| Our Empire Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Vivid and picturesque account of the principal events in the building of the British Empire. Traces the development of the British colonies from days of discovery and exploration through settlement and establishment of government. Includes stories of the five chief portions of the Empire: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Ages 10-16 |
THE FIRST BURMESE WAR
 ALTHOUGH Lord Hastings had come out to India with the
determination not to fight, he had been obliged to
fight in order to win peace and justice for India. His
rule will be remembered as great, however, not merely
because he added many lands to the Empire, but because
he brought peace to these lands.
Lord Hastings was the first Governor-General who took
any interest in the teaching of the people. Before his
day the Company had been inclined to think that it was
just as well that the people should remain ignorant, as
they would then be more easily ruled. Lord Hastings
did not think so, and he helped to found native
schools, and in many ways tried to make the lives of
the Indian peoples better and happier.
The change to free trade, which had taken place at the
beginning of Lord Hastings' rule, had proved a great
success, and the affairs of the Company had never been
better than when he gave up his post and went home in
Lord Hastings left India in peace, and it was hoped by
all that the peace would last. But very soon after
Lord Amherst, the new Governor-General arrived, he was
forced into another war.
Beyond Bengal, and stretching in a long, narrow strip
down the bay, lies Burma. The Burmese, about this
 time, had great wars among themselves, and some of the
rebels had fled into Bengal, asking protection from the
British. The King of Burma ordered the British to give
these fugitives up. But they refused, knowing well
that the poor wretches would be put to death with
terrible tortures. This made the king angry, and,
having conquered Assam, he next began to attack British
Even then Lord Amherst tried to arrange matters
peacefully. But it was in vain. The king mistook the
wish for peace for fear. He haughtily commanded one of
his generals to drive the British out of Bengal, and to
bring the Governor-General back in golden chains, so
that he might be put to death.
Lord Amherst saw, at length, that war was not to be
avoided, and began to collect ships and men. He meant
to send his army across the Bay of Bengal in ships, and
attack the Burmese in their own land. But the Calcutta
sepoys refused to go, for their caste rules would not
allow them to sail upon the "black water," as they
called the sea. So Lord Amherst was obliged to send
part of his army round the bay by land, where they
endured terrible hardships, for the roads were almost
impassable. The sepoys of Madras were not so
particular, however, and soon a little fleet set sail
When the Burmese saw the British fleet they were both
astonished and frightened. They had never expected
that the enemy would come by sea, and they had made no
preparations. What frightened them most was a small
steamship called the Diana. It was the first steamer
which had ever been seen in the East, for the power of
steam was only being discovered. The Burmese had an
old saying that they should never be conquered until a
ship came up the Irrawaddy without sails or oars.
 Now the ship had come, and it struck terror into their
After firing a volley into the town, the British landed
at Rangoon. But when they reached the town they found
it empty, silent, and deserted. Men, women, and
children had fled. The only human beings were eleven
Europeans who were found tied and bound, ready for
death. As soon as the fleet had appeared, they had
been seized and condemned to death. They were seated
upon the ground, and the executioner stood over them
sharpening his knife, when a cannon ball burst into
their midst. In terror the Burmese fled, leaving their
prisoners behind them, to be found and set free again
by the British.
The Burmese were cowardly, ignorant, and puffed up with
foolish pride. Their army were a mere rabble, without
order or courage. They were badly armed and worse
drilled. The British ought to have crushed them in a
few weeks. But instead of that the war dragged on for
two years. From the first to last there seemed only to
be mistakes and misfortunes.
In those days Burma was almost an unknown country. The
British knew little of the people and less of the land
which they had come to conquer. They found it full of
impassable forests and deadly swamps. All round
Rangoon the land was a desert. It was swept bare of
grain or food, and there was not a human being to be
Soon the rains began. The whole country became a
reeking marsh from which rose foul mists, bringing
sickness and death. Although the rain poured in
torrents, the weather was stifling and hot, the men
always hungry. In vain the country was scoured for
food. There was none to be found. The soldiers had to
live on biscuits and tinned meats sent from Calcutta,
and these were bad.
 The British commander had hoped to sail up the
Irrawaddy and attack the king in his capital of Ava.
But the rains made the river a rushing torrent, upon
which it was impossible for sailing vessels to go. So,
for six months the army remained at Rangoon. Man after
man was stricken down. The hospitals were quickly
filled to overflowing. The men died in hundreds, and
when the rains ceased, it was found that every tenth
man was dead.
Now Bundula, the great Burmese general, marched against
the British with sixty thousand men.
The Burmese had a curious way of fighting. Instead of
attacking the enemy in the open, they built high fences
of interlaced bamboo. Then they dug holes in the
ground behind the fences and burrowed in them like
moles or rabbits, and from behind these ramparts they
fired upon the enemy.
In this way they now surrounded the British, who
watched them curiously as they made their preparations.
The Burmese worked so fast that it seemed as if their
entrenchments rose by magic, and in a few hours the
British were quite surrounded.
Then fighting began and lasted for a fortnight.
Bundula, himself, was brave, and his army was twenty
times as large as that of the British But at last the
British charged the Burmese in their burrows, and they
fled in disorder.
The British now marched up the river to Ava. Bundula
was killed, and with him died all the courage of the
Burmese. The king began to tremble for his throne. He
offered his soldiers great rewards to encourage them to
fight, for by this time fearful stories were told of
the might and cruelty of the "white demons." But the
British swept all before them, and the king was ready
to make peace.
 Then there came to him a boasting warrior called the
Lord of the Sun-Set. He begged leave to lead the army,
and swore to the king that he would save his capital
from the white demons, and scatter them in flight. So
the last army which the king could collect was given
him to command.
But the Lord of the Sun-Set, too, was defeated, and his
army fled. Then the king, in wrath, gave orders that
he should be trampled to death by wild elephants, as a
reward for his boasting and his failure.
Now peace was made, and, by the treaty of Yandaboo, the
King of Burma gave up Assam, Aracan, and Tenasserim to
the Company, and promised to pay a large sum of money.
When the news of the war reached home, the directors
were, as usual, very angry about it. It had cost
thirteen times more than the Pindari and the last
Maráthá wars. All the money that Lord Hastings had
gathered had been used. The Company was once more in
debt. They had lost twenty thousand men, and all that
they had in return were three swampy, forest-covered
But these same swampy provinces have turned out to be
among the most important of British India. In places,
where in 1826, there were only a few bamboo huts,
prosperous towns and harbours have sprung up. The foul
swamps have been changed into the most fertile of
rice-fields. Aracan has become the granary of Bengal.
The tea-gardens of Assam are famous the world over.
More than half the tea we drink at home comes from
Indian tea-gardens, besides which much is sent to the
Colonies and to the Continent.
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