First Anglo-Burmese War and Treaty of Yandabo

Sansar LochanModern1 Comment

Burma, to the east of India, became a strong and extensive state by the beginning of the nineteenth century. It occupied Manipur, Assam etc., so that its boundary touched the territory of the English in India. It resulted in occasional boundary disputes between the two leading to the Yandabo treaty and the first Anglo-Burmese War. But the primary cause of the conquest of Burma by the English was their Imperial designs. The English completed this process after three wars against Burma.

The First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26)

The attempts of the English to develop trade relations with Burma had failed. They, therefore, picked up border disputes as pretexts for war with a view to putting pressure on Burma. The crisis erupted when Lord Amherst came to India as governor-general of the Company in 1823. The Burmese themselves provided the opportunity to the English for a war.

The Burmese had developed a false sense of their power after annexing Manipur, Arakan and Assam. Their commander-in-chief, Maha Bundela, felt that he would be able to defeat the English as easily as he had defeated the Assamese. Even the common people of Burma were confident of the victory of their king against the English. Therefore, everybody in Burma was in favour of a war against the English. The English, on their part, were equally desirous for a war against Burma. It could serve their Imperial designs well. The pretext of the war were the border disputes.

Some Englishmen who went for hunting the elephants were imprisoned by the Burmese. The Burmese demanded custom-duty from a few English traders who were carrying their goods through the Nullah of Koor. Finally the English and the Burmese came into conflict with each other over the possession of the island of Shahpuri which was under the Possession of the English. The Burmese asked the British that the island be declared neutral. The British, however, refused. In February 1824, the Burmese attacked and captured the island though they gave up its possession soon after. Lord Amherst decided for war and declared it in February, 1824.

The treaty of Yandabo

The English attacked Burma from two sides. One army proceeded e land-route of the north-east. The other army attacked Rangoon from the side of the sea. The English faced heavy odds in the jungles of Burma. The beginning of the rainy season further aggravated their difficulties. The Burmese commander, Maha Bundela, defeated the English at Ramoo near Chittagaon. But, in the south, the English easily captured Rangoon in May 1824. However, the English could not move further because of the heavy rains and breakout of epidemic. Maha Bundela was recalled by the king of Burma in the south. He, however, was defeated by the English in a battle on December 15, 1824. The English conquered Assam in 1825 and moved forward from Rangoon. Maha Bundela checked their progress for about a month but, then, he was killed in a battle in April 1825. The English occupied Prome, the capital of lower Burma. The Burmese started negotiations for peace when the English were only sixty miles away from Yandabo, the capital of Burma. The treaty of Yandabo was signed by the two parties in February, 1826. By its terms:

  1. Burma gave up all its claims over Assam, Cachar and Jaintia.
  2. It surrendered Arakan, Yeh, Tavoy, Mergui and Tenasserim to the English.
  3. It accepted Manipur as an independent state and agreed to acknowledge Gambhir Singh as its ruler.
  4. It agreed to pay a war indemnity of rupees one and a half crores to the English.
  5. Both parties accepted each other as friends, agreed to depute and receive each other’s ambassadors and also to enter into a commercial treaty.

Causes and Results of the first Burmese War

The English certainly got many advantages from this war. They gained extensive territories in the North-East. It, afterwards, gave them the facility to conquer Burma. But, the causes of the war and the way it was planned by the English have been seriously criticised by the majority of historians. The war was not properly planned. Therefore, the English suffered both in men and material. The expedition was dispatched in almost entire ignorance of the topography of the country to which it was to proceed and without adequate preparations for securing supplies. As regards the Burmese, they, of course, fought valiantly but, in no way, were they a match to the English.

Regarding causes of the the first Anglo-Burmese war, every unbiased historian has concluded that the English had no just cause for declaring the war. The Burmese had asked the English to declare the island of Shahpuri as a neutral ground which was quite reasonable. The Burmese were also justified in complaining that the Arakanese attacked their territories from the territory of the English and therefore wanted it to be stopped. Even the Government of India in its letter of December 25, 1825 to the Directors of the Company accepted that the causes of the war were flimsy but as the war with Burma was expected any time, it was fought at the time which was considered to be most opportune.

Points to remember

  1. The English completed the conquest of Burma in three wars.
  2. The Imperial design of the English and boundary disputes were the primary cases of the first Anglo-Burmese war fought during 1824-26.
  3. The Burmese had developed a false sense of their power after annexing Manipur, Arakan and Assam and therefore, accentuated border disputes.
  4. Capture of some English hunters and demand of custom-duty from some English traders prepared the background while the capture of the island of Shahpuri in 1824 by the Burmese resulted in war.
  5. The English attacked from two sides, viz., from the north-east and from the side of the sea at Rangoon.
  6. The English faced heavy difficulties but finally captured Assam and Rangoon, defeated and killed Burmese commander Maha Bundela and captured Prome, the capital of lower Burma.
  7. The Burmese sued for peace and signed the treaty of Yandabo in 1826 by which they surrendered their claims over Assam, Cachar and Jaintia, surrendered certain border territories to the English, accepted Manipur as an independent state, agreed to pay a war-indemnity of rupees one and a half crores and exchange ambassadors.
  8. The first Anglo-Burmese war was not planned and was fought without adequate preparations and therefore, the English suffered badly in the beginning but the final success in the war paid them good dividends.
  9. However, there was no justification for war because the Burmese had asked for declaring Shahpuri as a neutral ground which the English refused to do and declared the first Anglo-Burmese war.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on the first Anglo-Burmese war. When it occured? Brief notes on Yandabo treaty.

Questions for UPSC mains :

How was Burma conquered by the British ?

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