"But if the King of Ava shall fail to renew his former relations with the British Government, and if he shall recklessly seek to dispute its quiet possession of the province it has now declared to be its own, the Governor-General in Council will again put forth the power he holds and will visit with full retribution aggressions, which, if they be persisted in, must of necessity lead to the total subversion of the Burman State and to the ruin and exile of the King and his race."
In 1885 the fulfilment of this menace—prophecy it might be called—was brought about by the contumacy of the Government of Ava. The Burman State was "totally subverted." Its territories were added to the British Empire. The King and his race were "ruined and exiled."
At the end of November, 1885, the British commander was in full possession of Mandalay, the capital. Our forces had made a procession up the great river, which is the main artery of the country, almost unopposed. Such opposition as there had been was childish in its feebleness and want of skill and purpose.
Fortunately for us the King and his ministers prided themselves on their voluntary army system. King Thebaw was not going to compel his subjects to defend their country. They were told to go about their daily tasks without fear or carefulness. They might sleep in their beds. He would see to it that the foreign barbarians were driven into the sea whence they had come.
Unfortunately the soldiers to whom he trusted were insufficiently trained, badly armed and equipped. He had intended, perhaps, to remedy all this and to train his troops for six months before the fighting began.
His enemy, however, was unreasonably hasty and had an abundance of fast steamers for transporting the invading force. Before the training could begin or the arms be provided or the officers instructed, the invaders were before Ava, where the bulk of the defending army had been collected, and a few miles from the capital. The King's government was as helpless as it had been arrogant and pretentious. Ministers of State were sent down in hot haste with messages of submission and surrender.
The Burmese army, however, took a different view of the case. They refused to obey the order to surrender which had come from Mandalay. Before General Prendergast could land his men they dispersed over the country in every direction with their arms, and as the British force had no cavalry to pursue them, they got away to a man.
At first under various leaders, few of whom showed any military talent, they waged a guerilla warfare against the invaders; and afterwards, when their larger divisions had been defeated and broken up, they succeeded in creating a state of anarchy and brigandage ruinous to the peasantry and infinitely harassing to the British.
On the 29th of November Mandalay was occupied and the King a prisoner on his way down the river to Rangoon. The waterway from Mandalay to the sea was under our control. A few of the principal places on the banks of the river had been held by small garrisons as the expedition came up, and the ultimate subjugation of the Burman people was assured. The trouble, however, was to come.
|End of the Kone-boung Dynasty: Taking of King Thibaw to India.|
Burma will be, in all likelihood, the last important province to be added to the Indian Empire. Eastward that Empire has been extended as far as our arms can well reach. Its boundaries march with Siam, with the French dominion of Tongking, and on the East and North for a vast distance with China.
Our convention with France for the preservation of the territory which remains to Siam and our long friendship with the latter country bars any extension of our borders in that direction. It is improbable that we shall be driven to encroach on Chinese territory; and so far as the French possessions are concerned, a line has been drawn by agreement which neither side will wish to cross.
In all likelihood, therefore, the experience gained in Burma will not be repeated in Asia. Nevertheless it may be worthwhile to put on record a connected account of the methods by which a country of wide extent, destitute of roads and covered with dense jungle and forest, in which the only rule had become the misrule of brigands and the only order systematic disorder, was transformed in a few years into a quiet and prosperous State.
I cannot hope that the story will be of interest to many, but it may be of some interest and perhaps of use to those who worked with me and to their successors.
From 1852 to 1878 King Mindôn ruled Upper Burma fairly well. He had seized the throne from the hands of his brother Pagan Min, whose life he spared with more humanity than was usual on such occasions. He was, to quote from the Upper Burma Administration Report of 1886, "an enlightened Prince who, while professing no love for the British, recognized the power of the British Government, was always careful to keep on friendly terms with them, and was anxious to introduce into his kingdom, as far as was compatible with the maintenance of his own autocratic power, Western ideas and Western civilization."
|Burmese King Mindon (1808-78).|
His measures for encouraging trade and increasing and ordering the revenues were good, and the country prospered under him. In Burma there are no hereditary leaders of the people. There is no hereditary aristocracy outside the royal family, and their descendants rapidly merge into the people.
