William was a soldier who took part in the 2nd A-B war, he wrote to his brother from Prome about his experiences.
This eye-witness account covers most of the active phase of this war. He describes the occupation of Rangoon, the
action took a number of days during which there were British losses, in some cases from severe heat.
Sailing up the Irrawaddy for the attack on Prome and Ava he recounts the conditions including a night plagued by mosquito's
and out breaks of cholera. He also reproduces the text of the Proclamation to the King dated 20th Dec. 1852 annexing Pegu.
Prome, 29 January 1853.
My dear Brother,
I received your kind and welcome letter on the 23rd of the present month and I was glad to hear by it that you were in the enjoyment of good health as thanks be to God I am at present.
You need not have apologised for not writing as I am aware that opportunity does not at all times offer for you to write. I sent a letter to Sisteroon the ---- acquainting her of my expected departure to Burmah. I now set down having a little leisure time to send you an account of the war in as concise way as I am able and I hope that you will excuse any little blunder that you find as I am a bad hand at indenting, but to our tale.
War having been declared with Burmah for wrongs done to British subjects. The Regiment to which
I belong with two Regiments of Native Sepoys and three Company’s of Artillery with a sufficient quantity of Sappers and Miners with Orders to embark on the 31st March 1852 to join the army at the mouth of the Rangoon river in Burmah. Seven of the Honourable East India Company Steam frigates being sent from Bombay to convey this portion of the army to Burmah. The auspicious day arrived and as early as five o’clock on the last day of March we were on the move, the different Regiments marched down to the Quay with Colours flying and bands playing all seemed in good spirits and the quay was so crowded with the inhabitants of ------- --------- -------- there was scarce room to move along it and in less than three hours the force were all embarked on board the several ships allotted for them, we now begin to move off, it was a beautiful sight, each steamship taking a transport in tow laden with stores, ammunition and rations for the army.
On the fleet leaving the roadstead the Port officer made signal of farewell, it was answered by the Commodores ship with many thanks.
We had a beautiful voyage and arrived at the mouth of the Rangoon river in eight days, one death occurred during the voyage, that of the Colour Sergeant of the company to which I belong, he has left a wife and child to bemoan his loss.
The Company to which I belong was sent on shore to guard the crew of the ship while they procured water, we embarked in the evening, nothing extra occurring. We had orders to wait here for the remaining part of the army, the whole was to be commanded by Major General Godwin KCB. We heard here that the General with the other part of the army where gone to attack a strong town called Martaban. The next day he joined us with the army on board war steamers when we heard that Martaban no longer belonged to the Burmese but that the flag of old England flew on its walls. A counsel of war was now held and it was proposed that we should proceed up to Rangoon on the 11th April, Easter Sunday and anchor opposite the Kings wharf and Battery but not to attack them until Monday morning, except they first begin which they did for no sooner had our second ship come up than they opened a galling fire upon her from the Battery, killing a young officer of our Regiment, Lt. Armstrong, this we soon answered with interest and a constant fire was kept up for hours on both sides, when our superior fire still threw shot and shell into their works and with such effect that a large powder magazine was blew up and with it a number of the enemy, the defences being now silenced on both sides of the river they looked desolate compared to their appearance only a few hours before. The Fox frigate now came up, landed a part of her crew and Marines who set fire to all the defences, they being built of wood, but very strong, they burned beautifully all day and night and to view his scene by night was awfully grand.
One days rations was served to us with orders to land the next morning at day break, accordingly the boats of the fleet was ready and we began to disembark, the regiment to which I belong had the honour to land first, the remainder in succession, this was all completed without any annoyance from the enemy but we had not advanced far before they opened a galling fire from a large white house defended by a large stockade on which a large number of cannon was mounted. Our Light Field Battery of 2 guns and five Company’s of our regiment were ordered to the front to stop this fortification, we advanced under a heavy fire of cannon and musketry from the enemy but up we went in fine order.
