Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Burmah
BURMAH. The Burman empire, or Independent Burmah, is situated in the S.E. of Asia, in the region beyond the mountains which form the eastern frontier of Bengal. It was formerly of very considerable extent, but its limits have been greatly contracted by British conquest. On the W. where it is conterminous with the British territories in India, the Burman empire is bounded by the province of Arakan, surrendered to the British in 1826, the petty states of Tipperah and Munnepore, and the province of Assam, from which it is separated by lofty ridges of mountains; on the S. by the British province of Pegu, acquired in 1853; on the N. by Assam and Tibet; and on the E. by China and the Shan states. Its limits extend from 19° 30′ to 28° 15′ N. lat., and from 93° 2′ to 100° 40′ E. long., comprising a territory measuring 540 miles in length from north to south, and 420 in breadth, with an area of 190,520 English square miles.
That portion of Asia in which the Burman empire is situated slopes from the central mountains towards the south; and the Burmese territory is watered by four great streams, namely, the Irawadi and the Kyen-dwen, which unite their courses at 21° 50′ N. lat., the Sittang or Pounloung, and the Salwin. The first two rivers have their sources somewhere in the northern chain of mountains in the interior, one head stream of the Irawadi probably coming from Tibet; the Salwin further to the east in Tibet; and the Sittang, which is the smallest of the four, in the hills to the S.E. of Mandalay; they all run in a southerly course to the Indian Ocean. The Irawadi and the Salwin are large rivers, which in the lower part of their course overflow the flat country on their banks during the season of the rains, and in the upper force their way through magnificent defiles. The former is navigable a considerable distance above Bhamo; but the latter is practically useless as a means of communication, owing to the frequent obstacles in its channel. The Burmese empire with its present limits contains no maritime districts, and only isolated tracts of alluvial plain; it is in the main an upland territory, bounded at its southern extremity by a frontier line at the distance of about 200 miles from the mouths of the Irawadi, in 19° 30′ N. lat. From this point the country begins to rise, and thence for about 300 miles farther it contains much rolling country intersected by occasional hill ranges; beyond this it is wild and mountainous.
Sketch-Map of Burmah.
The most common fruits in Burmah are the mango, the orange, the citron, the pine, the custard apple, the jack, the papaya, and the plantain. The yam and the sweet potato are grown, but not extensively; the common potato is unknown. Onions are produced; and capsicum, which, after salt, is the most ordinary condiment used by the Burmese, is cultivated everywhere.
The forests of Burmah abound in fine trees. Among these the teak holds a conspicuous place; some of the finest teak forests were lost to the Burmese, however, with Pegu. Almost every description of timber known in India is produced in the Burmese forests, from which also an abundant supply is obtained of the varnish employed by the Shans and the Burmese in their manufacture of lacquered ware. Sticklac of an excellent quality is obtained in the woods.
Burmah is rich in minerals, and produces gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, antimony, bismuth, amber, coal, petroleum, nitre, natron, salt, limestone, and marble, the jade or yu of the Chinese, sapphires, and other precious stones. Gold is found in the sands of different rivers, and also towards the Shan territory on the eastern frontier; but the demand is very much greater than the native supply. Silver is got also near the Chinese frontier. The mountainous districts of the Shan territory contain almost all the other metals; but they are not worked, and the copper and tin, which are seen in the capital, are imported from China. Iron is found in several places, and is wrought especially at Poukpa, near a mountain of that name to the eastward of the old capital Pagán, and also at Maedoo, north-west of the capital; but, owing to ignorance and the want of proper methods, about 30 or 40 per cent. of the metal is lost in the process. Large deposits of rich magnetic oxide, as yet untouched, exist in the ridges east of the capital near the banks of the navigable river Myit-Ngé, and the same district contains lime in great abundance and of remarkable whiteness; while statuary marble, equal to the best Italian specimens, is found about 15 miles north of the capital and east of the Irawadi. Mines of amber are wrought, among other places, at Hookhong or Payendwen, near the sources of the Kyen-dwen, and their produce must be abundant if one may judge from the price of the article at the capital. Nitre, natron, and salt are found in various quarters. Sulphur also occurs in some places, as in the district of Silleh-Myo and in the neighbourhood of the petroleum wells; but the quantity is comparatively small, and a supply has to be obtained from China. Coal has been discovered in patches, but not in any quantity worth working. Petroleum, which is used by all ranks among the Burmese for burning in lamps, and also for smearing wood as a preservative against insects, is found near the village of Ye-nang-gyoung, on the banks of the Irawadi. Here are upwards of one hundred pits or wells, with a general depth of from 210 to 240 feet; though some of them are deeper, and reach to the depth of 300 feet. The shaft is of a square form, from 3 to 4 feet across, and lined with horizontal balks. The liquid appears to boil up from the bottom like an abundant spring, and is extracted in buckets, and sent to all quarters of the country. The annual yield is calculated at 11,690 tons. A good deal is now imported into England.
The precious stones which are produced in the Burmese territories are chiefly the sapphire and the ruby. They are found about 60 or 70 miles in a north-east direction from the capital, over an area of about 100 square miles, by sinking pits in the gem beds. The varieties of the sapphire found there are the blue or oriental sapphire, the red or oriental ruby, the purple or oriental amethyst, the yellow or oriental topaz, besides different varieties of chrysoberyl and spinelle. The Crown lays claim to the produce of these rivers; and all the stones that exceed the value of £10 are sent to the treasury. No stranger is ever permitted to approach the spots where these precious stones are found. The yu or jade mines are situated in the Mogoung district, about 25 miles south-west of Meinkhoom. During certain seasons no fewer than 1000 men—Shans, Chinese, Panthays, and Kakhyens—are engaged in the excavation of the stone, which is found in the form of rounded boulders, sometimes of considerable size. Each digger pays so much a month for the right of search, and all he finds becomes his own. Momien, in Yunnan, was formerly the chief seat of the manufacture of the jade, and still produces a considerable quantity of small articles.
