John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

. (page 3 of 41)
Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in Transformation, 1898, p. 14) says of Yunnan that " its
mineral wealth is greater and more varied than that of
any other province!' Consul Hosie's statements in his
reports hardly corroborate this eulogy, although he
mentions copper as being found in the north-east and
tin mines as being worked in the south of the province ;
while Captain Wingate, who recently crossed from
Shanghai via Hunan, Kweiyang, and Yunnan Sen to
Rangoon, describes Yunnan and Kweichow as being
sparsely populated and poor in comparison with the
wealth and enormous possibilities of Hunan.

So far as is yet known coal is not found in Yunnan,
although in Szechuan it forms the fuel of the people, the
pine forests having long since been destroyed. Mr.
Jamieson, when Consul at Szumao, reported in 1898
that —

It is difficult to understand on what grounds such sanguine hopes
of Yunnan's future prosperity are based, when it is seen what httle
support has been given to such illusory ideas by competent observers



conversant with actual facts. I am quite prepared to admit that the
mineral wealth of Yunnan is great, but the difficulties in the way of
working the same are so formidable that they are certain to deter all
who wish for some return on their outlay from investing capital in
mining enterprises, at least in the southern and western sections of
the province. Apart from minerals the province possesses few other
resources, and the inhabitants are unenterprising and lazy to a degree.
So long as they grow enough rice to feed themselves, and procure
enough cotton wherewith to make the few articles of clothing necessary
in this equable climate they are content.

Mr. Litton, Consul at Chungking, likewise reported
in 1899 t^'^'^t ^ ^^rie from Burma to Chungking direct
would pass through an excessively difficult country,
which is commercially worthless. On the other hand,
Consul Bourne said in a recent report —

There are great possibilities of expansion of trade in western and
south-western Yunnan, but eastern Yunnan is a poor country consisting
for the most part of dry wind-swept downs, on which nothing is grown
except perhaps one crop of Indian corn a year.

The agents of the Yunnan syndicate of course go
much further and assert that commercial prospects are
favourable for railway enterprise, and their officers, sent
during the dry season 1898-99 to make a rough recon-
naissance between the Kunlon ferry and Chungking,
reported that what they considered a practicable route
might be found for a line about 1,000 miles long from
Kunlon via Yunnan Sen to Luchow, between Suifu and
Chungking on the Upper Yangtse.

Again, as to the actual condition of existing trade
there seems to be the same sort of contradiction in state-
ments. Thus, in the memorandum on trade presented
to Lord Charles Beresford by the China Association
at Shanghai in October, 1898, the following descrip-
tion of affairs is given {The Break-up of CJmia, 1899,
pp. 89-90)—

But if the British Government has allowed the provisions of the
Treaties to become a dead letter, other nations have been less com-
placent with China in their handling of the matter, and it is somewhat
humiliating to find the following passage in the report of Mr. Consul
Bourne, who accompanied the recent " Blackburn Mission to China."
Writing upon the trade of Yunnan, Mr. Bourne says : "Since my visit
to this place in 1885 the import trade in foreign goods has almost



entirely shifted from the West river route via Pose-Ting (i.e. the British
route) to the Tongking route by way of the Red river and Mengtzu
(the French route). This revolution, great indeed if the conservative
habits of the Chinese are remembered, is entirely due to the energy
of the French in vigorously enforcing on the Chinese Government their
right to transit passes to cover goods from Mengtzu to Yunnan Fu."
Again, on the same subject, Messrs. Bell and Neville, the members of
the Mission, write : " There is little chance of any increase of trade
(into Yunnan) by the overland route from Bhamo (i.e. the Burmese
frontier route), for goods coming this way are subjected to no less
than seven different duties, whereas by the Mengtzu route transit
passes are recognized, and the 7| per cent, paid to the Imperial
Maritime Customs exempts the goods from any further taxation. If
the French have been able to enforce upon the Chinese Government
this respect of Treaty rights, how is it that we, who hold some sixty-
four per cent, of China's total foreign trade, have so entirely failed ? "

