The Dane Who Saved the North

Captain Hans Marqvard Jensen was born in Denmark in 1878. In 1900 around Christmas he arrived Bangkok as a Premier Lieutenant at the age of 22. Two years later he succesfully defended the key town of Lampang against a Shan rebellion but unfortunately he was killed a few days later when trying to pursue the rebels.

Hans Marqvard Jensen, Captain, was killed in battle south of Phayao, Northern Siam, (renamed Thailand in 1939) on October 14, 1902, when only 24 years old.

Some long-time residents, commonly referred to as ‘farang,’ and a few newcomers know the name and talk about him, shaking their heads, and sometimes shuddering. Imagine, alone and dying in the middle of nowhere, and him only 24. The talk is mostly based on guesswork and theories, but in two articles I will provide some facts about Hans and his life—he deserves it.

HANS

In 1902 a small parcel was sent from the town of Odense, Denmark, to Siam. It arrived in Bangkok Harbor onboard one of The East-Asiatic Company’s (EAC) regular ships early in November 1902. Mr. Guldberg of the company knew that Captain Jensen was dead and on the 18 November the parcel was forwarded to ‘The Danish Majesty’s Acting Consul General, Mr. d’Abaza’ When opened, it “proved to contain six tins of Van Hoyten’s cocoa and a pair of new patent leather boots.”

His favorite beverage and needed footwear never received; a micro snapshot of the young man behind the ‘declared hero of war’ renown. We don’t have many such images of him personally, although a few will be mentioned later, but we do know more of the frame of his young life, and it is one of the sagas of the farangs in Siam-Thailand.. His name has been recalled through the years, and never completely forgotten.

Hans was born in Vindegade 54, Sct. Knuds Parish, Odense, on April 3, 1878. Vindegade is a part of one of the very old districts in the town center, quite near the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and the idyllic ‘The King’s Garden’. His father, Rasmus Jensen, was registered in the census papers as a carpenter, his mother Marie, as a housewife. Hans had an older sister, too. The family lived in the front house on the plot and had a maid. Besides being a carpenter, his father also owned a small farm in Bolbro, at that time in the outskirts of Odense.

As a young man, Hans was first trained as merchant-clerk, then went on to do his compulsory military service.
From the military archives we then learn that Hans served in The Royal Life Guards in Copenhagen. He was accepted at the officers’ academy and appointed second lieutenant the eighth of October 1898. It is mentioned that Hans Marqvard Jensen was E.K 3a [egnet for krigstjeneste]. In translation it reads: ‘Fit for service in war’. And into war he went, to one of the most isolated places of Northern Siam.

In the autumn of 1900, Marqvard Jensen was seconded from the Danish army and assigned as second lieutenant in ‘The Royal Siamese Provincial Military Police’. From urban Copenhagen and a secured career, to wooden villages and elephant tracks around 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, a mind-blowing difference in everything from climate to food and eating habits.

Why was Hans offered the job and why did he accept this faraway position? Perhaps a love of adventure, but we don’t know his inner or personal motives. There are no signs of coercion—from personal problems such as debt for example. Furthermore, he was single. Hans’ father died shortly before he left for Siam that might have influenced his decision.

But what we do know is that around the turn of the century there were close and cordial personal relations between members of the Royal House in Bangkok and the Royal House in Copenhagen. The East-Asiatic Company (EAC) had major teak concessions and other businesses in Siam, and was closely related to both Royal Houses; they acted as liaison and had a material interest in peace and stability.

King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1853-1910) was absolute monarch and the great modernizer of Siam, from railroads to schools. The country itself could provide neither skilled labor nor technicians and engineers. The King was wary of colonists, since the neighbor to the west, Burma, was a British Colony, Laos to the north and east, French. For skilled labor, technicians and other professionals, the king often preferred foreign expert help from minor countries without colonial aspirations. For example the admiral of the Siamese fleet Andreas Richelieu was a Dane, son of a pastor in Jutland. He later became a member of the board of directors of EAC.

The commander of The Royal Provincial Military Police was another Dane, the highly respected Colonel, later General, Gustav Schau. He had many Danish officers in his service.

With all these close interconnected relations it could well be imagined that the tall, blond young man was patted on the shoulder by high ranking superiors and encouraged to accept some years of service in the Far East.

Hans Marqvard Jensen arrived in Bangkok onboard an EAC freighter around Christmas 1900.


The road from Lampang to Chiengrai, Kilometer 130 

It was around Christmas 1900 that Hans Marqvard Jensen arrived in Bangkok. He was ready to start his career as newly appointed Premier Lieutenant in The Royal Thai Provincial Military Police, or ‘Gendarmerie’ as it was then often called. This institution was formed by the government of the absolute Monarch King Chulalongkorn in 1897, with a Dane, then Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Schau, as its first commander in chief. It also included many Danish officers in the ranks.

The overall task of the corps was to keep some order in the provinces, where no other real force, such as police, existed. Murders, gang robberies and theft, especially of cattle and teakwood, were rampant. Smuggling of opium, too, was widespread, thereby bypassing the government’s monopoly on this trade. The Sovereign needed to establish his authority, especially in the disputed and very unruly areas of The North.

The young Premier Lieutenant of 22 years was first stationed at the corps facilities in Nakorn Ratchasima, then (and often still) known as Korat. From there, he went to Prachinburi, Ayutthaya, and finally Chiang Mai in early 1902. He must have lived a disciplined and Spartan life. A list of his belongings includes almost exclusively necessities such as a mosquito net, one tent, a lot of sundries for making cartridges, a travelling trunk, some plain teak-wood tables, one plain teak-wood bedstead, one carry stove, one camp wash basin, cartridges, two pairs of spurs, the most needed kitchen utensils and two egg-cups, etc. No luxuries or precious items at all.

