British rule in Burma

British rule in Burma

Infobox Former Country
conventional_long_name= Crown Colony of Burma
common_name= Burma
continent= moved from Category:Asia to Southeast Asia
region= Southeast Asia
country= Burma
year_start= 1824
year_end= 1948
life_span= 1824 - 1942
1945 - 1948
s1= State of Burma
flag_s1= Burma_flag%281943%29.gif
status_text= Colony of the United Kingdom
status= Colony
empire= United Kingdom

capital= Rangoon
common_languages= English, Burmese
religion= Christianity, Buddhism

British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese Wars through the creation of "Burma Province" as a colony of British India to the establishment of the "Crown Colony of Burma" and finally independence. Various portions of Burmese territories, including Arakan, Tenasserim were conferred to the British after British victory in First Anglo-Burmese War. Lower Burma was annexed by the British in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. The British-acquired territories were designated a province in 1862. After the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, Upper Burma was annexed.


The First Anglo-Burmese War arose from friction between Arakan in western Burma and British-held Chittagong to the north. After Burma's defeat of the Kingdom of Arakan in 1784-1785, in 1823, Burmese forces again crossed the frontier and the British responded with a large seaborne expedition that took Rangoon without a fight in 1824. In Danuphyu, south of Ava, the Burmese general Maha Bandula was killed and his armies routed. The 1826 Treaty of Yandabo formally ended the First Anglo-Burmese War. British-led Indian troops suffered more than 15,000 fatalities.

After 25 years of peace, the British and Burmese fighting started afresh, and lasted until the British occupied all of Lower Burma.

King Mindon tried to readjust to the thrust of imperialism. He enacted administrative reforms and made Burma more receptive to foreign interests. But the British effected the Third Anglo-Burmese War, which lasted less than two weeks during November 1885.

British troops entered Mandalay on 28 November 1885 and Burma was attached to the British Empire on 1 January 1886.

Burmese armed resistance continued sporadically for several years, and the British commander had to coerce the High Court of Justice to continue to function. The British decided to annex all of Upper Burma as a colony, and to make the whole country a province of the Indian Empire. The new colony of Upper Burma was attached to the Burma Province on 26 February 1886. Rangoon, having been the capital of British Lower Burma, became the capital of the province.

British rule

Britain made Burma a province of India in 1886 with the capital at Rangoon and ushered in a new period of economic growth. Traditional Burmese society was drastically altered by the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. Though war officially ended after only a couple of weeks, resistance continued in northern Burma until 1890, with the British finally resorting to a systematic destruction of villages and appointment of new officials to finally halt all guerrilla activity. Intermarriage between Europeans and Burmese gave birth to an indigenous Eurasian community know as the Anglo-Burmese who would come to dominate the colonial society, hovering above the Burmese but below the British. The economic nature of society also changed dramatically. After the opening of the Suez Canal, the demand for Burmese rice grew and vast tracts of land were opened up for cultivation. However, in order to prepare the new land for cultivation, farmers were forced to borrow money from Indian moneylenders called chettiars at high interest rates and were often foreclosed on and evicted losing land and livestock. Most of the jobs also went to indentured Indian labourers, and whole villages became outlawed as they resorted to 'dacoity' (armed robbery). While the Burmese economy grew, all the power and wealth remained in the hands of several British firms and migrants from India. The civil service was largely staffed by Anglo-Burmese and Indians, and Burmese were excluded almost entirely from military service, which was staffed primarily with Indians, Anglo-Burmese, Karens and other Burmese minority groups. Though the country prospered, the Burmese people failed to reap the rewards. (See George Orwell's novel "Burmese Days" for a fictional account of the British in Burma.)

By the turn of the century, a nationalist movement began to take shape in the form of Young Men's Buddhist Associations (YMBA), modelled after the YMCA, as religious associations were allowed by the colonial authorities. They were later superseded by the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) which was linked with "Wunthanu athin" or National Associations that sprang up in villages throughout Burma Proper.cite book|author=Martin Smith|year=1991|title=Burma - Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity|publisher=Zed Books|location=London and New Jersey|pages=49,91,50,53,54,56,57,58-59,60,61,60,66,65,68,69,77,78,64,70,103,92,120,176,168-169,177,178,180,186,195-197,193,,202,204,199,200,270,269,275-276,292-3,318-320,25,24,1,4-16,365,375-377,414] A new generation of Burmese leaders arose in the early twentieth century from amongst the educated classes that were permitted to go to London to study law. They came away from this experience with the belief that the Burmese situation could be improved through reform. Progressive constitutional reform in the early 1920s led to a legislature with limited powers, a university and more autonomy for Burma within the administration of India. Efforts were also undertaken to increase the representation of Burmese in the civil service. Some people began to feel that the rate of change was not fast enough and the reforms not expansive enough.