There was no law or binding custom determining the descent of the crown within the family. Every one with royal blood, however little, in his veins was a potential pretender. Whenever the crown demised the succession was settled by intrigue or violence, and possible aspirants were removed by the prince who had obtained the prize. There was no other way of securing its peaceful enjoyment.
Under the King was the Hlutdaw, or great Council of State, composed of the Chief Ministers, who were appointed by the King from the courtiers who had the good fortune to be known to him or had helped him to the throne. To each of these was assigned a province of the empire, which he governed through a deputy.
The immediate power was vested in the deputy, who resided in the province and remitted to the Minister as much as he could collect over and above the amount due to the crown and, it need hardly be said, necessary for his own needs. The provinces were divided into townships, which were ruled by officials appointed by the governors, no doubt with regard to local influence and claims, and with a general inclination to keep the office in a family.
The really stable part of the administration on which everything rested was the village, the headship of which was by custom hereditary, but not necessarily in the direct line.
The amount of revenue was fixed at Mandalay with reference to a rough estimate of what the province could pay, and that was divided amongst the townships and again amongst the villages. The headman of each village, assisted by a committee or Punchayet, as it would be called in India, settled the sum due from each householder, and this was as a rule honestly and fairly done. It was not a bad system on the whole, and it was in its incidence probably as just as local taxation in Great Britain, which I admit is somewhat faint praise.
In a country which is under-populated and contains vast areas of land fit for cultivation unoccupied and free to all, migration is a great check on oppression. Life is simple in Burma. The climate for the most of the year makes a roof unnecessary; flitting is easy. Every man is his own carpenter. He has put together his house of bamboo and planks cut by his own hands. He knows how to take it down. He has not to send for contractors or furniture vans. There are the carts and the plough cattle in his sheds. He has talked things over with his wife, who is a capable and sensible woman.
One morning they get up, and instead of going to his fields or his fishing or whatever it may be, he takes his tools, and before sunset, his wife helping, the house is down and, with the simple household goods, is in the cart. The children find a place in it, or if they are old enough they run along with the mother. If the local magistrate is so blind to his own interests as to oppress his people, there is another wiser man a few score leagues away who is ready to welcome them.
For what is the good of land without men to live on it? Is not the King's revenue assessed at so much to the house? But suppose the worst comes to the worst and the man in power is a fiend, and neither property nor life nor honour is safe from him, even then there is the great forest, in which life, though hard, is a real pleasure to a man; and, given a good leader, the oppressed may soon change places with his oppressor.
We are too ready to imagine that life under such a King as Mindôn or even as Thebaw must be unbearable. We fancy them armed with all the organization of the Inland Revenue Department and supported by a force like our constabulary. Fortunately they were not. No system of extortion yet devised by the most ruthless and greedy tyrant is at all comparable in its efficacy to the scientific methods of a modern revenue officer. The world will see to what a perfection of completeness the arts of oppression and squeezing can be carried when the power of modern European organization is in the hands of a socialist government.
It need not be supposed, therefore, that under King Mindôn life in Upper Burma was bad, and it must be remembered that since 1852 escape to British Burma, although forbidden, was not impossible.
Under Thebaw things were different. Mindôn was on the whole well-intentioned, and had kept the power in his own hands. Thebaw was weak and incompetent, and the Ministers who had most influence with him were the worst men.
|King Thibaw and his queens.|
The rapacity and greed of the Court, where the Queen Supayalat was the ruling spirit, set the example to the whole hierarchy of officials. The result was a state of extreme disorder throughout the whole kingdom. The demands made on the people for money became excessive and intolerable. Men left their villages and took to the jungle.
Bands of armed brigands, some of considerable strength under active leaders, sprang up everywhere. Formed in the first instance as a protest and defence against extortion, they soon began to live on the country and to terrorize the peasantry. After a time, brigands and Ministers, finding themselves working for a common object, formed an unholy alliance for loot. The leaders of the bands came to an understanding with the more powerful officials, who in turn leant upon them for support.
