First Burmese War

From Academic Kids

Template:NPOV The First Anglo-Burmese War lasted from 1823 to 1826. In UK it is also called as The First Burmese War. It was one of the three wars that were fought between Burma and the British colonial empire during the 19th century, and which resulted in the gradual extinction of Burmese independence.



Due to the difficult terrain, particularly during the rainy season in the summer, campaigning was largely confined to 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 its neighbours that has finally set it in contact with the British colonial empire. They apparently were not aware of the tactics, discipline and resources of the Europeans, and thus were not cautious about entering a war.

Spring 1824

On September 23, 1823, an armed party of Burmese attacked the British on Shapura, an island close to the Chittagong side, killing and wounding six of the guards. Two Burmese armies, one from Mariipur and another from Assam, also entered Cachar, which was under British occupation, in January 1824. War with Burma was formally declared on March 5, 1824. On May 17, 1824, 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 May 10, 1824. After a feeble resistance the place, then little more than a large stockaded village, was surrendered, and the troops were landed. The place was entirely deserted by its inhabitants, the provisions were carried off or destroyed, and the invading force took possession of a complete solitude. On May 28, Campbell ordered an attack on some of the nearest posts, which were all carried after a steadily weakening defence. On June 10, another attack was made on the 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 had such effect on the Burmese that they evacuated them, after a very unequal resistance.

It soon, however, became apparent that the expedition had been undertaken with very imperfect knowledge of the country, and without adequate provision. The devastation of the country, which was part of the defensive system of the Burmese, was 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 dispirited and beaten army; and early in June an attack was commenced on the British line, but proved unsuccessful. On June 8, the British assaulted. The Burmese were beaten at all points; and their strongest stockaded works, battered to pieces by a powerful artillery, were in general abandoned.

Autumn 1824 – Spring 1825

With the exception of an attack by the Prince of Tharrawaddy in the end of August, the enemy 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. An expedition was about this time sent against the old Portuguese fort and factory of Syriam, at the mouth of the Pegu river, which was taken; and 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; and 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 enemy in great force made repeated attacks on Kemmendine without success, and on December 7, 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; and here they were attacked by the British on the 15th, and driven in complete confusion from the field.

Campbell now resolved to advance on Prome; about 100 metres higher up the Irrawaddy river. He moved with his force on February 13, 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 the command of the land force, he continued his advance till March 11, when intelligence reached him of the failure of the attack upon Danubyu. He instantly commenced a retrograde march; on March 27 he effected a junction with Cotton's force, and on April 2 entered the entrenchments at Danubyu without resistance, Bandula having been killed by the explosion of a bomb. The English general entered Prome on April 25, and remained there during the rainy season.

Autumn 1825 – Spring 1826

On September 17, an armistice was concluded for one month. In the course of the summer General Joseph 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 November 3, 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. But the British still triumphed, and after several actions, in which the Burmese were the assailants and were partially successful, Campbell, on December 1, attacked the different divisions of their army, and successively drove them from all their positions, and dispersed 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 December 26, they sent a flag of truce to the British camp; and negotiations having commenced, peace was proposed to them on the following conditions:

  1. The cession of Arakan, together with the provinces of Mergui, Tavoy and Ye.
  2. The renunciation by the Burmese sovereign of all claims upon Assam and the contiguous petty states.
  3. The British East India Company to be paid a crore of rupees as an indemnity for the expenses of the war.
  4. Residents from each court of the Company to be allowed, with an escort of fifty men.
  5. British ships should no longer be obliged to unship their rudders and land their guns as formerly in the Burmese ports.

This treaty was agreed to and signed, but the ratification of the King was still wanting; and it was soon apparent that the Burmese had no intention to sign it, but were preparing to renew the contest. Accordingly, Campbell attacked and carried the enemy's position at Malun on January 19, 1826. Another offer of peace was here made by the Burmese, but it was found to be insincere; and the fugitive army made at the ancient city of Pagan a final stand in defence of the capital. They were attacked and overthrown on February 9; and the invading force being now within four days' march of Ava.

Dr Price, an American missionary, who with other Europeans had been thrown into prison when the war commenced, was sent to the British camp with the treaty (known as the Treaty of Yandaboo, signed on February 24, 1826) ratified, the prisoners of war released, and an instalment of 25 lakhs of rupees. The war was thus brought to a successful termination, and the British army evacuated the country.

In fiction

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

See also

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

External Link


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