The country of the Burmese, abounding in forests, affords extensive shelter to wild animals. The elephant and the rhinoceros—both the one-horned (R. indicus) and the two-horned (R. sumatranus)—are found in the deep forests of the country. The tiger and the leopard are numerous, as well as the wild hog, and several species of deer, such as the Indian roe, the axis, and the barking deer (Cervus muntjac). In the Irawadi is found, as far up as Bhamo, a peculiar kind of dolphin. The rivers and lakes abound with fish, from which the inhabitants prepare their favourite condiment of ngapee. A detailed description of several of the species will be found in Day's contributions to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1869, 1870. Of birds, the jungle-fowl is common, and is seen in coveys in all the forests of the country; while domestic breeds, often of very large size, are kept in great numbers, not only for the sake of the eggs or the flesh, but also to afford amusement of a barbarous kind. Aquatic birds of various kinds are very numerous, such as geese, darters (Flotus melanogaster), scissor-bills (Rhyncops nigra), adjutants (Leptoptilos argala), pelicans, cormorants, cranes (Grus antigone, in Burmese gyoja), whimbrels, plovers, and ibises. There are also peacocks, and varieties of pheasants, partridges, and quails.
The domestic animals are the ox, the buffalo, and the horse. Oxen are used for draught in the upper country, and buffaloes in the southern parts. They are of a good description, and, ranging in the luxuriant pastures of the plains, they commonly appear in high order. The buffalo is confined to agricultural labour, and the ox alone is used as a beast of burden or of draught. The Burman horses, which are rarely more than thirteen hands high, are never used but for riding. Elephants are kept for the pleasure of the king, and the taming of those that are newly caught is one of the favourite spectacles of the people. A white elephant (apparently an albino), when found, is greatly prized, and is kept at court as a sacred appendage of royalty. The dog is neglected, and is seen prowling about the streets, a prey to famine and disease. Cats are numerous; and about the capital a few goats and sheep, of a puny race, are kept more for curiosity than for use. A few asses are also seen, which are brought from China. The camel is not known.
The Burmese government is a pure despotism, the king dispensing torture, imprisonment, or death, according to his sovereign discretion. The chief object of government seems to be the personal honour and aggrandizement of the monarch; and the only restraint on the exercise of his prerogative is the fear of an insurrection. He is assisted in his administration by a public and a privy council, known respectively as the Hlot-dau and the Byadeit; all questions, before they are submitted to the public advisers of his majesty, are debated in the privy council, which consists generally of four Atwen-woons to whom are attached deputies, secretaries and other officers (Tsaré dau-gyis, “great royal writers;” Than-dau-zens, “receivers of the royal voice”), who carry messages, and report from time to time the proceedings of the council to the king. The Hlot-dau also usually consists of four ministers or Woongyis, and is presided over by the crown-prince (Einshé-men, or lord of the eastern house). The paymaster-general is an officer of high importance; and the other officers of distinction are the king's armour-bearer and the master of the elephants, but the latter have no share in the administration of public affairs. The king may order any of those great officers to be punished at his pleasure; and a minister may, by his order, be seized by the public executioner, and laid at the side of the road for hours under the burning sun with a weight upon his breast; and after undergoing this disgraceful punishment, may continue to discharge his high function as before. The country at large is ruled by provincial governors, and is divided into provinces (or Myos), townships, districts, and villages. The civil, military, judicial, and fiscal administration of the province is vested in the governor, or Myo-woon, who exercises the power of life and death, though in all civil cases an appeal lies from his sentence to the chief council at the capital. In all the townships and villages there are judges with a subordinate jurisdiction. But from a mere detail of the provincial administration and judicial institutions of the Burmese, their extreme inefficiency can scarcely be known. No Burmese officer ever receives a fixed salary. The higher class is paid by an assignment either of land or of the labour and industry of a given portion of the inhabitants, and the inferior magistrates by fees, perquisites, and other emoluments; and hence extortion and bribery prevail amongst all the functionaries of the Burmese Government. Justice is openly exposed for sale; and the exercise of the judicial functions is so lucrative, that the two executive councils have by their encroachments deprived the regular judge of the greater part of his employment.
The Burmese laws are mainly contained in the Dhammasat, a code ascribed to Manu, but quite different from the Manu's Code of the Brahmans. It is said to have been introduced into Burmah from Ceylon by Buddaghosha, the traditional apostle of the Indo-Chinese nations. The criminal code is barbarous and severe, and the punishments are shocking to humanity. Gang robbery, desertion from the king's service, robbing of temples, and sedition or treason, are considered the most heinous crimes, and are cruelly punished, the criminal being in some cases embowelled, or thrown to wild beasts. Decapitation is the general mode of execution, but crucifixion and fracture of the limbs are also practised, and women are usually put to death by the stroke of a bludgeon across the throat. For minor offences, fines, whipping, and imprisonments are the punishments adjudged. In important cases torture is applied both to principals and witnesses; and the jailers often torture their prisoners in order to extort money from them. The English and American prisoners during the war of 1824 were frequently tortured, and had to pay fines to the jailer in order to procure milder treatment. Trial by ordeal is sometimes resorted to, as well as other superstitious modes of procedure. The administration of justice, however vexatious and expensive, is far from efficient; and the police is as bad as can possibly be conceived.
