John Clark Marshman.

The history of India, from the earliest period to the close of Lord Dalhousie's administration / by John Clark Marshman (Volume 2) online

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course of the war, but at the commencement of it the Go-
vernment in Calcutta was profoundly ignorant of the national
mode of warfare, of the military force and resources, the popu-
lation and the geography of the country, or of the approaches
to it from our own provinces. The Commander-in-chief, Sir
Edward Paget, then in the north-west, asserted that any
attempt to enter Burmah either through Cachar or Aracan,
would end in disaster, inasmuch as the troops, instead of
finding armies, fortresses, and cities, would meet with nothing
but jungle, pestilence, and famine. The plan of the campaign
was drawn up by Captain John Canning, who had traversed
the country and visited the capital; and it was unhappily on his
knowledge that the Government placed its sole dependence.
He represented that the occupation of Rangoon, the great
port of the Irawaddy, would paralyse the Burmese Govern-
ment, and that the means of constructing a flotilla for navi-
gating the river, as well as provisions and draught cattle,
might be procured hi and around that town in abundance.
Though the river, like the Ganges, was an impetuous torrent
during the rains, the south-west monsoon which prevailed at
that season of the year, would, he affirmed, enable the expe-
dition to stem the current and sail up to the capital. It was
resolved, therefore, to land the expedition at Rangoon as the
rains commenced. The plan was visionary and preposterous,
as the military authorities in Calcutta, with their knowledge
of the rivers of India, ought to have foreseen ; and the adop-
tion of it was the first and most fatal error of the campaign.


The expedition was collected in the spacious harbour of Port
Cornwallis, in the largest of the Andaman islands, lying hi
the Bay of Bengal, about three hundred miles south of Ran-
goon. It consisted of about 11,000 European and native
troops, the latter drawn exclusively from the Madras Presi-
dency, and it was placed under the command of Sir Archibald
Campbell, who had served with distinction under the Duke in
Spain. The fleet of transports was convoyed by three vessels
of war, and by the " Diana," a little steamer recently built in
Calcutta, and the first which ever floated in the waters of the
east. The appearance of this vessel confounded the minds of
the Burmese, among whom there was an ancient prediction
current, that the kingdom would be invincible till a vessel
moved up the Irawaddy without sails or oars. .

While the expedition was in course of equip-

Disasterat -n -, , i < , . .

Bamoo, May 17, ment, Bundoola entered Aracan for the invasion
of Bengal with an army variously estimated at
ten and twenty thousand men. The defence of the frontier
had been left to a small and inadequate force stationed at
Chittagong ; and a weak detachment of about three hundred
native infantry, with several hundred of the local levies and
two guns, had been imprudently pushed forward under Captain
Noton to hold a post on our extreme boundaiy, a hundred
miles from the nearest support. The approach of Bundoola
was well known in Calcutta, and the public authorities were
repeatedly urged to reinforce the small body of troops which
was to sustain the first shock of the Burmese, but the request
was treated with indifference. The consequence was deplor-
able. The Burmese force advanced on the 17th May to
Captain Noton's pickets, and the untrained men of the local
corps fled. The little band of sepoys was completely sur-
rounded, but they maintained the struggle gallantly for three
days with little food or rest, and were then constrained to
retreat, when they fell into irretrievable confusion. Captain
Noton and five officers were killed, and three wounded. The
detachment was annihilated, and the eastern districts of


Bengal were seized with a panic, which extended even to
Calcutta. But a large force was sent in haste to the frontier,
which effectually checked the advance of the enemy, and
Bundoola was soon after recalled to oppose the British force
at Rangoon.

