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ably between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000, or only about
fifty to the square mile, is dependent mainly on agricul-
ture ; while one of the presumptive objects of the proposed
railway is to exploit the reputed mineral wealth of the
province. But no coal has yet been found in Yunnan,
while even pinewood for fuel is comparatively scanty in
many parts ; and this want of abundant supplies of cheap
fuel will much increase the cost of working a railway.

As for gold, why go to Yunnan when the Wuntho
goldfields are within twelve to twenty miles of the Mu
Valley Railway, and while the Paunglaung range of
hills, east of the Sittang river but within easy reach of
the Rangoon- Mandalay line, is known to be rich in pre-
cious metals ?

Coal is being worked at Kabwet, between the Irra-
waddy and the railway in the Katha district, and more
important fields are believed to exist throughout the
northern Shan States within fairly easy reach of the
Mandalay- Lashio line.

And, a fortiori, if development of agriculture is another
object in view, why not concentrate efforts on the vast

43



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

stretches of rich lands lying uncleared and uncultivated
throughout the plains and valleys of Burma itself ? Again^
all the agricultural produce Yunnan can yield (chillies,
onions, ginger, etc.) can be equally well raised in Burma
and in the Shan States ; while the cotton, betel-nuts,
cutch, piece goods, etc., required for Yunnan, necessary
in fact, must be taken inland, either from the Irrawaddy
at Bhamo or else from emporia situated on our Burma
railways. Opium, almost the staple of Yunnan, is not
wanted as an import into Burma.

Under any circumstances we already command the
bulk of the trade that is possible, without embarking on.
questionable railway extensions of considerable financial
magnitude in Yunnan. It must also be considered that
in actual distance, in a straight line, the Kunlon ferry is
about 550 miles from Suifu, the limit of the navigability
of the Yangtse to boats of about sixty tons, and about 660
miles from Chungking, the limit of navigation for junks
up to eighty tons, which latter may be taken as the limit
of possibility for cargo steamers of large size. On the
other hand, Hongkong (Kawlon) is only about 680 miles,
Canton 600 miles, and Wuchow 500 miles from Chung-
king. That is to say, the Kunlon ferry and Hongkong
are practically about equidistant from Chungking, the
most important objective on the upper Yangtse river ;
and there is good reason to believe that the construction
of a railway from Hongkong to Chungking would have
fewer natural difficulties to contend with than a line
taken across the mountains of Yunnan. And there are
the other two very great advantages that a line from
Hongkong, — via Canton, Wuchow, Kweilin, and Kwei-
yang — would pass through tracts more populous than
Yunnan and more likely to be productive of local supplies
of the coal so essential for the working of a railway at
anything like a moderate cost.

Considering the natural difficulties of the country, Hong-
kong is practically nearer to Yunnan than Rangoon ; and
the natural route to the Yunnan plateau is by the gradual
ascent from the east via Wuchow, Nanningfu, and Pose-
ting (Posai), where river communication ends.

As this Burma-Yunnan railway scheme has been so

44



DEVELOPMENT OF BURMA

much talked of, I venture to repeat that unless it can be
shown that railway construction extending far beyond
the Salween will be less unduly expensive than has
hitherto been surmised and can offer the prospect of
better returns than have generally been anticipated by
those most competent to form an opinion on the subject,
the solid reasons for advocating the immediate further
development of the railway net throughout Burma in the
first place, and then for uniting it with Zimme and Bang-
kok in the second place, seem much stronger than those
for extending the line eastwards into China. No pressure
has been brought to bear on Government from the Ran-
goon Chamber of Commerce, the Press of Burma, or the
Burma Railways Company. If the project were really
very promising, these would probably have been the first
to urge the necessity for action on the part of the Govern-
ment ; for they have most to gain by whatever will
increase the bulk of the trade passing through Rangoon.
They, however, would prefer that the inland communica-
tions of Burma by road and rail should be improved, and
that private capital should be encouraged to flow normally
into Burma for the more rapid development of the pro-
vince rather than that Government should commit them-
selves in the immediate future to guarantees for extensive
railway works extending across the mountainous tracts
of Yunnan.

