American Consul, Carl C. Hansen – a respected Danish Doctor in Siam

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We have detailed information about many of the Danes who lived in old Siam; either because they wrote themselves or because other people wrote about them. Andreas Richelieu and Captain Sølling, for example, guide us, with admiration, into the life of Consul Købke, back in the 1870’s. Detailed or just controllable knowledge is sparse regarding Dr. Carl C. Hansen.

Meanwhile, a misty day in late November 2012, we are walking the big and colorful Presbyterian Graveyard in the northern town of Lampang, Thailand. In front of us we now have three identical black granite stones, cut from one long piece; Memorial over Dr. Hanson and his two daughters; the inscriptions are almost invisible, since the stones are almost buried in the soil and in vegetation, but Pastor Tinakorn of the church, knows the burial place and takes us directly there.

It is as if Dr. Carl C. Hanson also in living life preferred to remain in the shades, half hidden in the wings; this although his life was most extraordinary, that kind of life fairytales are made of. Not one friend to be found and not one foe, no ‘Købke anecdotes’ are circulating – and of course, only sparse sources and sometimes these are in conflict with each other. Nevertheless we couldn’t allow the graves just to disappear, so with grants from The EAC’s Public Fund we started a renovation.


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The renovation and the fact finding

Early December 2012 the efficient but careful graveyard contractor has managed to get the stones up, now lying on the ground, readable; the Doctor’s data with the American Coat of Arms (the flags, not the Eagle) engraved on the upper part of the stone. Clear and readable are the data’s of his daughters Ruth who died four years old and June who died one and a half years old.

Then to the little more we know with certainty: Carl was born in 1862 in the parish of Povlsker, Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea to the East of Sjælland. He was the fourth out of seven siblings in an ordinary family of fishers and farmers. After confirmation he became a Nexø shoemaker’s apprentice. Then there is a lacuna – we next meet him as a student of San Francisco Theological Seminary and then medical student at one of the most prestigious Universities in the USA, Cooper Medical College at Stanford.

From here he graduated as Medical Doctor. My theory is that he early in life got in contact with Presbyterians missioners. In religious matters they were in reality not far from the Nordic Protestant faith and they were already heavily engaged in the hospital and Health Care world, maybe they saw the talent and threw their weight behind Carl’s education!

Support and marriage

Now in mid December 2012 the contractor is measuring the burial places and starts to build the low cover structures, ‘Northern Siamese Christian style’, not sarcophagus, only raised 20 centimeters or so. Much cement is used to support where the headstones will be placed.

Seemingly early in 1895 Carl married Lillian D. Reinhart. They were then both working for the Presbyterian Church and supposed to support each other also regarding work. They travelled to Lampang in order to take over the responsibility of the church hospital there:  “At this time [1895] the medical work was taken over by Carl. C. Hansen and Mrs. Hansen. This marked a new era in medical work. For fourteen years the work was carried on under their leadership and the prestige of the hospital was much increased. In 1908 on the resignation of Dr. Hansen…….” (Mc Farland, p. 133).

Mrs. Hansen involved herself in teaching, she had two ‘Bible women’ to help her and: “They now have on their list of women learning to read, twenty five persons, half of whom are outsiders. The two workers are employed fulltime and could easily find more work than they can overtake .”  (‘Laos News’*, October 1908, p. 76).

So the couple was still working together at this time, but they had a home leave in 1909, where we assume that at least Mrs. Hansen went back to the US. During the period  they decided to resign from their posts in ‘The Service of the Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church, USA’.

Back in Bangkok and finally Lampang revisited

In Bangkok Dr. Hansen, now alone, ‘while wife and children travelled back to America’ (Kann Rasmussen, p. 126). He sat up a General Practice and established a Pharmacy – always needed in the mangrove swamps. In the years that followed his wife visited only a few times and then briefly. We don’t hear more about more children who eventually followed their mother home in 1909.

It is noted that Dr. Hansen was a great collector of Siamese art, but also that he was very reluctant to show his purchases. He only opened the boxes for very close friends. I cannot help wonder what was in reality in the boxes, Buddha’s or?

One, normally reliable, source mentions that the doctor presumable died in the US. That at least is not the case. He died the 2nd of August 1929 in Bangkok. The coffin was sent with the Post Train to Lampang and the burial took place the 5th of August. An article mentions how his coffin was carried to the grave by his daughters together with old friends from the town. At the Consulate building the flag was on half mast. -Again these living daughters that we have not heard of before-.

