Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Late Konbaung Myanmar and the English Wars (1824-1885AD)

The Meaning of Thingyan

1. "Thingyan" (spelled "Saṁkran" in Burmese) is derived from the Sanskrit "Saṁkrānti". It is the same word as "Songkran" in Thai.  2. "Saṁkrānti" means the day the sun moves from one "rashi" or constellation of the zodiac to another. There are actually 12 "thingyans" in a year!  3. The "new year" marks the movement of the sun from the last constellation (Pisces or Mina in Sanskrit, "Mein" in Burmese) to the first (Aries or Mesa in Sanskrit, "Meittha" in Burmese). ...

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Land Categorization

Very generally, there existed four main classes of land – crown land, ancestral or allodial land, glebe land, and official or prebendal land. Crown land (nanzin ayadaw-myay) was the personal land belonging to the king. This consisted of scattered but substantial estates which he had inherited from his ancestors or had acquired by marriage, and which were worked by a special class of labourers known as lamaing, or crown serfs. Certain other types of land could also become crown property,...

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Kolia San Thabue, one of the first students from Burma to the United States

This is a photograph of Kolia San Thabue, one of the first students from Burma to the United States. He was an Pwo Karen from Bassein and arrived in the US sometime in the later 1870s. His entire story is not clear to me but he studied at Chicago University and Kalamazoo College before going on to Michigan State College (now University).  Apparently he ran into financial trouble his sophomore year at Chicago and this photograph is from an appeal...

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A favourite daughter of King Mindon: the Princess of Naungmon.

H.R.H. the Princess of Natmauk and Naungmon (Natmauk Naungmon Minthami) is the daughter of HM King Mindon and HM Tharazin Myoza Minbura. Eventually she was raised to Thuriya Mallavadi and then promoted to the title Thiri Padma Devi. Born at the palace in Mandalay in 1859, died during the British occupation. The portrait was taken at Mandalay palace in early 1880s when she was in her 20s.

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The "Hairy Family" of Mandalay

Many people in Myanmar (or outside of Myanmar) are not aware of the strange tale of the "Hairy Family" of Mandalay. They were once world-famous. It started with a boy, found in the uplands of Laos, later named Shwe Maung, brought to the Court of Ava by King Bagyidaw. At least three generations of this family suffered from what may have been congenital hypertrichosis universalis.  He and his descendents then were patronized and protected by the Burmese kings from the...

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The story of the first Englishman to serve Burmese government

George Rodgers was probably the first Englishman to serve the Burmese government. He was born around 1760 in England by the early 1780s was a naval officer with the British East India Company. According to him, he was involved near Calcutta in a fight with a more senior officer. Believing he had killed the other man, Rodgers fled, first to Chittagong, then Arakan and eventually to Amarapura. For the rest of his life, Rodgers never left Burma and instead served...

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Amarapura

Amarapura was founded on 13 May 1783 by King Bodawpaya. The Konbaung dynasty was then less than a quarter century old and at the very height of its power. The Konbaung had devastated Siam and defeated the armies of Qing China. They would go on to conquer the Arakan, Manipur, Assam, Jaintia and Cachar. Tens of thousands of captives were brought to the Irrawaddy valley, especially from Manipur and present-day Thailand and Laos. Manipuri and Cachari horsemen were organized into...

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Judson’s life

The missionaries Adoniram and Ann Hesseltine Judson of Massachusetts first arrived in Burma in July 1813. Ann (in picture) would die in 1825 at Amherst (now Kyaikkami) of smallpox. Adoniram Judson was imprisoned during the First Anglo-Burmese War but then released and continued to live in Burma until his death in 1850. He wrote the first English-Burmese dictionary. In addition to Judson College and the Judson churches in Myanmar, there are at least three dozen churches named after him in...

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The birthday of the Kinwun Mingyi

Today is the birthday of the Kinwun Mingyi (3 February 1822 – 30 June 1908). The Kinwun Mingyi (U Kaung) was Burma (Myanmar)’s leading reformer in the 1870s and early 1880s. He was a scholar, diplomat, and the author of numerous works of literature, history, and jurisprudence. Like many in his generation, his vision was of a modern, independent Burma, that would mix the best of the old and the new, importing the latest ideas and technology, whilst also protecting...

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The First Anglo-Burmese War (Part 1)

The king at the time was Bagyidaw, grandson of Bodawpaya (the “Grandfather King”) and a great-grandson of the dynasty’s founder, Alaungpaya. He had inherited the empire at its very height. Described by the British as a “mild, amiable, good-natured and obliging” man, said to the be “fond of shows, theatrical exhibitions, elephant catching and boat-racing.” He was in 1824 very much under the influence of the war party, those processing for confrontation. Part of the war party was his senior...