Under such conditions it was not wonderful that the sudden seizure of the capital and the summary removal of the King should have completed the dissolution of society, already far advanced. The British Government, if it had decided to annex Upper Burma, might by a more leisurely occupation, not only with a larger military force, but with a complete staff of civil administrators, have saved the people from some years of anarchy and great suffering. But that is not our way, and under modern political conditions in England is impossible.
The country was taken and its government destroyed before we had decided what we should do with it, or considered the effect on the people.
The King's rule ended on the 29th of November, 1885. On the 1st of January, 1886, the Viceroy's proclamation included Upper Burma in Her Majesty's dominions. The administration of the country was temporarily provided for by allowing the Hlutdaw, or great Council of State, to continue in power, discharging all its functions as usual, but under the guidance of Colonel (afterwards Sir E. B.) Sladen, who was attached as Political officer to General Prendergast's staff.
All Civil officers, British and Burmese, were placed under the Hlutdaw's orders, and the King's Burmese officials throughout the country were instructed to go on with the regular performance of their duties as if nothing had occurred. Some arrangement had to be made, and probably this was the best possible. The best was bad.
On the 15th of December the Chief Commissioner, Sir Charles Bernard, arrived at Mandalay from Rangoon. On his way up the river he had visited Minhla, Pagan and Myingyan, where Civil officers, supported by small garrisons, had been placed by General Prendergast. He decided that these three districts should be removed from the jurisdiction of the Hlutdaw and controlled directly by himself. Mandalay town and district were similarly treated. A British officer was appointed to govern them, under the immediate orders of Colonel Sladen, who was responsible to the Chief Commissioner.
All this must have confused the minds of the people and prevented those who were ready to submit to the British power from coming forward. Fortunately this period of hesitation was short. From the 26th of February, 1886, Upper Burma became a province of British India.
|Captured Burmese dacoits or patriots.|
It must not be supposed that no steps had been taken towards the construction of an administration during the first two months of the year. Anticipating the decision of Her Majesty's Government, Sir Charles Bernard had applied his signal energy to this work, and before the end of February the Viceroy had laid his rough proposals before the Secretary of State. As soon as Upper Burma was incorporated with British India the scheme of government already drafted came into force.
The country was mapped out into fourteen districts, corresponding as closely as possible to the existing provinces under the King, namely:— Mandalay, Minbu, Pagan, Katha, Bhamo, Ava, Shwèbo, Ningyan (afterwards called Pyinmana), Chindwin, Kyauksè, Ye-U, Myingyan, Sagaing, Yamèthin, and after a time three more were added: Taungdwingyi, Meiktila, and the Ruby Mines.
The boundaries were necessarily left vague at first until more accurate knowledge of the country enabled them to be defined. At first there were no maps whatever. The greater part of the country had not been occupied nor even visited by us.
To each district was appointed an officer of the Burma Commission under the style of Deputy Commissioner, with a British police officer to assist him and such armed force of police as could be assigned to him. His first duty was to get in touch with the local officials and to induce those capable and willing to serve us to retain or take office under our Government.
Having firmly established his authority at headquarters, he (the British Deputy Commissioner) was to work outwards in a widening circle, placing police posts and introducing settled administration as opportunity offered. He was, however, to consider it his primary object to attack and destroy the robber bands and to protect the loyal villages from their violence.
|Captured Burmese rebels.|
There was a tendency in the beginning of the business to follow this practice, which was mischievous. If the people were friendly and helped the troops, they were certain to suffer when the column retired. If they were hostile, a hasty visit had little effect on them. They looked on the retirement as a retreat and became more bitter than before.
Upper Burma was incorporated with British India on the 26th of February. Thereupon the elaborate Statute law of India, including the Civil and Criminal Codes, came into force, a body of law which implies the existence of a hierarchy of educated and trained officials, with police and gaols and all the machinery of organized administration.
But there were none of these things in Upper Burma, which was, in fact, an enemy's country, still frankly hostile to us. This difficulty had been foreseen, and the proper remedy suggested in Lord Dufferin's minute (dated at Mandalay on the 17th of February, 1886) in which he proposed to annex the country.