Apart from the special projects now engaging the atten-
tion of the Burma Railways Company much may easily
be done by other British capitalists in the way of opening
out feeder railways; and suitable companies would prob-
ably be able to obtain concessions of this sort on liberal
terms. In the last Administration Report on Burma
(1899- 1 900) it is expressly stated with reference to trans-
port of the rice crop that " communications are not yet so
perfect as to make free export follow demand, and the
inadequacy of the rolling stock of the Burma Railways
Company in Upper as in Lower Burma makes it impos-
sible to put much of the grain on the market. The
markets are therefore in most districts local, and prices
vary considerably from district to district."

Among feeder lines which may thus' |be indicated as

45



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

likely to prove profitable and worthy of the attention of
capitalists are railways from Pegu to Shwegyin in Lower
Burma, and from Salin to Sinbyugyun in Upper Burma.
But there are many others besides these two. As
above mentioned, a survey for a line is now being made
from Thazi (on the Rangoon- Mandalay line) to Taunggyi,
the capital of the southern Shan States, with a view to
its construction out of provincial funds. No doubt, if a
wealthy syndicate made suitable overtures, this project for
opening up the southern Shan States might be handed
over to it by the Local Government of Burma, as the
desirability of attracting British capital for the develop-
ment of this rich province is fully recognized by the
Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Frederic Fryer ; and this
would only be in accordance with the liberal and progres-
sive policy pursued by the Governor-General, Lord
Curzon of Kedleston.



46



Chapter III

BURMA'S FOREST WEALTH AND THE MAINTENANCE
OF THE TEAK TIMBER SUPPLY

THE statement may certainly appear remarkable
that the diminution in the supplies of oak timber
in England required for maintaining the King's navy
towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning
of the nineteenth centuries had a by no means remote
connexion with the first and the subsequent annexations
of portions of Burma by the British. And yet such state-
ment is quite in accordance with fact.

During the great period of naval warfare about a cen-
tury ago the supplies of timber for ship-building became
practically exhausted throughout Britain. To satisfy the
requirements of the chief naval yards, a substitute for
oak was found in teak {Tectona grandis) from India. It
was first of all exported from the Bombay dockyard,
which drew its supplies from the Konkan and Malabar
forests lying between the western Ghats and the sea-
coast. Here the easily obtainable supplies of large-sized
timber soon gave out, and the bulk of the demands had
to be drawn from Martaban in Burma. During the
course of this century the evolution of ship-building has
made teak almost a necessity, for this largest species of
the Verbenacece contains an essential oil which preserves
iron and steel coming in contact with it, or embedded in
it, in place of rusting and corroding them like the tannic
acid contained in oak.

At the termination of the first Burmese war, in 1826,
it was obvious that Assam and the seaboard province of
Arakan should for political reasons become integral por-
tions of Bengal, to put a stop to the Burmese interfer-

47



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

ence and annoyance within the frontiers of that province;
but the annexation of the far distant and poorly popu-
lated tract of Tenasserim was mainly occasioned by the
fact that, though much of the timber came from the
Siamese and Shan States lying further to the north and
east, this tract was believed to contain rich supplies of
teak, which were much needed for the demands of the
naval docks in England. It was soon found out that
the forests in Tenasserim were nothing like so rich in
teak as those in Pegu ; and when the line of frontier
was arbitrarily drawn at latitude ig^° N. to conclude the
second Burmese war in 1852, it was supposed that now,
at any rate, all the finest teak forests had been secured
against wasteful destruction. Many rich forest tracts
were thus included ; but those perhaps richest of all in
teak, and situated between 19^° and 20;^° N. in the
drainage of the Sittang river, were just missed. It was
in these Ningyan forests that the commercial trouble
occurred with a British foresting corporation, which ulti-
mately became the cause of the third Burmese war of
1885. As the whole of Burma was annexed on January
I, 1886, all the vast forest wealth it contains was taken
over by the British, and the province of Burma forms
the great natural storehouse of teak from which the
whole world's requirements of this invaluable timber is
mainly supplied at present. With the conservative
treatment which the best of these vast forest tracts are
now receiving, and with the works of improvement now
being carried out in selected portions of the reserved
areas, the supply of teak timber that they will yield in
the future is far more likely to increase greatly than to
diminish at all.

