Third Anglo-Burmese War
The Third Anglo-Burmese War was a conflict that took place during 7–29 November 1885, with sporadic resistance and insurgency continuing into 1887. It was the final of three wars fought in the 19th century between the Burmese and the British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

. The war saw the loss of sovereignty of an independent Burma under the Konbaung Dynasty
Konbaung dynasty
The Konbaung Dynasty was the last dynasty that ruled Burma from 1752 to 1885. The dynasty created the second largest empire in Burmese history, and continued the administrative reforms begun by the Toungoo dynasty, laying the foundations of modern state of Burma...

, whose rule had already been reduced to the territory known as Upper Burma
Upper Burma
Upper Burma refers to a geographic region of Burma , traditionally encompassing Mandalay and its periphery , or more broadly speaking, Kachin and Shan States....

, the region of Lower Burma
Lower Burma
Lower Burma is a geographic region of Burma and includes the low-lying Irrawaddy delta , as well as coastal regions of the country ....

 having been annexed by the British in 1853, as a result of the Second Anglo-Burmese War
Second Anglo-Burmese War
The Second Anglo-Burmese War was the second of the three wars fought between the Burmese and the British Empire during the 19th century, with the outcome of the gradual extinction of Burmese sovereignty and independence....


Following the war, Burma came under the rule of the British Raj
British Raj
British Raj was the British rule in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947; The term can also refer to the period of dominion...

 as a province of India. From 1937 on, the British ruled Burma as a separate colony
British rule in Burma
British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese Wars through the creation of Burma as a province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence...

. Burma achieved independence as a republic in 1948.


Following a succession crisis in Burma in 1879, the British Resident in Burma was withdrawn, ending official diplomatic relations between the countries. The British considered a new war in response but other ongoing wars in Africa and Afghanistan led them to reject a war at that time.

During the 1880s, the British became concerned about contacts between Burma and France. Wars in Indochina
The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...

 had brought the French to the borders of Burma. In May 1883, a high-level Burmese delegation left for Europe. Officially it was to gather industrial knowledge, but it soon made its way to Paris where it began negotiations with the French Foreign Minister Jules Ferry
Jules Ferry
Jules François Camille Ferry was a French statesman and republican. He was a promoter of laicism and colonial expansion.- Early life :Born in Saint-Dié, in the Vosges département, France, he studied law, and was called to the bar at Paris in 1854, but soon went into politics, contributing to...

. Ferry eventually admitted to the British ambassador that the Burmese were attempting to negotiate a political alliance along with a purchase of military equipment. The British were troubled by the Burmese action and relations worsened between the two countries.

During the discussions between the French and Burmese in Paris, a boundary dispute on the frontier of India and Burma broke out. In 1881, the British authorities in India appointed a commission to unilaterally mark out the border between the two countries. In the course of its work, the commission began demanding the Burmese authorities in villages determined by the British to be on their side of the line should withdraw. The Burmese objected continuously, but eventually backed down.

In 1885, the French consul M. Hass moved to Mandalay
Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma. Located north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of one million, and is the capital of Mandalay Region ....

. He negotiated the establishment of a French Bank in Burma, a concession for a railway from Mandalay to the northern border of British Burma and a French role in running monopolies controlled by the Burmese government. The British reacted with diplomatic force and convinced the French government to recall Haas who was removed allegedly "for reasons of health". While the French had backed down in Burma, the French actions as well as many other events convinced the British to take action against Burma.

A fine was imposed on the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation
Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation
The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited was formed in 1863 by the Wallace Brothers. The Corporation was originally formed as a public company to engage in the Burmese tea business by taking over the assets in Burma of William Wallace...

 for under-reporting its extractions of teak
Teak is the common name for the tropical hardwood tree species Tectona grandis and its wood products. Tectona grandis is native to south and southeast Asia, mainly India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma, but is naturalized and cultivated in many countries, including those in Africa and the...