The Burmese flew in confusion as soon as our men entered the works and the white house stockade was ours. The General gave us great praise for this our first essay. The Captain that lead the storming party fell wounded and died a few days after. A number of our men were wounded at the attack and some of them are dead since.
The 40th Bengal L.I. covered the left flank of the storming party and was attacked by an overpowering number of Burmese and forced to retreat but the 18th Royal Irish supported them and soon put the enemy to the rout and it took five hundred men to keep down the fire of the enemy during the afternoon. The day was scorching hot, the oldest officers on the campaign said they never felt so hot a day, I will you to judge after I mention what effect this had on our little army, first a Major of Brigade was struck down and died also a Major of the Madras Artillery was struck down while commanding his men and died, a Brigadier also was struck, the Colonel of our regiment, the last two survived the shock but were forced to leave the field. Our Sergt. Major died thought its effect and a number of our brave comrades. The exact number I cannot state.
Towards the evening we took up our position in a stubble field for the night and sent out piquet’s round the camp to keep the enemy from surprising us during the night. The enemy annoyed them a little but soon retired.
Our little army consisted of the 18th R.I., 80th Staffordshire and 51st K.O.L.I., this formed the Queens portion of the force. H.C. portion of it was the 9th Madras, 35th Madras and 40th Bengal, these were Native Sepoys and also a quantity of Sappers and Miners. Attached to this branch was a quantity of volunteers from the K.R.I. and 80th to serve with them. The Artillery were Europeans of the Company’s service.
The next day, the 13th April, we did nothing but drank plenty of muddy water, we were waiting for the heavy battery to be landed and so very busy that no rations could be got for us, we had two drams of Arrack and one pint of tea to subsist upon this day. The sun was as hot as the previous one; it was so oppressive we could scarcely pant. Evening came and with it a beautiful cool breeze which gave us great relief. At night we had no covering but the canopy of heaven, our piquet’s were sent out as usual and were again annoyed by the enemy but they soon retired but not before they wounded 2 of the 40th N.I.
I have told you we had no covering but the heavens, we lay on the ground exposed to the heavy dews peculiar to this climate, even the General had no tent, all shared the same fate, all had the same bed and covering but the most beautiful sight was to see the shot shell and other missile that was thrown into the town by the Naval force to set it on fire, this was soon effected, the town was in flames in less than an hour and we were glad to see it, for it made our work lighter, as we were to attack it next day. And as early as 4 o clock the following morning, being the 14th April, we were on the move toward the great Dragon Pagoda; we dreaded the heat more than the bullets from the fortification of the new town.
The fortification round the town and Pagoda extended in a circular form and about 7 English miles and mounting one hundred and seventy eight pieces of cannon of difference size, we soon came in sight of the defences and the enemy opened a heavy fire on us, the shot flew over and around us like hail, wounding a number of our comrades, also a large number of musketeers came outside the defence to impede our advance and opened a heavy fire of musketry upon us, but on we went for nothing can daunt the British heart.
The storming party was formed of a part of the three Royal regiments I mentioned before but the most difficult thing was to get up the heavy battery for the road was bad and narrow, the cattle weak from being on board ship but a number of British seamen gallantly volunteered to assist in effecting this and the gallant fellows worked like horses and soon completed their work and got the battery placed, it consisted of two sixty eight pounders and when these huge pieces of ordnance sent forth their destructive contents on the enemy works they then found that the slumbering lion on old England was awaked, the dogs of war where loosed and it was a beautiful sight to see the effect that each shot or shell had on the defences of the Burmese.
The storming party now ordered to advance, commanded by Lt.-Col. Reynolds of the 18th R. Irish and led by a Capt. as interpreter. The army now lay in a most exposed situation in sight of the enemy and well did they do the work of destruction among us for numbers fell killed and wounded.
After about five hours of this work a deafening cheer was heard, this cheer ran and rung along from hill to hill such I never before heard, this told us plain that the storming party was on the enemy works and the proud haughty Burmese abased, that the flag of old England flowing graceful curls over that heathenish place, our people entered, the enemy flew light as possible for they threw away everything when they began to retreat, they flew like frightened deer out of every gate and avenue. The town was ours the victory won.
