New Thai home demanded for Queen Victoria statue

The once proud statue of Queen Victoria in the British embassy grounds has been relegated to a small street near a canal and a department store.

A group of British expats in Bangkok and Pattaya say they will campaign to pressurize Central Group, the buyers of the former British embassy site in central Bangkok, to move the bronze statue of Queen Victoria to more fitting surroundings. The huge, two-tonne celebrity image is currently based by a canal in a quiet street near a department store.

Terry Hayes, founder of Please Respect Victoria, said the sad death of Elizabeth II had prompted many descriptions of the relationships between the British and Thai royal families. “But it has also thrown into high relief the quite appalling treatment of Victoria’s statue. The revered queen met both King Rama V and the future King Rama VI in the UK in 1897 which was her Diamond Jubilee year. She also conducted a regular correspondence in English with at least two royal Thai princes on an ongoing basis.”

The statue was first erected in front of the British Legation in 1903 and transferred to the British embassy’s new location in Wireless Road in the 1920s. During the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s, the statue was covered with a sheet but small holes were allowed so that Victoria could keep an eye open on the proceedings, so to speak. The British embassy site was sold in 2018 for around 420 million pounds to the highest bidder, namely Hongkong Land and Central Group.

At the point of sale, the British embassy clarified it no longer had responsibility for the statue. Central Group said it would remain as a war memorial, but in a new spot to be decided. The British foreign secretary at the time, Boris Johnson, said the sale was the largest in Thailand to date and that the cash would (of course) be spent on refurbishing other embassies round the world. But Mr. Hayes said, “Actually we fear that, sooner or later, Victoria’s bronze will be melted down by the new owners and sold off for profit. The statue was originally paid for by the British community over 100 years ago, so morally it still belongs to us today.”

An alternative home for Victoria at this stage could be problematical. The British Club, a veritable oasis in the middle of Bangkok, has offered her a permanent home according to generalized media reports. The new offices of the British embassy are in a tower block and obviously unsuitable. One suggestion made by the expat group is to move the statue to Pattaya which is rather short of historical attractions. But any removal would require the consent of the current owners.

There are believed to be several hundred statues of Queen Victoria still in existence, mainly in Commonwealth countries, where a few have been decapitated or vandalized. Mr. Hayes concluded, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed a warm relationship with King Rama IX with each of them ruling for seven decades. We are taking the opportunity, at this very sad moment in British history, to record the very unsatisfactory treatment which her great-great grandmother has received as a consequence of greed and profit.”