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The First Anglo-Burmese War (Part 2)

Read part 1 here   The arrival of Bandula and the armies from Arakan and Assam must have cheered the demoralized Rangoon front line. Bandula immediately prepared for confrontation. To the east, at Pazundaung, he placed the governor of Myolat with three thousand men. To the north he placed his brother Mindin Minkaung with another three thousand. To the west he placed a captain of the royal guards, Mingyi Maha Minhla Zeyyathu, with four thousand, and in the forests just...

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The Treaty of Yandabo

24 February is a black letter day in Burmese history. The Treaty of Yandabo was signed on 24 February 1826 by Sir Archibald Campbell, representing the East India Company and Maha Minhla Kyawhtin, the Myoza of Legaing, ending the First Anglo-Burmese War. The war had begun with aggression on both sides. By 1826 however, the king's forces had been utterly defeated. 15,000 British and Indian troops and tens of thousands of Burmese were dead. Hundreds of Burmese and Shan princes...

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The only known photograph of the Yaw Atwinwun U Po Hlaing

This photograph was taken by Dr. Clement Williams, an British representative in Mandalay who became a good friend of King Mindon and his inner circle.  The photograph has just been made public by the heirs to Dr. Williams’ estate. U Po Hlaing (1830-1883) was a leading reformist at the courts of Kings Mindon and Thibaw.  He was fluent in Sanskrit, Pali, and Burmese and wrote many important works on Buddhism, governance, mathematics, and other subjects.  He was also placed in...

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Second Anglo-Burmese War

Earlier in the decade, in 1852, a second Anglo-Burmese War, briefer than the first, had led again to an unambiguous British victory and the loss of more Burmese territory. Whereas the first was the result of aggression by the Burmese as well as British expansion, in this one the blame was entirely with Calcutta. It started with an incident: The governor of Rangoon fined the captains of two British ships for alleged custom violations. And then there was an ultimatum...

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Sir Arthur Phayre and the Myoza of Magwé in Calcutta

Another image of early diplomacy: A watercolour of Sir Arthur Phayre and the Myoza of Magwé in Calcutta 1854. In the early years of his reign, King Mindon tried desperately to persuade the British to return Lower Burma, which had been seized during the Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852-3). In 1854 he sent one of his most powerful ministers the Myoza of Magwé (a minister to the very influential senior queen) as his envoy to the Marquess of Dalhousie, then Governor-General...

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The Penultimate King

Mindon is remembered by many Burmese as their last great king and among the most devout patrons of Buddhism ever. He is remembered for his innumerable works of merit, the monasteries and pagodas he built, the thousands of monks he sponsored, and his convening of the Fifth Great Buddhist Synod in 1871. The synod was billed as the first of its kind in twenty centuries, bringing together twenty-four hundred monks, including several from overseas, in a grand attempt to review...

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“Ameegalay”

A watercolour portrait of "Ameegalay" by the British artist Colesworthy Grant, 1855. "Ameegalay" was the younger daughter of the Sitke of Prome. Colesworthy Grant was the official artist attached to Sir Arthur Phayre's 1855 mission to Amarapura and the court of King Mindon. Prome was one of their stops on the way from Rangoon to Amarapura.

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Irish monk of Myanmar

There is a the long and colourful history of relations between Myanmar and Ireland and the many Irish men and women that have played a role in Burmese affairs. Perhaps one of the most unusual was U Dhammaloka (original name unknown), who was born to a poor family in Dublin in the 1856, he migrated to the United States, made his way on the first trains across America, then traveled by steamship to Japan before winding up in Rangoon just...

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The dawn of Myanmar-US relations

Official Myanmar-US relations began in 1856 with a letter from King Mindon to Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. King Mindon's modernization drive was then in full swing. Over the next 15 years he tried to reform all aspects of government, fundamentally changing the revenue system and reforming administrative structures, minted coins, sent students to Europe (and appointed them to high positions on their return), setup the first factories and expanded the oil industry (one of the...

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A Burmese in London c. 1857

Maung Shwe Too traveled to Calcutta around 1855, in his own words "in search of knowledge". There he spent some time at a Christian missionary school learning English. Then, wanting to see the West for himself, took a job as an ordinary sailor on a British merchant ship, arriving in the UK in 1857. In London, this intrepid young man found his way to the "Home for Asiatics" where he lived for more than three years, with a mixed group...

