prime Minister in 1959. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from Oxford and was decorated with honours from many countries, including the Order of the Crown, Siam; Order of the Sacred Treasure, Japan; Order of the Crown, Italy; Order of the Crown, Belgium; Légion d’honneur, France. He received the rank of His Highness in 1939 and His Royal Highness in 1943. Balliol holds one photo of him (Waddy album 37).

1915 (Pramode Purnasiri) Phya, Buranasiri Bhongse, born 4 December 1897, eldest son of HE Phya Outhen Dhepakasintr Mahindhorn Sanbakanbodi of Bangkok. Educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire before spending a year at Balliol 1915-16 with tutors FF Urquhart and AW Pickard-Cambridge. He subsequently entered the Siamese Civil Service and became Assistant Director-General in the Revenue Department in Bangkok.


Comments are closed.