The History of the Royal Thai Survey Department

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In the reign of His Majesty King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), it was the beginning of wide country development to avoid the potential threat against Siam’s independence from colonialism.

After the royal visit of the Malay Peninsula, Java and India in 1873, the King hired Mr.Henry Alabaster, former British Ambassador to Thailand, as his private advisor.

Mr. Henry Alabaster suggested the King to improve the country by using many branches of modern knowledge, including beneficial mapping and survey. Therefore, King Rama V initiated that the Mapping Division should be established in 1875 and appointed Mr. Alabaster as its leader, together with Captain Loftus as his assistant. Both cooperated with four Thai officials, including Mom Rajawongse Daeng Tewathiraj , Mr. thad Sirisamphant, Mr. Sud and Mom Rajawongse Chalerm ,and started mapping survey in Bangkok for constructing Chareonkrung Road and other roads. Later, they produced not only the map for laying telegraph cables from Bangkok to Phratabong, the Republic of Khmer, but also the charts in the area of the Siamese Gulf for the benefits of marine navigation and to be used as a guideline to protect coastal areas, for fear of the threats from other countries.

In 1880, the British government asked for the permission from Thai government for allowing the Mapping Division, the Survey Department of India, to enter Thailand. The group’s leader is Captain H.Hill, along with Mr. James F. McCarthy, the assistant, came to Thailand with the purpose of the extension of the triangulation network from Burma to the Chao Phraya River. Moreover, they even asked for marking two control points at Phukhao Thong and Phra Pathom Chedi to check the accuracy. At that time, those kinds of activities worried the Thai government officials, as colonial empires often used explorations as an excuse to enter a country, and colonize it at every opportunity.

King Rama V had carefully considered these problems and agreed with Mr.Alabaster, his private advisor, that he should assent to the request of British government. In addition, taking Mr.Alabaster’s advice, the King asked the British surveyors to help establish the Survey Division in Thailand. Ultimately, Mr.James F. McCarty agreed to join the Thai governmental service in October 1st, 1881, under the command of Defense Chief, whose main duty was to control the provinces and soldiers in the Southern Area. Nonetheless, his direct commanding officer was Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, the commander of the Royal Guard Regiment.

At first, the missions of Mr. James McCarthy included producing thematical maps, as requested by government officials such as the telegraphic map covering the area from Rahaeng to Malamaeng, the map displaying the disputing area between Raman Pattani district and Perak river under British rule, and the map of Maetin river in Tak province connecting with Chiang Mai. Some of those maps were used for the purpose of collecting taxes.

Initially, officers of Royal Guard Regiment were working as Survey Department’s officials. Since the demands for maps were rapidly increasing, the Survey Division couldn’t accomplish all missions alone due to the lack of skilled officers. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, therefore, was commanded to counsel and collaborate with Mr. McCarthy to establish the Survey School for Thai people in late 1882. Thirty of King’s lifeguards were enrolled as the first group of students. Mr. McCarthy and Mr.Henry were appointed as the principal and the assistant principal respectively. They taught about cartographic theory at the Royal Guard Regiment, which was situated beside the Bhiman Chaisi Gate of the Grand Palace, and brought students outside to do the field cartographic trainings in Bangkok and other provinces.

The Survey School had been operated for 3 years, producing a number of graduates, which were enough to establish its own institution. Therefore, it was announced under His Majesty’s command that the graduate surveyors should be separated from King’s Guard Regiment, and the Survey Department be established on September 3, 1885. Mr. McCarthy, who was entitled as Captain Pra Wiparg Puwadol, and appointed as the Director of the Survey Department, worked under His Majesty’s auspices and was commanded by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. At first, the Survey Department was settled in the area of the Survey School.

King Rama Vgreatly changed the bureaucratic system in 1892, dividing it into 12 ministries. The Royal Thai Survey Department which, at that time, was under the authorization of the Ministry of Finance, was being transferred to work under the Ministry of Agriculture. Therefore, in this period, the Royal Thai Survey Department focused on creating deed location maps and land maps in provinces for benefits of governing the country, taxing and trials concerning lands. Mr. R.W. Giblin, the second Director of Royal Thai Survey Department, played an important role in creating the patterns of deed maps to prevent the map counterfeit by using Torren land registering system, and having the maps printed only at the Royal Thai Survey Department.

In 1893, the Royal Thai Survey Department’s headquarters was relocated to Cavalry King’s Guard, and one year later was moved to Saunsunanhalai at Pak Krong Market and was settled there until 1931. The Survey School was moved from the Grand Palace, and was located at the Srapathum Palace’s building, which was counted as a branch of the Royal Thai Survey Department. Moreover, the School expanded its branches to provinces such as Phitsanulok, Prachin Buri and Ayutthaya and et cetera (during 1899-1904) that were used as Regional Mapping Centers.

The Survey Department was under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture until December 1, 1909, and was transferred to work under the Directorate of Staff, Ministry of Defense ,by order of the Prince of Bhitsanulok, who was serving as Chief of the General Staff ,Royal Thai Army. Later, the Directorate of Staff’s structural administration was adjusted, making Survey Department as one of Royal Thai Army’s Departments for 54 years. The Department was renamed many times. Meanwhile, internal administrative division was being constantly improved, in the response of the increasing levels of work complexity.

During 1909-1963, mapping activities were rapidly expanded, to which the Survey Department’s performance contributed. Although many national mapping agencies, such as the Cadastral Survey Department (1910) and the Hydrographic Department, Royal Thai Navy (1921), were later established, the Survey Department, still had to carry out its mapping missions to respond with the increasing demand. In the early days, the method of map production relied on Plane Table Survey, yet this method was not efficient enough to produce the maps in the number that met users’ demands. Therefore, in 1925, under the command of Major General Praya Saiwithanited, Director of Survey Department, aerial mapping was first experimented. This technique was not familiar until 1950 when the Aerial Mapping Organization was established. One year later, the above mentioned organization elevated to the department level, with the cooperation of the United States of America, bound by the Mapping and Cooperative Agreement. Then, the Aerial Mapping Organization was incorporated into the Survey Department on May 12, 1954, and the Department was responsible for photogrammetric mapping since then. After that, the Ministry of Defense greatly adjusted its internal administrative structure in 1963. The Survey Department was transferred to be the Department under the Supreme Command Headquarters and its name was changed to the Royal Thai Survey Department, which has been used until the present.