Accounts of Kabow valley – Naoroibam Indramani

Contd. from 18th November 2018: Marjit after reaching Cachhar surrendered himself to Chaurajit. The three brothers, Chaurajit, Gambhir Singh, and Marjit immediately formed an alliance and occupied the whole of Cachar Kingdom. Govinda Chandra, the ruler of Cachar fled to Sylhet and applied to the Governor General to reinstate his throne but the British declined to intervene in the affairs of Cachar and the district was apportioned among the three brothers. The alliance of the three brothers had never been strong and Gambhir Singh after returning from his raid in Manipur in 1823, soon quarrelled with Chaurajit and occupied the whole of Cachar.

The British were carrying on negotiations with Gambhir Singh to have his effective co-operation in their operations against the Burmese forces. Gambhir Singh expressed his willingness to advance into Manipur with 500 men who were later to constitute the Manipur Levy. Gambhir Singh, Nar Singh and this detachment were trained under British officers at Badarpur before going into operations in Manipur.

On the 17th May, 1925 Gambhir Singh with 500 Manipuri soldiers commenced his march on Manipur from Sylhet. Lieutenant Pemberton a British officer also accompanied him. After a long march, the contingent reached the western border of the Manipur valley on 10th June 1825. The Burmese offered hardly any resistance and Gambhir Singh occupied Imphal. By the end of June, he returned to Sylhet leaving behind only 300 soldiers to defend Manipur.

On December 18, 1825 Gambhir Singh returned to Manipur after obtaining reinforcements of 1500 troops of Manipur Levy. He was accompanied by Captain Grant. In early January, 1826, Gambhir Singh advanced with his troops to the Kabow valley and after a heavy fighting with the Burmese forces, occupied the valley. After the occupation of the Kabow valley, Gambhir Singh entered Burma and on February 1, 1826 reached the western bank of the Ningthee river. In the last two years the British forces had by stages overwhelmed the Burmese armies and the Emperor had realised that defeat was imminent as early as April, 1825. He was eager to negotiate for the end of hostilities but the severe terms offered by the British were not acceptable to him. February, 1826, found him hemmed in from all sides and he realised that further resistance was not possible. He sued for peace and the First Anglo-Burmese War came to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo on February 24, 1826, a town bearing the name, within 45 miles of Ava.

Dispute regarding the right to the Kabow Valley:

The right of Burma to the Kabow valley became a subject of dispute from the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo in February, 1826. The Commissioner in Sylhet, in a letter dated 19th April, 1826, remarked that the Ningthee was no doubt the original and natural boundary between Manipur and Burma, and that if the Burmese were permitted to cross it, it would be difficult to define a line of demarcation that would preclude the possibility of future dispute. In acknowledging this letter the Government of India said that it was :-

“Unquestionably most desirable that the River Ningthee should form hence forward, as it did of old, the boundary between Ava and Manipur, and Gumbhir Sing having been in possession of Pergunnah Kubbo when the Treaty was signed, we are fairly entitled to require the relinquishment of that integral and material portion of his (the king’s) Raj, still, however, if the point is contested by the Burmese on the ground of the pergunnah having been formally annexed to the territories of Ava for some years prior to the war, whilst no provision is made by the Treaty for any alteration in the existing boundaries of the Raj, the question must be settled by negotiation on the best terms that circumstances will permit”.

In the instructions to the Envoy at Ava, dated 30th June, 1826 it was said that His Lordship in Council trusted that as the Burmese retreated from the Kabow valley and retired beyond the Ningthee, he would succeed in establishing that river as the boundary. In the instructions to Major General Sir A. Campbell, dated 15th June 1827, it was said that His Excellency in Council was decidedly of opinion that the right of Gambhir Singh should be maintained to the northern and middle portion of the Kabow valley, bounded on the east by the Ningthee. It was also said that he would not have failed to observe that the acquisition of Kale, the southern portion of the valley would secure the marked and desirable boundary of the Nurinjeerah river. The cession by the Burmese of this portion of the valley, however, it was said, could not be reasonably expected, and its annexation to Manipur would therefore have to become a subject of negotiation. In February, 1827 the question of the boundary was discussed between the Burmese Ministers and Mr. Crawford, the British Envoy. The Burmese claims were so extravagant that, if acceded to, Gambbir Singh would have been deprived of what he considered the larger portion of the proper principality of Manipur, they had fabricated a map showing the Burmese frontier to extend nearly to the Manipur capital.

Captain Grant and Lieutenant Pemberton were appointed Commissioners to meet the Burmese authorities and settle the boundary in accordance with the principles enunciated by the Government of India, and they were told that, as a preliminary measure, it would be proper to suggest to Gambbir Singh to fix his posts on such line to the southward as would include the northern and central districts of the Kabow valley, regarding, his right to which, by actual conquest, no discussion was to be allowed. In April, 1828 the Commissioners met on the bank of the Nighthee or Kyendwen river, but little could be done in consequence of the very advanced state of the season, and the Barmese Commissioner proposed to postpone it until the ensuing year.

