The First Anglo-Burmese War: A Bicentennial Retrospective

Two hundred years ago, a war broke out between two empires that changed the course of history in Asia. This is the story of the First Anglo-Burmese War, a conflict that still resonates today.

It was a war that pitted the British East India Company against the Burmese Empire, a war that lasted for two years and claimed thousands of lives, a war that ended with a treaty that reshaped the map of the region.

Anglo-Burmese War

March 2024 marks the 200th anniversary of the First Anglo-Burmese War, the first of three wars fought between the British and Burmese empires in the 19th century. The war began over the control of Northeastern India, where the Burmese had expanded their influence and clashed with the British East India Company.

The war also involved Arakan, a coastal region conquered by the Burmese in 1784-85, that had witnessed a series of rebellions by Arakanese refugees who sought refuge in British territory.

The war was triggered by a Burmese invasion of Bengal in 1823, which provoked a British response. The British launched a naval expedition that captured Rangoon (now Yangon) in May 1824, hoping to force the Burmese to surrender by threatening their capital.

Fierce Resistance

However, the Burmese resisted fiercely and counterattacked with their large and well-trained army led by General Maha Bandula. The war dragged on for two years, with heavy casualties on both sides.

The British faced difficulties in supplying their troops and coping with diseases and monsoon rains. The Burmese also faced challenges in maintaining their morale and resources.

The war finally ended with the Treaty of Yandabo in February 1826, which was signed after the British defeated the Burmese at Danubyu and advanced towards Ava (now Inwa), the Burmese capital.

Humiliating Defeat

The treaty was humiliating for the Burmese, who had to cede Assam, Manipur, Arakan and Tenasserim to the British, as well as pay an indemnity of one million pounds sterling and sign a commercial treaty.

The First Anglo-Burmese War was the longest and most expensive war in British Indian history, costing 5-13 million pounds sterling (£400 million – £1.16 billion as of 2021) and claiming more than 15,000 lives of European and Indian soldiers. The war also marked the beginning of the end of the Burmese Empire, which had once been a powerful and prosperous state in Southeast Asia.

Read a more in-depth story by Sushanta Roy at NewsBlaze India: 200 Years of First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-2024): Unusual Perspectives from Ahom, Burmese, East India Company.

Burmese War - May 1824 amphibious assault by East India Company forces on Rangoon. Painting by J.Moore 19th century. Reproduction.
May 1824 amphibious assault by East India Company forces on Rangoon. Painting by J.Moore 19th century. Reproduction.
Sushanta Roy
Sushanta Roy is a journalist in Assam, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora of Assam, and the things that affect them.