Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Pacification Of Burma (1885-90) – Part (5)

Burmese rebels (British named them Dacoits).
It was about this time (May, 1887) that the news of the surrender of the Limbin prince to Mr. Hildebrand, and the submission of the influential Sawbwa of Möngnai came to remove some of our anxieties. Lord Dufferin telegraphed his congratulations to me: "These circumstances," he said, "greatly clear the air."

They proved in effect that we need not apprehend any very serious opposition in the Shan States, and that there was no risk in holding that country with a small force during the rains, on which point there were apprehensions in some quarters.

Good news came also from Upper Burma. A noted gang, led by men of more force than the ordinary leaders of dacoits possessed, had surrendered to Major Ilderton, who commanded a post at Wundwin, in the Meiktila district.

The gang was known by the name of the place, Hmawwaing, where it made its retreat, and it had sustained several severe attacks before the leaders gave in, of whom two had been village headmen and the third had been a Government servant under the King. The three had long worked together; and before the annexation they had dominated the northern part of Meiktila.

They were pardoned, and provision made for their support. Two of them absconded. They soon found, however, that their influence was gone. The country was weary of them. One (Maung Kala) died of fever; a second (Myat Hmon) gave himself up again. The third (Maung Ohn), the most educated and best bred of them, had remained quiet.

It was now necessary for me to return to Upper Burma, but I had not yet met Mr. Tucker, the Commissioner of the Eastern Division. As the rains were beginning, and the extension of the railway beyond Toungoo had not been opened, I asked Mr. Tucker to meet me at Toungoo. I could not spare time to march up to his headquarters.

The chief engineer of the Mandalay Railway, Mr. Buyers, was pushing on the line as fast as he could. He had many difficulties to contend with. The Burmans, although coming readily to the work, were new to it. The working parties had to be protected; the heavy forest in some divisions of the line had to be cleared. I had seen Mr. Buyers and satisfied myself that work was going on well.

I met Mr. Tucker, and received from him a fairly satisfactory account of his division. Meiktila and Yamèthin were almost quiet. Pyinmana was a difficult tract to reduce to order. It is described in the Burma Gazetteer as "one large forest with the exception of the immediate surroundings of Pyinmana town and small patches of cultivation near the villages and streams."

The station had been for some months almost besieged by dacoits, who took cover close to our lines. So much so that the postmaster, who came from a peaceful district, put up a notice closing the post-office as "urgent private affairs" compelled him to leave. It needed a good deal of peaceful persuasion to induce him to remain at his work.

In April, May, and June the troops of Sir William Lockhart's command, aided to some extent by the police, were very active. The forests and all the hiding-places were thoroughly explored and for the time at least cleared of dacoits. Meanwhile the civil officers, under the energetic direction of Mr. H. St. G. Tucker, vigorously disarmed the district, making full use of the men of local influence.

By the middle of June, when Mr. Tucker met me, only small bands were left, who were forced to conceal themselves, and there was little trouble afterwards in this district. But the difficult country of the Pegu Yoma between Pyinmana and the Magwè district of the Southern Division continued to harbour dacoits until 1890.

I returned to Rangoon from Toungoo and left for Upper Burma on the 10th of June. Going by the river, I stopped at all the towns on the way up, seeing the officers, inspecting every part of the administration, and discussing affairs.

Burmese towns along the Irrawaddy River.
In Lower Burma the towns and villages showed their wonted comfort and prosperity, the boats were as numerous as ever, and the rice and other produce was waiting in abundance at the landing-places for the steamers. The disturbances had had little effect on trade.

The country inland to the west of the river was still harassed by predatory gangs in the wilder parts, and the police did not appear able to suppress them. There was no need, however, for the aid of the soldiers.

I was able to reduce the number of outposts occupied by troops, and I would have reduced them still more, but that the General Commanding in Lower Burma was unable to provide barrack-room for the men occupying them. It was clearly time to take up the question of reducing the garrison of Lower Burma.

It was not a good thing to accustom the civil officers, the police, or the people to depend on detachments of troops scattered over the country, and it certainly was not good for the discipline and efficiency of the men. The conduct of the soldiers, however, was excellent, and the people welcomed them.

I found a general unwillingness to lose the sense of security which their presence gave; and possibly also the profits of dealings with them. The Indian soldiers and the Burmans were on excellent terms. Even where the men were quartered in the monasteries the Pongyis did not want them to leave.

At Thayetmyo the region of dacoit gangs and disturbances was reached. The main trouble appeared to be in what may be termed Bo Swè's country, which lay on the right bank of the river, reaching from the old British Burma boundary to a line going westward with a slight southerly curve from Minhla to the Arakan mountains.

Part of the trouble I thought arose from the fact that the jurisdiction of the Lower Burma command had been extended so as to cover this country, while the civil jurisdiction belonged to the Minbu district of Upper Burma.

This impeded free communication between the civil and military authorities. I transferred the tract to Thayetmyo, made it a subdivision of that district, and put a young and energetic officer in charge. The tract across the river was similarly treated.

I was now in Upper Burma again. Minbu on both sides of the river (it extended to both banks at this time) was very disturbed. Ôktama's power was not broken. Villages were attacked and burnt, and friendly headmen were murdered. Pagan, the next district, was not much better; and divided as it was by the river, and containing the troublesome Yaw tract, the civil authorities were somewhat handicapped.

