|Blogger: Amber (Schamel) Lemus
Happy December! Today our exploration of famous infants brings us to the Asian country of Siam, or Thailand to study the Siamese-American twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.
|Chang and Eng Age 18.
Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-03-27)
Chang and Eng were born around May 11, 1811 in Siam, which is now known as Thailand. Although they were born conjoined at the sternum, their mother said her labor with them was no different than her previous births of single children. The details of their early lives are vague, what is known is that their father was a fisherman of Chinese descent, who died when the twins were young. Their mother raised ducks to support her family. She treated the boys the same way as all her other children, not giving them any special treatment because of their conjoined status. The boys were lively and playful, interacting with other children in much the same way as ordinary boys would.
In 1824, a Scottish merchant by the name of Robert Hunter was on a fishing boat in Siam, when he noticed something out of the ordinary in the water. At first, he mistook the twins for a "strange animal", but when he met the boys, he saw a financial opportunity. He spent five years trying to get them out of Siam so he could bring them west. As Hunter would tell the story, the king of Siam had forbidden the boys to travel out of the country and had even condemned them to death. How true that is, we'll never know. At any rate, Hunter managed to sail them to the United States in 1829 with a contract between him, the ship captain, and the twins stating that Chang and Eng's tour would last five years. The twins were seventeen at the time.
Credited with discovering
the Siamese twins.
Their arrival in the United States, and the announcement that they would be displayed to the public, was met with enthusiasm in the newspapers, although with varying degrees of racial stereotypes and falsehoods. One of the falsehoods that upset the twins the most was the story that their mother had sold them into slavery, which of course, was completely untrue.
Chang and Eng were subjected to the inspection of many physicians, all of whom marveled over them, and most of whom judged them to be Chinese in ethnicity.
When touring in cities, Chang and Eng would stay in a hotel, and admission would be charged for people to view their "freak show." The cost of admission was twenty-five cents, the equivalent of about six dollars today. The twins would perform "physical feats" including running, somersaults, sometimes even swimming or playing checkers. Costumes placed an emphasis on their "exotic" origin.
Their tours were not without conflict, however. On multiple occasions, the twins were involved in violent altercations with attendees or gawkers, usually when they felt they were being harassed or violated in some way. One such incident was because they refused to allow a doctor attending one of their shows to closely inspect the ligature connecting them. Their refusal sent the doctor into a fury, and chaos resulted. However, it was Chang and Eng who were constrained to pay a fine.
By the time their tour was drawing to an end, Chang and Eng were anxious to be done with their contract, but they began to fear that they would be forever in limbo since the ship captain they originally made the deal with had returned to Asia, leaving his wife in charge of their business. Chang and Eng disliked her very much and felt she was greedy and deceitful. She pressured them to perform, even when they were ill, and she consistently subjected them to treatment and accommodations of servants rather than equals. In the end, they escaped from her and came up missing. When her husband returned and tracked them down, they came to an agreement on the termination of the contract.
|Flyer from a later tour
After that tour, the twins settled in North Carolina where they were able to become naturalized citizens, despite a federal law forbidding citizenship to anyone other than "free white persons." Using the money they earned during their tour, they were able to buy land, build a house, and have a very nice living for themselves. They eventually married a set of sisters, and enjoyed their new-found existence in the country.
Chang and Eng became well known throughout the Western World. In fact, it is Chang and Eng who coined the term "Siamese twins" as a reference to twins who are conjoined. Later in life, they would go on tour again and gain even more notoriety.
Back in Siam, a group of Christian missionaries connected with Chang and Eng's mother in 1845, just four years before she passed away. She had believed her sons were dead, since they had not returned from their five year tour. She was happy to learn before her death that they were prospering and well in the United States.
She lives in Colorado Springs near her favorite mountain, in a small “castle” with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a new mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.
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