The General released a number of prisoners that had been confined by the Governor because they would not fight against the British. We then marched through the town and were quartered in the houses of the Burmese. The scene was now changed for we had hardly thrown of our accoutrements than all went foraging poultry yards, piggeries and every place that contained edibles was ransacked, afterwards you could see the soldiers running about dressed in Burmese clothing, some I saw dressed in women’s apparel, others were riding on ponies they had found, some cooking, in fact all seemed employed, all were glad that they had got a place to shelter them from the sun and dew. We could now change our clothes, a luxury; we had not had an opportunity of doing so since we left Madras.
But war had not committed ravages enough to satisfy for that dreadful disease the cholera broke out among us making our numbers less every hour, we remained in the lower parts of the town 2 days and then were ordered up to occupy some buildings near the great Pagoda for the benefit of our health, this ground was on a hill. Now this Pagoda is a sort of temple, built in a bell shape topped with a spire on which is placed a metal frame with a number of small bells hung around it, these ring when the wind blew against it and the entrance to it is up a quantity of steps, on either side of these are placed innumerable images of different sizes, these are worshiped by the inhabitants, here also is placed a number of large bells without tongues, one I saw weighed seven tons, from among the smaller ones each regiment had one given to it as a trophy of war.
I now walked round the deserted rampart and saw a large number of cannon that was pointed towards the main and other entrances where an attack may have been expected. Also a quantity of shot of all sizes, even links of chain, cut from cables were to be fired at us from their guns and an enormous quantity of gun powder, some scattered some made up into cartridges but the whole of it of a very coarse description. Here also I saw a great number of the slain, laying about dreadfully lacerated. There not having been time to inter them. The General ordered that divine service should be performed by the head of each regiment to return thanks to Almighty God for the late victory. He also thanked his little army as he pleased to designate us, for their bravery and said he should speak of us to all the authorities, especially to the Court of Directors in England.
Some of the poorer class of the Burmese now came and gave themselves to be put under the protection of the British and others opened little shops, selling such things as they had saved, but everything they had to sell was very dear.
After a stay of about a month at Rangoon, four Company’s of our regiment with 4 Company of the
9th N.I. with artillery and Sapper and Miners were ordered to proceed to a strong town called Bassein. It stands on the bank of a river if the same name and as soon as we arrived we landed under a large stockade and mud fort mounting a number of cannon and garrisoned by about eight thousand Burmese, picked men from the King’s army to defend it against the British, so after our landing was effected the interpreter with a Captain went up to hold a parlay with them and ordered them to open their gates, they that spoke said that they would not but if we did not go away they would fire upon us.
The Captain told them to do so if they chose for go in we would, upon this they opened a heavy fire of cannon and musketry upon us wounding the Captain slightly and a brick that was thrown hit the interpreter on the head knocking him down and lucky for him that it did so for a shot fired at him missed and hit a corporal of our regiment that stood directly in his rear who fell dead.
We soon all ran up with cheer and charge and the work of destruction now began for all that was met with was put to the bayonet and a great number died of wounds received by the arms of our men, those that got an opportunity ran away but not to escape the fire for they had their own guns turned upon themselves by our men and fired the shot making lanes through them but we had our commanding officer wounded and the next in command also a lieutenant but ------ ------- -------
was mortally wounded ----- ------- was ------- small considering that there was eight to one of us. There was a number of our brave comrade’s fell, killed and wounded here. We left a force to garrison the place and returned to Rangoon. The General gave us great praise, said it was bravely won, said he should specially recommend us to the Queen for our bravery.
A party of our regiment was also at the defence of Martaban, the Burmese attacked this place on the 26th May and there being only a few troops in the garrison they gave them great harassing but two Company’s of our regiment were on board a war steamer lying in the river, these soon went to the assistance of the little band. The enemy soon retired after their arrival but not before they had wounded and killed sixteen of our force.
