Jan. 3, 2008
When Gen Sir Harry North Dalrymple Prendergast led his gunboats up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay in November 1885, King Thibaw and his army were ill-equipped to defend the city, let alone protect the nation.
The last Burmese monarch, who was 28 years old and had hardly ever been outside the confines of his palace, was quickly shipped into exile. Burma, a country that had in its recent history expanded to conquer neighboring countries, had lost not only its king, but its independence.
To the British and Gen Prendergast, invading Mandalay was like picking fruit from a low-hanging tree. The locals, however, refused to condone the kidnapping and resentfully determined not to welcome the self-styled “deliverers from tyranny,” as the British liked to consider themselves.
King Thibaw was pathetically weak and had not been a visionary in any way—prior to the British invasion, he received bad press in the West. He was portrayed as a monster, a mass murderer who killed princes and princesses, a womanizer and a drunkard.
Newspapers in Rangoon financed by British merchants had often called for an invasion or annexation of upper Burma. The British colonizers sought regime change and Thibaw was deposed.
Thant Myint-U, the author of “The River of Lost Footsteps,” suggested that Mandalay was a stepping stone to unopened markets in Asia for the British merchants.
The Burmese historian wrote: “Years of British machinations had also produced a lively exiled opposition, and more than one of Thibaw’s brothers were plotting to overthrow him from beyond the kingdom’s borders. That Burma was a potentially rich country no one seemed to doubt, certainly not the increasingly vocal Scottish merchants in Rangoon, eager for unfettered access to the teak forests, oil wells, and ruby mines of the interior. What seemed even more tempting was the prospect of a back door to China’s limitless markets.”
Click here for rest of The Irrawaddy article that comprehensively chronicles Burma's fight for true and complete independence, starting with the British occupation up to the present military junta lording over the country. The photo above, which the magazine published along with Aung Zaw's story, shows British forces attacking the fort at Syriam in August 1824.