Upper Burma, inclusive of the Shan States, contains in round numbers one hundred and sixty thousand square miles, of which the Shan States cover sixty thousand square miles and the Chin hills ten thousand. It may be divided, for the present purpose, into four parts.
The first is the great valley of the Irrawaddy, from the mountain ranges north of Mogaung to the northern boundary of the Thayetmyo district; the second is the valley of the Chindwin; the third is the valley of the Sittang, in which lies the Eastern Division, down to the boundary of the Toungoo district; and the fourth is the Shan States.
In 1887 the British administration had not yet touched the Chin hills or the Kachins in the mountains which divide Burma from China.
Beginning with the Irrawaddy Valley, Mogaung, the most northerly post of importance, was held by a Burman Myoôk, or township officer, nominally for us. He collected the revenue and spent it—much, no doubt, on his establishment, for which no regular provision had been made.
South of Mogaung as far as Bhamo the country was quiet, and no organized gangs were in the field. The Katha district, which comes next below Bhamo, was disturbed on the Wuntho border, and was not much under control.
The Wuntho Sawbwa, a Shan chief exercising independent jurisdiction within his country, had refused our invitation to come in. A strong force under Brigadier-General Cox, with Mr. Burgess, the Commissioner of the Northern Division, had gone to try the methods of peaceful persuasion.
The districts south of Katha, namely Shwèbo and Ye-u, were controlled by dacoit gangs under active leaders. On the left bank of the river the Shan States of Mohlaing and Möngmit were disturbed by the raids of Hkam Leng.
The Ruby Mines district, with its capital, Mogok, was held in force by British India Army and had remained submissive since its occupation. (Blogger’s note: British colonialists were already milking resource-rich Burma by taxing every precious gemstones like rubies and emeralds coming out of the ground of Burma’s famous Rubyland.)
South of the ruby mines lies the district of Mandalay, shut in on the north and east by the Shan hills. There was a British force of some thousand men of all arms in Mandalay itself, with several outlying detachments and a strong party in the hills at Pyinulwin, forty miles on the road to Hsipaw.
In spite of this force the district was dominated by three or four rebel leaders, who had large followings and acted in concert. They had divided the country between them into definite jurisdictions, which they mutually respected. They collected revenue from the villagers. Disobedience or any attempt to help the British Government met with swift and severe punishment.
They professed to be acting under the authority of the Myingun Prince, who was at the time a refugee in Pondicherry, and they were encouraged and helped to combine by a relative of the Prince, known as the Bayingan or Viceroy, who went from one to the other and supplied them with information.
About forty miles from Pagan town, and as many from the river, is the isolated hill or mountain of Popa. It rises to a height of four thousand five hundred feet, a gigantic cone throwing out numerous spurs. It is wooded thickly almost to the top, and extending for a long distance round it is a tangle of scrub jungle and ravines, an ideal hunting-ground for robbers and the home of cattle-thieves.
South of this was the Taungdwingyi district, extending down to the old border. It was in the hands of a leader named Bo Min Yaung, who was well provided with ponies, and even elephants. The northern spurs of the Pegu Yoma divide this district from the Sittang Valley, and are densely wooded, offering a harbour of refuge to criminals. To this, among other causes, it was due that this district gave more trouble than any other in Upper Burma.
It was at that time separated from the river by the Magwè township, which belonged to the Minbu district, and enjoyed comparative peace, owing mainly to the influence of the Burman governor, who had taken service under us and for a time was loyal.
These parts of the Myingyan and Pagan districts, which were on the right bank of the Irrawaddy, were not really under our control or administered by us. The wild tract on the Yaw, which was much left to itself in Burmese times, had not been visited, and was overrun by dacoits. Southward, still on the right bank, came the Minbu district, where Ôktama and Bo Swè were still powerful, the former in full force.
The difficulties of country and climate which our men had to face in this district were very great. The west of the Minbu district lies up against the range of mountains known as the Arakan Yoma, which run parallel to the sea and shut off the Irrawaddy Valley from the Bay of Bengal.
The country below the Yoma is what is known in India as Terai, a waterlogged region reeking with malaria, deadly to those not acclimatized. Many a good soldier, British and Indian, found his grave in the posts occupied in this district, Taingda, Myothit, Ngapè, and Sidoktaya.
The dacoit leaders knew the advantage of being able to live where our men could not. Soldiers like Captain Golightly (Colonel R. E. Golightly, D.S.O., late of the 60th Rifles) and his mounted infantry would have made short work of them under less adverse conditions.
Passing to the Chindwin, which joins the Irrawaddy at Pakokku, twenty-five miles above Myingyan, the Upper Chindwin was fairly quiet. The two local potentates, the Sawbwa of Hsawnghsup and the Sawbwa of Kalè, were not of much importance. The former had made his submission; the latter was holding aloof, but had shown his goodwill by arresting and delivering to the Deputy Commissioner a pretender who had attacked a British post and was gathering to his banner various leaders.