We stayed here for 2 months and during which time repulsed the enemy six times with loss to them and escaping without any casualties on our side. All being quiet, the Burmese seemed to have had enough did not return for some time and our Company was relieved by a Company of the 80th Regt. and rejoined headquarters.
Our army is now to be augmented to twenty thousand and we are to attack Prome and Ava the capital, that is if the King do not repent and come to terms with the Governor General of India, all the Ports of Burmah are now blockaded so that no communication or supplies can be conveyed up any of the rivers to the interior of the country nor by land for all the lower part of the country is in possession of the British Army.
Reinforcements having now arrived, consisting of several regiments of European and Natives rendering our army more effective, we were now formed into two Brigades and after a stay of six months at Rangoon we embarked on board the Honourable East India Company’s steam ship the
Phlegethon, but I must inform you of the great service our naval fire did on the river we were nowabout to sail. About the middle of the month of July the Admiral commanding (this veteran is since dead) thought it expedient to order a small steamer up to explore the river Irrawaddy and to mark out the channel for the fleet that was to convey up the army. Commander Tarleton of the Fox frigate was to command on this service. Accordingly the Phlegethon steamer was got ready with a number of gun boats belonging to the fleet and started upon this service and proceeded up more than half the river without being molested but arriving at a turn in the river the pilot, a Burmese, informed the Commander that the enemy have a strong Battery on the side of a large mountain overlooking the river and so well had this been planned that it seemed impossible for any small vessel to pass under it, the cannon all being planted so as to point towards the river and clear the decks and sink the ship that dared to venture, but the practised eye of the Commander soon told him that a channel could be forced round a small island a short distance from this which would bring him upon the back of the enemy defences. This was affected and some tars landed who captured the guns, twenty six in number, beating the Burmese back and rendering the guns useless.
This movement of our Naval Commanding officer took the Burmese General on surprise and the Burmese followed in war boats were soon put to the rout by a few shots and shell being thrown among them. This part of the Burmese Army and guns was commanded but that renowned warrior of Burmah named Bandoola.
The steam ship now proceeded up to Prome and the crew landed with little or no opposition, the inhabitants here being friendly towards us, bringing provisions for them to eat. A number of the villages on the river banks declared themselves friendly to the British and got protection, thus was the river explored and a way clear for the troops to advance up, in fact the Naval force has done a great deal of service in assisting to subdue the proud and haughty Court of Ava and the King.
I have told you we had embarked, we proceeded up the Paulang river, a near way to the Irrawaddy but a portion of it is very critical to navigate, there being so many turns in it, at one of these we were rather delayed for our ship was too long for river work but we overcame this difficulty, the sailors have named this turn the Devils Corner, nothing happened the remainder of the voyage but we anchored one night in a creek called Mosquito Creek for its being infested with these insects, they are very troublesome, of a larger size than the mosquito’s of the East and they kept up a constant war with us, biting through our clothes in such a manner that not one of us could get any sleep during the night. I leave you to judge when I tell you that the lamp was three inches deep with mosquito’s that had got killed in the oil. Had we to stop here long I think I should have went mad. I shall never forget the biting I got there.
But to proceed, at day break we started and passed a number of villages, some inhabitants friendly to us and some infested with dacoits or robbers, we passed a fine track of beautiful level country. Nothing happened more than touching the ground once or twice, at last after a sail of six days we arrived at our destination, all in good health, we landed and found, instead of a fine town, nothing but jungle and a few scattered buildings not worthy of the name houses, into these we were put, the Bengal Brigade arrived before us and got footing.
The enemy defences were about three miles from ---- --- that General Bandoola had given himself up to some of our sentries and was put into ------ --------- the enemy now prowled around at night --------
of our people that they might see and be able to overpower and take off their heads and convey them to the King, when they would receive a reward (780 rupees) about five pounds sterling, they did manage to get one poor fellows head, he belonged to the 80th Regt. they overpowered him on sentry duty and cut off his head, and a Conductor at work in the Arsenal was a little too far out of the camp, they took him but did not kill him, also a sailor was taken, I think that these three are all the English people they managed to get and we hear that they are still alive and will have a chance of returning when the war is at an end. Our duty is very hard here for we had to cut down trees, build Batteries and clear the jungle as fast as we could for our own protection.