When a merchant acquires property he is registered by a royal edict under the name of Thuthé or “rich man,” which gives him a title to the protection of the court, while it exposes him also to regular extortion. The priesthood form a separate order, who are interdicted from all other employment, and are supported by voluntary contributions. They are distinguished by the yellow colours in their dress, which it would be reckoned sacrilege in any other person to wear. A formal complaint was made, during the conferences with the British previous to the peace, because some of their camp followers were seen dressed in yellow clothes. There is also an order of nuns and priestesses, who make a vow of chastity, but may at any time quit their order.
The free labouring population consist of proprietors or common labourers; and they are all considered the slaves of the king, who may at all times call for their services as soldiers, artizans, or common labourers. Hence a Burman, being the property of the king, can never quit the country without his especial permission, which is only granted for a limited time, and never to women on any pretence. The British and others who had children by Burmese women during a residence in the country experienced the greatest difficulty, even with the aid of heavy douceurs, in taking them along with them. The Dhammasat numbers seven classes of slaves, of which the most important are prisoners of war, and those who have mortgaged their services for a debt. The class of outcasts consists of the slaves of the pagodas, the burners of the dead, the jailers and executioners (who are generally condemned criminals), and the lepers and other incurables, who are held in great abhorrence, and treated with singular caprice and cruelty. They are condemned to dwell alone, and in a state of disgrace; and any man who is infected with leprosy, however high his rank, is forced, by continual bribes to the officers of justice, to purchase an exemption from the penalties which attach to him. Prostitutes are also considered as outcasts. The women in Burmah are not shut up as in many other parts of the East, and excluded from the sight of men; on the contrary, they are suffered to appear openly in society, and have free access in their own name to the courts of law, where, if ill-treatment is proved, divorce is readily obtained. In many other respects, however, they are exposed to the most degrading treatment. They are sold for a time to strangers; and the practice is not considered shameful, nor the female in any respect dishonoured. They are seldom unfaithful to their new master; and many of them have proved essentially useful to strangers in the Burmese dominions, being generally of industrious and domestic habits, and not addicted to vice.
The taxes from which the public revenue arises are in general rude and ill-contrived expedients for extortion, and are vexatious to the people at the same time that they are little productive to the state. The most important is the house or family tax, which is said to be assessed by a Domesday Book, compiled by order of Mentaragyi in 1783. The amount varies greatly in different years, and to a remarkable extent in different districts. Next in order is the tax on agriculture, which is also very irregularly imposed. A large part of the cultivated land of the kingdom is assigned to favourites of the court or to public functionaries in lieu of stipends or salaries, or is appropriated to the expenses of public establishments, such as war-boats, elephants, &c.; and this assignment conveys a right to tax the inhabitants according to the discretion of the assignee. The court favourites who receive these grants generally appoint agents to manage their estates; they pay a certain tax or quit-rent to the crown, and their agents extort from the cultivators as much more as they can by every mode of oppression, often by torture. Besides this stated tax, extraordinary contributions are levied by the council of the state directly from the lords and nobles to whom the lands are assigned, who in their turn levy it from the cultivators, and generally make it a pretence for plunder and extortion. Taxes are also laid on fruit-trees, on the sugar palm, on the tobacco-land on the teak forests, on the petroleum springs, on mines of gold and precious stones, on the fishery of ponds, lakes, rivers, and salt-water creeks, on the manufacture of salt, on the eggs of the green turtle, and on esculent swallows' nests. As the consumption of wines, spirits, opium, and other intoxicating drugs is forbidden by law, they cannot, of course, be subject to any tax.
The currency used by the Burmese is of the rudest description. For the smaller payments lead is employed; and for the larger payments silver almost exclusively. This is not coined into pieces of any known weight and fineness; and in every payment of any consequence the metal must be weighed and is generally assayed, for which a premium is paid to the bankers or money-changers of 2½ per cent. besides 1 per cent. which they say is lost in the operation. There are three or four different alloys of silver in common use as money; the best is Bau, which is almost pure; next is Dain, with about 6.4 per cent., of copper; and so on through several grades. An attempt was made by King Mentaragyi to introduce a coinage; but his plans failed because he fixed the current value of his money considerably above the real value of the silver. The high rate of interest for money—which is 25 per cent., and 60 per cent. when no security is given—is another proof of the low state of commerce among the Burmese. The seeds of the Abrus precatorius (Khyin Pthwe), a little red and black pea, serve as the smallest weight; they ordinarily weigh about a grain, but vary from one to two. Two of them make a rhwe-kyi, four rhwe-kyis a great pae, four great paes a mat, four mats a kyap, and 100 kyaps a piktha (peissa) or viss, which is equal to 3.6516 ℔ avoirdupois. The Burmese year is divided into three seasons and twelve months, beginning with what corresponds to our April, and every third year a month is intercalated. Every pakka or half-month consists of 15 days (ret) of 60 narih each. The ret is divided into the nay or period from sunrise to sunset, and the gnyin or period from sunset to sunrise,—the 60 narih being assigned in different proportions to the two periods in each of the twelve months, the first month having 30 in each period, and the second 30 in the daytime and 28 in the night, and so on. The Burmese have borrowed their astronomy and astrology, as well as this division of the day, from the Hindus. They are ignorant of oceanic navigation; and in their voyages to Calcutta, during the fine season, they creep along the coast, never losing sight of it.