The Acts for the Government of India give to the Secretary of State the power of constituting any province or part of a province an excepted or scheduled district, and thereupon the Governor of the province may draw up regulations for the peace and good government of the district, which, when approved by the Governor-General in Council, have the full force of law.
This machinery is put in force by a resolution of the Secretary of State in Council, and at the Viceroy's instance a resolution for this purpose was made, with effect from and after the 1st of March, 1886. It applied to all Upper Burma except the Shan States.
|British troops shelling a Burmese rebel village.|
"By these instructions each district was placed in charge of a Civil officer, who was invested with the full powers of a Deputy Commissioner, and in criminal matters with power to try as a magistrate any case and to pass any sentence. The Deputy Commissioner was also invested with full power to revise the proceedings of any subordinate magistrate or official and to pass any order except an order enhancing a sentence.
In criminal matters the courts were to be guided as far as possible by the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, and the Evidence Act (i.e., the Indian Codes). But dacoity or robbery was made punishable with death, though magistrates were instructed to pass capital sentences only in very heinous cases. In order to provide a safeguard against undue severity in the infliction of punishments, it was ordered that no capital sentence should be carried out except after confirmation by the Chief Commissioner.
No regular appeals were allowed from any decision; but it was open for anyone who felt aggrieved by the decision of a subordinate officer to move the Deputy Commissioner to revise the order, and for anyone who demurred to an order passed by a Deputy Commissioner to bring the matter to the notice of the Chief Commissioner.”
"In revenue matters the customs of the country were as far as possible to be observed, save that no monopolies (except that of precious stones) were allowed and no customs or transport duties were levied. As regards excise administration, in accordance with the custom of the country the sale of opium and of intoxicating liquors to Burmans was prohibited. But a limited number of licences were issued for the sale of liquors to persons not of Burmese race, and the Chinese were specially exempted from the restrictions imposed on the traffic in opium."
Thus in four months after annexation the country had been parcelled into seventeen districts, each under the charge of a Deputy Commissioner, who was guided by the provisional instructions and worked at first directly under the Chief Commissioner. It was thought (vide Lord Dufferin's minute of February 17, 1886) that the province could be worked, in the beginning, without any authority such as Divisional Commissioners or Sessions Judges interposed between the Chief Commissioner and the district officers.
"I would adopt, as I have already said," wrote Lord Dufferin, "the simplest and cheapest system of administration open to us. There will be in each district or circle one British Civil officer and one police officer. The Civil officer will work through the indigenous agency of the country, Myo-ôks (governors of towns), Thugyis (headmen of villages) and others, confining his efforts in the first instance to the restoration of order, the protection of life and property, and the assessment and collection of the ordinary revenue.... But most of the unimportant criminal work and nearly all the civil suits must be disposed of by the native officials, subject to the check and control of the district officer."
The area of the province, excluding the Shan States, which were left to the care of their own chiefs, was nearly one hundred thousand square miles. It was divided into seventeen districts. There were no roads in the interior, much of which was difficult country. The Irrawaddy, it is true, formed a splendid line of communication from north to south. But the river was not connected with the districts east or west of it by anything better than an ordinary village cart-track, with numerous streams and rivers, most of them unbridged.
The Eastern districts between the Sittang and the Irrawaddy were especially inaccessible. Under such circumstances it was impossible for any man to discharge the duties imposed on the Chief Commissioner, even if all his subordinates had been endowed with ripe wisdom and experience. Only a man of the heroic energy and devotion of Sir Charles Bernard could have conceived it possible.
Moreover, the Chief Commissioner was to be responsible for all death sentences, and was to be the final Court of Revision for the province; while the lower province also remained in his charge, and although he was relieved of the routine work of Lower Burma, the responsibility still rested on him, and was by no means nominal. It was not business.
The difficulty soon began to be felt. And the province of Upper-Burma was reorganized into four divisions, namely Eastern, Southern, Northern, and Central Division.
|British officers and Indian NCOs of Burma Military Police.|
The Chief Commissioner delegated to them, in their respective divisions, the general control of the district officers and the revision of their judicial proceedings, including the duty of confirming sentences of death.
