Thai prince hunts for clues to ancestor’s past in Portsmouth

VISIT Mom Luang (Baron) Pongabha is to the left in red jumper outside White Lodge
VISIT Mom Luang (Baron) Pongabha is to the left in red jumper outside White Lodge

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A THAI royal travelled to Portsmouth to research his ancestry at the city’s naval base.

Mom Luang Pongabha visited the city on Friday with a small entourage of family and writers on a mission to retrace the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, Admiral Prince Abhakara.

Thailand’s then-ruler, King Rama V, sent the prince to England to study naval warfare and science with the Royal Navy in the city from 1893 to 1899.

Armed with the knowledge of the world’s most advanced navy, he worked to modernise his own country’s fleet on his return to Thailand.

He did so to such an extent he was awarded the honorific title of The Father of the Royal Thai Navy.

Martin May-Clingo is the owner of The White Lodge bed and breakfast in Southsea, where the Thai royal stayed last week.

Mr May-Clingo is himself a retired naval officer whose last appointment in the Royal Navy was First Lieutenant of Portsmouth Naval Base.

He said: ‘He was very down to earth and everything was very low-key, which 
you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

‘The Thai people really respect their royal family but there were no airs and graces, he was very unassuming.

‘I think the story behind why he was here is fascinating.’

Mr Pongabha plans to write a book and shoot a documentary with the information he collects from his research in his ancestor’s former city.

He is in the city for just two weeks but has already spent time in the libraries of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The prince remains highly respected in Thailand, and there are more than 200 shrines and statues dedicated to him.

Scholars have written about the prince – who died in 1923 aged just 44 – in multiple books and studies of his life, which his great-great-grandson will now add to.

The prince had also studied medicine and was a highly trained Muay Thai boxer.