The Burmese proper use a monosyllabic language, spoken with distinctive tones, like the Chinese and several other Indo-Chinese tongues. Its vocabulary shows distinct relation to Chinese on one side and to Tibetan on another. In contrast with Siamese it is a very soft and flexible language, and its monosyllabic character is somewhat modified in pronunciation. It has no distinctly sibilant sound, the only letter approximate to “s” having a resemblance rather to the English “th.” It is a literary language, and has been under cultivation for perhaps six or seven centuries. It is written with an alphabet of Indian origin, which probably came in with Buddhism; and most of the letters are of a more or less circular form. The Pali remaining the dialect of sacred literature, the Burmese has been almost confined to secular uses. It has developed a poetic diction of such complete individuality that it is unintelligible without special study. Another peculiar dialect, largely mingled with Pali elements, is spoken at court, and also requires separate study, as it substitutes a vocabulary of elaborate artificiality subordinate to the etiquette of the courtiers. The word for “to go,” for example, is different according as it is said that the king goes, or the prince goes, or the priest goes. Of the literary forms in which the Burmese express themselves, the favourite one is the drama, which appears under the various forms of masquerades, puppet shows, ballet-opera, and farces, as well as in the more dignified character of the regular tragedy. The moral character of the plays is often of the lowest kind, the utmost licence both of speech and action being allowed on the stage. The scenery is of a very simple and purely suggestive kind, a single branch of a tree standing for a forest, and frequently the filling up of the dialogue is largely left to the ingenuityof the actors, little more than hints of the plot being contained in many of the librettos. The popular interest in the dramatic exhibitions is intense, and, as in Siam, the same piece often drags its slow length along for days together. Specimens of the plots will be found in the appendixes to Yule's Narrative, Williams's Through Burmah, and Bastian's Reisen. The national chronicles, or chronicles of the kings (Maha-Radza Weng), go back at least in name to the early centuries of the Christian era, but their historical value is of a very dubious kind. Libraries are common throughout the country, principally in the monasteries. Though a certain kind of paper is manufactured from bamboo pulp, the usual material of the books is the palm leaf, while for ordinary notebook purposes a kind of black tablet, called a parabeik, and a steatite pencil are employed. A dictionary of Burmese was published by Judson at Maulmein in 1852; Schleiermacher made the language the object of a remarkable study in his Influence of Writing upon Language, 1835; and Bastian has contributed an essay on the literature to the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenl. Gesellschaft, 1863, and has also published an interesting sketch of the peculiarities of the language in his Sprachvergleichende Studien, Leipsic, 1870.
The Burmese are votaries of Buddha, and the rites, doctrines, and priesthood are in their main features the same as in other countries where Buddhism prevails. Every Burman must, at some period or other of his life, spend some time in a monastery; and it is no uncommon thing for a man to retire for a longer or shorter period from the bustle of life without any intention of permanently adopting the yellow robe which is the distinctive mark of the regular monk. Dr Bastian has supplied a great many interesting details on the religious beliefs and ceremonies of the people, but they are as yet unfortunately scattered through the pages of his Travels. Neither Christianity nor Mahometanism has made much progress, though a certain number of Mahometans have existed, especially at the capital, for a long time, and have mosques there. Foreigners enjoy religious toleration, but the Burmese rulers view any attempt to convert the natives to the Christian or any other foreign faith as an interference with their allegiance. An American mission was settled in the country in 1815, under the conduct of Dr Judson before mentioned, who brought to this perilous service zeal and discretion; but it entirely failed of success, not from any bigotry on the part of the natives, but from the opposition of men in power. On the war breaking out with the British the missionaries were imprisoned, and narrowly escaped with their lives, and on their release they retired to prosecute their labours in the British province of Martaban. There are now in the capital representatives of both English and French missionary agencies.
Education throughout the Burman empire is still in the ecclesiastical stage, but the educational statistics compare favourably with those of many portions of Europe. The first book, according to Dr Bastian, which is put into the hands of the boys in the monastery schools is the Sinpungyi, or Great Basket of Learning, in which the meaning of the Burmese letters is explained. After this they learn the injunctions of religion in the Mengalasut, and next the prayers of Gautama in the Pharitgyi, which is written in Pali, so that their study consists in mechanically committing it to memory. They then proceed to the Djats (stories or legends) in which the Burmese words are mingled with Pali expressions and contractions; later on they pass to the study of Saddo or grammar, and finally to that of the Yok or general cyclopædia. For those who enter the monastic profession there remain the Pali texts. The historical books are then read, as well as the Pu-és or dramatic productions. Fluency of speech and great skill in carrying on an argument according to their own system of dialectics are the common possessions of the educated Burmese, and an unshaken conviction in the truth of their religion is almost universal.