Immediately after the annexation of Tenasserim, in
1826, Dr. Wallich, the Government botanist, was sent
down from Calcutta to inspect the teak forests that had
thus been acquired. On receipt of his report, Govern-
ment resolved to reserve them as State property,
and to work the forests on the Attaran river by direct
agency. The first attempts at this proved discourag-
ing. Moulmein having just been founded as provincial
capital and the chief garrison nearly opposite to the site

48



PROTECTION OF FORESTS

of the Burmese town of Martaban, there was no market
for timber, as commerce had not yet had time to de-
velop. The timber had therefore to be sent to Calcutta
for sale, where the prices realized were so bad as to
cause Government to abandon the scheme of direct
extraction, and throw the forests open to private enter-
prise in 1829. Teak had, however, always been one of
the royal monopolies in Burmese times, and the Govern-
ment of India had no intention of abandoning the rights
inherited from the King of Burma. So the new system
adopted was to issue licences restricting to four feet the
minimum girth of trees to be felled, and requiring pay-
ment of a royalty of 1 5 per cent ad valorem. Four years
later it was found necessary to entertain a small native
establishment in connexion with protection, but it was
not till 1 84 1 that any officer was formally placed in
charge of the forests. New forest rules were then
issued providing for the resumption of the old licences,
the issue of leases for twenty years, and the control of
forest work by the Executive Engineer of Moulmein, as
ex-officio Superintendent of Forests. Among the con-
ditions contained in the leases, no tree was to be killed
for felling if less than six feet in girth, and five young
trees were to be planted for each tree killed. These
were the first of the forest rules, which have ever since
been continuously undergoing changes and amplifications
in order to meet the necessities of the new conditions
evolving themselves.

On the annexation of Pegu, in 1852, immediate steps
were taken for the protection of the forests. By procla-
mation, they were declared to be the property of the
State in accordance with established custom, all teak
trees having been the property of the King and teak
timber being a royal monopoly. To deal with forest
business the appointment of Superintendent of the Pegu
Forests was created, and was filled by Dr. MacClelland
of the medical service. Various notifications were issued
and rules promulgated of a more or less tentative
nature, for it was difficult to find the proper course to
pursue so long as next to nothing was known about the
forest resources and the growth of teak. Light was

VOL. 11. 49 E



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

only beginning to shine in the midst of this darkness
when Dr. MacClelland resigned, in 1855. In his suc-
cessor, Dr. (now Sir Dietrich) Brandis, appointed in
January, 1856, the man was found who substantially
laid the foundations of the Forest Department in
Burma. Working on the lines of policy recommended
to Government by his predecessor, and bringing to the
task in hand sound judgment and great determination in
facing the opposition with which his proposals were met
by the European merchants engaged in the timber busi-
ness. Dr. Brandis succeeded in gradually establishing a
sound and profitable system of Forest Conservancy dur-
ing his six years' labour in this field, before he was trans-
ferred to India on special duty in 1862, and then appointed
Inspector-General of Forests in India in 1863, a post he
held with conspicuous ability and success till his retire-
ment in 1883.

In the autumn of 1856 new rules were published for
bringing the Pegu forests under regular conservancy
and preventing their destruction by removal of all the
mature, marketable, seed-bearing trees, while a rough
working plan was framed for regulating the killing and
felling of teak trees for extraction. When Rangoon was
thrown open to trade in 1826 the chief business which
sprang up there before its annexation in 1852 was in teak
timber. The rice export trade, now the great staple, was
only in its early stage of development, and the mer-
chants raised great opposition to the conservancy mea-
sures urged by Dr. Brandis. It was clear to him that
the only effective method of retaining full control over
forest operations was to form a body of departmental
contractors among the Burmese, to extract the timber on
Government account, and to sell it by public auction at
a central timber depot established at Rangoon.