This seems perfectly clear and intelligible. Yet it is
entirely at variance with the report of the Commissioners
of Customs at Mengtse, in southern Yunnan, for 1899.
This says that, in 1898-99, the traffic —

reached a total value of about ^525,000, being the largest amount
since the place was opened to foreign trade ; and the year is described
as a prosperous one for merchants, in spite of frequent and even in-
creasing wrecks of junks in the Red river. The imports amounted in
value to about ^^350,000, of which ninety-seven per cent, came by
way of Hongkong, the remaining three per cent, representing Tonquin
trade. The exports represented roughly, _;^i 75,000, of which eighty-
three per cent, went to Hongkong, the remainder being the share of

Both of these statements cannot possibly be correct ; on
of them must be at least partially wrong. The French
do more, however, for encouraging and pushing their
trade, because they have consular agents resident both
at Mengtse and Yunnan Sen.

But, in any case, it is quite certain that the provincial
Likin exactions must naturally act as a barrier to the
expansion of British trade, while other two very serious
obstacles need also to be removed before commerce can
increase rapidly. These are, that right of residence in
the interior of the country, and not merely at the Treaty
ports as at present, should be secured to British subjects,
and that the right to trade in the interior of the country
should also be obtained.


Chapter II


THE railways in Burma are all of metre gauge.
They consist of two main trunk lines of very
unequal length, both of which were originally State
railways. That constructed first and opened to traffic in
May, 1877, the Irrawaddy Valley State Railway, runs
from Rangoon, the capital and the chief seaport of
Burma, situated near the mouth of the Irrawaddy river,
northwards for 163 miles to Prome, an important town
on the left bank of the Irrawaddy. It was first projected
in 1868, but the estimates were not prepared till 1873.
The first sod was turned in July, 1874, large numbers
of famine immigrants from Bengal being employed on
the earthwork.

Throughout most of its length this railway follows the
military road constructed at the close of the second
Burmese war (1852-53) to connect Rangoon with the
old frontier station of Thayetmyo, forty-five miles north
of Prome. This line passes through rich rice-fields, and
has been a very remunerative investment. Apart from
the strategical objects which were of considerable in-
fluence in determining the Government of India on its
construction, it has contributed in a very marked degree
to the spread of rice cultivation and the increase of revenue
throughout the Hanthawaddy, Tharrawaddy, and Prome
districts. Where twenty-five years ago in Tharrawaddy
there were vast compact areas of tree forest only broken
into here and there by patches of permanent cultivation,
there are now enormous stretches of rice lands ; while
the area still under forest on the plains has been reduced



to far lower proportions than are desirable in the
interests of agriculture. Fortunately the summer rains
brought by the south-west monsoon never fail throughout
the central and southern portion of the districts traversed
by the railway, so that anything like a famine consequent
on excessive clearance of the primeval forest need not
be feared. The only tracts that still remain uncleared
for rice cultivation within easy reach of the line of
railway are areas reserved as State forests for fuel and
fodder, or as grazing grounds set apart for the plough

After the completion of this first short line, the survey
was put in hand of a similar line of about equal length
(i66 miles) running first north by east through the
Pegu and Shwegyin districts, and then due north to
Toungoo, the other old frontier military station on the
Sittang river. The prospect of this Sit tang Valley State
Railway, opened in 1884, paying as well as the line on
the Prome side was not very promising at first ; but
strategical reasons were far stronger in this than in the
previous case. From Rangoon to Prome and Thayetmyo
there had always been good river communication by
means of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company's steamers,
whereas the troops in Toungoo were much more out of
touch with the central military authorities. Toungoo
could, it is true, be reached either by land or water.
But the land route involved marching for more than
160 miles over a very bad road crossed by several large
streams, some of the largest of which were neither
bridged nor served by ferries. Moreover, only the first
fifty miles or so of the road were metalled, and very
badly metalled too, so that this route was only practic-
able between the months of November and April.

