MAN OF MANY TALENTS
Prince Damrong Rajanupab was a son of King Mongkut (Rama IV), born in the Grand Palace on June 21, 1862. His most outstanding achievement was the conception and implementation of the thesaphiban system, a massive reorganisation of local administration in the late 19th century which substantially improved the efficiency of the provincial judicial, tax collection and expenditure systems.
Of this accomplishment, Dr. Eldon James, writing in 1947, noted: "It was due to him and his work perhaps more than any other, except the King, that internally the Government of Siam was transformed from a mediaeval state into the modern one of today".
The prince received his elementary schooling from tutors in the Grand Palace, studied Pali with respected monks and English with Francis George Patterson. His formal education was rounded off by an introduction to the Buddhist scriptures as a novice at Wat Boworn Niwet, and a two-year course at the Royal Military Academy, after which he served his half-brother, King Chulalongkorn, as a lieutenant in the Royal Household Guard Regiment.
During this period King Chulalongkorn enlisted the held of his brothers to nurture the seeds of a modern governmental system planted by their royal father, bringing to the fore Prince Damrong's deep interest in and dedication to the areas of public administration, history and archaeology.
Noticing that children usually had to absent themselves from school for long periods to help their parents with the planting and harvesting of rice and thus learning to read at a very slow pace, Prince Damrong re-wrote the official textbook, testing his Rapid Learning primer on his own children. As expected, the revised text helped pupils to pick up basic reading skills within six months.
At the age of 28, he was appointed director-general of the Department(now the ministry) of Education. On his return to Siam after leading a Thai mission on a courtesy visit to the Csar of Russia, he was appointed Minister of Interior where he began implementing his massive reorganisation programme.
Among his other major achievements were the establishment of the modern Military Cadet School, the Police Cadet School, Suan Kularb School, Dhepsirin School, and Thailand's first hospital, Siriraj. He was the very first Army chief and also held the posts of president of the Royal Institute, president of the Council the committee to set up Chulalongkorn University and was a member of the Supreme Council of State.
He and his brother, Prince Devavongse, who directed the country's foreign policy, became known as King Chulalongkorn's "right and left hands". Today, because of his achievements in the fields of archaeology, history, literature and religion, he is remembered as the "Father of Thai History and Archaeology".
In 1962, UNESCO included Prince Damrong on its World's Most Important Persons list, making him the first Thai to receive this accolade.
An extremely prolific writer, he continued working despite a chronic heart problem until three days before his death, and then only at the insistence of his physician. He died on December 1 , 1943, at Varadis Place, aged 81.
On November 28, 2001, to honour the remarkable contributions the prince made to the country, the government declared that December 1 would thereafter be known as "Damrong Rajanupab Day".