The expedition arrived off that town on the

Arrival of the .

expedition at llth May, to the inexpressible surprise of the
Eangoon, 1824, Burmese, who had never dreamt that the English,
whom they were about to expel from Bengal, would venture
to attack them in their own territory. No preparations had
been made to repel them, and the only defence of the town
consisted in a quadrangular teak stockade, about twelve feet
high, with a battery of indifferent guns, which were silenced
by the first broadside from the " Liffey." Happily, the dis-
charge was so opportune as also to rescue from destruction
the Europeans resident in Rangoon, eleven in number, who
had been seized and condemned to death on the approach of
the fleet. Their arms had been bound behind as they were
made to squat on the ground, and the executioner stood before
them sharpening his weapon, when the shot from the frigate
battered the building, which the Burmese officers abandoned
in great trepidation, and thus afforded the prisoners the means
of escape. The troops landed without any opposition, but
they found the town deserted. It appeared that the governor,
seeing all resistance hopeless, had ordered the whole popula-
tion, men, women, and children, to quit it, and retire to the
jungles with all their provisions and flocks and herds. The
mandate was implicitly obeyed, partly from a dread of the
strangers, but more especially from the terror which the
ferocity of their own government inspired in all breasts. By
this unexpected stroke of policy the whole plan of the cam-
paign was defeated. Every hope of obtaining the means of
advancing to the capital by water or by land was extin-
guished, and Sir Archibald was obliged to confine his efforts
to the shelter of his troops during the six months of inaction
to which they were doomed. One entire regiment was quar-


tcred in the Dagon Pagoda, the pride of Rangoon, a magnifi-
cent edifice, which is justly admired for the lightness of its
contour, the happy combination of its parts, and the vastness
of its dimensions, and which serves to give us a veiy high
opinion of the splendid Bouddist architecture with which India
was once filled. The object of the Burmese commander was
to isolate the British encampment and intercept all supplies,
in which he completely succeeded, as well as to destroy the fleet
with the fire rafts which the Burmese constructed with singular
skill, but which was prevented by the vigilance of the British

Within a week after the occupation of Rangoon,
mortality^ * ne ra i us s t in with great violence ; the country
the troops, around became a swamp, and the miasma, combined


with the sultry heat, brought fever and dysentery
and death into the camp. The condition of this noble army
was rendered the more deplorable by the want of wholesome
food. There was no lack of cattle in the neighbourhood
which would have amply supplied all its necessities,
but the Government in Calcutta, by a stretch of folly un-
known in India, had forbidden the commander to touch them
lest he should wound the prejudices of the natives, and the
European soldiers were allowed to perish that the cows might
live. The troops were thus left to depend on the supplies
brought from Calcutta, which was proverbial for the dis-
honesty of its cured provisions ; the meat was found to be
putrescent, and the maggoty biscuits crumbled under the
touch. Owing to the culpable neglect of the public autho-
rities in Calcutta, and more especially of the commissariat, the
army at Rangoon was left for five months in this state of
destitution after its exigences had been completely revealed.
It was only through the prompt and indefatigable exertions
6f Sir Thomas Munro, the governor of Madras, in forward-
ing supplies that the army was not altogether annihilated.
The unhealthiness of the season, and the unwholesomeness
of the food soon filled the hospitals, and of the whole force


scarcely three thousand men remained fit for duty. In the
month of August an expedition was sent to the Tenasserim
provinces, which stretched four hundred miles along the coast.
The chief towns were occupied, and in the capital, Martaban,
was found an immense arsenal filled with the munitions of
war. These districts, remote from the stern influence of
the Governor of Rangoon, furnished the troops to some
extent with the supplies of vegetables and meat which were
so greatly needed. In the beginning of October a large
force was sent against Kaik-loo, fourteen miles from Rangoon,
where the Burmese had erected a strong stockade. The
troops who attempted to storm it were repulsed with con-
siderable loss ; but, on the appearance of a larger force, the
Burmese were found to have evacuated it.

The King of Ava at length resolved to collect

Actions of the .

7th and isth all his strength for one vigorous effort to expel
:>ec., 1824. ^ e mva( j ers f rom the country. The renowned

Bundoola was sent down to Rangoon with an army of sixty
thousand men, and arrived in front of the British encamp-
ment on the 1st December. The rapidity and precision with
which corps after corps took up its station, and immediately
threw up entrenchments, reflected great credit on Burmese
skill and discipline. Within a few hours the British camp
was completely surrounded with stockades, and the busy line
of soldiers suddenly disappeared behind them, the men
sinking in couples into the burrows they had dug, which were
stocked with a sufficient supply of rice, water, and fuel. The
works, which were watched with intense interest from the
British encampment, appeared to rise by the wand of a
magician. The first attack on them was made on the 6th
December, when two columns supported by gunboats broke
through the right of the Burmese entrenchments and
dispersed the defenders. Instead, however, of quitting the
field, Bundoola pushed his troops the next day up to the
great pagoda, but the twenty guns which had been mounted
on it, opened a brisk cannonade, and four British columns