The administrative divisions of the province, excluding the Shan States, then stood as follows:—
1. The Northern Division
Bhamo, Katha, Shwèbo, Ruby Mines, and Mandalay.
2. The Central Division
Sagaing, Kyauksè, Yeu, Chindwin, and Ava.
3. The Eastern Division
Meiktila, Yamèthin, and Ningyan (afterwards called Pyinmana).
4. The Southern Division
Myingyan, Pagan, Minbu, and Taungdwingyi.
This organization enabled the Chief Commissioner to attend to his own work and brought the task of governing the whole of Burma within the powers of an energetic man. It enabled him to give sufficient time to the organization of the revenue and of the police and to the exercise of that control without which there could be no united action.
The attempt to govern without an authority intervening between the executive officers in the districts and the head of the province was due to a desire for economy, and to the belief that in this way there would be closer connection and easier communication between the Chief Commissioner and the executive officers. In fact, the contrary was the result, and in all such cases must be.
The framework of a civil administration had now been formed. It remained to give the district officers such armed support as would enable them to govern their charges.
In the autumn of 1886 the country generally was far from being under our control. It had been supposed that our coming was welcome to the people and that "the prospects of the substitution of a strong and orderly government for the incompetent and cruel tyranny of their former ruler" was by the people generally regarded with pleasure. (See Lord Dufferin's minute of February 17, 1886.)
But by July it had become evident that a considerable minority of the population, to say the least, did not want us, and that until we proved our strength it was idle to expect active help even from our friends.
The total military force hitherto employed in Upper Burma had been about fourteen thousand men. There was not anywhere in the whole country a well-armed or organized body of the enemy. A few hundred British troops could have marched from north to south or from east to west without meeting with very serious opposition or suffering much loss. Small flying columns could be moved through the country and might find no enemy, and might even gather from the demeanour of the people that they were welcome.
When the soldiers passed on, the power of the British Government went with them, and the villagers fell back under the rule of the guerilla leaders and their gangs. At first there may have been some faint tinge of patriotism in the motives which drove the leaders and members of these bands to take the field. Very soon they became mere brigands, living on the villagers and taking whatever they wanted, including their women.
"These bands are freebooters," wrote Sir George White (to the Quartermaster-General in India, July 17, 1886), "pillaging wherever they go, but usually reserving the refinement of their cruelty for those who have taken office under us or part with us. Flying columns arrive too late to save the village. The villagers, having cause to recognize that we are too far off to protect them, lose confidence in our power and throw in their lot with the insurgents. They make terms with the leaders and baffle pursuit of those leaders by roundabout guidance or systematic silence. In a country itself one vast military obstacle, the seizure of the leaders of the rebellion, though of paramount importance, thus becomes a source of greatest difficulty."
The experience of the first half of 1886 had brought home to the Government of India as well as to the military officers in the field that the resistance was more widespread and more obstinate than anyone had foreseen. Sir George White considered that "the most effective plan of establishing our rule, and at the same time protecting and gaining touch of the villages, is a close occupation of the disturbed districts by military posts". Under the circumstances, this was the best course to adopt, provided that the posts were strong enough to patrol the country and to crush every attempt at rising.
|Bhamo Battalion of Burma Military Police.|
It had been foreseen from the first by Sir Charles Bernard and the Government of India, although the strength of the force necessary to achieve success was much under-estimated. In February, 1886, two military police levies, each of five hundred and sixty-one men, were raised from the Indian army. Of these one was sent to the Chindwin district and one to Mandalay.
At the same time the recruitment of two thousand two hundred men in Northern India for a military police force was ordered. These men were untrained and came over in batches as they were raised. They were trained and disciplined at Mandalay and other convenient places, and were distributed to the districts when they were sufficiently formed. Thus besides the soldiers the Chief Commissioner had about 3,300 men at his disposal.
As the year went on and the magnitude of the undertaking began to be understood, the need of a much larger force was admitted. Two more levies were sanctioned. One from Northern India was raised without difficulty, and was posted to the railway line from Toungoo to Mandalay, which had been tardily sanctioned by the Secretary of State in November, 1886, and was at once put in hand.