 from Toungoo and not paying its employees. The company was fined by a Burmese court, and some of its timber was seized by the Burmese officials. The company and the British government claimed the charges were false and the Burmese courts were corrupt. The British demanded the Burmese government accept a British-appointed arbitrator to settle the dispute. When the Burmese refused, the British issued an ultimatum on 22 October 1885. The ultimatum demanded that the Burmese accept a new British resident in Mandalay, that any legal action or fines against the Company be suspended until the arrival of the resident, that Burma submit to British control of its foreign relations and that Burma should provide the British with commercial facilities for the development of trade between northern Burma and China. The acceptance of the ultimatum would have ended any real Burmese independence and reduced the country to something similar to the nominally-autonomous 'princely' puppet states of British India. By 9 November, a practical refusal of the terms having been received at Rangoon
Yangon is a former capital of Burma and the capital of Yangon Region . Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of over four million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial...

, the occupation of Mandalay
Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma. Located north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of one million, and is the capital of Mandalay Region ....

 and the dethronement of the Burmese king Thibaw Min
Thibaw Min
Thibaw Min was the last king of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma . His reign ended when Burma was defeated by the forces of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, on 29 November 1885, prior to its official annexation on 1 January 1886....

 were determined upon. It can also be assumed that the annexation of the Burmese kingdom had been decided.

The war

At this time, beyond the fact that the country was one of dense jungle, and therefore most unfavourable for military operations, the British knew little of the interior of Upper Burma; but British steamers had for years been running on the great river highway of the Irrawaddy River
Ayeyarwady River
The Irrawaddy River or Ayeyarwady River is a river that flows from north to south through Burma . It is the country's largest river and most important commercial waterway. Originating from the confluence of the N'mai and Mali rivers, it flows relatively straight North-South before emptying through...

, from Rangoon to Mandalay, and it was obvious that the quickest and most satisfactory method of carrying out the British campaign was an advance by water direct on the capital. Further, a large number of light-draught river steamers and barges (or flats), belonging to the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company
Irrawaddy Flotilla Company
The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was a passenger and cargo ferry company, which operated services on the Irrawaddy River in Burma, now Myanmar. The IFC was Scottish-owned, and was managed by P Henderson & Company from Glasgow. The IFC operated from 1865 until the late 1940s...

, were available at Rangoon, and the local knowledge of the company's officers of the difficult river navigation was at the disposal of the British forces.

Major-General, after wards Sir, Harry North Dalrymple Prendergast was placed in command of the invasion. As was only to be expected in an enterprise of this description, the navy as well as the army was called in requisition; and as usual the services rendered by the seamen and guns were most important. The total effective force available was 9,034 fighting men, 2,810 native followers and 67 guns, and for river service, 24 machine guns. The river fleet which conveyed the troops and stores was composed of more than 55 steamers, barges, and launches, etc.

Thayet or Thayetmyo is a city in Thayet District of Magway Region in central Burma . It is a port on the right bank of the Irrawaddy River, across and just south of Allanmyo, between Pyay and Magway. Thayet is the administrative seat of both Thayet District and Thayet Township...

 was the British post on the river nearest to the frontier, and here, by 14 November, five days after Thibaw's answer had been received, practically the whole expedition was assembled. On the same day General Prendergast received instructions to commence operations. The Burmese king and his country were taken completely by surprise by the rapidity of the advance. There had been no time for them to collect and organize any resistance. They had not even been able to block the river by sinking steamers, etc., across it, for, on the very day of the receipt of orders to advance, the armed steamers, the Irrawaddy
Ayeyarwady River
The Irrawaddy River or Ayeyarwady River is a river that flows from north to south through Burma . It is the country's largest river and most important commercial waterway. Originating from the confluence of the N'mai and Mali rivers, it flows relatively straight North-South before emptying through...

 and the Kathleen, engaged the nearest Burmese batteries, and brought out from under their guns the Burmese King's steamer and some barges which were lying in readiness for this very purpose. On the 16th the batteries themselves on both banks were taken by a land attack, the Burmese being evidently unprepared and making no resistance. On 17 November, however, at Minhla
Minhla may refer to various places in Burma:* Minhla, Bago, small town* Minhla, Magway, town* Minhla, Mon, village * Minhla, Sagaing, village...