It is also of importance that we from the article learn that the American consulate was established in Lampang while Dr. Hansen was a resident of the town and with him as the consul we believe.

The 1st of February 2013 the renovation is complete. It is the tradition here to plaster Christian burial places with white or light-colored tiles. We don’t follow the tradition, but let the three burial places show in dyed gray smoothened cement, it match the stones.

Pastor Tinakorn and I are on the graveyard. The pastor gives a little prayer. We arrange the flowers – flowers are the optimistic link between them and us, still around for a little while.

Local obituary

An obituary on Dr. Carl C. Hansen was published by Bangkok Times on 3 August 1929. It reads:

DEATH OF DR. CARL C. HANSEN

We regret to record the death of Dr. Carl C. Hansen, Honorary Vice Consul for America, in Bangkok, for many years. Dr. Hansen like most elderly men felt his years at times, but considering his long and continuous residence in Siam, enjoyed remarkably good health until between two or three month ago. He tried living in different parts of the town but his illness was incurable – cancer of the intestines it is believed – for he would not have medical treatment. For some weeks past he had been gradually growing weaker and weaker. He died last evening at eight o’clock at his residence near the American Legation. By his own wish he will be buried in the Lampang Christian cemetery where two of his children lie buried and where several colleagues of an earlier generation are at rest. Dr. Hansen enjoined that no service be held over his remains in Bangkok. The coffin will travel by the express tomorrow to Lampang, and Dr. Aller G. Elis will journey by the same train. A funeral service will take place at Lampang prior to the interment.

Carl Hansen was born in Denmark and graduated in medicine in San Francisco. He married Miss Lilian [Lillian] D. Reinhart, and prior to coming to Siam, both served in Persia, where perhaps the doctor first began the absorbing hobby of his life – collecting. He joined the American Mission in 1898 [1894] with his wife, and settled down happily to the busiest part of his life. Thirty-one years ago foreign doctors were still few and far between in the north, and apart of the growing claims of the Lao people for the benefit of foreign medicine and surgery Dr. Hansen found his practice extending among the timber firms, later more numerically strong perhaps than now. The doctor’s reputation as a skilful surgeon – especially in cases of stone – brought him reward. For fourteen years and Mrs. Hansen carried on the work of the mission hospital and its prestige increased. Dr. Charles H. Crooks followed on after Dr. Hansen, and the hospital is now known as the Charles T. Van Santwood Hospital and Lampang Dispensary.

When Dr. Hansen left the north he settled in Bangkok, and Mrs Hansen and the children went to America. They once visited Siam, some eight years ago perhaps. Dr. Hansen practised little in Bangkok. He opened a dispensary but, that like his Consular duties, merely occupied the fringe of his time.

“Buddha” Hansen as he was known amongst collectors had friends in Denmark, in New York and many other places, and while he disposed of much to them, there were pieces with which he refused to part. These were never properly set forth, but sometimes he could be persuaded to open up baskets used long ago on the trail, Shan bags and other paraphernalia wherein he kept many treasures, and tell the story of their acquisition. When he first settled down he sold of a lot, many pieces went to add to Royal collections, for the north was not so get-at-able then as now. Inaccessible to all but a few, to outsiders it appeared he spent a lonely life, but his hobby absorbed his real interests.

He was sixty-seven years of age. The widow and two daughters are living at Berkeley (Cal). One has married, and the other is now teaching.
After the funeral, Bangkok Times reported on 7 August 1929:
LATE DR. HANSEN
The funeral of the late Dr. Carl C. Hansen took place in the Lampang Christian cemetery on Monday afternoon at five o’clock, the coffin having arrived that day from Bangkok by the mail train. The Rev Loren S. Hanna took the service, and Mrs. C. H. Crooks sang a solo, and hymns were sung. Old friends of the deceased or their children carried the coffin to the grave. It was covered with the American flag and many wreaths from Lampang and Chiengmai. The flag of the British Vice-Consulate flew at half mast during the funeral.
Post Scriptum: I’m well aware that the international Presbyterian Church has systematic archives and that I, by digging some more, could learn more, much more. Nevertheless I have decided not to. Dr. Hansen was not a public figure like e.g. Købke, Richelieu, H.N. Andersen – and he obviously didn’t invite to be.  When certain men play an important public role for e.g. the development of a certain country, we have the obligation to search for all details. That does not seem to be the case here, so: R.I.P.

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