In 1920 the first university students' strike in historyFact|date=April 2007 broke out in protest against the new University Act which the students believed would only benefit the elite and perpetuate colonial rule. 'National Schools' sprang up across the country in protest against the colonial education system, and the strike came to be commemorated as 'National Day'. There were further strikes and anti-tax protests in the later 1920s led by the "Wunthanu athin"s. Prominent among the political activists were Buddhist monks ("hpongyi"), such as U Ottama and U Seinda in the Arakan who subsequently led an armed rebellion against the British and later the nationalist government after independence, and U Wisara, the first martyr of the movement to die after a protracted hunger strike in prison. (One of the main thoroughfares in Yangon is named after U Wisara.) In December 1930, a local tax protest by Saya San in Tharrawaddy quickly grew into first a regional and then a national insurrection against the government. Lasting for two years, the "Galon" rebellion, named after the mythical bird Garuda - enemy of the Nagas i.e. the British - emblazoned on the pennants the rebels carried, required thousands of British troops to suppress along with promises of further political reform. The eventual trial of Saya San, who was executed, allowed several future national leaders, including Dr Ba Maw and U Saw, who participated in his defence, to rise to prominence.

May 1930 saw the founding of the "Dobama Asiayone" (We Burmans Association) whose members called themselves "Thakin" (an ironic name as "thakin" means "master" in the Burmese language—rather like the Indian 'sahib'— proclaiming that they were the true masters of the country entitled to the term usurped by the colonial masters). The second university students strike in 1936 was triggered by the expulsion of Aung San and Ko Nu, leaders of the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU), for refusing to reveal the name of the author who had written an article in their university magazine, making a scathing attack on one of the senior university officials. It spread to Mandalay leading to the formation of the All Burma Students Union (ABSU). Aung San and Nu subsequently joined the Thakin movement progressing from student to national politics.

The British separated Burma Province from British India in 1937 [ [,9171,788006,00.html Sword For Pen] , "TIME Magazine", April 12, 1937] and granted the Crown Colony a new constitution calling for a fully elected assembly, with many powers given to the Burmese, but this proved to be a divisive issue as some Burmese felt that this was a ploy to exclude them from any further Indian reforms whereas other Burmese saw any action that removed Burma from the control of India to be a positive step. Ba Maw served as the first prime minister of Burma, but he was forced out by U Saw in 1939, who served as prime minister from 1940 until he was arrested on 19 January 1942 by the British for communicating with the Japanese.

A wave of strikes and protests that started from the oilfields of central Burma in 1938 became a general strike with far-reaching consequences. In Rangoon student protesters, after successfully picketing the Secretariat, the seat of the colonial government, were charged by the British mounted police wielding batons and killing a Rangoon University student called Aung Kyaw. In Mandalay, the police shot into a crowd of protesters led by Buddhist monks killing 17 people. The movement became known as "Htaung thoun ya byei ayeidawbon" (the '1300 Revolution' named after the Burmese calendar year), and 20 December, the day the first martyr Aung Kyaw fell, commemorated by students as 'Bo Aung Kyaw Day'. [cite web|url=|title=The Statement on the Commemoration of Bo Aung Kyaw|publisher=All Burma Students League|year=Dec 19 1999|accessdate=2006-10-23]

Frontier Areas

The Frontier Areas, also known as the Excluded Areas or the Scheduled Areas, compose the majority of states within Myanmar today. They were administered separately by the British, and were united with Burma Proper to form Myanmar's geographic composition today. The Frontier Areas were inhabited by ethnic minorities such as the Chin the Shan, the Kachin and the Karenni.

World War II and Japan

From the Japanese surrender to Aung San's assassination

The surrender of the Japanese brought a military administration to Burma and demands to try Aung San for his involvement in a murder during military operations in 1942. Lord Mountbatten realized that this was an impossibility considering Aung San's popular appeal. After the war ended, the British Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith returned. The restored government established a political programme that focused on physical reconstruction of the country and delayed discussion of independence. The AFPFL opposed the government leading to political instability in the country. A rift had also developed in the AFPFL between the Communists and Aung San together with the Socialists over strategy, which led to Than Tun being forced to resign as general secretary in July 1946 and the expulsion of the CPB from the AFPFL the following October. Dorman-Smith was replaced by Sir Hubert Rance as the new governor, and almost immediately after his appointment the Rangoon Police went on strike. The strike, starting in September 1946, then spread from the police to government employees and came close to becoming a general strike. Rance calmed the situation by meeting with Aung San and convincing him to join the Governor's Executive Council along with other members of the AFPFL. The new executive council, which now had increased credibility in the country, began negotiations for Burmese independence, which were concluded successfully in London as the Aung San-Atlee Agreement on 27 January 1947. The agreement left parts of the communist and conservative branches of the AFPFL dissatisfied, however, sending the Red Flag Communists led by Thakin Soe underground and the conservatives into opposition. Aung San also succeeded in concluding an agreement with ethnic minorities for a unified Burma at the Panglong Conference on 12 February, celebrated since as 'Union Day'. [cite web|url=| title=The Panglong Agreement, 1947|publisher=Online Burma/Myanmar Library] Shortly after, rebellion broke out in the Arakan led by the veteran monk U Seinda, and it began to spread to other districts. The popularity of the AFPFL, now dominated by Aung San and the Socialists, was eventually confirmed when it won an overwhelming victory in the April 1947 constituent assembly elections.