A Burmese rebel leader and his wife.
From Pagan I crossed over to Pakokku, even then a fine trading town and the centre, as it still is, of the boat-building industry. The town in 1887 had a population of about 5,000, which had increased in 1901 to 19,000. It was well laid out with handsome avenues of tamarind-trees. Standing on good sandy soil and well drained, it was a fine site for the headquarters of a district.

The town and its neighbourhood had been skilfully governed by a lady, the widow of the old Governor, who had died thirty years before. Her son, a very fat and apparently stupid youth, was titular town-mayor (Myo-thugyi); but because he was suspected of playing false, through fear of the insurgents, he had been superseded, and a stranger from Lower Burma appointed as magistrate.

The wisdom of importing men from Lower Burma was always, to my mind, doubtful, and in this case was peculiarly open to objection, as it was a slight to the widow, who was undoubtedly an able woman, and had joined the British cause from the first.

It was said that in 1885 she was ordered by the King's Government to block the channel by sinking boats, of which there were always plenty at Pakokku; she let all the Upper Burma craft go—for a consideration, of course—and sunk some boats which belonged to British Burma. She was alleged to have made a thousand pounds by this transaction, which is very characteristic of the East.

I called on this old lady and had some conversation with her, and I would gladly have seen more of her, as she appeared to be a woman of some power. It was arranged to remove the Lower Burman magistrate and to send an English Assistant Commissioner, who would work through the hereditary Governor and his mother.

At Myingyan, the next station, I found the best of my officers was Captain Hastings, the commandant of the military police, who was fast making his men into a very fine battalion, with which before long he did excellent service.

I waited at Myingyan to see General Sir Robert Low, who had been at Mandalay. He was satisfied about the progress in his district, except in the country about Salin, Ôktama's country, and in Taundwingyi, which he said was full of dacoits, and would probably be their last abiding-place.

Burma Military Police (aka) dirt cheap Indian troops
used by British to subdue the war-like Burmese.
(One can't blame us Burmese for hating Indians - Kalars.)
It was a true prophecy, as I learnt to my sorrow. Partly owing to the very difficult country on its east border, and partly, perhaps even more, to the incompetence and weakness of the local officers, this district became my shame and despair. But at this time I had not been over the Taundwingyi country.

My next halt was at Myinmu, the headquarters of a subdivision of the Sagaing district, on the right bank, about thirty miles below Sagaing. Mr. Macnabb, a young soldier who had lately joined the Commission, was there as subdivisional officer. His report was not very satisfactory. Myinmu, for some reason or other, was especially obnoxious to the insurgents and was repeatedly attacked. Even quite recently there has been some trouble at Myinmu, although it is now a station on the railway which goes from Sagaing to the Chindwin.

Ava, which is a little further up on the opposite side of the river, was at that time a separate district. But except that it was the old capital of Burma, and was a favourite ground for dacoits, there was no reason for keeping a Deputy Commissioner there, and little ordinary work for him. It was soon to be added to the Sagaing district, to which it still belongs. There were no troops at this time at Ava; the Indian military police were good.

I found the experiment of training Burmans as military police still going on in Ava. It will be remembered that the first idea was to recruit half the force from the Burmans and other local races. The commandant called my attention to the gross waste of money that was involved in this experiment. The Burman officers were hopelessly unfit. One had been imported from Lower Burma; the other was a half-caste, a poor specimen of his kind in every way. They were disbanded as soon as possible.

The dacoits hung about the country under the Ava Deputy Commissioner for a long time. His jurisdiction did not extend over more than three hundred and fifty square miles, but it was harried by three noted guerilla leaders—Shwè Yan, who occupied the country on the borders of the Kyauksè and Ava districts; Bo Tok, who frequented the borders of Ava and Myingyan; and the third, Shwè Yan the second, who ravaged the south-west part of the district. The two last were killed by British troops. The first and the most formidable of the three was reported to have disappeared.

It may be mentioned here, as illustrating the persistence of the insurgents and the apparently endless nature of the task, which demanded all our patience and perseverance, that in the spring of 1888 Ava was as bad as ever. There were nineteen well-known leaders—"named varieties," as a gardener might call them—who, in the words of the official report, "held the countryside in terror."

Early in May, Shwè Yan, whose disappearance had been reported, was again on foot with a strong body of followers. A force of troops and police which encountered him lost two British officers.

From Ava I went over to Sagaing and inspected the station and the police, and crossed to Mandalay the same day. Sir George White met me on landing, and I rode up with him to my quarters on the wall.

This journey had occupied me eighteen days. I left Rangoon on the 10th of June, and reached Mandalay on the 28th. But the time had been well spent in gaining information and in making or renewing acquaintance with the district officers. I had inspected all stations on the way, and had been able to dispose of many questions on the spot.

When I was not on shore, the office work and correspondence kept me busy. My secretary and I had to write on the skylight of the boat, as there was no accommodation of any kind except a few dressing-rooms below, which in that climate and at that season were suffocating.

The Pacification of Burma (1885-90) - Part (4)
The Pacification of Burma (1885-90) - Part (6)