Louis T. Leonowens

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Funerary monument, Brompton Cemetery, London

Louis Thomas Gunnis Leonowens (25 October 1856 – 17 February 1919) was a British subject who was the basis of a major character in the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam, as well as other fictional works based on it (see below). He was the son of Anna Leonowens, famous as a tutor of King Chulalongkorn of Siam (Thailand). Leonowens later served as an officer with the Siamese Royal Cavalry and founded a Thai trading company that still bears his name, Louis T. Leonowens Ltd.

Early life[edit]

Leonowens was the son of Anna Leonowens nee Edwards, an Anglo-Indian who had never visited Britain, and Thomas Leon Owens, an Irish-born, India-raised clerk, who married in India in 1849. The couple left India for Singapore in 1852.

Louis was born at Lynton, Western Australia,[1] where his father was working for the Commissariat. In 1857, the family moved to Indonesia, where his father was a hotel manager.[2] His father died in 1859, and his mother moved to Singapore with Louis and his elder sister, telling the British expatriate community there that she was a genteel Welsh woman, the widow of a British army officer who had unfortunately lost her fortune.[3]

His mother's story was believed, and she was invited, in 1862, to teach the wives and children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand). After sending Louis's sister to England to get a British education, his mother took him to Bangkok. He was raised in the Siamese royal palace for nearly six years and was schooled by his mother alongside the royal children, until 1867. He was sent to Europe to complete his education. By 1874, Louis was in the U.S. with his mother, but he had accumulated debts. He fled the U.S. and was estranged from his mother for 19 years.[3]


In 1881, at the age of 27, he returned to Siam and was granted a commission of Captain in the Royal Cavalry, by King Chulalongkorn.[2]

Leonowens in 1884 left the military and entered the teak trade. He went on in 1905 to found the Louis Thomas Leonowens Company in Siam, which became Louis T. Leonowens Ltd, an international trading company. This company remains a leading exporter of Malayan hardwoods and an importer of building materials and general merchandise.[4]

He became less involved in the operations of the company after 1906 and left Siam for the last time in 1913.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Louis Thomas Gunnis Leonowens was married to:

  • Caroline Knox (1856/7–1893), the younger daughter of Sir Thomas George Knox, British consul-general in Siam from 1824–1887, and his wife, Prang Yen, a Siamese noblewoman.[5][6][7][8][9][10] They had one son, Thomas ("George") Knox Leonowens (1888-1953) and a daughter, Anna Harriett Leonowens (born 1890, Mrs Richard Monahan).[11]
  • Reta May (1880–1936) married Leonowens in 1900. They had no children.[12][13]

Leonowens died in 1919 during the global influenza pandemic. He is buried, with his second wife, in Brompton Cemetery, London.[14]

Film and television portrayals[edit]

The young Louis Leonowens has been portrayed by numerous actors and as being from at least three different countries, including the United States, England and Wales:


  1. ^ Register of Births, Western Australia, no. 3469, 1856
  2. ^ a b c Louis T. Leonowens Ltd
  3. ^ a b Loos, Tamara. "Review of Bombay Anna... by Susan Morgan, Journal of Historical Biography, vol 5 (Spring 2009), pp. 146–52
  4. ^ The Times (16 September 1963); p. x, col. A.
  5. ^ Findagrave
  6. ^ Bradford Smith, "It Was Love, Love, Love", The New York Times, 16 September 1962
  7. ^ R. J. Minney, Fanny and the Regent of Siam (The World Publishing Company, 1962
  8. ^ "A Dark Tragedy in Siam: The Execution of Pra Preecah—A Native Nobleman Beheaded for Marrying A British Officer's Daughter—How a Cruel King Can Retain A Grudge For Years—Medieval Horrors in the Nineteenth Century", The New York Times, 12 April 1880
  9. ^ W. S. Bristowe, Louis and the King of Siam (Chatto and Windus, 1976)
  10. ^ Alec Waugh, Bangkok: Story of a City (W. H. Allen, 1970), pages 84-85
  11. ^ The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections: Margaret and Kenneth Landon Papers, 1824-2000, http://www.wheaton.edu/learnres/ARCSC/collects/sc38/container.php
  12. ^ Findagrave
  13. ^ W. S. Bristowe, Louis and the King of Siam (Chatto and Windus, 1976), page 101
  14. ^ Findagrave

External links[edit]