James Campbell

Portrait of James   Campbell

Dr. James Campbell was a British naval surgeon, a naturalist and a geographer based in Bangkok in the 1850s-1870 where, as the 'physician to the British Legation', he treated the Queen of Siam and the small community of Western expatriates. According to Anna Leonowens, he attempted to save the life of King Mongkut's "favorite daughter", Fa-Ying, stricken by cholera, to no avail, in May 1863.

As a geographer, James Campbell helped Henri Mouhot in setting up his travels -- the latter thanked him (along with botanist and explorer Robert Hermann Schomburgk in the English version of his travelogue --, and assisted various expeditions to Angkor (then under Siamese rule).

Dr. Campbell was appointed physician to the Bangkok British Legation (or Consulate) -- installed by Charles Bartlett Hillier in 1856 -- on Jan. 29, 1857. His medical research led him to publish an article on puberty average age among Thai girls -- "On the Age at Which Menstruation Begins in Siam", communication read to the Obstetrical Society of Edinburgh, 6 Aug. 1862.) and released in Edinburgh Medical Journal, Sept 1862 --, in which he noted that

I have been told that the Siamese now menstruate at an earlier age than fifty years ago; and an old nobleman, who adheres to this view, once called some of his aged dependents to illustrate the point: he failed, however, as most of the aged women gave a year earlier than that which obtained in the cases of their daughters. He likewise gave as a reason that, in his youth, women of fifteen and upwards were wont to bathe nude in the rivers and canals, whereas now, from more speedy development, they never do so at that age.

His numerous scientific interests included meteorology, and in 1860 the Bangkok Calendar published his 'Meteorogical Tables', along with those drafted by Rev. Jesse Caswell, a priest working under the patronage of the American Missionary Association. In a letter to Dr. Bradley on 1st January 1859, Campbell had noted that

The temperatures I believe to be the most correct of any recorded for Bangkok: for I take it those hitherto noted were not from self-registering instruments, or if so, that they were not so accurate as those now made. My thermometers were tested at Kew and Greenwich observatories. The same remarks apply to the Hygrometer." [see Hugh Campbell Highet (1867-1872, who succedeed James Campbell at the Legation], "The Climate of Bangkok", Journal of Siam Society, 9, 1912]

On a 1861 map of Bangkok, it appears that Dr. Campbell's house, south of the Fort on the Menam River, was adjacent to the British and French Consulates, and close to the American Mission and to Mgr Pallegoix's residence. In 1870, he was still listed as the Consulate Surgeon in the Chronicle and Directory for China, Japan and The Philippines (Hong Kong, 1870).

The British Consulate General in Bangkok, 1875 (illus. in Illustrated London News, 6 Feb. 1875)