, on the right bank of the river, the Burmese in considerable force held successively a barricade, a pagoda and the redoubt of Minhla. The attack was pressed home by a brigade of British Indian infantry on shore, covered by a bombardment from the river, and the Burmese were defeated with a loss of 170 killed and 276 prisoners, besides many more drowned in the attempt to escape by river. The advance was continued next day and the following days, the naval brigade
Naval Brigade
A Naval Brigade is a body of sailors serving in a ground combat role to augment land forces.-Royal Navy:Within the Royal Navy, a Naval Brigade is a large temporary detachment of Royal Marines and of seamen from the Royal Navy formed to undertake operations on shore, particularly during the mid- to...

 and heavy artillery leading and silencing in succession the Burmese river defences at Nyaung-U
Nyaung-U is the administrative town of Nyaung-U Township of Nyaung-U District in the Mandalay Region of central Myanmar. It lies on the eastern bank of Ayeyarwaddy River. It is just 4 kilometers away from old Bagan, a popular tourist attraction. The Shwezigon Pagoda is located there...

, Pakokku
Pakokku or Pa Kok Ku is a town in the Magway Division in Myanmar. It is situated about 30 km northwest of Bagan on the Ayeyarwady River. It is the second most important education center for Sangha after Mandalay. It is the administration seat of Pakokku Township and Pakokku District.The town...

 and Myingyan
Myingyan is a city and district in the Mandalay Division of central Myanmar, previously, it was a district in the Meiktila Division of Upper Burma. It is currently the capital of Myingyan Township and lies along the National Highway 2. , the city had a population of 123,700 and the district had...


However, some sources say that the Burmese resistance was not fierce because the defence minister of Thibaw, Kinwon Min Gyi
Kinwon Min Gyi
Kinwon Min Gyi was a minister under King Mindon's and King Thibaw's reigns. He attempted to westernise the Burmese kingdom's existing bureaucracy into a more democratic system. Because of such attempts to do so, Kinwun Min Gyi was accused by many to have allowed Britain to win the Third...

 U Kaung, who wanted to negotiate peace with the British, issued an order to the Burmese troops not to attack the British. His order was obeyed by some, but not all Burmese brigades. In addition, the British deceived the Burmese (including U Kaung) by their propaganda that they did not intend to occupy the country for long, but only to depose the king Thibaw and enthrone Prince Nyaung Yan (an elder half-brother of Thibaw) as the new king. At that time, most of the Burmese did not like Thibaw both because of the poor management of his government and because he and/or his king-makers had executed nearly a hundred royal princes and princesses when he ascended the throne in 1878. Nyaung Yan was a survivor of this royal massacre and was living in exile in British India although in fact he was already dead at the time of this war. However, the British concealed the fact, and according to some sources the British even brought a man impersonating Prince Nyaung Yan along with them on their way to Mandalay so that the Burmese would believe their story of installing a new king. Thus, the Burmese who welcomed this purported new king did not attempt to resist the invading British forces. However, when it became obvious that the British had actually failed to install a new king and Burma in fact had lost its independence, fierce rebellions by various Burmese groups, including the troops of the former royal Burmese army, ensued for more than a decade. U Kaung's role in the initial collapse of Burmese resistance later gave rise to the popular mnemonic U Kaung lein htouk, minzet pyouk ("U Kaung's treachery, end of dynasty": U=1, Ka=2, La=4, Hta=7 in Burmese numerology i.e. Burmese Era 1247 or 1885AD).

On 26 November, when the flotilla was approaching the capital Ava
Innwa is a city in the Mandalay Division of Burma , situated just to the south of Amarapura on the Ayeyarwady River. Its formal title is Ratanapura , which means City of Gems in Pali. The name Innwa means mouth of the lake, which comes from in , meaning lake, and wa , which means mouth...

, envoys from King Thibaw met General Prendergast with offers of surrender; and on the 27th, when the ships were lying off that city and ready to commence hostilities, the order from the king to his troops to lay down their arms was received. There were three strong forts here, full at that moment with thousands of armed Burmese, and though a large number of these filed past and laid down their arms by the king's command, still many more were allowed to disperse with their weapons; and these, in the time that followed, broke up into guerrilla bands and prolonged the war for years. Meanwhile, however, the surrender of the king of Burma was complete; and on 28 November, in less than a fortnight from the declaration of war, Mandalay had fallen, and King Thibaw was taken prisoner, and every strong fort and town on the river, and all the kings ordnance (1861 pieces), and thousands of rifles, muskets and arms had been taken. The British organized the looting of the palace and city of Mandalay. The proceeds were sold off at a profit of 9 lakh
A lakh is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to one hundred thousand . It is widely used both in official and other contexts in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and is often used in Indian English.-Usage:...

s of rupees.