The river communication was equally bad. The
passage from the Pegu river to the Sittang, and con-
sequently the ascent of the latter, could only be made
during the fortnightly spring tides, at which periods the
strong bore rushing up the winefiller-shaped mouth of
the Sittang river was sometimes dangerous. The ascent
by river from Rangoon usually took from ten to twenty
days, in great discomfort, and it was all but impractic-



able during the flood season lasting from June to

At that time, prior to 1884, there were few steam
launches in Rangoon, and the conveyance of troops and
of other travellers took place in boats roofed in with
a thin, low awning of thatch. It was uncomfortable
to have to lie down all day long, and day after day, on
the hard boards of a so-called Chittagong boat, and a
relief to get out and walk up and down a sandbank while
the evening meal was being cooked. One could, of
course, come down stream much quicker. During the
rains of 1880 I made the journey from Toungoo to
Rangoon in four and a half days in a Burmese boat of
about fifty tons. This contained, as my fellow-passengers,
four servants, one pony, one dog, and five boatmen.
That was, however, travelling in unusual comfort for
those days, as I could not only sit upright all day, but
even had a small table and a chair in the centre compart-
ment of the boat, next to my pony. The compartment
immediately beyond that my cook used as his kitchen.

All movements of trade between Rangoon and the
Sittang river were likewise limited to the high tides
recurring fortnightly, as at other times the Kyasu creek,
leading from the Pegu river across into the Sittang, was
blocked for want of water. Such was the rather un-
pleasant state of affairs until the opening of the Sittang
Valley State Railway in 1884.

During 1887-88, the Irrawaddy and Sittang lines,
extending over 333 miles, which had cost over 289 lacs
of rupees (^1,926,666), made net earnings of nearly
15 lacs of rupees (;!^ 100,000) giving a return of 5*11 per
cent, on the capital.

Permanent cultivation near the newer line of railway
soon began to extend, though nothing like so rapidly as
had been the case in the less thinly populated tracts
traversed by the Prome line. The Sittang railway had,
however, this great advantage, that it was capable of
extension northwards to Mandalay whenever circum-
stances might render such a scheme feasible. That
this opportunity was actually forced upon us, mainly
through the action of the French in adopting their



customary plan of trying to steal in behind the tracts
occupied by Britain, is now a matter of history.

The annexation of Upper Burma on January i,
1886, and the military operations entailed thereafter in
the occupation and the pacification of the new territories,
necessitated the extension of the Sittang line to Man-
dalay. The work of survey and of construction began
towards the close of 1886, taking place simultaneously
from Mandalay southwards for forty miles, and from
Toungoo northwards for sixty miles ; but in the inter-
vening 1 20 miles some delay occurred in making a com-
mencement, as the work had to be carried on in tracts that
were seriously disturbed by predatory bands of dacoits or
armed robbers. It is perhaps the finest achievement of
our civilization in Burma that this extension, measuring
220 miles from Toungoo to Mandalay, was opened to
traffic early in 1889, within three and a quarter years of
the annexation of Upper Burma. The chief credit of
this great work is mainly due to Sir Charles Bernard,
the Chief Commissioner of Burma ; for it was really
through his personal insistence that the extension scheme
was somewhat reluctantly approved by the Government
of India and recommended to the Secretary of State.
This extension skirted the Shan hills, passing within
fifteen to twenty miles of the mouths of the passes
through which the caravans from the southern States
reach the plains, and opening up a land-locked tract
inaccessible by any navigable streams. Work on this
line provided labour for large numbers of people, and
materially assisted the pacification of these eastern dis-
tricts which were for some time among the most tur-
bulent in the province.

One of the results of this through railway communica-
tion between the moist tracts of Lower Burma and the
central dry zone of Upper Burma — in which, owing
mainly to excessive clearance of the original forest
covering, the humidity of the atmosphere is very low and
the storage capacity of the soil for retaining moisture has
been ruined, while the surface soil is easily eroded and
washed away during heavy rainfall — has been that in
years of scarcity, such as have been of frequent recur-



rence recently, large supplies of rice and other food-
stuffs can be poured into the afflicted districts. At the
same time the people can easily, if they like, be trans-
ferred by rail to the vicinity of tracts not far distant in
Lower Burma, where danger from drought does not
exist, and where good land can still readily be obtained
from Government for clearance and permanent occupa-
tion on uncommonly easy terms.