II. 2 D


simultaneously attacked his force and routed it. But his
spirit of perseverance was not exhausted. He sent incen-
diaries into the town who burnt down one-half of it, and
he erected another series of stockades more formidable than
any the British army had yet encountered, but on the 15th
December, all his hopes were blasted by a total defeat, and
he withdrew the whole of his force to Donabew, forty miles
up the river.

Conquest of Leaving Sir Archibald at Rangoon without an
Assam, 1825, enemy, we turn to the operations of the war in
other quarters. At the beginning of 1825, the province of
Assam was wrested from the Burmese by Colonel Richards,
who met with no resistance in occupying the capital,
Rungpore, though it was mounted with two hundred pieces
of ordnance. The Commander-in-chief, as already stated,
Campaign in had dissuaded Government from any attempt to
cachar, 1824. invade Biirmah through Cachar or .Aracan, but
when it became evident that the Rangoon expedition had failed
to achieve anything, he changed his opinion and encouraged
Lord Amherst to organise one army to advance through
Cachar and Munipore southward upon Ava, and another to
penetrate Aracan, cross the Yomadown hills, and debouch
in the valley of the Irawaddy and then turn up north to the
capital. Both expeditions proved abortive. The Cachar
force consisting of 7,000 men was entrusted to the command
of Colonel Shouldham. The Burmese had evacuated the
province, but a more formidable enemy was found in the
unexampled difficulties of the route. The army was enabled
to advance along a road which the pioneers had opened with
immense labour and perseverance to a point within ninety
miles of Munipore, but the country beyond it was found to
consist of an unbroken succession of abrupt hills and dales,
the hills clothed to the summit with impenetrable forests,
and the dells rendered impassable by deep quagmires. The
rains commenced in February, and continued without abate-
ment throughout March. The troops were harassed beyond


endurance. Hundreds of bullocks and camels, and a large
proportion of the elephants, sunk under fatigue, or were
imbedded in the mire. To transport the stores, the artillery,
the heavy baggage, and all the impedimenta of a civilised
army through such a region and under such circumstances
was impossible, and the Colonel prudently relinquished the
conquest of attempt and returned to Bengal. The expedition
Aracan, 1825. ^ o Aracan was still more unfortunate. It consisted
of about 10,000 men, and proceeded on its march from Chitta-
gong on the 1st January. The commander was General
Morrison, a King's officer of good repute, but he imprudently
rejected the advice of the experienced Company's officers on
his staff, who were acquainted with the face and character
of the country. There was a constant succession of blunders,
and the army was three months marching down the coast, a
distance of only two hundred and fifty miles, and did not
reach the capital of the province, which was occupied with
little resistance, till it was too late in the season to make any
farther progress. The monsoon commenced early in May, the
country was flooded and became a pestilential marsh. One-
fourth of the troops perished by disease, and two-thirds of
the remainder were in hospital. Few ever recovered their
former health and vigour, and the Aracan fever was long
remembered with feelings of horror. The army, as an
organised body, had ceased to exist, and on one occasion,
when a wing of a European regiment was mustered OH
parade, only one soldier, it was said, appeared to answer to his
name. But it was not till the end of the year that the new
Commander-in-chief, Lord Combermere, consented to with-
draw the remains of the army from this lazaretto,
second cam- Sir Archibald Campbell, after having been

paign, 1825. encamped nine months at Rangoon, and lost two
months of the season for operations, at length moved up
towards the capital, on the 13th February. The army was
divided into three columns, one of which, by an unaccountable
fancy, was sent down under Colonel Sale, to occupy the town

