First Anglo–Burmese War

First Anglo–Burmese War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=First Burmese War

caption=The Storming of one of the principle stockades on its inside, near Rangoon, on the 8th of July 1824.
result=British Victory, Treaty of Yandabo
casus=Burmese expansion drift
combatant1=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
commander1=Charles Grant
Archibald Campbell
commander2=Tharrawaddy Min
Maha BandulaKIA
The First Anglo–Burmese War lasted from 1823 to 1826. In the United Kingdom it is called the First Burmese War whereas Burmese custom names both belligerents. It was the first of the three wars fought between Burma and the British Empire during the 19th century, which resulted in the gradual extinction of Burmese sovereignty and independence.


Due to the difficult terrain, particularly during the rainy season in the summer, campaigning was largely confined to the first and last few months of the year.


During the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, the Burmese had engaged in an expansionist policy against their neighbours that finally set them in conflict with the British in India. They apparently were not aware of the tactics, discipline and resources of the British, and thus were not cautious about entering a war.

The Kingdom of Burma had invaded and conquered the kingdom of Arakan in 1784 which brought the borders of Burma right up to the edge of British India. The Burmese destruction of Arakan and its policy of demanding slave labour from Arakan for projects inside Burma led both to rebellion and large communities of exiles and refugees forming on the other side of the Indian border. In 1798 for example, local leader Nga Than Dè and 10,000 Arakanese abandoned their homes as a group and fled to India out of desperation. Because of the refugees, who were considered Burmese property and rebels on the other side of the border, the Burmese kingdom began to launch raids into Indian territory over the border.

Starting in 1817, the Burmese invaded Assam in Northeastern India. By 1822, the Burmese army was effectively in control of Assam and the same problems of refugees and rebels operating in the border areas as had occurred with Arakan were now repeated in Assam.

In 1819, the Burmese launched a campaign of devastation into Manipur on the pretext of its ruler not attending the coronation of King Bagyidaw (1819–1837). The country was plundered extensively and its people were carried off as slave labour into Burma. The attack on Manipur evolved into an attack and plunder of the neighbouring state of Cachar, whose ruler fled to British territory asking for help. Other frontier states were threatened by the Burmese in 1823.

The British had for the previous thirty years attempted to negotiate some form of peace or stability on their eastern frontier with Burma. The Governor General of India, Sir John Shore, had sent Captain Michael Symes on an embassy to Amarapura in 1795 [cite book|url=|author=Michael Symes|year=1795|title=An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava] during the reign of King Bodawpaya (1781–1819), a son of Alaungpaya (1752–1760) who founded the Konbaung dynasty and established the Third Burmese Empire. The British were anxious to deny the French the use of Burmese harbours and concerned about French influence at the Court of Ava, as the kingdom was still known to them.cite book|url=|author=D.G.E.Hall|year=1960|title=Burma|publisher=Hutchinson University Library|pages=96-97,78-85,104] Symes's mission was fully equipped to gain as much knowledge as possible of the country for future British plans whereas previous envoys were concerned principally with trade concessions. Anglo–French rivalry had already played a role during Alaungpaya's endeavours of unifying the kingdom.

It is important to note that the Burmese in these wars were advancing into smaller states not ruled by the British or the subject of expansionary goals by the British before the war began, and the British were not so much preoccupied by the refugee problem initially as by the threat posed by the French until further incidents forced their hand.

Autumn 1823 – Spring 1824

On 23 September 1823, an armed party of Burmese attacked the British on Shapura ("Shinmabyu kyun" in Burmese), an island close to the Chittagong side, killing and wounding six of the guards. Two Burmese armies, one from Manipur and another from Assam, also entered Cachar, which was now under British protection, in January 1824. Cachar was the repeated target of threats and intimidation from the Burmese. Its particular value was that it controlled key territory that could be used to launch an invasion of Bengal. War with Burma was formally declared on 5 March 1824. On 17 May, a Burmese force invaded Chittagong and drove a mixed sepoy and police detachment from its position at Ramu, but did not follow up its success.

The British rulers in India, however, had resolved to carry the war into the enemy's country; an army, under Commodore Charles Grant and Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell, entered the Rangoon River and anchored off the town of Rangoon on 10 May 1824. After initial resistance, Rangoon was surrendered, and the troops were landed. The place was entirely deserted by its inhabitants and the provisions were carried off to the defensive positions built by the Burmese army beyond the city or destroyed. On 28 May, Campbell ordered an attack on some of the nearest posts, which were all eventually taken by superior fire-power. On 10 June, another attack was made on the elaborate stockades at the village of Kemmendine. Some of these were battered by artillery from the war vessels in the river, and the shot and shells eventually led to a Burmese retreat.

It soon became apparent that the expedition had been undertaken with very imperfect knowledge of the country, and without adequate provision. Denial operations, which were part of the defensive system of the Burmese, were carried out with unrelenting rigour, and the invaders were soon reduced to great difficulties. The health of the men declined, and their ranks were fearfully thinned. The King of Ava sent large reinforcements to his army at the front; and early in June an attack was commenced on the British line, but proved unsuccessful. On 8 June, the British launched a new offensive. The Burmese were driven back and their strongly built forts, battered by artillery, were gradually abandoned.

Autumn 1824 – Spring 1825

With the exception of an attack by the Prince of Tharrawaddy in the end of August, the Burmese allowed the British to remain unmolested during the months of July and August. This interval was employed by Campbell in subduing the Burmese provinces of Tavoy and Mergui, and the whole coast of Tenasserim. This was an important conquest, as the country was salubrious and afforded convalescent stations to the sick, who were now so numerous in the British army that there were scarcely 3,000 soldiers fit for duty. About this time, an expedition was sent against the old Portuguese fort and factory of Syriam, at the mouth of the Pegu River, which was taken; in October the province of Martaban was reduced under the authority of the British.

