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About Dan Beach Bradley
Dan Beach Bradley M.D. (July 18, 1804 – June 23, 1873) was an American Protestant missionary to Siam from 1835 until his death. He is credited with numerous firsts, including: bringing the first Thai-script printing press to Siam, publishing the first Thai newspaper and monolingual Thai dictionary, performing the first surgery, and changing the way the people of Siam thought about Western medicines and technology.
Dan Beach Bradley was born on 18 July 1804 in Marcellus, New York. He was the son of Judge and Pastor Dan Bradley of Whitehall, New York, and Eunice Beach. Eunice died soon after giving birth to her son. As a child, Dan Beach Bradley was an astounding scholar and he loved to read. When Bradley was 20 years old, he suffered a week of deafness and it caused him to examine his spiritual life. Two years after this incident, Bradley dedicated his life to serve his Lord: Jesus Christ.
Bradley thought that his age was not appropriate to study for gospel ministry so he began studying medicine in the office of an Auburn physician. Bradley took a brief reprieve from his studies due to health concerns but resumed his studies for a year in Penn Yan, New York. After this year of studying, Bradley attended lectures at Harvard University in 1830 before taking another break to earn money to continue his education. Bradley returned to school in 1832 and graduated in April of 1833 from the College of Physicians and Surgeons with a Doctor of Medicine.
In November 1832, he was accepted as a missionary physician by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Bradley had initially wanted to marry one of his two cousins, Jane Bradley or Hannah Goodyear. Jane, however, was only 16 years old and was not in a position to marry Bradley and Goodyear had no desire to serve as a missionary in Asia. On June 5, 1834, Bradley married Emilie Royce after a brief mail courtship before setting sail together for Siam. Emilie, like Bradley, wanted to serve the Lord as a missionary among the "heathen".
Mission to Siam
On July 2, 1834, Dan Beach Bradley and his wife, Emilie Royce departed from Boston for their mission trip in Bangkok, Thailand. On January 12, 1835, they arrived in Singapore. Due to monsoons devastating the region, Bradley and his wife stayed in an unoccupied London Missionary Society home for six months, when the storms finally passed. Bradley and his wife arrived in Siam on July 18, 1835 after an encounter with Malay pirates that left goods stolen and four crew members dead.
During his first few years in Thailand, Bradley suffered from chronic diarrhea; a sickness that he said had to happen initially in order to survive. After his initial sickness, he enjoyed 30 years of almost unbroken good health. He established a daily routine of cold baths, plain food, and total abstinence from intoxicating beverages. A healthy variety of cares enabled him to find rest by turning from one task to another. Throughout his time in Thailand, he was constantly found singing hymns, reading the bible, and in prayer.
Life as a Missionary
During his time as a missionary, Bradley was consistently at odds with the mission organizations he was sponsored by. On December 4, 1847, Bradley resigned from the ABCFM due to his disagreement with the organization on the doctrine of Christian Perfectionism. With no funds coming from the ABCFM, Bradley was forced to take a three year reprieve to raise funds to return to Bangkok under the sponsorship of another mission organization.
In January 1848, Bradley became associated with the American Missionary Association (AMA). While in America trying to raise funds for his mission, he met Sarah Blachly, who became his second wife on October 1, 1848. At the end of October 1849, they set sail for Siam and after a voyage even more difficult than the first, he was able to resume his vocation in Bangkok by the end of May 1850. His time in America raising funds and getting married was the only break in Bradley’s time in Bangkok.
The AMA gave Bradley limited resources and money during for mission work. Due to this, Bradley had to focus his energy away from the life of a missionary to focus on making money. Bradley worked as a doctor and also as a mercantile to support his mission. Bradley was upset at the lack of converts his mission produced. Bradley pointed out many flaws with the missionaries serving in Bangkok with him and his wife: drunkenness, violence, and addiction to opium. Bradley realized that with this type of behavior being exhibited, the mission work was bound to fail. Many of the missionaries disappointed Bradley by believing that they were superior to the natives of the country. At the time of his death, Bradley had only converted one person.