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The first student from Myanmar to study in US

The first Burmese student to come to America (and perhaps the first Burmese ever in America) was Maung Shaw Loo, who traveled from his native Moulmein to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 1858, just before the Civil War.  The photo was taken in the little town of Goshen, Indiana c. 1865. Maung Shaw Loo left Burma in 1857 aged 17 for studies in Calcutta. During the Indian Mutiny in 1858 he stowed away on a ship for America; when discovered he managed...

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A rare letter from the Kinwun Mingyi to Clement Willams.

Williams is a very interesting figure in 19th century Burmese history. He first arrived in Burma in 1858 as an Assistant Surgeon in the British Army. He then went on to become the (British) Political Agent in Mandalay. He spoke Burmese fluently and impressed King Mindon, who came to see him as a friend. Within a year however he was replaced by bitter rival Colonel Sladen. Over the 1870s he lived in Rangoon as a businessman and an agent for...

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King Thibaw's birthday

1 January 1859 is the birthday of King Thibaw who is the 41st son of King Mindon and the Laungshe Queen, 11th and last king of the Konbaung dynasty, regnal title Thiri Pawara Ditya Lanka Wizara Nanda Yatha Tilawkadhipati Pandita Maha Dhamma Razadhiraza, assumed the throne October 1878, deposed by the British November 1885, died in exile 19 December 1916 age 57.A controversial choice and a controversial king, he nevertheless presided over a reformist government that tried desperately to modernize...

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HM Queen Supaylat, the Last Queen of Burma (Myanmar)

HM Queen Supaylat, the Last Queen of Burma (Myanmar) was born 13 December 1859 she became the ""Middle Palace Queen"" of King Thibaw at the age of 19. During her seven years on the throne she fought attempts by reformist ministers to curtail royal authority (especially royal spending). She also fought to limit the number of queens and royal concubines.British propaganda portrayed her as a decadent tyrant, dominating her husband and opposed to all change. Negative images of the king...

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Mandalay polo

Polo is today a game played around the world. Its modern form is derived from Manipur where it had been played for many centuries. The British copied the Manipuri game and the first polo club was established in Calcutta in 1862. The game itself is far older and likely originated with the horse-riding cultures of the central Asian steppe (where horse-riding started around 4500 BC). Polo was played extensively in the Persian Empire more than two thousand years ago, in...

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The assassination of the Prince of Kanaung

In August 1866 the course of Burmese history changed forever with the assassination of the Prince of Kanaung (in the photograph).The Kanaung Prince was the younger brother and partner in government of King Mindon. He was also the Crown Prince. Together they set out to transform government, modernise the country, and defend its independence. Under the Kanaung Prince's direction, dozens of students were sent to Europe, including for military training the army was overhauled, modern factories, including for arms and...

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Prince of Myingun

HRH the Prince of Myingun, on 2nd August 1866, rebelled against his father King Mindon, killing his uncle the Prince of Kanaung and a number of high officials. His rebellion lasted several weeks and was crushed only after considerable bloodshed. The Prince of Kanaung had been the kingdom's leading reformer and his death crippled efforts to modernise the army and other royal institutions. This photograph of the Myingun Prince was taken in Saigon where he died in 1923. My great-great-great...

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“Thangyet Wun” U Myu

A rare portrait of the "Thangyet Wun" U Myu (later styled Mingyi Minhla Maha Sithu Kyaw). U Myu was a scion of an old family of Ava nobility and was one of the first Burmese to be educated in Paris, obtaining a degree in engineering at the the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1868 and returning for further study in France in the 1870s. He held different posts in Mandalay, leading King Mindon's efforts to build the country's...

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The very first Burmese mission to France

The very first Burmese mission to France was the 1871 mission led by the Kinwun Mingyi. During that mission (which was meant as a signal to the British that they could court other powers in Europe), the Kinwun and his team toured the Louvre, where they looked at the Egyptian mummies, paid their respects at Napoleon's Tomb, and and visited the National Library. At the National Library, they were shown an old map, purported to have been drawn by Marco...

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First Burmese embassy to Europe

On a hot and sticky March morning, the SS Tenasserim, flying the peacock flag of the Burmese kingdom as well as the Union Jack, steamed down the Rangoon River and into the salty waters of the Indian Ocean. It was a new state-of-the-art ship, built in Glasgow for the Henderson passenger line, and came with no less than twenty well-appointed first-class cabins. On board was a delegation from the Court of Ava, led by the scholarly Kinwun Mingyi, a minister...

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