2 i> 2


and district of Bassein, on the southern coast, where there
was no reason to apprehend any kind of danger. The small
Burmese force fled at his approach, and he returned to Kan-
goon without any loss, save that of invaluable time. Another
column moved up by land, under the personal command of
Sir Archibald, without seeing the face of an enemy. The
third proceeded by water up the Irawaddy, under Brigadier
Cotton, and came abreast of Donabew on the 28th February.
All the resources of Burmese engineering science had been
employed by Bundoola in strengthening the fortifications of
this post. The stockade extended a mile along a sloping
bank of the river, and was composed of solid teak beams,
fifteen feet in length, firmly driven into the earth. Behind
this wooden wall the old brick ramparts afforded a firm footing
for the defenders. Upwards of a hundred and fifty guns and
swivels were mounted on the works, which were, moreover,
protected by a wide and deep ditch, rendered formidable by
spikes, nails, and holes. The garrison consisted of twelve
thousand men, and was commanded by Bundoola himself, who
maintained so stern a discipline that on one occasion when
some of his artillery-men shrunk from their post on seeing
their commander shot down, he descended to the spot, and
ordered the heads of two of the recreants to be struck off
and fixed to a pole, by way of example. The Brigadier suc-
ceeded in carrying the smaller works, but met with a signal
defeat in his attempt to storm the larger entrenchment ; and
having indiscreetly left one of his regiments behind him on
the route, pronounced his force unequal to the capture of the
place. Sir Archibald had scarcely three months left for the
campaign when he left Rangoon, and the capital was five
hundred miles distant. But it was indispensable to retrieve the
honour of the British arms, and to keep open his communica-
tions with the sea. Preferring, as he remarked, the sacrifice
of time to the loss of men, he marched back to the succour
of Brigadier Cotton with his whole force, and thus incurred
the loss of an entire month. The attack began on the 1st


April, when a shower of shells and rockets was poured down
on the Burmese encampment. The next morning, the heavy
guns and mortars began to play on it, but no answer was
returned, and soon after the whole of the Burmese army was
observed to be in full retreat. Bundoola had, in fact, been
killed by the bursting of a shell the preceding night, and
with him expired all the courage and spirit of his troops. No
farther obstacle was offered to the advance of the General,
and Prome was occupied without firing a shot. But the rains
were approaching, and the second campaign was brought to
a close within ten weeks, during which the army had advanced
a hundred and fifty miles.

Negotiations for The war was f ound to be more expensive than
Peace, 1825. anv ^ w hich the Company had ever been engaged.
The mere field expenses, together with the cost of the addi-
tional troops who had been enlisted without necessity at
the Bengal Presidency to fill up the gap temporarily created
by the Burmese expedition, were estimated at a lac of rupees
a-day. It was proposed to halt at Prome, and act on the
defensive, but Lord Amherst wisely rejected this advice, under
the conviction that the most effectual mode of bringing the
war to a termination was to push on rapidly towards the capi-
tal. At the same time he urged the General to welcome any
disposition on the part of the Burmese for peace, and that no
opportunity of negotiation might be lost, associated in a
commission with him, the naval Commander-in-chief, and
Mr. Thomas Campbell Robertson, a civilian of experience and
judgment, who had been the political agent at Chittagong.
Mr. Ross Mangles, a young civilian of great promise, was
appointed to act as secretary. Before the arrival of the
Commissioners, the General had intimated to the Burmese
Court that he was authorized to negotiate a peace. The over-
ture was readily accepted ; an armistice was concluded for a
month, and envoys were sent down from Ava to the British
encampment. They were informed that the King would be
required to at stain from all interference in Cachar and Assam,