From Mandalay, General Prendergast reached Bhamo
Bhamo is a city of Kachin State in northernmost part of Myanmar, located 186 km south from the capital city of Myitkyina. It is on the Ayeyarwady River. It lies within 65 km of the border with Yunnan Province, China. The population consists of Chinese and Shan, with Kachin peoples in...

 on 28 December. This was a very important move, as it forestalled the Chinese, who had their own claims and border disputes with Burma. Though the king was dethroned and exiled with the royal family to India, and the capital and the whole of the river in the hands of the British, bands of insurgents took advantage of the situation to continue an armed resistance which proved very difficult to defeat.

Annexation and resistance

Burma was annexed by the British on 1 January 1886. Critics of the war consider the timing of the annexation to be strong proof of what the British motives really were. But the annexation was only the beginning of an insurgency which would last until 1896.

The final, and now completely successful, pacification of the country, under the direction of Sir Frederick (later Earl) Roberts
Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC was a distinguished Indian born British soldier who regarded himself as Anglo-Irish and one of the most successful British commanders of the 19th century.-Early life:Born at Cawnpore, India, on...

, was only brought about by an extensive system of small military police protective posts scattered all over the country, and small lightly equipped columns moving out in response whenever a gathering of insurgents occurred. The British poured reinforcements into the country, and it was in this phase of the campaign, lasting several years that the most difficult and arduous work fell to the lot of the troops. The resistance was finally broken by meting out collective punishments on villages. Villages were burned and the property of villagers either confiscated or destroyed. The British policy of overwhelming reprisals against villages suspected of assisting the insurgency eventually brought the country under control.

The British also extended their control into the tribal areas of the Kachin Hills and Chin Hills. These territories, only nominally ruled even by the Burmese kingdom, were taken over by the British. Also taken were disputed territories in northern Burma claimed by the Chinese government.

No account of the Third Burmese War would be complete without a reference to the first (and perhaps for this reason, the most notable) land advance into the country. This was carried out in November 1885 from Toungoo, the British frontier post in the east of the country. A small column of all arms carried it out under Colonel W. P. Dicken, 3rd Madras Light Infantry, the first objective being Ningyan (Pyinmana
Pyinmana ) is a logging town and sugarcane refinery center in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. The administrative capital of Myanmar was officially moved to a militarized greenfield site two miles west of Pyinmana on November 6, 2005. Pyinmana is approximately north of Yangon...

). The operations were completely successful, in spite of a good deal of scattered resistance, and the force afterwards moved forward to Yamethin
Yamethin is a town in central Burma in Yamethin District, Mandalay Region. Yamethin provides a market and processing for local agriculture production of rice and beans, as well having a small textile industry, and serving as a railroad shipping point on the Rangoon – Mandalay...

 and Hlaingdet. As inland operations developed, the lack of mounted troops was badly felt, and several regiments of cavalry were brought over from India, while mounted infantry was raised locally. The British found that without mounted troops it was generally impossible to fight the Burmese successfully.

See also

  • History of Burma
  • Konbaung dynasty
    Konbaung dynasty
    The Konbaung Dynasty was the last dynasty that ruled Burma from 1752 to 1885. The dynasty created the second largest empire in Burmese history, and continued the administrative reforms begun by the Toungoo dynasty, laying the foundations of modern state of Burma...

  • First Anglo-Burmese War
    First Burmese War
    The First Anglo-Burmese War was the first of three wars fought between the British and Burmese Empires in the 19th century. The war, which began primarily over the control of northeastern India, ended in a decisive British victory, giving the British total control of Assam, Manipur, Cachar and...

  • Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852)
  • British rule in Burma
    British rule in Burma
    British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese Wars through the creation of Burma as a province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence...

External links

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