Among ‘extras’ Hans possessed were two sitting Buddha images, a Richard Andree’s famous World Atlas, a native sword, one cigarette case, an open box of cigars and ten photographs in frames; presumably images of the family back in Odense, Denmark.

In the spring of 1902 Bangkok had virtually no control over the situation in The North. The region was at that time not fully integrated into Siam. Furthermore, many migrant workers, mainly belonging to the Shan tribe from Burma, felt oppressed and humiliated by the Southern Siamese officials. Consequently they started a rebellion. From the mines where they were working, they went to the provincial town of Phrae, looted the place, and killed the governor and at least 20 officials.

After some skirmishes with gendarmes and militia, who eventually ran away, they got hold of a large number of efficient German Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and some ammunition. Then they marched on Lampang, south of Chiang Mai, a much bigger and wealthier provincial town. Geographically Lampang was sort of the ‘key’ to The North. These historical details to establish the context, in which Marqvard Jensen played the major role, became the Hero of Lampang — and died. He was sent to the town from Chiang Mai with orders to lead the town defense. In Lampang, barricades were built and a colorful group of militia and gendarmerie were supposed to defend the place. In the meantime officials and their numerous staff fled to Chiang Mai with all the valuables.

Marqvard Jensen managed to beat off the Shan, he himself in the frontline of the battles, lasting for days, around in town, encouraging, stopping mutiny and sidetracking infighting. When also the Shan leader got killed, the survivors ran away, beaten.
A few days later Marqvard Jensen decided to pursue the Shan back towards Phrae, and set out with a small contingent of gendarmerie. At kilometer 130, near the village of Ngao, south of Phayao, they were engaged by another group of Shan from Laos, and as bad luck would have it, he got shot in the left side of the breast and died. His troops then fled. What was left of the allegedly mutilated body was picked up the next day and taken back to Lampang, but there were no further attacks on this important town.

The Ministry of The Interior in Bangkok recognized Marqvard Jensen’s victory and bravery by for many years decorating the Entrance Hall with an enlarged photo of him. I have no doubt that the Minister knew and acknowledged that the defense of Lampang broke the back of the Shan rebellion. After this battle, regular army troops were hastily sent up from central Siam and some order restored.

The Burmese Shan were British subjects, and in the event of their success, the colonial power might well have felt tempted to occupy Northern Siam. In fact, there were strong rumors to that effect.

On the 16th of October 1902, an official memorandum, a Death Certificate, was forwarded from Captain August Kolls, liaison officer of the Gendarmerie, to the acting Danish Consul General, Mr. d’Abaza. The memorandum states that “Captain Hans Marqvard Jensen was shot to death on the 14th of October, 1902 at Muang Ngao, Nakon Lampang”. Somewhere along the way he had been promoted to Captain.

On the 7th November, the Consulate acknowledged that they had received from Colonel G. Schau “1000 Ticals, being the amount due to the late Captain Jensen as his salary for September and October, 1902”. His salary was 500.00 Tikal’s per month, worth approximately 485.00 Danish Crowns (In 1897 the exchange rate was stipulated as 1 Tikal = 0.97 Danish Crowns). At the same time, by comparison, a blacksmith at Allerups Machine Works in Odense, Denmark, earned around 110.00 Danish Crowns per month. So, absolutely a fair salary, but not exorbitant taking conditions and hardships into consideration.

The story doesn’t quite end here, though. King Chulalongkorn went out of his way to honor Hans Marqvard Jensen. He donated the tombstone, formed as an obelisk, still to be seen at the graveyard for foreigners in Chiang Mai. He also decided to award Hans’ mother, Marie Jensen, an annual pension of 3,000.00 Tikal’s per year, half of her sons’ salary. She was a widow, and in accordance with Siamese traditions, her only son should have taken care of her in old age. She enjoyed the pension, administered by EAC, until she died in 1938.

Captain Marqvard Jensen’s bravery is not forgotten, and his name has been recalled now and then through all these years.
In 1929 a Dane, Mr. Steiner wrote to The Committee for The Danish Society and told them that the original eight foot tall memorial post at kilometer 130 had fallen to pieces. It bore the inscription: ‘Here fell Captain Jensen in a battle with the Shan’ (translated from Thai).

Mr. Steiner then collected two pieces with the inscription and forwarded them to the Society. He then suggested that the small area where the Captain actually fell, 30 meters from the road should be registered and that a small memorial stone should be placed there. He asked the Society to bear the expenses.

Someone financed a small durable memorial, which is still there today.

Recently a foreign friend told Mr. Torben Poulsen, a Dane residing in Chiang Mai, that the inscription on the obelisk of Hans Marqvard Jensen was no longer readable and the stone was dirty. He asked the Embassy for support to renovate the memorial, but in the end found that all he needed was some scouring powder and a bit of elbow grease. He then did the job himself.

And so, the name of the courageous Danish Captain who broke the back of the Shan rebellion and helped the Kingdom regain control of the North is again readable and his reputation lives on – at least among us who live here, know the conditions and respect him.

………………
I would like to thank archivist Lena Stabel Larsen, The Public Record Office (Rigsarkivet) in Copenhagen for her invaluable assistance in finding old and odd documents in the archives.

 

Related Posts

  2 comments for “The Dane Who Saved the North

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *