The term ‘Siamese Twins’ came about due to the promotion of the world-famous Chang and Eng Siamese Twins of the 1830s. Two hundred years ago, two little conjoined boys were born on Saturday, May 11, 1811 to Chinese parents. The father, named Ti-aye was Chinese and the mother, Nok was half-Chinese and half-Malayan. They lived in Siam, which is now known as Thailand in Southeast Asia. The mother, Nok, already had a couple set of twins, not joined, as well as normal children she had given birth to over the year. However, this time it was a difficult birth. It was discovered the two infant brothers were connected by flesh at the chest.
Everyone in the small village near Bangkok was immediately frightened at their appearance. The babies’ lives were about to be ended by the King of Siam who had ordered their deaths. Before such action could be carried out, the King Rama II of Siam suddenly changed his mind to spare their young lives. He had learned there were similar births in other locations with no ill effects to those communities.
So it was decreed that the brothers, Chang and Eng, would remain with their parents on the family houseboat. With the Siam King Rama II so saving their lives the local community also accepted the unusual boys. Over the years the twins learned to function as one and could coordinate with each other’s movements. Eventually there was nothing these two young boys, in spite of being joined and short in stature, could not do, including all types of kid activities of swimming and running and playing.
As teenagers they were successful egg and duck merchants in the local community. All that changed around 1826 when one day the two brothers were swimming in the local river and a visiting Scottish merchant, Robert Hunter, spotted the two boy’s heads in the water. Both curious and fascinated by these conjoined twins, the merchant got to know the twins and was also amazed at their abilities. The flesh that connected the boys was flexible and did allow them to face each other or be back to back. By 1829, the Scottish merchant along with an American sea captain, Abel Coffin, convinced the two boys to travel the world and exhibit their astonishing skills.
The very term ‘Siamese Twins’ eventually developed because Chang and Eng did tour the world and had been born in the country of Siam. The famous Siamese Twins of Chang and Eng were an international success and thousands of people paid fifty cents per person to ask them questions and for them to perform ordinary activities; such as playing chess, running and doing acrobatics. The only place they were denied entrance was into France, the authorizes believing the French children would be badly traumatized seeing the twins.
Quickly they mastered the English language and began to enjoy the finer things in life as their fame grew. They eventually broke ties with Robert Hunter and Abel Coffin and continued on many successful tours to places within the United States and other nations with showman P. T. Barnum. A great deal of money for the times was paid to the twins, some $100 a week. Carefully they split the salary and always banked the money. The brothers, who thought of themselves collectively as ‘Chang Eng’ and pronounced it ‘Chun’ and ‘In’ had the opportunity to meet with royalty, heads of states and presidents from around the world.
Chang and Eng also had the chance to be examined by numerous medical doctors in different locations during the 1830s. It was noted they were joined by flesh, cartilage and their two livers fused. Every time doctors stated there was no chance of separating the twins without such a procedure killing them both.
The two brothers decided to run their own business and get out of show business by the late 1830s, having each saved $40,000 apiece. They had loved the scenic western region of North Carolina on one of their earlier visits and decided to settle in the area. Having made a fortune during their travels they were able to purchase first a general store and then a 110-acre farm in Traphill, North Carolina, which is near Wilkesboro.
They adopted a new surname, that of ‘Bunker,’ when they applied for citizenship. More land was purchased and they developed a large plantation and even had slaves to assist in crop production. Having made a success of the farm and becoming United States citizens in 1839, the brothers were ready to marry and start a family. The small rural community in North Carolina accepted the twins.
Two local sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates married on April 13, 1843 the two brothers. Adelaide married Chang and Sarah married Eng. Their large home was made to accommodate both couples, including one large bed made to accommodate four people. The couples each had large families with Chang and Adelaide having 6 children and Eng and Sarah with 5 children. With so many individuals in two households within one house, eventually two separate homes were established over one mile apart near Mount Airy, North Carolina in the community of White Plains. Every three days the twins would stay at the alternating homes, which helped keep peace between the two families.
The twins’ mother, Nok, learned from missionaries in 1845 that her sons had done well traveling the world and were now settled in American and married.
The brothers were fine providers for their large families and had made a good profit from their land. They also owned African-American slaves. They totally believed in a good education not only for themselves, but also for their children. All the Bunker children were of normal size and in good health. Two exceptions were a son and daughter of Chang’s who were deaf mutes. Over the years, Chang and Eng blended into the community, joined the Baptist church and enjoyed a good life in North Carolina.
Of the two brothers, Chang was a little larger and generally healthier. It was Eng who was smaller and weaker of the two. They had their share of disagreements and there were times they would not speak to each other.
Two of the twins’ sons later served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. After the war, the brothers had suffered financial at the lost of some of their land and their thirty slaves. To help boost their economic situation, the twins attempted public shows again through P. T. Barnum, just like they had some thirty years earlier. However, it was different times and their exhibits were not as successful.
While on tour in Europe, they had tried again to have doctors separate them. The flesh that bound them was pinched together to cut the blood supply. Eng at first fainted and Chang was in great pain. Doctors believed if one died surely the other one would die since their blood circulation was connected.
In 1870 Chang suffered a stroke while returning from an overseas tour which affected his life. He became weaker and somewhat paralyzed on the right side, but his brother, Eng remained a little healthier than his brother. A fall in late 1873, only made Chang’s condition worsen. On January 17, 1874, Chang Bunker, developed bronchitis along with pneumonia and died in the early morning hours in his sleep, with Eng lying alongside him. His brother, Eng was in such shock at the sudden lost of his brother, he died within a few hours.
A post-mortem examination of the two bodies disclosed Eng could have been separated from his dead brother and saved. Their whole life, 62 years, had been together and they died together on the same day. They were buried in the front yard of Chang’s home until 1917 and then moved to the cemetery of the White Plains Baptist Church.
Having produced collectively 11 children, there are many descendants of these Siamese twins, born 200 years ago and so marked in 2011. The many Bunker children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, including eleven sets of regular twins, remained over the decades in the North Carolina region and then later to other sections of the United States.
Galveston Daily News in Galveston, TX January 21, 1874 page 1
Ohio Democratic in New Philadelphia, Ohio February 6, 1874 page 2
Middletown Times Herald in New York January 12, 1938 page 10
“Duet for a Lifetime” book by Kay Hunter, 1964
Siamese Twins Bio
Chang and Eng