The rainy season terminated about the end of October; and the Court of Ava, alarmed by the discomfiture of its armies, recalled the veteran legions which were employed in Arakan, under their renowned leader Maha Bandula. Bandula hastened by forced marches to the defence of his country; by the end of November, an army of 60,000 men had surrounded the British position at Rangoon and Kemmendine, for the defence of which Campbell had only 5,000 efficient troops. The Burmese, in great force made repeated attacks on Kemmendine without success, and on 7 December 1824 Bandula was defeated in a counter-attack made by Campbell. The fugitives retired to a strong position on the river, which they again entrenched; here, too, they were attacked by the British on 15 December, and driven in complete confusion from the field.

Campbell now resolved to advance on Prome; about convert|100|mi|km higher up the Irrawaddy River. He moved with his force on 13 February 1825 in two divisions, one proceeding by land, and the other, under General Willoughby Cotton, destined for the reduction of Danubyu, being embarked on the flotilla. Taking command of the land force, he continued his advance till 11 March, when intelligence reached him of the failure of the attack upon Danubyu. He instantly commenced a retrograde march; on 27 March he effected a junction with Cotton's force, and on 2 April he entered the entrenchments at Danubyu without resistance, Bandula having been killed by a bomb. The British general entered Prome on 25 April 1825 and remained there during the rainy season.

Autumn 1825 – Spring 1826

On 17 September 1825, an armistice was concluded for one month. In the course of the summer, General Joseph Wanton Morrison had conquered the province of Arakan; in the north, the Burmese were expelled from Assam; and the British had made some progress in Cachar, though their advance was finally impeded by the thick forests and jungle.

The armistice having expired on 3 November 1825, the army of Ava, amounting to 60,000 men, advanced in three divisions against the British position at Prome, which was defended by 3,000 Europeans and 2,000 native troops. However, the British still triumphed; after several actions, in which the Burmese were the assailants and were partially successful, Campbell attacked the different divisions of their army on 1 December, and successively drove them from all their positions, dispersing them in every direction. The Burmese retired on Malun, along the course of the Irrawaddy, where they occupied, with 10,000 or 12,000 men, a series of strongly fortified heights and a formidable stockade. On 26 December, they sent a flag of truce to the British camp. Negotiations having commenced, peace was proposed to them on the following conditions:

# The cession of Arakan, together with the provinces of Mergui, Tavoy and Ye, and the temporary occupation of large parts of southern Burma until the financial indemnity for the war was paid by the Burmese.
# The renunciation by the Burmese sovereign of all claims upon Assam, Manipur and the contiguous smaller states.
# The British East India Company to be paid a crore (10 million) rupees as an indemnity for the expenses of the war.
# Residents from each court of the Company to be allowed, with an escort of fifty men into the Burmese capital.
# British ships would no longer be obliged to unship their rudders and land their guns as formerly in the Burmese ports.

This treaty was nominally agreed to and signed by officials the British located. However, the ratification of the King could not be obtained, and it was suspected that the Burmese had no intention to sign it, but were preparing to continue the war. Accordingly, Campbell attacked the Burmese military positions at Malun on 19 January 1826. Another offer of peace was here made by some Burmese, but it was considered to be insincere, and the remainder of the Burmese army made a final stand in defence of the capital at the ancient city of Pagan. They were attacked and overthrown on 9 February. As the invading force was now within four days' march of Ava, the Burmese King decided to accept the treaty.

Dr. Price, an American missionary, who had been thrown into prison with other Europeans when the war commenced, was sent to the British camp with the treaty (known as the Treaty of Yandabo, signed on 24 February 1826) ratified, the prisoners of war released, and an installment of 25 lakhs (2.5 million) rupees. The war was thus brought to an end, and the British army moved south. The British army remained in the territories surrendered to it under the treaty and in the territories such as the Rangoon area which were occupied for several years in guarantee of the financial terms of the treaty.

The territories of Ye and Tavoy had been taken by the British as a bargaining chip for use in future negotiations with either Burma or Siam. They were unprofitably administered by the East India Company after the war. Serious consideration was given to abandoning the territories in the 1830s.

Overall, even though the war was won by the British, it is generally viewed as a British military disaster due to poor planning on the part of the military forces in India. They had mistakenly expected the Mon of the Delta to support them with transport and food. The cost of the war in money, time and lives was generally seen as unacceptable. The British deployed a total force of 40,000 and lost no fewer than 15,000, although only 4 percent of this number were killed in action.

In fiction

The first few chapters of the novel "The Sabre's Edge" by Allan Mallinson are set during the First Burmese War.

ee also

*History of Burma
*Konbaung dynasty
*Second Anglo–Burmese War (1852)
*Third Anglo–Burmese War (1885–1886)
*France-Burma relations

*"On the Irrawaddy River" by G.A. Henty is a fictional account of the First Burmese War.


*Europe and Burma, D.G.E. Hall, Oxford University Press 1945

External links

* [ Text of the Treaty of Yandabo]
* [ Colour plates by Lt. Joseph Moore and (Capt. Frederick Marryat)]
* [ The Somerset Light Infantry in the First Burmese War]
* [ First Anglo-Burmese War] British regiments
* Rikard,J.(12 December 2001) [ First Anglo Burmese War,1823-1826]

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