Anglo-Burmese War, Third (1885)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Burma (Myanmar) vs. Great
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Upper Burma
DECLARATION: No formal declaration
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Britain objected to Burma’s
courting of France, feeling that the relationship directly
threatened its economic interests in British-occupied lower
Burma; Burma sought to protect itself from further British
imperial encroachments and, ultimately, to maintain its
OUTCOME: Britain annexed upper Burma to India and
ousted the ruling dynasty.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Britain, 9,000 troops and 2,800 native auxiliaries; Burma,
CASUALTIES: Britain, 24; Burma, 250
TREATIES: No actual treaty, but the war formally ended with
Britain’s announcement of annexation, on January 1, 1886.
The Second ANGLO-BURMESEWAR had ended in 1853 with
a whimper, not a bang, when both sides simply stopped
fighting. The British were content to occupy lower Burma,
and Mindon Min (1814–78), the new Burmese king, who
had deposed his brother to ascend the throne, simply pretended
they had not taken control of a large part of his
kingdom. Mindon tried, in fact, to reverse the thrust of
Britain’s imperialism. He imposed administrative reforms
that made Burma more receptive to foreign investment,
and, to offset British influence, he entertained envoys from
France and sent Burmese emissaries to Paris. But it was
those very moves that once again aroused British suspicions
about Burma, a country it had been uncomfortable
with at least since Burma had annexed Arakan in the late
18th century and seemed willing to ignore its borders with
northeastern India. Anglo-Burmese relations were already
worsening when Mindon Min died and his son Thibaw
Min (1858–1916) assumed the throne in 1878.
King Thibaw, like his father, favored the French, but
the British were less worried about French influence in
upper Burma than they were about what Paris was plotting
in Laos, Vietnam, and Yunnan. The Anglo-French tension,
on the other hand, owed less to nefarious French designs
than to Burmese initiatives. Internal order began to break
down under Thibaw’s inept rule, and a border dispute with
Britain flared briefly in 1878 on the Manipur frontier.
Thibaw then tried to follow his father’s lead in diminishing
British influence by currying favor with the French. The
Burmese court wrote the French premier a letter suggesting
a bilateral treaty, and Thibaw began negotiating with
France to build a railroad from Mandalay to the Indian border.
The treaty posed a direct threat to British teak monopolies
in lower Burma. When Thibaw openly defied London
by refusing to accept a British envoy, and even worse,
ordered Burma’s ministerial council to fine the Bombay
Burmah Trading Corporation for underreporting its extraction
of teak from Toungoo, the British had had enough.
On November 14, 1885, British general H. N. D. Prendergast
(1834–1913) moved up the Irrawaddy in 55
steamers manned by the Royal Navy and transporting his
amphibious force of some 9,000 troops and 2,800 native
auxiliaries. As they approached Thibaw’s capital at Ava
(Mandalay) on November 27, the Burmese king surrendered.
They seized Mandalay and upper Burma and
announced its annexation to India on January 1, 1886.
Thibaw, deposed, was sent to India, but Burmese guerrilla
forces fought British troops for four more years before
they were pacified. Burma’s Konbaug dynasty had come to
an end, and so had Burmese independence.
See also ANGLO-BURMESE WAR, FIRST.
Further reading: George Ludgate Bruce, Burma Wars,
1824–1886 (London: Hart-Davis MacGibbon, 1973).