Lower down, the country round Mingin, where Mr. Gleeson, Assistant Commissioner, was murdered in 1886, was much disturbed. In the Lower Chindwin there was trouble in Pagyi and Pakangyi. The former country, which is covered with forests and very unhealthy, had been placed under the management of Burmans of local influence—a plan which answered for a time.
The Kani township, which adjoins Mingin, had been governed from the first by the Burmese Wun well and loyally. He was murdered on that account by a dacoit leader. His younger brother was appointed in his room and followed in his steps. On the left bank the country was not openly disturbed. The river trade was busy, but boats were obliged to take a guard or to be convoyed by a steam-launch.
At this time the cause of order seemed nearer victory in the Eastern Division than elsewhere. The Sittang Valley includes the Kyauksè district, which at first was placed under the Commissioner of the Central Division, but was allied in dacoit politics to Meiktila.
Myat Hmon, Maung Gyi, and Maung Lat, names well known to soldiers in 1885-6, hunted this country, making the Hmawwaing jungles their rallying-ground. When hard-pressed they took refuge in the hills of Baw and Lawksawk, coming back when the troops retired.
In the three districts of Meiktila, Yamèthin, and Pyinmana, which then formed the Eastern Division under Mr. H. St. George Tucker, General Sir William Lockhart had given them no rest day or night. Nevertheless, in March, 1887, large bands were still active.
The Shan States were in a very troubled state, but a good beginning had been made, and Mr. Hildebrand had nearly succeeded in breaking up the Limbin Confederacy. But throughout the plateau dacoities were rife and petty wars were raging. Wide tracts were laid waste, and the peasantry, deserting their fields, had joined in the fights or gone across the Salween.
Great scarcity, perhaps in some cases actual famine, resulted, not from failure of rain, but from strife and anarchy. And this reacted on Burma proper, for some of the Shan States on the border gave the dacoits encouragement and shelter.
The whole of Upper Burma at this time was in military occupation. There were one hundred and forty-one posts held by troops, and yet in wide stretches of country, in the greater part of the Chindwin Valley, in the Mogaung country and elsewhere, there was not a soldier.
The tide, however, was on the turn. The officers in command of parties and posts were beginning to know the country and the game, while the dacoits and their leaders were losing heart. The soldiers had in fact completed their task, and they had done it well. What remained to be done was work for the civil administrator.
The next thing was to provide an armed force at the disposal of the district officer, so that he should be able to get an escort immediately—for there was no district where an Englishman could yet travel safely without an armed escort—and should be able also to quell risings and disperse ordinary bands of insurgents or brigands without having to ask assistance from the army.
The military police had been designed and raised for these purposes, and the men were being distributed as fast as they arrived from India. The relations of the district officers to the commandants of military police and of the latter to the civil police officers, and the duties and spheres of each, had to be defined.
I had drafted regulations for these purposes, and was waiting for the appointment of an Inspector-General to carry them out. It had been decided before I left Calcutta that a soldier should be selected for this post.
The military police force was in fact an army of occupation sixteen thousand strong. Many of them were old soldiers who had volunteered from the Indian regiments, the rest were recruited mainly from the fighting races of Northern India. And they were commanded by young officers, some of whom had come with somewhat exalted ideas of their independence.
It was imperative, therefore, to get an able soldier who could look at matters from all points of view, and who could manage men as well as command them. For it required a delicate touch to avoid friction between the military and civil members of the district staff. Some of the civil officers were young, some were quite without experience, and some were inferior to the military commandants in force and ability.
In April, 1887, Colonel E. Stedman, commanding the 3rd Gurkhas, who had accompanied Mr. Hildebrand to the Shan States, was appointed to be Inspector-General of Police in Upper Burma, with the military rank of Brigadier-General. Among the many able officers of the Indian Army it would have been hard to find another man equally adapted to the work. I had reason to be grateful to General Stedman (now Sir Edward Stedman, G.C.B., K.C.I.E.) and to the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Roberts (then Sir Frederick), who selected him.
On the 21st of March, 1887, I wrote to Lord Dufferin regarding the relations of the district and police officers as follows:
"The relations between Deputy Commissioners, District Superintendents (Civil Police) and Commandants (Military Police) are ill-defined and work badly, unless all are really good fellows. I have decided to keep the Commandant to his military work, and the District Superintendent of Police to the real civil police duty—intelligence, detection, and investigation.
“The Deputy Commissioner has by law supreme control and must exercise it. The Deputy Commissioners have no hold on their districts, and through the absence of a civil police they get no intelligence and no touch with the people. Hence our military parties sometimes go wandering about blindly, unable to get any information. There must be a completely separate trained body of Burman Civil Police, trained not to arms but to their police duties.
“I have got orders under issue about the location of posts and everything connected with them and the constitution of the police in them. We must have some Burmans and some Civil Police Burmans in every police post, and I think in every military post also."