It is probable that Burmah is the Chryse Regio of Ptolemy, a name parallel in meaning to Sonaparanta, the classic Pali title assigned to the country round the capital in Burmese documents. The royal history traces the lineage of the kings to the ancient Buddhist monarchs of India. This no doubt is fabulous, but it is hard to say how early communication with Gangetic India began. From the 11th to the 13th century the old Burman empire was at the height of its power, and to this period belong the splendid remains of architecture at Pagán. The city and the dynasty were destroyed by a Chinese (or rather Mongol) invasion (1284 A.D.) in the reign of Kublai Khan. After that the empire fell to a low ebb, and Central Burmah was often subject to Shan dynasties. In the early part of the 16th century the Burmese princes of Toungoo, in the north-east of Pegu, began to rise to power, and established a dynasty which at one time held possession of Pegu, Ava, and Arakán. They made their capital at Pegu, and to this dynasty belong the gorgeous descriptions of some of the travellers of the 16th century. Their wars exhausted the country, and before the end of the century it was in the greatest decay. A new dynasty arose in Ava, which subdued Pegu, and maintained their supremacy throughout the 17th and during the first forty years of the 18th century. The Peguans or Taleins then revolted, and having taken the capital Ava, and made the king prisoner, reduced the whole country to submission. Alompra, left by the conqueror in charge of the village of Monchaboo, planned the deliverance of his country. He attacked the Peguans at first with small detachments; but when his forces increased, he suddenly advanced, and took possession of the capital in the autumn of 1753. In 1754 the Peguans sent an armament of war-boats against Ava, but they were totally defeated by Alompra; while in the districts of Prome, Donabew, Loonzay, &c., the Burmans revolted, and expelled all the Pegu garrisons in their towns. In 1754 Prome was besieged by the king of Pegu, who was again defeated by Alompra, and the war was transferred from the upper provinces to the mouths of the navigable rivers, and the numerous creeks and canals which intersect the lower country. In 1755 Apporaza, the king of Pegu's brother, was equally unsuccessful, after which the Peguans were driven from Bassein and the adjacent country, and were forced to withdraw to the fortress of Syriam, distant twelve miles from Rangoon. Here they enjoyed a brief repose, Alompra being called away to quell an insurrection of his own subjects, and to repel an invasion of the Siamese; but returning victorious, he laid siege to the fortress of Syriam and took it by surprise. In these wars the French sided with the Peguans, the English with the Burmans. Dupleix, the governor of Pondicherry, had sent two ships to the aid of the former; but the master of the first was decoyed up the river by Alompra, where he was massacred along with his whole crew. The other escaped to Pondicherry. Alompra was now master of all the navigable rivers; and the Peguans, shut out from foreign aid, were finally subdued. In 1757 the conqueror laid siege to the city of Pegu, which capitulated, on condition that their own king should govern the country, but that he should do homage for his kingdom, and should also surrender his daughter to the victorious monarch. Alompra never contemplated the fulfilment of the condition; and having obtained posesssion of the town, abandoned it to the fury of his soldiers. In the following year the Peguans vainly endeavoured to throw off the yoke. Alompra afterwards reduced the town and district of Tavoy, and finally undertook the conquest of the Siamese. His army advanced to Mergui and Tenasserim, both which towns were taken; and he was besieging the capital of Siam when he was taken ill. He immediately ordered his army to retreat, in hopes of reaching his capital alive; but he expired on the way, in 1760, in the fiftieth year of his age, after he had reigned eight years. In the previous year he had massacred the English of the establishment of Negrais, whom he suspected of assisting the Peguans. He was succeeded by his oldest son Noungdaugyi, whose reign was disturbed by the rebellion of his brother Tshen-byo-yen or Shembuan, and afterwards by one of his father's generals. He died in little more than three years, leaving one son in his infancy; and on his decease the throne was seized by his brother Tshen-byo-yen. The new king was intent, like his predecessors, on the conquest of the adjacent states, and accordingly made war in 1765 on the Munnipore kingdom, and also on the Siamese, with partial success. In the following year he defeated the Siamese, and, after a long blockade, obtained possession of their capital. But while the Burmans were extending their conquests in this quarter, they were invaded by a Chinese army of 50,000 men from the province of Yunnan. This army was hemmed in by the skill of the Burmans; and, being reduced by the want of provisions, it was afterwards attacked and totally destroyed, with the exception of 2500 men, who were sent in fetters to work in the Burmese capital at their several trades. In the meantime the Siamese revolted, and while the Burman army was marching against them, the Peguan soldiers who had been incorporated in it rose against their companions, and commencing an indiscriminate massacre, pursued the Burman army to the gates of Rangoon, which they besieged, but were unable to capture. In 1774 Tshen-byo-yen was engaged in reducing the marauding tribes. He took the district and fort of Martaban from the revolted Peguans; and in the following year he sailed down the Irawadi with an army of 50,000 men, and, arriving at Rangoon, put to death the aged monarch of Pegu, along with many of his nobles, who had shared with him in the offence of rebellion. He died in 1776, after a reign of twelve years, during which he had extended the Burmese dominions on every side. He was succeeded by his son, a youth of eighteen, called Tsengoomen (Chenguza of Symes), who proved himself a blood thirsty despot, and was put to death by his uncle, Bhodauphra or Mentaragyi, in 1781, who ascended the vacant throne. In 1783 the new king effected the conquest of Arakán. In the same year he removed his residence from Ava, which, with brief interruptions, had been the capital for four centuries, to the new city of Amarapura, “the City of the Immortals.”
The Siamese who had revolted in 1771 were never afterwards subdued by the Burmans; but the latter retained their dominion over the sea-coast as far as Mergui. In the year 1785 they attacked the island of Junkseylon with a fleet of boats and an army, but were ultimately driven back with loss; and a second attempt by the Burman monarch, who in 1786 invaded Siam with an army of 30,000 men, was attended with no better success. In 1793 peace was concluded between these two powers, the Siamese yielding to the Burmans the entire possession of the coast of Tenasserim on the Indian Ocean, and the two important seaports of Mergui and Tavoy.
In 1795 the Burmese were involved in a dispute with the British in India, in consequence of their troops, to the amount of 5000 men, entering the district of Chittagong in pursuit of three robbers who had fled from justice across the frontier. Explanations being made and terms of accommodation offered by General Erskine, the commanding officer, the Burmese commander retired from the British territories, when the fugitives were restored, and all differences for the time amicably arranged.
