In 1905, Mr. W.R. Dibb was transferred to Phrae as the manager of the forest station, where he would reside for the next ten years. Life in Phrae must have been relatively peaceful, what with the end of the Shan rebellion, in that he was able to host a group of missionaries for gatherings as noted by Miss Lucy Staring in Lao News about their Annual Meeting and in the Bangkok Times: [v]
Lao News: "Every afternoon came tea and tennis, Mr. Dibb of the Bombay Burmah Company being the host throughout the week.……"
“Through the kindness of Mr. Dibb two more families were accommodated in one of the Bombay Burmah Company bungalows”.
The Bangkok Times:
" North Laos Mission had a successful meeting at Phrae in December 1909- Mr. Dibb (BBTC) allow them use of a bungalow and his tennis courts, also served tea and 'in every way' gave the delegates 'a most cordial welcome'.
According to Leigh Williams (one of Dibb's subordinates in Phrae), who renamed Dibb as Philips in his book 'Jungle Prison', W.R.Dibb was a very strict boss. He was efficient, and demanded quite a high standard of efficiency from his staff. He judged them by their work, not by their social quality or ability to play polo. But if they were prepared to learn their job, he was only too glad to teach them. He was tremendously keen on the work, and could not bear to see it bungled. Leigh Williams wrote about his boss: [vi]
“There were only two opinions, it seems, about Philips. He was alternately the world’s worst swine, or the finest chap who had ever come out to Thailand. Those who disliked him said that the bitterness of his tongue was only exceeded by the acidity of his pen…."
"I was one of the lucky few who got on well with him…."
"Why had not Philips, with all his abilities, risen to be General Manager, or at least manager of one of the larger stations? The reason, I found out later, was because he did not get on well with his opposite numbers in other firms…."
"It was an axiom of our higher command that you must be popular with your rivals”.
Even though life in Phrae was relatively peaceful, but it was not without dangers. As a forester, W.R. Dibb had to work in a deep jungle alone, with only local helpers, for a long period of time out of the year. There he was prone to malaria and all sorts of other diseases. He could also be attacked by wild animals, such as bears, tigers, panthers, and all kinds of poisonous snakes, or even by elephants in musth. The danger of being assaulted by dacoits was also a likely possibility as it was known to happen.
Talking about tigers, there was a horrific story of a man-eater of Muang Pong, a forest about a hundred kilometers north of Phrae, where Dibb was in charge. Reginald Campbell, in 1935, wrote in his book, ‘Teak-Wallah’, about the hideous tigress that killed many villagers and eluded captures like a devil. The account was based on his recollection of a conversation with a forest assistant, F.D. Spencer, of the Anglo Siam Corporation: [vii]
“Gendarmes were sent out from the nearest big native town, only to return after days of fruitless endeavor. Fearless forest hunters stalked the shefiend, traps were laid, pits dug, and poison was smeared on baits. All, however, in vain, for the tigress had the cunning of the evil. The list of killings mounted and mounted.
Finally no less than twenty-nine of the firm’s employees or their friends and relations were slain, this apart from the very considerable number of victims the tigress must have claimed from the scattered jungle villages.”
Oddly enough this tigress would meet its demise at the hands of a Kamoo coolie ‘who normally could not have hit the proverbial haystack’, as the forest assistant put it. With all these dangers, a return to the base in Phrae to be with his family and a few English colleagues would be a welcoming break for Dibb.
(Note: One of Mr. Dibb’s colleagues in Phrae while he was the manager there was Mr. A.L. Queripel. Mr. Queripel left Phrae to work in Chiang Mai in 1908, where he later became the manager there in 1913. Before he retired from the BBTC, Queripel built a colonial style house at the base of Doi Suthep known as ‘Ban Ling Ha’ (or Heuan Queripel) around 1924-1925. This house is now restored and reopened to public as a museum at the Lanna Traditional House Museum, Chiang Mai University. http://art-culture.cmu.ac.th)
[v] Lao News, 1910, Vol.7 p.21; The Bangkok Times, 11 January 1910, p.5
[vi] William, Leigh, Jungle Prison (Andrew Melrose, 1954); Kittichai Wattananikorn, Naihang pamai yuk sud tai nai Lanna (Santipab Pack Print, BE 2563)
[vii] Campbell, R. Teak Wallah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986); Kittichai Wattananikorn, Naihang pamai : sisan chiwit adit Lanna, 2nd Edition (Santipab Pack Print, BE 2558)