The first point, however, was to form some estimate
as to the existing stock of marketable teak timber and
its rate of growth, and to determine what number of
trees might annually be killed and marked for extrac-
tion. One great practical difficulty was that the teak
tree is not of gregarious habit, forming pure forests, but
usually only occurs individually, or in small family groups,

50



WORKING PLAN OF 1856

sprinkled throughout a matrix consisting of about a hun-
dred and fifty different genera and species of trees, which
form an overvvood to dense masses of bamboos of differ-
ent kinds, usually from thirty to sixty feet in height, but
often shooting up to 100 feet or more when able to
obtain free enjoyment of light in blank spaces. As a
rule the proportion of teak in what are called the teak
forests seldom amounts to over ten per cent, of the total
crop on the area, and in most cases it is considerably less
than this. Under any circumstances, therefore, the fell-
ing of mature seed-producing teak trees had to be
arranged for with caution, in order that the competi-
tion and the struggle for existence among so many
other kinds of trees, and among the dense bamboo
undergrowth, might not result in the gradual extinc-
tion of teak.

The results of the investigations made by linear valua-
tion surveys made in 1856 seemed to show that a teak
tree could not be considered mature and marketable till
it girthed four cubits (six feet) near its base, and this
was adopted as the minimum size of a first-class tree ;
while those between three and four cubits (four and a
half to six feet) were denominated second-class trees.
It was also found that the forests acquired in 1852 in
Pegu contained about 585,000 first-class trees; and it
was estimated, on too sanguine a calculation as sub-
sequent experience showed, that it would take about
twenty-four years for a second-class tree of four and
a half feet girth to develop into a first-class tree of
six feet girth. The rough working plan of 1856 was
therefore framed on the assumption that 585,000 first-
class trees were available for extraction during the next
twenty-four years, and it was arranged that during the
next six years (1856-62) one-fourth of these should be
"girdled " or killed by ringing. The forests were grouped
into six main divisions, to be operated upon successively
during the next six years. For the selection of the trees
to be girdled, instructions were given to the girdling offi-
cers that not more than one in four of the first-class trees
should be killed, that isolated trees should be spared for
seed-production, and that over-mature trees and such as

51



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

overshadowed groups of young teak should be girdled
in preference to others.

Girdling consists in cutting through the bark and sap-
wood till the darker-coloured heartwood is entered about
an inch below the surface. The effect of this operation
is, by removing a complete ring of the cambium, to
check the possibility of sap rising from the root-system.
Deprived of food supplies the leaves wither within a
few days of the operation, and the tree dies. A process
of natural seasoning on the stock then follows, the bark
and the twigs and smaller branches gradually falling off
during the next year or two years, and the seasoned stem
being ready for felling and extraction in two years or
more, according to the depth of the girdle and the girth
of the trees. If the tiniest bit of sapwood be left in any
of the fluted portions of the stem, the tree will gradually
recover in place of dying, so great is its vitality and
recuperative power. Trees thus operated on during the
rainy season lose their bark much earlier than those
girdled during the dry season, but as a rule girdling
work — always performed under the selection and the
immediate supervision of gazetted officers — can only, for
climatic reasons, be carried out during the dry season.

When selected for girdling, a stem is measured, num-
bered, blazed, and marked with a hammer at the base.
After girdling it is again marked above and below the
girdle with a hammer, showing the date of the operation.
Girdling has thus several advantages. It seasons the
trees evenly and as thoroughly as is possible in two or
three years ; it makes dragging to the floating stream
much easier than would otherwise be the case ; it greatly
facilitates floating operations ; and it forms the best check
against illegal girdling and extraction. The only draw-
back to it is the loss of increase in volume between the time
of girdling and that of extraction ; but this is insignificant
in comparison with the very solid advantages gained.
It was an old Burmese custom the purpose of which
was mainly to ensure successful floating of teak, apt to
sink if put green into floating streams, and only seasoning
unevenly at best, while liable to be damaged or consumed
by jungle fires if felled and left to season on the ground.

52



WORKING PLAN OF i860

Yet the retention of this most excellent custom met with
a storm of opposition from the European merchants, who
no doubt wished to have a less efficient check placed
upon their foresting operations.