to recognise the independence of Munipore, to cede the pro-
vinces of Aracau and Tenasserim, and pay two crores of rupees
towards the expenses of the war. They stated that it was
beyond their power to accede to these severe terms, and the
armistice was prolonged to enable them to make a reference
to Ava. The reply of the King was brief and simple : " The
English must empty their hands of what they hold, and then
send a petition for the release of the European captives ; but
if they hint at the cession of territory or the payment of
money there must be an end of all friendship." In that spirit
of indomitable perseverance which the Burmese had mani-
fested throughout the war, and which in some measure atoned
for the want of courage, another army of forty thousand men
was collected and sent to Prome, with orders to expel the
English. With this body there was an engagement at Watti-
gaum in which the British troops were repulsed from the
stockades with the loss of two hundred men, of whom ten
were officers. Emboldened by this success, the Burmese com-
mander advanced against the British lines, but was signally
defeated and very closely pursued. On the 26th December
a boat with a flag of truce made its appearance with fresh
envoys from Ava to renew the negotiations. It was anchored
in the middle of the stream, and the plenipotentiaries entered
it from opposite directions, with a retinue of fifty men on each
side. The Burmese ministers waived every objection to the
territorial cessions, but withstood the pecuniary payment, on
the score of poverty, with so much earnestness that the
English Commissioners were induced to reduce it by one-half.
A treaty was accordingly signed on the 3rd January, and the
royal ratification was promised on the 18th of the month. A
little incident which occurred during the conference serves to
illustrate the character of Burmese officials. One of their
attendants, in lighting a cigar on the roof of the boat, hap-
pened to drop a spark on some loose gunpowder, which caused
a slight explosion, and startled the principal envoy. When
the offender was named to him, he exclaimed, "cut off his


hand," and a moment after added, "off with his head," and
the sentence would have been executed at once, but for the
earnest entreaty of Sir Archibald. But the ratification never
arrived ; the time was employed, as the Burmese had intended
it should be, in strengthening the fortifications of Mellown,
which lay opposite the British encampment on the Irawaddy.
The British force attacked it with great vigour on the 19th
January, captured all the guns, stores, and ammunition, and
after delivering the encampment to the flames, pursued its
march towards the capital.

The king began now to tremble for his throne,

Final engage-

ment and peace, and released Dr. Price, one of the American mis-
sionaries whom he had placed in confinement,
and sent him down with another of the European captives to
renew the negotiations. They were informed that no severer
terms would be exacted in consequence of the victory at Mel-
lown, but that one-fourth of the indemnity must be paid down
within twenty days. The two European gentlemen returned
to Ava, with the promise of appearing in the English camp
on the 12th February, if the proposal was accepted by the
king. But before that day he was induced to make one final
effort to avert this humiliation. One of his military chiefs, in
a burst of patriotism, engaged to expel the invaders if he
were entrusted with an army. All the troops the Burmese
were now able to muster did not exceed the number of 16,000,
and with these the general marched down towards the Eng-
lish encampment, resolved to abandon the national mode of
warfare, and, instead of digging holes and erecting stockades,
to assail the British army boldly in the open field. Sir Archi-
bald had only 1,300 men left out of his whole army to meet
this force, but 900 of them were European veterans. The
result of the engagement, which took place at Paghan-mew,
may be easily imagined. The Burmese force was totally
routed, and fled back to the capital in wild disorder, and the
Burmese general expiated his patriotism by being trampled to
death under the feet of an elephant. Sir Archibald advanced


to Yandaboo, within forty miles of the capital. The last
Burmese army had been extinguished, the strength of the
monarchy was completely exhausted, and the king hastened to
send Dr. Price, in company with Mr. Judson, the head of the
American mission, who had suffered a cruel captivity in Ava
for two years, and with two of his own ministers, to accept
whatever terms the English general might dictate. They
brought with them the first instalment of the money, and all
the European prisoners save one, who was detained for a
time, because the king had been informed that the Company
had married one of his relatives ! The treaty of Tandaboo was
signed on the 24th February. The king ceded Assam, Aracan,
and Tenasserim to the Company, agreed to pay a crore of
rupees towards the expenses of the war, and to submit to the
admission of a British minister at Ava, although there is
nothing to which Eastern princes feel so bitter an aversion as
the residence of a European representative a barbarian eye,
as they term it at their courts.

Bemarks on This was the first occasion on which the British
the war, 1826. arms were carried beyond the confines of India,
and great fears were entertained lest the Company should
thus be drawn into collision with the various Indo-Chinese
nations ; but the apprehension has proved groundless. The
Burmese war was also more expensive and less recuperative
than any which had preceded it. The great Mahratta and
Pindaree war cost the Government only a crore of rupees,

Online LibraryJohn Clark MarshmanThe history of India, from the earliest period to the close of Lord Dalhousie's administration / by John Clark Marshman (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 38)