Then a momentous event stunned the nation on 19 July 1947. U Saw, a conservative pre-war Prime Minister of Burma, engineered the assassination of Aung San and several members of his cabinet including his eldest brother Ba Win, the father of today's National League for Democracy exile-government leader Dr Sein Win, while meeting in the Secretariat. [cite web|url=|title=Who Killed Aung San? - an interview with Gen. Kyaw Zaw|month=August | year=1997|publisher="The Irrawaddy"|accessdate=2006-10-30] July 19 has been commemorated since as Martyrs' Day. Thakin Nu, the Socialist leader, was now asked to form a new cabinet, and he presided over Burmese independence on 4 January 1948. The popular sentiment to part with the British was so strong at the time that Burma opted not to join the British Commonwealth, unlike India or Pakistan.

British administration

Chief Commissioners

* 31 Jan 1862 - 16 Feb 1867 Sir Arthur Purves Phayre
* 16 Feb 1867 - 18 Apr 1871 Albert Fytche
* 18 Apr 1871 - 14 Apr 1875 Ashley Eden
* 14 Apr 1875 - 30 Mar 1878 Sir Augustus Rivers Thompson
* 30 Mar 1878 - 2 Jul 1880 Charles Umpherston Aitchinson
* 2 Jul 1880 - 2 Mar 1883 Sir Charles Edward Bernard
* 2 Mar 1883 - 25 Sep 1886 Sir Charles Haukes Todd
* 25 Sep 1886 - 12 Mar 1887 Sir Charles Edward Bernard
* 12 Mar 1887 - 10 Dec 1890 Sir Charles Haukes Todd
* 10 Dec 1890 - 3 Apr 1895 Alexander Mackenzie
* 3 Apr 1895 - 1 May 1897 Frederick William Richard Fryer

Lieutenant governors

* 1 May 1897 - 4 Apr 1903 Frederick William Richard Fryer
* 4 Apr 1903 - 9 May 1905 Sir Hugh Shakespear Barnes
* 9 May 1905 - 19 May 1910 Sir Herbert Thirkell White
* 19 May 1910 - 28 Oct 1915 Sir Harvey Adamson
* 15 May 1913 - 1 Nov 1913 Sir George Shaw
* 28 Oct 1915 - 22 Sep 1917 Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler
* 22 Sep 1917 - 15 Feb 1918 Walter Francis Rice
* 15 Feb 1918 - 21 Dec 1922 Sir Reginald Henry Craddock
* 21 Dec 1922 - 2 Jan 1923 Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler


* 2 Jan 1923 - 20 Dec 1927 Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler
* 20 Dec 1927 - 20 Dec 1932 Sir Charles Alexander Innes
* 20 Dec 1932 - 8 May 1936 Sir Hugh Landsdowne Stephenson
* 8 May 1936 - 6 May 1941 Sir Archibald Douglas Cochrane
* 6 May 1941 - 31 Aug 1946 Sir Reginald Hugh Dorman-Smith

Head of the Burmese Administration

* 1 Aug 1942 - 1 Aug 1943 Ba Maw

Chief of State (Adipati)

* 1 Aug 1943 - 3 May 1945 Ba Maw

Allied Military governors

* 1 Jan 1944 - Oct 1945 Louis Mountbatten
* Oct 1945 - 31 Aug 1946 Sir Hubert Elvin Rance


* 31 Aug 1946 - 4 Jan 1948 Sir Hubert Elvin Rance


* Ba Maw 1937-1939
* U Saw 1940-1942

The Premiership was left empty during Japanese occupation in World War II. Aung San was defacto Prime Minister from 1946 to 1947 during the return of civilian rule in Burma.

Japanese military commanders

* 20 Apr 1942 - 18 Mar 1943 Shōjirō Iida
* 18 Mar 1943 - 30 Aug 1944 Masakazu Kawabe
* 30 Aug 1944 - 15 Aug 1945 Heitarō Kimura

ee also

*James George Scott



*Desai, Walter Sadgun (1968). "History of the British Residency in Burma". London: Gregg International. ISBN 0576031526.
*Harvey, Godfrey (1992). "British Rule in Burma 1824–1942". London: Ams Pr. ISBN 0404548342.

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