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Flag 1855-1916 (Thailand)


Last modified: 2005-03-12 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: siam | elephant (white) |
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[Siam 1855-1916 (Thailand)]
by Jan Oskar Engene

See also:


Not all flag books are in agreement on when the various flags of Siam/Thailand were introduced. (...) In 1855 the chakra was dropped, leaving only the white elephant on the red field. Sources: Crampton 1992; Jos Poels 1990; Crampton 1991.

From contributions by
Roy Stilling, 21 February 1996
Jan Oskar Engene, 3 October 1996 and
Mark Sensen, 3 March 1997

The Flags of the Principal Nations of the World 1837 flag chart, printed by Hinnman and Dutton, shows Siam with a red field and a white disk in the center. (...) The flag next to Siam in my chart is Burma — a red field with a white elephant facing the fly. If anyone has a copy of Norie and Hobbs 1848 (or the German reprint, Norie and Hobbs 1971) they should check Siam out.

Nick Artimovich, 3 April 1998

From the Singha Beer source:

During the reign of King Rama IV, Thailand signed more and more treaties with various Western powers. Realizing however, that plain red flags were used by several other countries as well, thus making it difficult to differentiate between them and the national flag, a white elephant was placed in the center, thereby creating a new national flag.

Santiago Dotor, 26 October 1999

The flag is dated 1855 but it appears in an 1848 flag book (Norie and Hobbs 1848). How does this fit?

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

According to The booklet of Thai Flags, Thailand Fine Arts Department, 1977, the 1782-1817 and 1817-1855 flags were used as state flag together with the plain red flag as civil flag until the white elephant on red flag was introduced in 1855 by Rama IV.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 22 September 2002

There are more than 15 flags displayed in the Church of St. Louis des Invalides (Paris). You can see a picture of the display. (Click on the picture to get a larger one)

You may notice [...] a red flag with a white elephant, most probably a flag of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Ivan Sache, date not given

[1893 Siam Flag]from Ian Sumner

The flag is Thai, captured in a war between France and Siam (as it was then) in 1893. The sheet is red, 214cm x 326cm, the elephant is beige with the detail marked on the animal in brown ink or paint. I don't have any info. on what the flag was used for, but it is described as a 'pavillon' rather than a 'drapeau'. I'm sending a scan of the flag showing its appearance after restoration in the 1990s, taken from Revue de la Socie'te' des Amis du Muse'e de l'Arme'e, No.116 (1998) p.87.

Ian Sumner, 4 October 2002

Unidentified Variant 1910-1917

From the Singha Beer source:

During the reign of King Rama VI [1910-1925], Decree R.S. 129 concerning flags was amended. The new national flag that emerged consisted of a red background and a white elephant in a decorative harness with all the trappings, with its back towards a pole rising from the center of the raised dais on which it was standing.
I wonder if the latter is the same as the War Ensign 1891-1917.

Santiago Dotor, 26 October 1999

When describing the crown prince's flag, the Singha Beer source mentions Decree R.S. 129 to date from B.E. 2453 (1910 AD). So maybe the new national flag described above is the unidentified ensign 1910-1917?

Santiago Dotor, 26 January 2005

Flags in The King and I Movie

I recently watched the remake of The King and I (was that the original English title?). Many flags could be seen in the movie, the most frequent being of course the pre-1916 Siamese flag of red with a white elephant. The King (Mongkut or Rama IV, as he was designated long after his death) and the Crown Prince (the future Chulalongkorn or Rama V) themselves give an explanation to Anna Leonowens of the meaning of the flag, "red is for courage, white for compassion; the white elephant is a very rare species and hence a sign of good luck and an excellent present". Actually later in the film the King needs to disseminate the purported appearance of a white elephant, and everybody in Bangkok is shown waving small national flags.

At the royal palace and in royal processions, the national flag is only shown flanking the king. The most common flag shown in palace is a red triangular flag with a golden border with flammules. The bottom side is horizontal, like in other ancient Far Eastern royal flags. However, once or twice other triangular flags with flammules are shown (this time white flags with multicoloured designs and flammules) with a horizontal upper side. Maybe this is a mistake?

During a night party in palace, the only flag displayed is dark blue with a red border on all sides. This could well be 1891-1910 Royal Flag, wrongly attributed to a former date (the action takes place in the early 1860s).

Finally, as the royal family is fleeing to a refuge in the jungle using a ship, this displays the national flag on the mizzenmast but as ensign it carries a blue flag with a white (and as far as my eyes could tell, not caparisoned) elephant [similar to the Flag on State Buildings].

Santiago Dotor, 17 January 2000

That movie is pure entertainment and that's all — there was no Chinese Community by the City Wall (the Chinese live in Sampheng-Yaowarat area which is outside the city wall), Wat Phrakaeo has no Buddhist monks (except during Royal Buddhist ceremonies) etc. Therefore, it is quite moronic to beleive that "red is for courage, white for compassion". The white elephant reference is quite close to the actual meaning. White elephants are auspecious creatures which are bounded to the life of kings. If the elephants died (in the case of the only white elephants during his reign), it meant that the king passed away or forever lost his power to rule the country.

The flag waving is quite a modern thing that never appear[ed] during the reign of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn even though some degree of Thai nationalism began to emerge. As for other flags (triangular flags), they are merely signs to the subjects that the king is coming. Ajarn Phaothong Thongjuea is a Thai professor who worked as a consultant for 20th Century Fox for this movie and might give further explanations.

Wisarut Bholsithi, 17 January 2000