Much of the money made by Bradley during his time in Siam was from performing medical services for the native people and missionaries. Bradley was perceived as a “Great American Doctor” and had immediate credibility among the people of Siam. Bradley challenged many of the old medical practices of the country, especially women lying by fire after pregnancy for a month, and wrote multiple books on these topics so that native doctors could learn of Western medical practices.
Bradley is credited with performing the first surgery in Siam, removing a cancerous tumor from the body of a slave. After this surgery, Bradley became highly sought after for medical advice from the royal court. While it took a fair amount of time, the royal court gained trust in Bradley and called on him for medical advice for years. Bradley taught royal doctors how to perform the same practices as he did and he wrote numerous books for the purposes of the court.
Bradley’s greatest medical challenge while in Siam was attempting to produce a vaccination for the smallpox virus, which devastated the country and Bradley, killing his eight month old daughter, Harriet. Bradley received many trial vaccinations from Boston, none of which were successful. Bradley solved this problem by using the inoculation tactic. Seeing the success that inoculation had, the royal court once again called on Bradley to vaccinate their children as well as many natives and slaves.
Relationship with Royalty
During his time in Siam, Bradley was almost always associated with the royal family. Prince Chutanami, the brother of Prince Mongkut, had urged Bradley to visit the kingdom in order to convince Chutanami’s, as well as the other women of the kingdom, that the practice of lying by fire after childbirth was harmful to their health. Due to his popularity, Bradley was asked to visit the Queen of Siam. Upon entering the throne room and taking a seat, Chutanami sat on the same level as Bradley, signifying equality.
Shortly after this visit, Prince Chutanami urgently requested the medical services of Bradley to take care of the sickness of Prince Mongkut. When the treatment of Bradley healed Mongkut, a friendship was born between the two. While the medical attention given by Bradley linked him with the royal family for the remainder of his life, it was not until 1835, when Bradley brought a Siamese printing press to Siam from Singapore, that their relationship truly flourished. By royal request, Bradley printed The Opium Edict in 1839, which marked the beginning of printing public documents in Siam. Mongkut took a strong interest in the printing press and after he took a visit to London, Bradley and Mongkut made the first copyright transaction in the history of Siam in 1862, a travel journal of Mongkut’s visit. With royal approval, Bradley founded the first newspaper in Siam, the Bangkok Recorder which was published monthly from 1844-1845 and 1865-1867. He also printed the annual almanac, the Bangkok Calendar, from 1859 till his death.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked outcomes from Bradley’s relationship with royalty is the change that took place in the education system. Mongkut valued education very highly and Bradley created boarding schools for native children to learn in a Western education setting. The boarding schools, while unsuccessful for multiple reasons, showed the emphasis put on education in Siam during this period. Bradley advised the royal court to pursue education until his death. As an advocate for education, Bradley held high regards for Anna Leonowens, the educator of Mongkut’s children. Bradley admired the perseverance of Leonowens even though she was not treated with respect from the natives. Bradley did admit, however, that Leonowens did not have a significant impact on Siam which is contrary to what she reported in her novel Anna and the King of Siam.
Other Key Contributions
Dan Beach Bradley led quite an astounding life. On top of bringing the Siamese printing press to Siam, starting the first Siamese newspaper, and writing many books, Bradley is credited with translating the Old Testament of the bible into Siamese. Bradley was an advocate for Siam’s equality and translated French policies into Siamese. Bradley was considered the American consult to Thailand.
Death and legacy
Bradley died on June 23, 1873. He is remembered as a man who was always causing mischief and was in trouble with the law many times. He died still strong in his faith of Jesus and is remembered for stressing Siamese equality and a better education system. He is buried in the Bangkok Protestant Cemetery.
In 1981, Bangkok Christian Hospital began construction on a new 13-story edifice named in Bradley's honor: Mo Bradley Building (Thai: อาคารหมอบรัดเลย์). It officially opened on August 3, 1987.
Dan Beach Bradley's Timeline
July 18, 1804
Marcellus, Onondaga, NY
June 5, 1834
New York City, New York
October 8, 1839
Bankok, Siam (Thailand)
November 18, 1843
November 3, 1848
Bankok, Siam (Thailand)
June 23, 1873
Bankok, Siam (Thailand)
Bankok, Siam (Thailand)