But it was evident that the gradual extension of the British and Burmese territories would in time bring the two powers into close contact along a more extended line of frontier, and in all probability lead to a war between them. It happened, accordingly, that the Burmese, carrying their arms into Assam and Munnipore, penetrated to the British border near Sylhet, on the N.E. frontier of Bengal, beyond which were the possessions of the chiefs of Cachar, under the protection of the British Government. The Burmese leaders, arrested in their career of conquest, were impatient to measure their strength with their new neighbours. It appears from the evidence of Europeans who resided in Ava, that they were entirely unacquainted with the discipline and resources of the Europeans. They imagined that, like other nations, they would fall before their superior tactics and valour; and their cupidity was inflamed by the prospect of marching to Calcutta and plundering the country. At length their chiefs ventured on the open violation of the British territories. They attacked a party of sepoys within the frontier, and seized and carried off British subjects, while at all points their troops, moving in large bodies, assumed the most menacing positions. In the south encroachments were made upon the British frontier of Chittagong. The island of Shaparee, at the mouth of the Naf river, had been occupied by a small guard of British troops. These were attacked on the 23d September 1823 by the Burmese, and driven from their post with the loss of several lives; and to the repeated demands of the British for redress no answer was returned. Other outrages ensued; and at length, in February 1824, war was declared by the British Government.
Hostilities having commenced, the British rulers in India resolved to carry the war into the enemy's country; an armament, under Commodore Grant and Sir Archibald Campbell, entered the Irawadi River, and anchored off Rangoon on the 10th May 1824. After a feeble resistance this great seaport surrendered, and the troops were landed. The place was entirely deserted by its inhabitants, the provisions were carried off or destroyed, and the invading force took possession of a complete solitude. On the 28th May, Sir A. Campbell ordered an attack on some of the nearest posts, which were all carried after a feeble defence. Another attack was made on the 10th June on the stockades at the village of Kemmendine. Some of these were battered by artillery; and the shot and shells struck such terror into the Burmese that they fled in the utmost precipitation. It soon, however, became apparent that the expedition had been undertaken with very imperfect knowledge of the country, and without adequate provision. The devastation of the country, which was part of the defensive system of the Burmese, was carried out with unrelenting rigour, and the invaders were soon reduced to great difficulties. The health of the men declined, and their ranks were fearfully thinned. The monarch of Ava sent large reinforcements to his dispirited and beaten army; and early in July an attack was commenced on the British line, but proved unsuccessful. On the 8th the British assaulted. The enemy were beaten at all points; and their strongest stockaded works, battered to pieces by a powerful artillery, were in general abandoned. With the exception of an attack by the prince of Sarawadi in the end of August, the enemy allowed the British to remain unmolested during the months of July and August. This interval was employed by Sir A. Campbell in subduing the Burmese provinces of Tavoy and Mergui, and the whole coast of Tenasserim. This was an important conquest, as the country was salubrious and afforded convalescent stations to the sick, who were now so numerous in the British army that there were scarcely 3000 soldiers fit for duty. An expedition was about this time sent against the old Portuguese fort and factory of Syriam, at the mouth of the Pegu River, which was taken; and in October the province of Martaban was reduced under the authority of the British.
The rainy season terminated about the end of October; and the court of Ava, alarmed by the discomfiture of its armies, recalled the veteran legions which were employed in Arakán, under their renowned leader Maha Bandoola, in vain attempts to penetrate the British frontier. Bandoola hastened by forced marches to the defence of his country; and by the end of November an army of 60,000 men had surrounded the British position at Rangoon and Kemmendine, for the defence of which Sir Archibald Campbell had only 5000 efficient troops. The enemy in great force made repeated attacks on Kemmendine without success, and on the 7th December Bandoola was completely routed by Sir A. Campbell. The fugitives retired to a strong position on the river, which they again entrenched; and here they were attacked by the British on the 15th, and driven in complete confusion from the field.
Sir Archibald Campbell now resolved to advance on Prome, about 100 miles higher up the Irawadi River. He moved with his force on the 13th February 1825 in two divisions, one proceeding by land, and the other, under General Cotton, destined for the reduction of Donabew, being embarked on the flotilla. Taking the command of the land force he continued his advance till the 11th March, when intelligence reached him of the failure of the attack upon Donabew. He instantly commenced a retrograde march; on the 27th he effected a junction with General Cotton's force, and on the 2d April carried the entrenchments at Donabew with little resistance, Bandoola having been killed by the explosion of a bomb. The English general entered Prome on the 25th, and remained there during the rainy season. On the 17th September an armistice was concluded for one month. In the course of the summer General Morrison had conquered the province of Arakán; in the north the Burmese were expelled from Assam; and the British had made some progress in Cachar, though their advance was finally impeded by the thick forests and jungle.