The Pegu forest rules, published in October, 1856,
permitted traders to purchase dead and girdled timber
within specific tracts assigned to them under leases not
exceeding three years. But private girdling operations
were not permitted, and the timber remained the property
of the State till revenue was paid on it at a fixed rate.

A working plan like that for Pegu was formed in i860
for the teak forests of the Martaban and Tenasserim pro-
vinces, which were added to the Pegu charge in 1858, and
the whole of the forests were worked on similar girdling
principles till the end of 1867, the number of trees killed
averaging 24,300 a year. Until the girdlings of 1857 and
subsequent years became thoroughly seasoned and avail-
able for extraction only trees " killed by the spirits "
{Nattkat), those dying from natural causes, were felled and
floated out for the Rangoon market. This work was
given to Burmese and Karens living in the forests, and
advances were made to them for the purchase of elephants
for dragging. There were heavy deficits for the first
two years, but after that a substantial surplus was earned
by these direct departmental operations.

Meanwhile the opposition offered by Rangoon mer-
chants to the conservancy measures never relaxed.
Naturally desiring to be able to increase their business
rapidly they tried every argument and inducement to be
allowed to enter the forests and to fell and extract all
teak trees of marketable size. They pressed home the
argument that restriction of felling was interfering con-
siderably with the more rapid development of trade in
Rangoon. Their arguments being backed by the in-
fluence of important firms in Calcutta, the Government
of India, then in financial straits after the quelling of the
Indian Mutiny, resolved to throw open the Pegu forests
to private enterprise, and sent orders to Rangoon to this
effect early in 186 1. In accordance with these orders all
the forests west of the Irrawaddy river, and most of those
in Martaban drained by the Sittang river, were let to

53



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

merchants on twelve-year leases with permission to girdle.
For some of the other tracts permits to work were issued
for three and six years on payment of fixed rates for
timber extracted, while felling operations were confined
to trees girdled by forest officers. Fortunately, however,
the orders of the Government of India did not necessi-
tate the whole of the forests been thrown open at once,
and the best of all the teak forests in the Tharrawaddy
and Prome divisions continued to be worked by direct
departmental agency.

In these latter areas many of the most valuable
teak-producing tracts were closed to extraction by
natural obstructions in the floating streams ; and from
1858 onwards, for more than thirty years blasting
parties were employed during each dry season for the
removal of these rocky obstructions in the streams flow-
ing from the Peofu Yoma hills westwards into the Irra-
waddy and eastwards to the Sittang river — a work that
is still being vigorously prosecuted in the more recently
acquired territory.

On the three Commissionerships in Burma being
formed into the Chief Commissionership of British Burma
in January, 1862, all the forests of Arakan, Pegu, and
Martaban were placed in charge of Dr. Brandis, as Con-
servator of Forests ; and in the following year the
Tenasserim forests, hitherto under the civil authorities,
were also transferred to the charge of the Forest Depart-
ment. In November, 1862, Dr. Brandis was transferred
to India, where he was soon after appointed Inspector-
General of Forests to the Government of India. In
this position of greater influence, and in direct touch with
the supreme Government, he could do even more for the
conservancy and improvement of the Burma forests than
when he had them under his direct charge as provincial
head of the Forest Department.

In 1865 it was found necessary to pass a Forest Act,
and to promulgate new and more definite rules dealing
with the boundaries of the Government forests, the use
of marking hammers by lessees of forests and purchasers
of timber, the methods of disposal of State timber, and
various other matters. Unauthorized killing of teak trees

54



FOREST ACT AND RULES, 1865

was absolutely forbidden, and clearances for shifting hill
cultivation were only to be made with special permission
in places where teak trees were to be found growing.
Under these rules, which (with modifications) remained
in force till the issue of the rules of 1882 under the Burma
Forest Act, all girdling work was prohibited except such
as was carried out by the forest officers ; for the risks
and disadvantages consequent on the orders of 1861
had already become apparent to Government, without
their being able to cancel existing arrangements except
in the few cases where it could be absolutely proved that



Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 41)