Doctor, health officer, newspaperman, advisor to a king, and family man--Dan Beach Bradley was all of those things and more. When he died on this day, June 23, 1873, in Bangkok, the nation of Siam (now known as Thailand) lost a true friend.
Dan must have been an optimist. He courted his first wife, Emelie Royce, by mail as he headed for Siam to work as a missionary. Emelie worked beside him for ten years and bore him three children. Their work began under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, but a doctrinal dispute terminated the relationship.
Dan was thirty-two when he arrived in Siam in 1835. He fell in love with the land and its people and introduced important improvements into the country.
Siam was subject to many superstitions. It still practiced traditional medicine which had little or no scientific foundation. Fortunately, the kings who reigned during Dan's years were interested in Western innovations. After some initial reluctance, Dan was allowed to inoculate people against smallpox. Once he had proven its success, the king had him inoculate all the personnel of the civil service. It marked the introduction of public health methods to the nation. Dan performed the first modern surgery in Siam and established leper colonies. He constantly advocated reforms and introduced western sciences and technology.
Dan also gets credit for establishing the first newspaper in Siam. With royal approval, he began printing the Bangkok Reporter on July 4, 1844. Eventually he refused to take any more mission funds but supported himself by his press. He developed a type face for the language.
Much of our information about Siam in that era comes from the Reporter and from Dan's diary. He was present when King Mongtuk (Rama IV), in an attempt to free his people from superstitious dread of eclipses, observed one. (The king was an amateur astronomer, but his prediction was exact, a whole two seconds more accurate than the predictions of professional French astronomers.) Dan wrote, "We heard the pipes and trumpets sounding in the courtyard of the Royal Pavilion, it being a relic, we suppose, of the old superstitions about Rahu's swallowing the sun, which their enlightened king did not feel that it would be wise to entirely discount." The king shouted "Hurrah" several times when his prediction proved itself.
After Emelie died, Dan was left with three children under the age of six. While seeking foster care for them at Oberlin College, he was urged to marry a woman he had never met, Sarah Blachly. Like him, she was a graduate of Oberlin and eager to spread the Gospel. The two arranged a meeting and within four days Dan proposed to her. Sarah accepted and they tied the knot. She returned with him to Siam, outlived him by twenty years and never once left for 43 years. She died in 1893. Several of Dan's descendants also served as missionaries in Thailand.
Dan was often consulted by Siam's rulers and sometimes acted as an unofficial ambassador for the United States. He was involved with negotiations when France forced Siam out of Cambodia. Siam escaped with its sovereignty intact.
- "Bradley, Dan Beach." Anderson, Gerald H. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Macmillan Reference; London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1998.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007.