07 April 2014

Jewel History: Romance of Jewels of Siam's Queen (1912)

Saovabha Phongsri, Queen of Thailand [1]
"Romance of Jewels of Siam's Queen"
(originally appeared in the New York Times on 7 Apr 1912)

When Jules Paul de Boseck reaches Singapore, one of the most remarkable trials of the age will begin in the local Criminal Court. Boseck, after a series of adjournments of his case here [2], has finally been remanded for extradition. He is charged with receiving in the Straits Settlements jewels belonging to the Queen of Siam [3], which were alleged to have been stolen in the course of transit between London and Siam. In the last hearing at Bow Street Police Court before Curtis Bennett, Messrs. Bodkin and Roouse appeared for the prosecution and Chief Inspector Bower of Scotland Yard testified.

Saovabha Phongsri [4]
Chief Inspector Bower said that on August 14, 1909, the police received a letter from the Police Commissioner at Bangkok, and the following month he got a box from the same official, which he had kept ever since.

In court on February 9, the prisoner, in the witness's presence, read a deposition made in Singapore, in a paragraph of which the deponent said that Boseck deposited two large pearls, one of which he (the deponent) identified as the centre pearl of the pearl rope and the other as one of the larger pearls belonging to the same rope.

Those two pearls were deposited at the Arcade, Singapore, by Paul de Boseck as security for the advance of $600. Referring to that part of the deposition, Boseck said:

"That is not correct. It was a book debt in respect of my racing. Otherwise I admit the whole of the information as correct. I do not dispute that I had the two pearls, but I do dispute their identity. Can I see them in this country? I know they are at Singapore."

Mr. Bodkin then read a statement in writing made by the prisoner, and handed it to Inspector Bower.

In it Boseck stated that he won 2,000 tickets (about $750) at a Siamese Government gambling house, and that it was universally known that he lent money locally on jewelry. While at the gambling house he was asked by a "steamer's clerk" who had lost all his money, and whom he knew by sight, for the loan of 100 tickets.

He refused to lend unless given sufficient security, and subsequently he received a visit from the man, who said that he had lost all and mroe than he could afford, and wanted an advance of 2,000 tickets, for which he would give security in the shape of a small box of pearls.

Boseck thought that he would run no risk by lending £70 or £80, and he handed the man 920 tickets and got a receipt. The following morning the man again came to him, and said that on the previous night he had returned to the gambling house, and that as he had been unable "to force his luck," he had lost all his money. He wanted a further advance on the security, but he (Boseck) refused to make it until he had seen the pearls by daylight. The statement proceeded:

Saovabha Phongsri as
Queen Mother [5]
"I was thereupon asked by him if I would buy them. I inquired where he got the pearls from, and he admitted that they were stolen, and that he dare not sell them himself. I wanted to know who was the actual owner, but he did not know who the owner was. I understood it (the box) was part of the cargo. I gave him another 500 tickets, and the pearls became mine by purchase.

"My motive in not informing the police was threefold. I thought of the worry and annoyance the matter would cause me because I was in bad health, and a few weeks later I was taken ill with facial paralysis. I had made a continual attack in the press on the police, and public opinion changed radically and led to one royal prince being transferred to another department. Thirdly, it was a notorious matter that when stolen property got into the hands of the police they retained it for their own benefit."

The box in which the rope of pearls was forwarded to Bangkok from London was produced. It was a heavy wooden box, and Mr. Bodkin, in an interesting description, explained how it was tampered with so successfully as to reveal no signs that its valuable contents had been abstracted. "A piece of the lid can be lifted without breaking the seals," counsel said as he handled the box. "A simple sardine opener would open it." The screws could be taken out, part of the lid lifted, and the cases removed from the interior and replaced after their contents had been abstracted. The screws could be put in again, thus refastening the lid, and there would be no sign that the box had been touched.

King Chulalongkorn [7]
Detective Sergt. Burton of Scotland Yard said that at the prisoner's house at Bennett's Park, Blackheath, he found an agreement between Boseck and Winsor & Co., dated 1907, appointing the prisoner Wharf Superintendent at Bangkok, in which position all the goods landed would pass through his hands. There was also a pair of jeweler's scales.

Reginald Smith, a director of the Association of Diamond Merchants, whose premises are at the Grand Hotel Buildings, Charing Cross, said that in April 1909, his firm received an order for a rope of pearls from the King of Siam's [6] chamberlain, Chong Kwa. "Kwa," he explained, was equivalent to the English title "Sir." The pearls were packed in a box which had a zinc lining, and four seals were placed outside, two at each end. The box was entrusted to the steamship company, and the witness and Mr. Margarets sailed on the same vessel.

At Singapore they had to change for Bangkok. They saw nothing of the box until their arrival at Bangkok, where Chong Kwa, in a flustered condition, brought the box to them, and they discovered that it had been tampered with and the pearl rope had disappeared.

The zinc lining had been cut with some jagged tool. The latter was put into the hands of the police and of Lloyd's [8], with whom the pearls had been insured during the voyage. The witness returned to England, but Mr. Margarets remained and was still there.

Boseck stated that he had nothing to urge against his being sent back to Singapore, and Curtis Bennett, as stated, made the order for extradition.

Boseck was extradited, found guilty, and sentenced to a two-year imprisonment in June 1912. [9]

1. Cropped version of a photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. The extradition hearing was held in London.
3. Saovabha Phongsri (1864-1919) was the queen consort of Thailand from 1878 to 1910. She was the daughter of King Mongkut (the Thai king who inspired The King and I); the consort (and, er, half-sister) of King Chulalongkorn; and the mother of two kings, King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok. She was the first queen consort to act as the nation's regent; she was also active in promoting girls' education in the country. She held the title of Queen Mother from 1910 until her death in 1919.
4. Detail of a portrait of Queen Saovabha Phongsri available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
5. Cropped version of an image from the Library of Congress's Bain Collection; source here.
6. Chulalongkorn (1853-1910) was the king of Thailand from 1868 until his death in 1910.
7. Cropped version of a photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
8. Lloyd's of London, founded in 1688, has insured a number of important bejeweled treasures during its history, including the 69-carat Taylor-Burton diamond.
9. See this report from the Colac Herald.