A regular written engagement was made by the Commissioners on both sides to meet in 1829. The Burmese Commissioners then pretended that the Ningthee was not the Kyendwen, but a river to the westward of the Kabow Valley. This, Sir A. Campbell observed, might alter the decision of Government. Subsequently, a Burmese map was transmitted to Calcutta, in which the Ningthee and Kyendwen were laid down as separate rivers. This map was sent to the British Commissioners in Manipur, with instructions to enquire and report whether any such river as that laid down on it as the Ningthee existed. It was observed to them that the map had probably been made to suit the views of the Burmese, and they were instructed to propose to the Burmese Commissioners when they met them in the ensuing cold weather to visit the large river said to exist to the westward of the Kabow valley. In the improbable event of the Ningthee flowing to the westward of the Kabow valley, the British Commissioners were called on for their opinion whether the Burmese establishing themselves in the upper and middle divisions of Kabow valley would be particularly objectionable. In their reply, these officers clearly proved the deception attempted to be practised by the Burmese. Lieutenant Pemberton scouted the idea that the Ningthee had been mistaken for another small river as stated by the Burmese.In a private letter to the Commissioner in Sylhet he remarked,

“You may depend on it the Burmans knew as well as ourselves that the Kyendwen was the river to be made the boundary, and no other. Sir A. Campbell expressly told them so, and in consequence of a representation to that effect they prevented their men from crossing the river into the Kabow Valley.”

In reply to the enquiry whether the establishment of the Burmese in the upper and middle divisions of Kabow valley would be particularly objectionable, both officers expressed their unqualified opinion that the preservation of the tranquility then existing could not be insured were the Burmese allowed to re-establish their authority there. They said :- “A century of aggression on the one part, and of suffering on the other, has excited a feeling of mutual hatred, at all times prompt to evince itself in the extremely of vengeance. The chance of such a collision, which could not fail to be productive of the most lamentable consequences, is effectually obviated by making the Ningthee or Kyendwen, on which stands the Burma post of Kintat, the boundary between the States of Ava and Manipur; no aggression can under such an arrangement be easily committed by either party, without crossing the river for the purpose, an act which would suffice to establish the culpability of the aggressor”.

The report of the British Commissioners was sent to Major General Sir, A. Campbell in October, 1828, who was directed to inform the court of Ava that the British Commissioners were prepared to prove that the Ningthee and Kyendwen were the same river. He was also requested to repeat the intimation previously conveyed to the Court of Ava respecting the right of Gambhir Singh to the northern and central districts of the Kabow valley, which he had continued to hold since the war.

In January, 1829, the British Commissioners reported the receipt of a letter trom the Burmese Governors on the Ningthee, stating that the proposed meeting of the Commissioners for the settlement of the boundary could not take place that year. They stated at the same time their intention to proceed to the Ningthee to be in readiness to meet the Burmese Commissioners. The Burmese Government also informed the Government of India that their Commissioners were busy collecting money to pay the third instalment of the war indemnity and celebrating festivals and could not come.

Captains Grant and Pemberton were, however, directed to proceed to the banks of the Ningthee, and in the event of the Burmese Commissioners failling to meet them, to select at once the boundary line to the northward of the Kale or southern district of Kabow, which it might be desirable to fix as the southern boundary of Gambhir Singh’s dominions in that quarter, including only the country re-conquered by him, and from which the Burmese had been expelled during the war. Having made a sketch of the boundary, they were directed to transmit a copy of it to the Burmese authorities with a distinct declaration that, under the orders of the British Government, they had fixed the boundary of Gambhir Singh’s territory to the southward, the Ningthee being the boundary to the eastward.

Sir, A. Campbell was at the same time instructed to apprise the Court of Ava of the orders issued to the British Commissioners. The Burmese Commissioners having failed to keep their engagement, our Commissioners fixed the boundary in accordance with the instructions they received, and they were informed that the boundary selected by them appeared to be well chosen, and that much advantage would be derived hereafter from the assumption of it as the basis of their settlement in concert with the Burmese Commissioners, who were invited to meet them on the frontier in January, 1830. In the event of the Burmese Commissioners not meeting them in January, 1830, they were authorized to fix Manipur Thannahs on certain places indicated on the sketch of the boundary without further reference to the Burmese authorities.

On 10th July, 1829, the Chief Secretary to Government addressed a letter to the Burmese Ministers, in which he referred to the communications made to the local Burmese authorities by the British Commissioners, and observed that when the Burmese Commissioners should meet the British officers, they would be satisfied that the country to the northward of the boundary line had been clearly and uninterruptedly in the possession of Gambhir Singh since the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace, and that nothing would remain but to visit the spot together and fix the posts on each side of the boundary, so that in future no doubt or dispute might arise.

to be contd.






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