The relations between the English and the Burmese were not finally settled by the first Burmese War. Neither party felt satisfied with what one had gained, and the other had lost. It led, ultimately, to the second Anglo-Burmese War.
The Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852)
The Burmese looked with suspicion and hatred upon the English. In fact, no Asiatic state liked the presence of the Europeans within their territory. The ruler of Burma shared this feeling. The new ruler; Tharrawoddy refused to accept the treaty of Yandabo. He said: “The English beat my brother, not me. The treaty of Yandaboo is not binding on me, for I did not make it.” He therefore, neglected the Resident. The English finally withdrew their Resident from Burma. Gradually the rumors spread that the English merchants were ill-treated in Burma and the ruler of Burma was trying to get help from foreign powers like China, France and Siam. Yet the primary causes of the second Burmese. War were the Imperial designs of the English which gave them political and economic advantages.
Causes of the Second Anglo-Burmese War
The immediate causes of the second Anglo-Burmese War were, however, trade disputes. The British complained that the Burmese Government charged more trade tax than what was settled by the treaty of Yandabo. They desired that the English Government in India should defend their rights. They got the right man to look after their interests when Lord Dalhousie came to India as the governor-general because he was prepared to defend the honour and rights of the Englishmen everywhere. The English traders at Rangoon informed the governor-general that they had, for a long time, suffered the tyranny and gross injustice of the Burmese authorities and it was his responsibility to defend them. Dalhousie accepted that complaint as a sufficient reason to interfere in the affairs of Burma. First, the English demanded that money from the Burma Durbar which, according to them, was illegally taken from Sheppard and Lewis Company. And, as there was no English Resident at the court, Dalhousie deputed the naval commander Lambert to proceed to Rangoon to recover that amount. Lambert charged the Governor of Rangoon with tyrannical acts and wrote letters to the governor as well as to the king asking them to reply within five weeks. He received proper replies from both of them. The Governor was changed by the king and the English were assured of proper inquiry into the whole affair. Then, a deputation was sent by the English to meet the new governor which somehow failed to meet him. The English took it as a disrespect to themselves while the governor reported that he was sleeping when the deputation came to meet him. Lambert did not accept the explanation of the Governor as genuine. He asked him to seek pardon and pay the compensation money. He afterwards increased the demand of money. Further, to provoke the Burmese for war, Lambert captured the royal vessel, ‘Yellow-Ship’ which was regarded as a sacred ship by the Burmese. The Burmese Governor agreed to fulfill all the demands of the English and requested for the release of the royal ship. Lambert refused and sought the advice of Dalhousie. Ultimately, the English demanded that the Governor of Rangoon should be transferred, the king of Burma should apologise to the English and £ 1,00,000 be paid to the English by the end of April 1852. The English waited for the reply of the king up to April 30. When no reply was received, an English army was dispatched to Rangoon and the war was declared by the English.
The English occupied Rangoon, Bassein, Prome and Pegu. By October 1852, the entire lower Burma passed into the hands of the British. Dalhousie had no desire to pursue the war in upper Burma. He waited for some time for negotiations. But Burma refused to accept any treaty. Therefore, Pegu, viz., lower Burma, was annexed to the British Empire simply after a proclamation in December, 1852.
The annexation of Pegu was quite advantageous to the English. They got an extensive and fertile territory. It helped their trade interests. They got the sea-coast of Bay of Bengal which stretched from Chittagaon to Rangoon. It blocked the passage of the Burma Government to the sea and also helped in defending their Eastern Empire.
All Indian historians have criticized the second Anglo-Burmese War and the annexation of Pegu by the British. They have described it as an imposed war to extend the Imperial interests of the English. Dalhousie did not attempt to probe the validity of the charges which were framed by the English traders against the Burmese Government.
The charges were placed before the English Government in India only after 1851 when the traders were convinced of the Imperial designs of Dalhousie. Besides, if the traders were dissatisfied with the policy of the Burmese Government, why did they insist on trade on their own conditions? Why did they not decide to leave Burma? The English had no moral right to pressurise the Burmese Government to act according to their interests. The demand of money and apology from the king, the appointment of the naval commander Lambert to recover the compensation money, the capture of the Yellow-Ship and the annexation of Pegu without a treaty are all acts indefensible on grounds of justice. The contention of the supporters of Dalhousie that it was all done to pressurise the king for a just treaty without a war is not tenable. The demands of Dalhousie were of a nature which no independent state could accept. The efforts of Dalhousie were not directed towards peace but were aimed at provoking the Burmese to a war – right or wrong. He had prepared himself for the war and simply desired to wage it at the proper time. He wanted to get control over Burma with a view to negating the influence of America and France there. Therefore, he appointed Lambert for this task and supported him till the last though, at certain times, he did not agree with him. Besides, even if Lambert had not been appointed for this task, the war was inevitable because its primary cause was the imperialistic policy of Dalhousie and his desire to uphold the English honour in the East. Dalhousie believed in the dictum, “My country, right or wrong.” Even some English scholars criticised the actions of Dalhousie. Cobden, in his article, ‘How wars got up in India; the Origin of the Burmese War’, decried the Burmese War severely. Thus it is clear that the primary cause of the second Anglo-Burmese War was the desire of Dalhousie to annex strategically and economically useful territory in Burma.
Points to remember
- The suspicion of the Burmese towards the English, the refusal of the new ruler, Tharrawoddy to accept the treaty of Yandabo and, primarily, the Imperial designs of the English prepared the background for the second Anglo-Burmese War.
- The immediate cause of the war, however, was trade dispute.
- The English traders in Burma were feelings aggrieved at the trade-tax imposed by the government and when Dalhousie came to India they looked towards him for getting their grievance redressed.
- Dalhousie took up the case of Sheppard and Lewis Company and deputed the naval commander Lambert to get its grievance removed.
- Lambert changed the governor of Rangoon with tyrannical acts, sought compensation money, captured the Royal ship, the Yellow Ship, asked for the transfer of the governor and apology from the king and increased the demand of compensation money.
- When no reply was received from the king by the stipulated date, the English declared war in 1852.
- Lower Burma was captured by the English and when the Burmese refused for a treaty, Pegu, viz., lower Burma was annexed to the British Empire simply after a proclamation.
- The occupation of Pegu gave the English extensive and fertile territory, helped safeguard their trade interests and gave them long sea-coast.
- All the Indian historians have decried the second Anglo-Burmese war as immoral and imposed one, motivated by Imperial designs of Dalhousie.
Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.
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Questions for UPSC mains :
What were the primary causes of the second Anglo-Burmese war?