The Land of The White Elephant

by Frank Vincent

Publication: Harper & Brothers, New York | ADB pdf from Googles Numerized Documents

Published: 1874

Pages: 452

Language : English

The First published travel account by an American citizen through the lands of Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Cochin-China, Frank Vincent Jun.'s book is just a gem. Life at the royal courts, lay of the land in the 1870s, description of the early stages of Angkor rediscovery (chapters XX to XXIII), and a reporter-like rendition of a Khmer wedding in Siem Reap 150 years ago showing that traditions are stunningly stable.

In 1871-1872, the author was involved in the development of US-Siam trade which, according to American consul F.W. Partridge consisted mainly in sewing machines and arms from the American part (report to the Senate). He recalls how he prepared his trip to Angkor with the help of J.H. Chandler, Partridge's predecessor who had been a Baptist missionary in Siam during twenty-eight years and had become the King's private secretary: "Mr. Chandler asked His Grace the best and safest route to the temples of Angkor, in eastern Siam, and he replied, 'That by Kabin, through the forests, about east:' the other route being by sea down the gulf to Tung Yai, and then crossing overland to the ruins." Vincent went to Angkor with F.W. Partridge and Rev. S.C. McFarland, an influent Protestant missionary in Siam.

Contrary to other Western travelers of the time, who were prone to lift from or paraphrase Henri Mouhot's account, Vincent's descriptions are precise, colorful and often insightful. When needed, he gladly quotes his sources, either Mouhot or Adolf Bastian, mostly. The origin of the beautiful engravings illustrating the book, however, remains untold. Especially for the Cambodia section, we suppose they were made from photographs by Emile Gsell.

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On the other hand, his map of Siamrap (Siem Reap) area is remarkably accuate, and shows the 'Lichi Mountains' (Phnom Kulen) in the northeast:

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Frank Vincent Junior was an America free agent, mingling with royals around South East Asia during a trip combining business, art recollection and probably some kind of intelligence mission for the sake of US authorities.

His obituary in the New York Times, right beneath renowned French explorer Gaston Maspero's one, shows that he donated his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum.

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Tags: early Angkor rediscovery, Siam, Burma, Khmer history, Khmer traditions, Cambodia Royal Court, travelogue, art collection, American travelers

About the Author

Portrait of Frank   Vincent

Frank Vincent

Frank Vincent Jr. (1847, Brooklyn, NY -1916, New York, USA) was an American explorer, businessman and art collector.

The first American citizen to publish a detailed account on Angkor while he was a guest at the court of the King of Siam, left his important collection of Indo-Chinese art to the New York Metropolitan Museum. He was listed as "Patron" in the Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 36 (1905).

Before him, D.O. King (David Olyphant King), a scion of the Vernon and King families of US-Asia traders from Newport, Rhode Island, had sent a letter to the Royal Geographic Society of London on Feb. 7, 1859, describing his visit to Nokon (Nakhon Wat, Angkor) the year before, and challenging several geographical assertions made by French bishop of Siam Mgr. Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix (1805-1862).

Nevertheless, a witness of that time, Jacob T. Child (1832-1905), who was Minister Resident (Consul General) of the USA in Bangkok from 1884 to 1888, wrote in his memoirs -- The Pearl of Asia, Reminiscences of the Court of a Supreme Monarch or Five Years in Thailand, Donohue Henneberry & Co., Chicago, 1892 -- that "while making a tour of the East, Frank Vincent, Jr., in company with Rev. S. I. McFarland, made a visit to Angkor, the first Americans that had penetrated the vast wilds of that section, and in his "Land of the White Elephant" gives an elaborate description of Nagkon Wat, which has also been described by M. Mouhut [Henri Mouhot, the American writer struggling with this family name, which he also spelled Mauhut and Mahout!], whose work he drew liberally upon for information, in which he describes this temple as " one of those temples a rival to that of Solomon, erected by some ancient Michael Angelo that might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left us by Greece or Rome." (p 91)

Frank Vincent's Obituary in the New York Times, 1916.