All went on well until the 8th December, when they attacked our camp at half past 11 o’clock at night and with such force as nearly to get into some of our tents, they attacked every part of it, but met with such a reception that they will never forget, still they did not retire until 5 o’clock, the morning of the 9th, keeping up a constant fire the whole time. Report says that 16 thousand came that night and our little army did not consist of more than four thousand. They lost a great number of ----- were wounded but a great number of our poor fellows are sick, the climate is very obnoxious for -----
The Burmese had made several little attacks on our outpost but this last was the grand one, I think they got a belly full.
I mentioned before in the early part of my tale about the cholera getting among us and here we have again, it has carried off a great number of our poor fellows but I thank God I have managed escaped so far, not a day passes but some poor fellow is launched into eternity. Burmah without exception is the most unhealthy station that a European could be sent to, but we hear the war will soon be at an end, the King has recalled his troops from the strongholds and the lower province of -- Pegu is annexed to the British territories in the East.
The following is a copy of the Proclamation that has been read all through the country of Pegu, thus we have cut off the agricultural part of his dominion and we are now waiting a reply for peace or war.
The Court of Ava, having refused to make amends for the injuries and insults offered to British subjects and what they had suffered at their hands of those of their servants, the Governor General of India in Council resolved to extract reparation by force of arms – The forts and cities upon the coast were forthwith attacked and captured – The Burmese forces have been dispersed where ever they have been met and the province of Pegu is now in the occupation of British troops – The just and moderate demands of the Government of India have been rejected by the King wherefore in compensation for the past and for better security for the future the Governor General of India in Council has resolved and hereby proclaimed that the province of Pegu is now and shall be henceforth a portion of the British Territories in the East – Such Burmah troops as may still remain within the province shall be driven out, civil Government shall immediately be established and officers shall be appointed to administer in the several districts. The Governor General in Council hereby calls on the inhabitants of Pegu to surrender themselves to the authorities and to confide in the protection of the British Government, whose power they have seen to be irresistible and whose rule is marked by justice and beneficence – The Governor General in Council having exacted the reparation he deems sufficient desires no further conquest in Burmah and so will that hostilities shall cease. But if the King shall fail to renew his former relations of friendship with the British Government and if he shall recklessly seek to dispute its quiet possession of the province it has declared to be the aim, the Governor General in Council will again put forth the power he holds and will visit with full retribution aggressions which if persisted in, must of necessity lead to the Total Submission of the Burma state and to the ruin and exile of the King and his race.
By Order of the Most Nobel the Governor General in Council
I must now conclude my narrative of the war and must begin upon family affairs before the paper says stop. I have been unwell since I have been here but thank God I am recovering fast. I was obliged to write my poor account of the war in two letters for to send it any other way and give a true account would be impossible.
I say Joseph, I saw on board of the steam frigate Rattler cousin John Richardson, he was well, I spent a day with him and we drank a health to every branch of our family. I sent word to sister Elizabeth in my last letter to her the whole account of our meeting. I have not had an opportunity of seeing him since.
You informed me in your last letter that you saw in a newspaper an account of the war. Dear brother, a newspaper in Burmah would be an acceptable article for they are rare to be got at.
I am happy to hear that you are married but I have to wait until the war is ended and how long that may be I cannot tell.
You spoke about my promotion which was very trifling but since I last wrote I have been confirmed in my rank and receive pay for it.
I think I have told you all I can recollect but I wish you would send your address more plain as I had a hard job to make it out so as to direct a letter to you.
Please give my best respects to your wife, hoping that you may live happy together, also give my best respect to all the family and enquiring friends, and now I conclude, wishing you health and happiness and remain your affectionate brother Wm. Appleby. It’s now 7 o’clock so good night.