The History of the Second Anglo- Burmese War, 1851-1852
The Second Anglo-Burmese war began in 1851 but the origins of the conflict were concealed by a Mid-Victorian bipartisan and bureaucratic cover-up throughout 1852-53. The Government of India in Calcutta, after withdrawing many of its diplomatic representatives in Burma in 1840, successfully implementing a policy of “non-intercourse”. It was in 1851 that Burma, after British subjects had captured the President in the Council’s attention that a change of policy regarding armed intervention occurred.
Lord Dalhousie, a Peelite, had been appointed Governor General of India in 1848 by John Russell’s discerning integration of free trade conservatives in the Whig Party where he had been given a great deal of independence. “Hobhouse, Fox Maule and Herries successively served as Presidents of the Board of Control during January and February 1852. The rapidly changing political scene inhibited official and public consideration of Burma. According to Herries the change of government had diverted the public from war and the East India Company charter debates. Herries concurred in Lambert’s culpability, but after conferring with Lord Derby, the Prime Minister, and the Duke of Northumberland at the Admiralty, he agreed to “omit the passages touching on the differences between the Governor General and Commodore Lambert” when the blue books appeared. Herries suggested that the Admiralty copy also be edited”.
Lord Ellenborough repeatedly called for information and the publication of correspondence and it wasn’t until March 1853 that the Blue Books were presented to him. However, the papers were designed to mystify him rather than enlighten him to the situation. The Blue Books did not adequately reflect what events were occurring and many things were omitted or deleted.
Dalhousie turned his attentions on trying to win the war in Burma. ‘He appointed 75 year old General Godwin as Commander in Chief, a veteran of the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26), and a staunch Tory and friend of Herries and Wellington.’ However Godwin was too slow and was criticised for doing so. London wanted a quick resolution to the situation – a peace treaty would do if not a complete victory.
“The Whig-Liberal Aberdeen Coalition replaced the Derby-Disraeli ministry in December 1852 as the Burma war was running down. London-Calcutta relations warmed from greater political sympathy and the acceptance of an Anglo-Burmese peace without a treaty. Parliamentary questions were avoided by saying the war was commenced under the late government”.
On the 5thApril 1952 the port of Martaban was taken by the British, quickly followed by Rangoon and then Bassein. Lord Dalhousie visited Burma and in December, convinced the Burmese king that the country would benefit from British administration. South Burma was annexed and proclaimed part of British rule on the 20thJanuary 1953.
Pollack, Oliver B. (1978) A Mid-Victorian Coverup: The Case of the “Combustible Commodore” and the Second Anglo- Burmese War, 1851-1852, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, The North American Conference on British Studies.