Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) – Causes and Results

Sansar LochanModernLeave a Comment

The Burmese realise futility of resisting the English after the second Burmese War and attempted to accommodate them as far as it was possible for them to do so. The English, therefore, gradually increased their hold on Burma by subsequent treaties. In 1862, they got the right to trade with China through the territory of Burma. In 1867, by another treaty, Burma gave up its monopoly of trade on every other article except oil, wood and precious stones. The Burma court also accepted an English Resident who was accorded the right to safeguard the interests of British citizens in Burma. Gradually, the Burmese were forced to abolish certain trade duties and monopolies, accept a political representative at Bhamo and concede the right to travel through the river route between Yunnan and Rangoon. It all weakened Burma politically and economically. The English planned to lay a railway line from Rangoon to Prome which would have served not only their trade interests but would also have facilitated the movements of their army and its supplies. Yet, all these advantages failed to satisfy the greed of the English. Many English traders and administrators suggested complete annexation of Burma to their government in India prior-to the third Anglo-Burmese War.

The Burmese, on their part, of course, succumbed to the pressure of the English but were dissatisfied with what they were forced to concede to the British. The king of Burma also was not only suspicious of the English but disliked them in his heart of hearts. Thus, while the British were always prepared to pick up quarrel with the Burmese, the Burmese also offered offence to the English. Though, defeated in two wars, the Burmese court and the king were not finally convinced of the invincibility of the English.

King Mindon

The king of Burma also attempted to develop relations with other European powers. He signed a trade treaty with France though it was annulled when the English objected to it. The king sent an ambassador to Persia and attempted to send one to Russia. His attempts to establish direct link with the Queen of England were also foiled by the Indian government. He also attempted to make cannons and muskets in his country. Thus, the king Mindon attempted to strengthen himself against the English though he did not spoil his relations with the latter.

King Thibaw Min

King Mindon died in 1878 and was succeeded by his son, Thibaw who was a young man of nearly twenty years of age. Lord Lytton demanded several facilities from him and all of them were granted except the abolition of the practice of putting off the shoes by English officers in the presence of the king. In 1879, the English government was informed that the new king had got murdered nearly eighty members of the royal family including women and children. The English Resident protested against it strongly in one of his letters. But the king justified himself on the grounds of state interest. Some other matters spoiled the relations of king Thibaw with the English. The English forced the king to abandon his monopoly over trade in certain articles in order to protect British trading interests.

Causes of the third Anglo-Burmese War

Thibaw, like his father, attempted to strengthen himself with the help of foreign powers. In January 1855, Burma signed a trade treaty with France. There was nothing in that treaty which the British could object to. Yet, they certainly did not like it. So far they had the monopoly over the trade in Burma and, in no case, were they prepared to share it with the French.

The English traders, therefore, put pressure on the English government to annex Burma to the British Empire. The English government could not reject the demand of its trading community as it had sufficient control over the politics of the country. Thus by 1885 again circumstances were created which existed before the second Burmese war, viz., the English became interested in finding a pretext to wage a war against Burma with a view to annexing it completely. Lord Dufferin, the then governor-general of India was, in no way, prepared to accept the French influence over Burma and became convinced of the desirability of annexing Burma to the British Empire.

The English got an opportunity of declaring war against Burma when the Burmese refused to accept its boundary with Manipur demarcated by an English Commission. They threatened to remove the boundary pillars. But the war was averted because the Burmese refrained from any such action. The third Burmese War, however, could not be postponed for long. It started because of a dispute between the Burmese Government and an English Company called the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation. This Company was given a contract of the forests. The Burmese Government charged it with evading tax. The charge was proved. The government asked the company to pay its dues and some penalty as well. The Company sought the protection of the English government in India. The English Commissioner asked the Burmese government to exempt the company from this penalty and to refer the case to a representative of the governor-general of India. The Burmese refused. The English, then, placed the following demands before the Burmese government:

  1. Burma should accept an English representative to settle its dispute with the Company and no step should be taken against it before the representative reaches Burma.
  2. It should accept a permanent English representative at its court.
  3. It should seek the advice of the governor-general concerning all its foreign relations.
  4. It should provide the English all facilities to trade with China.

Results of Third Anglo-Burmese War

The demands of the English, however, were accepted only partially. Lord Dufferin who had started the war preparations much earlier, ordered the English army to proceed towards Mandalay. King Thibaw also declared war against the English.

The war did not continue for long. Mandalay was easily occupied by the English in November 1885. King Thibaw surrendered himself. Burma was annexed to the British empire by a proclamation in January 1866.


The annexation of Burma was the result of naked Imperialistic designs of the British. Of course, king Thibaw had offended the English by some of his acts but P. E. Roberts has rightly remarked: “It would be hypocrisy to maintain that the tyranny of the king or even the impediments he put in the way of British commerce would by themselves have brought his downfall.”

Thus, the conquest of Burma was completed by the English after three wars.

Points to remember

  1. The third Anglo-Burmese war also was the result of aggressive British Imperialism.
  2. The English gradually strengthened their hold over Burma by subsequent treaties, g., got the right to trade with China, forced the Burmese Government to leave its monopoly in trade in many articles and abolish certain trade duties etc.
  3. Yet, while it failed to satisfy the English, it annoyed the Burmese which resulted in mutual suspicions and discords.
  4. King Mindon tried to strengthen himself and even sought assistance from foreign countries.
  5. King Thibaw, son and successor of Mindon, was also forced by the English to leave the monopoly of trade over certain articles, and grant several other facilities to them.
  6. The king, however, refused to abolish the practice requiring the putting off shoes by English officers in his presence.
  7. Yet, the English did not feel satisfied and when Thibaw tried to sign a treaty with France, they started thinking of annexing Burma completely.
  8. The boundary dispute between Burma and Manipur could be an occasion for war between the English and Burmese but it was averted due to the restraint observed by the Burmese.
  9. However, the pretext of the English came their way when the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation sought protection from them against the verdict of the Burmese Government.
  10. Burma refused to submit the case of the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation to the English Government in India.
  11. The English then put up certain fresh demands before Burma which were accepted only partially.
  12. The English, therefore, declared war in 1885.
  13. Burma was easily defeated, King Thibaw surrendered himself and Burma was annexed to the British Empire after a proclamation in January 1886.

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 second Anglo-Burmese war. When it occured? Causes and result of the war.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Discuss the causes and results of the third Anglo-Burmese war.


Discuss the circumstances which led to annexation of north Burma by the British.

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