On the completion of the line to Mandalay, a survey
was almost immediately put in hand for facilitating
military operations and opening up the new province
by extending the railway system northwards towards
Shwebo, and then beyond that to Katha, to Mogaung,
and to the upper portion of the Irrawaddy river, about
I oo miles north of Bhamo. The Myohaung (" ancient
capital ") station, a few miles south of Mandalay, was
chosen as the most convenient point of junction, and
from this a short branch was thrown out westwards to
Amdrapura. Here the Irrawaddy has now to be crossed
in large and powerful ferry steamers to the town of
Sagaing (though it will probably soon be bridged at an
estimated cost of about ;^200,ooo), whence the Mu
Valley State Railway was constructed running north-
wards through the Sagaing, Shwebo, Katha, and Bhamo
districts to Mogaung and Myitkyina. In its course
through Shwebo and Katha it passes within twelve miles
of the Wuntho goldfields, from which so much gold was
expected and so little has up to date been obtained.
This railway was opened to traffic in sections, first of all
to Shwebo in 1891, then to Wuntho in 1892, to Katha on
the Irrawaddy (which is connected with the main line by
a short branch) in 1895, to Mogaung in 1897, ^^^ finally
to Myitkyina during the autumn of 1898. This Mu
Valley line only commenced to pay in 1900, but its pro-
spects are good.

Myitkyina, the headquarters of a new district of the
same name, is the terminus of the railway line up the
Irrawaddy valley, at a point 724 miles distant from
Rangoon by railway and about 1,000 miles by river.
It is situated on the right bank of the river, about
twenty-five miles below where the two branches, the



Malikha and the Maikha, unite to form the Irrawaddy.
At Myitkyina, and for about twelve miles further north,
the river is navigable for steam launches ; but beyond
that steam navigation is impracticable, and must remain
so. From December to May steam launches can run
between Bhamo and Myitkyina, but not during the rainy
season from June till the end of November ; for in the
gorge known as " the first defile " the floods, rising
over eighty feet high and pent up till they pour over a
narrow opening, only fifty to sixty yards wide, called
" the Pashaw gate," render navigation either up or down
stream equally impossible. Even in the dry season
there are stringent regulations as to the departure of
launches upwards from Bhamo and downwards from
Sinbo, in order to obviate casualties in the defile. Under
no circumstances could large steamers make the journey
at any time of the year ; and whatever traffic there is,
or there ever will be, the requirements of commerce are
far better served by the railway than they possibly could
be by river steamers plying between Bhamo and

From Wuntho northwards the line passes through
thinly populated districts which are certain to be more
extensively cultivated later on. To the north and east,
Myitkyina is shut in by lofty hills, thickly wooded and
sparsely inhabited by wild Kachin jungle tribes. Any
remunerative extension of this main iine beyond Myit-
kyina is therefore hardly to be thought of in the mean-
time, though a branch from Mogaung northwards, by
way of Kamaing, up the Hukong valley to connect with
the Assam railway system has been considered so far as
to have been the object of a reconnaissance survey
during 1895-96. The results were, however, not suffi-
ciently encouraging to hold out any hope that the project
can for the present be considered remunerative. It is,
nevertheless, a scheme perhaps more worthy of considera-
tion than the construction of a railway across Yunnan.

After the opening of the Mu Valley Railway, the
various lines were amalgamated and called the Biirma
State Railways ; but this name was altered when the
Bzirma Railways Co?npany, Limited, took over all the