The armistice having expired on the 17th October, the army of Ava, amounting to 60,000 men, advanced in three divisions against the British position at Prome, which was defended by 3000 Europeans and 2000 native troops. But the British still triumphed, and after several actions, in which the Burmese were the assailants and were partially successful, Sir A. Campbell, on the 1st December, attacked the different divisions of their army, and successively drove them from all their positions, and dispersed them in every direction. The Burmese retired on Meaday and afterwards on Mellone, along the course of the Irawadi, where they occupied, with 10,000 or 12,000 men, a series of strongly fortified heights and a formidable stockade. On the 26th they sent a flag of truce to the British camp; and a negotiation having commenced, peace was proposed to them on the following conditions:—1st, The cession of Arakán, together with the provinces of Mergui, Tavoy, and Yea; 2d, The renunciation by the Burmese sovereign of all claims upon Assam and the contiguous petty states; 3d, The Company to be paid a crore of rupees as an indemnification for the expenses of the war; 4th, Residents from each court to be allowed, with an escort of fifty men; while it was also stipulated that British ships should no longer be obliged to unship their rudders and land their guns as formerly in the Burmese ports. This treaty was agreed to and signed, but the ratification of the king was still wanting; and it was soon apparent that the Burmese had no intention to sign it, but were preparing to renew the contest. On the 19th January, accordingly, Sir A. Campbell attacked and carried the enemy's position at Mellone. Another offer of peace was here made by the Burmese, but it was found to be insincere; and the fugitive army made at the ancient city of Pagán-Myo a final stand in defence of the capital. They were attacked and overthrown on the 9th February 1826; and the invading force being now within four days' march of Ava, Dr Price, an American missionary, who with other Europeans had been thrown into prison when the war commenced, was sent to the British camp with the treaty (known as the Treaty of Yandabo) ratified, the prisoners of war released, and an instalment of 25 lacs of rupees. The war was thus brought to a successful termination, and the British army evacuated the country.
For some years the relations of peace continued undisturbed. Probably the feeling of amity on the part of the Burmese Government was not very strong; but so long as the prince by whom the treaty was concluded continued in power, no attempt was made to depart from its main stipulations. That monarch, Phagyi-dau or Noungclaugyi, however, was obliged in 1837 to yield the throne to a usurper who appeared in the person of his brother, Kounboungmen or Tharawadi. The latter, at an early period, manifested not only that hatred of British connection which was almost universal at the Burmese court, but also the extremest contempt. For several years it had become apparent that the period was approaching when war between the British and the Burmese Governments would again become inevitable. The British resident, Major Burney, who had been appointed in 1830, finding his presence at Ava agreeable neither to the king nor to himself, removed in 1837 to Rangoon, and shortly afterwards retired from the country. Ultimately it became necessary to forego even the pretence of maintaining relations of friendship, and the British functionary at that time, Captain Macleod, was properly withdrawn, in 1840, altogether from a country where his continuance would have been but a mockery. The state of sullen dislike which followed was after a while succeeded by more active evidences of hostility. Acts of violence were committed on British ships and British seamen. Remonstrance was consequently made by the British Government, and its envoys were supported by a small naval force. The officers on whom devolved the duty of representing the wrongs of their fellow-countrymen and demanding redress, proceeded to Rangoon, the governor of which place had been a chief actor in the outrages complained of; but so far were they from meeting with any signs of regret, that they were treated with indignity and contempt, and compelled to retire without accomplishing anything beyond blockading the ports. A series of negotiations followed; nothing was demanded of the Burmese beyond a very moderate compensation for the injuries inflicted on the masters of two British vessels, an apology for the insults offered by the governor of Rangoon to the representatives of the British Government, and the re-establishment of at least the appearance of friendly relations by the reception of a British agent by the Burmese Government. But the obduracy of the king—known as the Pagán-men, who had succeeded his father in 1846—led to the refusal alike of atonement for past wrongs, of any expression of regret for the display of gratuitous insolence, and of any indication of a desire to maintain friendship for the future. Another Burmese war was the result, the first shot being fired in January 1852. As in the former, though success was varying, the British finally triumphed, and the chief towns in the lower part of the Burmese kingdom fell to them in succession. The city of Pegu, the capital of that portion which, after having been captured, had again passed into the hands of the enemy, was recaptured and retained, and the whole province of Pegu was, by proclamation of the Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, declared to be annexed to the British dominions on the 20th December 1852. No treaty was obtained or insisted upon,—the British Government being content with the tacit acquiescence of the king of Burmah without such documents; but its resolution was declared, that any active demonstration of hostility by him would be followed by retribution.
About the same time a revolution broke out which resulted in Pagán-men's dethronement. His tyrannical and barbarous conduct had made him obnoxious at home as well as abroad, and indeed many of his actions recall the worst passages of the history of the later Roman emperors. The prince of Mendoon, who had become apprehensive for his own safety, made him prisoner in February 1853, and was himself crowned king of Burmah towards the end of the year. The new monarch, known as Mendoon-men, has shown himself sufficently arrogant in his dealings with the European powers, but has been wise enough to keep free from any approach towards hostility, and, indeed, has latterly displayed a desire to live on peaceful terms with the Indian Government. The loss of Pegu was long a matter of bitter regret, and he absolutely refused to acknowledge it by a formal treaty. In the beginning of 1855 he sent a mission of compliment to Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General; and in the summer of the same year Major Arthur Phayre, de facto governor of the new province of Pegu, was appointed envoy to the Burmese court. He was accompanied by Captain (now Colonel) Henry Yule as secretary, and Mr Oldham as geologist, and his mission added largely to our knowledge of the state of the country; but in its main object of obtaining a treaty it was unsuccessful. It was not till 1862 that the king at length yielded, and his relations with Britain were placed on a definite diplomatic basis. Much interest has been taken of recent years in the restoration of the trade between China and British Burmah by the old routes overland, and various important journeys in elucidation of the problem have been successfully undertaken. In 1863 Dr Clement Williams, at that time resident in the capital, received the king's permission to proceed to Bhamo, and safely accomplished his voyage to the upper defile of the Irawadi beyond that town in the months of January and February. His recall to the capital prevented his further advance.
