Phuket Island has a long recorded history, and remains dating back to A.D. 1025 indicate that the island’s present day name derives in meaning from the Tamil manikram, or crystal mountain. For most of history, however, it was known as Junk Ceylon, which, with variations, is the name found on old maps.
The name is thought to have its roots in Ptolemy’s Geographia, written by the Alexandrian geographer in the Third Century A.D. He mentioned that in making a trip from Souwannapum to the Malay Peninsula it was necessary to pass the cape of Jang Si Lang.
Phuket was a way station on the route between India and China where seafarers stopped to shelter. The island appears to have been part of the Shivite empire (called in Thai the Tam Porn Ling) that established itself on the Malay Peninsula during the first Millenium A.D. Later, as Muang Takua-Talang, it was part of the Srivichai and Siri Tahm empires.
Governed as the eleventh in a constellation of twelve cities, Phuket’s emblem, by which it was known to others in those largely pre-literate times, was the dog. During the Sukothai Period Phuket was associated with Takua Pa in what is now Phang-nga Province, another area with vast tin reserves. The Dutch established a trading post during the Ayuthaya Period in the 16th Century.
The island’s northern and central regions then were governed by the Thais, and the southern and western parts were given over to the tin trade, a concession in the hands of foreigners.After Ayuthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 there was a short interregnum in Thailand, ended by King Thaksin, who drove out the Burmese and re-unified the country. The Burmese, however, were anxious to return to the offensive. They outfitted a fleet to raid the southern provinces, and carry off the populations to slavery in Burma. This led to Phuket’s most memorable historic event.
A passing sea captain, Francis Light, sent word that the Burmese were en route to attack. Forces in Phuket were assembled led by the two heroines, Kunying Jan, wife of Phuket’s recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook, After a month’s siege the Burmese were forced to depart on 13 March, 1785. Kunying Jan and her sister were credited with the successful defense. In recognition King Rama I bestowed upon Kunying Jan the honorific Thao Thep Kasatri, a title of nobility usually reserved for royalty, by which she is known today. Her sister became Thao Sri Sunthon.
During the Nineteenth Century Chinese immigrants arrived in such numbers to work for the tin mines that the ethnic character of the island’s interior became predominantly Chinese, while the coastal settlements remained populated chiefly by Muslim fishermen. In Rama V’s reign, Phuket became the administrative center of a group of tin mining provinces called Monton Phuket, and in 1933, with the change in government from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system, the island was established as a province by itself.