In August Bangkok’s Big Chilli magazine opened with the short article – ‘Shocking Fate of Queen Victoria’s Statue’. They reported that the statue formerly in the British Embassy grounds had been relegated to the banks of a dirty klong (canal) along Soi Somkid in Central Bangkok:
‘a forlorn and thoroughly undignified sight for such a historically important figure.’
In 1947 the British Mission in Bangkok was re-located from the banks of the Chao Phraya River to a more rural location on the corner of Phloen Chit and Witthayu Roads and upgraded to an embassy. This twelve acres plot of land had been purchased from a Thai-Chinese businessman Nai Lert (1872-1945) whose wealth came from ice making, transportation and real estate including the city’s first bus and taxi services.
A third of the embassy’s estate was sold in 2006 with the remaining portion sold in 2017 to a joint venture of Central and Hongkong Land for a record 20 billion baht making it the highest ever property sale in Thailand. The embassy was relocated to an office tower in Sathorn Road and the war memorial to the British Club on Surawong Road in Silom. Queen Victoria’s statue was included in the sale and although the British Club made a request for the statue it was rejected by the Central Group.
The British Club Bangkok opened at its current location in 1910. The war memorial on the right was rehoused from the former British Embassy in August 2019.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland in 1837 and was granted the additional title of Empress of India in 1876. In Asia there are least three other statues of the Queen still standing each with their own story.
A bronze statue of her gazes out over the headstones of the Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery in Northern Thailand. King Rama V gifted the land in 1898 on conditions that it may be used only for the burial of foreigners and that the: ‘British Consul be the custodian of the land in perpetuity’. The statue was shipped from London to Rangoon in 1903 and then overland by rafts and elephants to Chiang Mai. Her original location was at the British Consulate on the Ping River (now the Anantara Hotel). According to legend she was boarded up during World War II but with two holes drilled near to her eyes. When the consulate was closed in 1978 the statue was moved to its current location.
“Erected as a token of deep reverence and affection for the memory of their late gracious Queen Victoria by her loyal subjects of every race residing in the Chiengmai, Lakon-Lamphang, Phre, Nan, Sawankalok, and Raheng districts of Northern Siam.”
In Hong Kong a bronze statue was originally installed under a canopy at the centre of Statue Square and unveiled on 28th May 1896 to celebrate the Queen’s 77th birthday. During the Japanese occupation it was taken to Japan for melting down but survived and was discovered after the war. The statue was brought back and placed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in 1955.
The Supreme Court & Queen Victoria’s statue, Statue Square, Hong Kong. (Source: Jamie Carstairs)
In September 1996 Pun Sing-lui, a mainland artist, painted the statue red and damaged the Queen’s nose with a hammer before painting himself red. He was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment after claiming his act was a protest over Hong Kong’s ‘dull colonial culture’.
The Queen Victoria memorial statue in Georgetown, Penang is located at the Chinese Recreation Club near the junction of Burmah Road and Pangkor Road. The statue was unveiled on 23rd April 1930 by Governor Sir Cecil Clementi. During World War II the Japanese intended to dismantle it but local citizens boarded her up and prevented removal.
“The Statue of Her Majesty Queen Victoria was erected in 1930 to commemorate her long and glorious reign. The site and the adjacent recreation ground to which the name ‘Victoria Green’ was given were bought by the Chinese Community in 1903 and dedicated for the use of the Chinese community in Perpetuity.”
I’m familiar with those three locations but not Soi Somkid so I took a walk from Sukhumvit to see how shocking it really was. What I found was a quiet, tree lined soi situated between two high end malls – Central Chidlom and Central Embassy. With its high end condominiums and Siri House’s trendy restaurants it is in fact one of the swankiest addresses in Bangkok. The pavements are being resurfaced and the trees are under a preservation order. When work is completed and the hoardings removed the Queen’s statue will be the centrepiece of a leafy walkway that leads to Nai Lert’s former home now open to the public as the Nai Lert Park Heritage Home.
The Nai Lert Park Heritage Home.
Nai Lert designed six boundary markers built to look like cannons with their muzzles pointing to the ground. The only renaining one is at the Wittayau-Ploenchit intersection in Bangkok.
The Thai people have a well known reverence and deep respect for the institution of monarchy. Their Prime Minister ordered all government agencies and state enterprises to fly the national flag at half-mast for three working days to mourn the recent passing of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The old Queen’s statue seems to be in good hands.
“Victoria, Queen of Great Britain & Ireland, Empress of India. Erected in loving memory by her subjects in Siam.”