In 1867 a treaty was signed by which British steamers were permitted to navigate Burmese waters, and the appointment of British agents at Bhamo or other stations for the collection of customs was formally authorized, and in the following year a Government expedition, consisting of Captain Williams as engineer, Dr Anderson as naturalist, and Captain Bowers and Messrs Stewart and Burn as representatives of the commercial interest of Rangoon, was despatched under the leadership of Major Sladen, political resident at Mandalay. The royal steamer Yaynan-Sekia, or “The Honesty,” was placed by the king at the service of the expedition, and letters of recommendation were furnished to the Burmese officials, but in other respects scant courtesy was shown to the party. Escorted by fifty armed police, the explorers advanced in safety about 135 miles north east of Bhamo to Momien or Teng-yue-Chow, a principal town of the Mahometan insurgents, known to the Burmese as Panthés; but beyond this it was considered imprudent to proceed on account of the disturbed condition of the country. In 1869 Captain Storer was appointed first British resident at Bhamo; and about the same time the Irawadi Flotilla Company started a monthly steamer service to that town, which has now become almost fortnightly. The king's interest in the commercial development of his country was shown by his erecting and garrisoning a series of guardhouses through the dangerous parts of the Kakhyen hills. In 1874 Lord Salisbury sent another expedition, consisting of Colonel Horace Browne, Mr Ney Elias, and Dr Anderson, with instructions to proceed, if possible, right across the country to Shanghai in China; and to ensure the success of the undertaking, Mr Margary, a gentleman familiar with the Chinese language and customs, was commissioned to start from Shanghai and meet the party at Momien or the neighbourhood. The king s reception of the new mission, which arrived on December 23, 1874, at Mandalay, was favourable in the extreme. On the 15th of January 1875 the explorers reached Bhamo; and two clays afterwards Mr Margary arrived from Hankow. After the mission had proceeded to the banks of the Nampoung, a river which joins the Tapeng some distance east of Ponline, they heard rumours of hostile preparations in front; and Mr Margary volunteered to proceed to Manwyne to find the truth of the reports. On receiving from him word that the way was clear, his companions advanced; but on the 23d of February their camp was attacked by the Chinese, and they were ultimately compelled to retreat with the sad knowledge that their gallant pioneer had fallen at Manwyne by the hands of cowardly assassins. The Burmese officials stood nobly by the mission, though the enemy assured them that their quarrel was not with them but with the “white devils.” Some fears have been entertained of disagreements between the court of Mandalay and the British authorities, partly in regard to the allegiance of some Karen tribes, and partly in connection with the claim for a right of way for British troops through the Burmese dominions in case of active measures being required to obtain redress from the Chinese Government for the murder of Mr Margary. Happily these fears have been disappointed; the mission of Sir Douglas Forsyth has come to a peaceful if not altogether a successful termination, and a commission has been formed to settle the Karen boundary. While a certain amount of suspicion in regard to British policy still remains in the king's mind, he seems more and more disposed to co-operate with his European allies, and shows himself friendly to the European residents in his capital. His reign has been several times disturbed by internal dissensions, and the general condition of the country can hardly be regarded as one of stability. Personally he is an orthodox and devoted Buddhist, and is largely under the influence of ecclesiastical advisers. In 1874 he was recrowned at Mandalay, in compliance with the requirements of a prophecy, and he attempts to enforce stringent sumptuary laws in accordance with his creed. It is satisfactory to know that while some of his officials are undoubtedly hostile to European interests, the great mass of the people seem genuinely favourable.
See Sangermano, Burmese Empire; Captain Hiram Cox, Journal of a Residence in the Burman Empire, 1821; Syme's Embassy to the Kinqdom of Ava, 1800; Snodgrass, Narrative of the Burmese War, 1827; Wayland, Life of Judson, 1853; Mason, The Natural Productions of Burma, Maulmein, 1850; C. T. Winter's Six Months in British Burmah, 1858; Yule, Narrative of the Mission sent by the Gov.-Gen. of India to the Court of Ava in 1855, 1858; Bastian, Reisen in Birma in den Jahren 1861-1862, 1866; Clement Williams, Through Burmah to Western China, Notes of a Journey in 1863, 1868; Anderson's Expedition to E. Yunan viâ Bhamô, 1871, and Mandalay and Momein, 1876; Trant's Two Years in Ava; A. R. M‘Mahon's The Karens and the Golden Chersonese, 1876.
- An article on the Burman flora, by S. Kurtz, will be found in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1874.
- See Appendix to Yule's Narrative.
- Journal As. Soc. of Bengal, 1833.
- The specimens that are most highly prized are of an emerald green; but red and pale pink are also favourite colours.
- An important addition to the natural history of the country has just been made by the representatives of the late Mr E. Blyth in the shape of a “Catalogue of the Mammals and Birds of Burmah,” published as an extra number of the Journal of the As. Soc. of Bengal, 1875.
- See for details regarding the Shans and Kakhyens Anderson's Expedition to Eastern Yunan, ch. v. Appendix B contains a list of 200 words in the Shan, Kakhyen, Paloung, and Leesaw languages.
- A translation has been made into English by Richardson.
- For full details the reader ought to consult Captain Yule's chapter on Pagán.
- An interesting survey of the various trade-routes from Burmah to China is given by Mr J. Coryton in the Jour. of the R. Geogr. Soc. for 1875.
- The frequent change of capital is quite remarkable in Burmese history. In the earlier periods, it is probable that the chronicles have made it seem more frequent than it is, by running the history of minor contemporaneous kingdoms into that of one great monarchy. But in more recent times the capital has been shifted from Prome to Pagán, from Pagán to Panya, from Panya to Ava, and from Ava to Amarapura; and since the present monarch was visited by the English embassy of 1855, he has caused Amarapura to be abandoned, and has built a new city at Mandalay, which is at present the chief city in the empire.