Anglo-Burmese relations, 1795-1826

Ramachandra, Gangadharan Padmanabhan

History; Southeast Asian studies
April 1977

Thesis or dissertation

© 1977 Gangadharan Padmanabhan Ramachandra. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

In this work, the writer has provided a detailed analysis of .Anglo-Burmese relations between 1795 and 1826. In Chapter I, Part I, the Burmese incursions of 1787 and 1794 are examined and are shown not to have been hostile. The factors which led the British to despatch an embassy to Burma in 1795 are examined in detail, and the Burmese Court's amenability to contact with foreign powers is high-lighted. In Chapter I, Part II, the state of Anglo-Burmese trade at this time is examined. In Chapter I, Part III, the Symes mission is discussed. His instructions are examined in detail. His threat at Rangoon to leave Burma is shown to have been 11--f an error. A number of issues which cropped up at the capital are examined including the question of the Burmese attitude to the Governor-General's status. The Burmese response to Symes' proposals was friendly, although they refused to abandon their neutrality.

In Chapter II, the Cox mission is discussed. His instructions are examined in detail, as also his violations of these instructions. His diary for the period between November 1797 and April 1798 is also examined. The unsuccessful attempts by the Burmese to secure arms are also discussed.

In Chapter III, Part I, the events at the Chittagong-Arakan frontier between 1799 and 1800 which, together with the Cox mission and the failure to obtain arms, generated considerable ill-feeling for the British in King Bodawpaya's mind, are examined. Lord Wellesley's policy towards Burma is examined also. The mission sent to Burma in 1802, it is shown, did not succeed in its aim of a subsidiary alliance, but it succeeded in re-establishing cordial relations. The King also promised not to revive the embarrassing demand for the surrender of refugees in Chittagong (made in 1799 and 1802).

In Chapter III, Part II,, the reasons for the despatch of Lt. Canning to Rangoon are examined. The reasons for the arrival of a French ship at Rangoon are examined, as also the reasons for Canning's departure in November 1803, and the Yewun's conduct on that occasion (which is shown to have been defensible).

In Chapter IV, the failure (on two occasions) of British sea captains to respect Burmese territorial integrity, and the Canning mission of 1809 to 1810, are discussed. Certain features of this mission - Canning's intrigue with the Ein-gyi Paya, the questions of the Governor-General's status, the Burmese response to the blockade of Mauritius and Bourbon and the King's apparent desire to gain possession of parts of Bengal - are high-lighted.

In Chapter V, the Canning mission of 1811 to 1812, the result of the invasion and temporary conquest of Arakan by Arakanese from Chittagong, is discussed. The Burmese response was initially conciliatory, but subsequently, the King apparently attempted (unsuccessfully) to have Canning sent up to the capital, by force if necessary. A new interpretation of the origins of Chin Pyan's rebellion is suggested in this chapter.

Chapter VI examines the Burmese demand for extradition of refugees (revived, in consequence of Chin Pyan's insurrection, for the first time since 1802), the letters of 1817 and 1818, demanding (respectively) the expulsion of refugees and the surrender of parts of Bengal, Burmese expansion into Northeast India and the emergence of new refugee problems, British policy towards Assam, the resulting anti-British feeling at the Burmese capital and the Burmese missions to Vietnam and the Sultan of Kedah, which show that despite worsening relations with the British, the Court's preoccupation, at the time of the outbreak of the Shahpuri crisis was the conquest of Siam.

In Chapter VII, VIII and IX, the outbreak of the war from 1824 to 1826, and the political aspect of the war are discussed. The Burmese claim to Shahpuri island, it is shown, was made in good faith, like the British. The Court was prepared to uphold its claim to Shahpuri even at the cost of war, but so were the British. Subsequently, the Court received the wrong impression that the British were willing to give up Shahpuri. It then decided to demand a surrender of refugees and the ruler of Cachar,who would be made tributary ruler of Cachar. There is no satisfactory evidence to show that the Court still intended to fight the British.

Initially, British policy aimed mainly at chastising the Burmese, so as to ensure their future good behaviour, and securing a strategically viable frontier. Subsequently, after the war had dragged on for over a year, new demands were made on the Burmese, for a variety of reasons, and in the last stages of the war, it was decided, solely for strategic reasons, to separate Pegu from Ava. This decision was rendered inapplicable by the conclusion of peace.

Department of History, The University of Hull
Bassett, D. K. (David Kenneth), 1931-1989; Christie, Clive J.
Sponsor (Organisation)
Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas
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