existing lines and projects on September i, 1896. This
Company, formed in July, 1896, contracted to take over
from the Secretary of State for India the open system
of railways in Burma, then aggregating 834 miles in
length, also to complete and eventually work other lines
in progress, amounting to 360 miles more — or about 1,200
miles in all — and to construct and work such other lines
as the Secretary of State may think fit to entrust to it,
Government arranging to contribute further capital or
enabling the Company to raise the same. The capital is
;^2,ooo,ooo, of which half has been called up, and on
which the Indian Government guarantee a dividend of two
and a half per cent, per annum together with one-fifth of
the surplus earnings beyond that interest. It was also
guaranteed that this one-fifth should not be less than a
quarter per cent, for the first five years ending with June,
1 90 1. Provisions were likewise made in the contract as to
the utilization of the net earnings for discharging interest
on any debentures raised, and for paying to Govern-
ment interest at two and a half per cent, per annum on the
capital expended in constructing the railways. Further,
Government reserved the right of determining the con-
tract at six months' notice in 192 1, or in any tenth year
thereafter, or in the event of the undertaking not paying
its expenses for three successive half-years. In the
case of such determination, the share capital is to be
repaid at par. That is to say, the onus of finding money
for all constructions within British territory really falls on
the Government of India, whose financial position does
not justify their rushing into rash expenditure. Beyond
that, responsibility for surveys and other charges in Yun-
nan can hardly be forced upon the Government of India.
The status of the Burma railways is thus clear and
definite. The Company not only took over the active
management of the existing open lines of railway, the
lines in course of construction, and the projects under
consideration, but they also voluntarily incurred the
liability to construct further extensions ordered by the
Government of India on the guarantee from the latter
of an uncommonly low rate of interest for investments of
the nature in question in a country like Burma.



The capital outlay on the Burma railways system —
including open lines, lines in construction, and surveys in
connexion with projects then under consideration — up to
August 31, 1896, when the enterprise was handed over by
Government to the Burma Railways Company, amounted
to 787^ lacs of rupees or five and a quarter million pounds
sterling. Of this total, 77 1|- lacs (^^5, 1 80,666) represented
outlay on open lines ; and these yielded during 1896-97
net earnings to the amount of 34 J lacs (;^2 30,000),
giving 4*47 per cent, on the capital invested. The last
dividend declared by the Company was three and three-
quarters per cent, for the half-year ending June 30, 1900.

The principal extension now in course of construction
is the much talked of branch extending from Myohaung,
near Mandalay, which is also the junction for the Mu
valley section to Mogaung and Myitkyina, eastwards
through the northern Shan States by way of Maymyo,
the little "hill station" of Burma, Thibaw, Lashio, and
Mong Yaw to some point at or near the Kunlon ferry on
the Salween river.

The detailed survey for this line was begun in the
autumn of 1892, but the project was not sanctioned till
1895. The estimated distance from Myohaung junction
to the Kunlon ferry is 224 miles, and the sanctioned
estimate was for 183 lacs of rupees (^1,220,000), though
this would probably be exceeded considerably.

But in Upper Burma there are two other important
branch lines. One of these, about sixty miles in length,
begun in 1 896 as a famine work, runs from Thazi, near the
headquarters of the Meiktila division and that important
military station, to Myingyan on the Irrawaddy, near
where this receives from the north-west its chief tributary,
the Chindwin river. This line, which was opened to
traffic in November, 1899, traverses the principal cotton-
producing district in Burma, whose short-stapled crop is
largely exported into Yunnan via Bhamo. From Sagaing
another important branch, about seventy miles long, runs
through Myinmu and Monywa to Alon, on the Chindwin,
which passes through fertile rice lands and tracts produc-
ing cotton, cattle, and salt. The construction of a branch
from Letpadan (on the Prome line), by way of Henzada,


to the seaport of liassein is now in active progress.
This will pass throug^h a well populated, highly culti-
vated, and rich rice-producing country. A survey is now
being made for a branch railway extending from Pegu,
on the main Rangoon-Mandalay line, to Moulmein.
Short feeder lines are being surveyed for between Pegu
and Syriam, the ancient Mon capital near the mouth of
the Pegu river, and from Dalla, just opposite Rangoon,
to Dedaye, on the tidal creeks. Another survey is being
made from Thazi junction to Taunggyi, and the Local
Government are prepared to make and work this line
themselves, unless other arrangements are meanwhile
entered into, in the event of the survey showing that the
cost of construction and of maintenance would be reason-
able. And in the near future a branch about 200
miles in length will most likely be extended southwards
from Thibaw, on the Mandalay-Kunlon line, through
Kehsi-Mansam and Laikha to Mong Nai (Mone) in the
heart of the Southern Shan States, the survey for which
was begun in 1897. Here a certain amount of trade
already exists, which is capable of being greatly increased.
These States are small principalities which, prior to annex-
ation, were utterly disorganized by internecine strife and
thinly populated by reason of constant petty warfare.

Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 41)