The other, a Gurkha battalion for use in the Northern frontier subdivision of Mogaung, was more difficult to recruit. At the end of the year two companies had arrived, and after being trained at Mandalay had gone on to Bhamo.
By this time forty-six posts were held by the military police. The hunger for men, however, so far from being satisfied, continued to grow. After reviewing the position in November (1886) Sir Charles Bernard decided to ask the Government of India for sixteen thousand men, including those already sanctioned, nine thousand to be recruited in India and seven thousand in Burma.
It was proposed that ultimately half of this force should be Indians and half local men. They were all to be engaged for three years, and were to be drilled and disciplined, and divided into battalions, one for each district. Each battalion was to contain fixed proportions of Indians and local men, "under the command of a military officer for the purpose of training and discipline and under the orders of the local police officers for ordinary police work."
At this time it was believed that Burmans, Shans, Karens and Kachins could by training and discipline become a valuable element in a military police force, and the experiment was made at Mandalay. This was the beginning of the Burma military police force, which contributed so pre-eminently to the subjugation and pacification of the province. The attempt to raise any part of it locally was, however, very quickly abandoned, and it was recruited, with the exception of a few companies of Karens, entirely from Indians.
But to return to the middle of 1886. Sir George White, in writing to Army Headquarters, urged the necessity of reinforcements. The fighting had, it is true, been trivial and deaths in action or by wounds had amounted to six officers and fifty-six men only. Disease, however, had been busy.
|Indian soldiers of Burma Military Police.|
There were few large bodies of the enemy in the field—few at any rate who would wait to meet an attack. It was only by a close occupation of the disturbed districts by military posts that progress could be made. The Major-General Commanding did not shrink from this measure, although it used up his army. Fourteen thousand men looks on paper a formidable force, but more men, more mounted infantry, and especially more cavalry were necessary.
It had been a tradition at Army Headquarters, handed down probably from the first and second Burmese Wars, that cavalry was useless in Burma. The experience of 1885-6 proved it to be the most effective arm. It was essential to catch the "Bos," or captains of the guerilla bands, who gave life and spirit to the whole movement.
Short compact men, nearly always well mounted, with a modern jockey seat, they were the first as a rule to run away. The mounted infantry man, British or Indian, a stone or two heavier, and weighted with rifle, ammunition, and accoutrements, on an underbred twelve-hand pony, had no chance of riding down a "Bo." But the trooper inspired the enemy with terror.
"In a land where only ponies are bred the cavalry horses seem monsters to the people, and the long reach and short shrift of the lance paralyse them with fear," wrote Sir George White, and asked that as soon as the rains had ceased "three more regiments of cavalry, complete in establishments," should be added to the Upper Burma Field Force.
|A Kachin of Burma Military Police.|
"It is proposed," they wrote to Lord Cross (August 13, 1886), "to reinforce the Upper Burma Field Force by three regiments of native cavalry and to relieve all or nearly all the corps and batteries which were despatched to Burma in October last. The troops to be relieved will be kept four or five months longer, so that, including those sent in relief, the force will be very considerable and should suffice to complete rapidly and finally the pacification and settlement of the whole country."
In consequence of the increased strength of the field force the Government of India directed Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Macpherson, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, to transfer his headquarters to Burma and remain there until the conclusion of the operations. Unfortunately, Sir Herbert died shortly after reaching Burma. The Commander-in-Chief in India, Sir Frederick Roberts, then took charge of the business and landed in Rangoon in November.
It was evident that Sir George White had not exaggerated the difficulties of the work. After taking stock of the position, Roberts asked for five more regiments to be sent from India. During the cold or, as it should be called in Burma, the dry season following, much was done to gain control of the country, under the personal supervision of the Commander-in-Chief. Especially in the Eastern Division, where large bands of men under various pretenders had been most troublesome, the stern energy of General Lockhart produced a rapid and wholesome change.
|Rebellious Burmese were not allowed to serve in Burma Military Police.|
The Pacification Of Burma (1885-90) - Part (2)