Delineating British Burma
Editor: A.J. Farrington, Former Deputy Director, Oriental & India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library
The three wars
After the 2nd War, the Company annexed Pegu and Martaban, thus taking control of the whole of Lower Burma. In 1862, Tenasserim, Pegu, and Martaban were constituted as British Burma, a new province of British India, each under a Commissioner responsible to the Chief Commissioner at Rangoon, who answered directly to the Governor-General. Independent Burma was now a land-locked state, under constant pressure from the British in the south, especially commercial interests seeking new routes into China.
The Chief Commissioner was replaced in 1897 by a Lieutenant-Governor, who was assisted by a Legislative Council, enabling Burma-specific legislation to be enacted for the first time under British rule. From January 2nd, 1923, responsibility for a wide range of functions (but excluding, for example, defense and external relations) was devolved to the Government of Burma.
Subordination to India ended with a new constitution, which took effect on April 1st, 1937. The constitution created a Senate – half of which was to be nominated by the Governor – and an elected House of Representatives. The Governor now answered not to India, but to a Secretary of State for Burma in London (although the office was held by whoever was Secretary of State for India).
During the Japanese invasion, the British and Indian elements in the administration retreated to India and set up a Government of Burma in exile at Simla. This government returned in October 1945 to find that power has already passed to the Burmese nationalists. British rule formally ended on January 4th, 1948, and Burma became an independent republic.
Delineating the territories
Military reports and route books (BIB-3) were produced by the Intelligence Branch at military headquarters in India, and latterly by South-East Asia Command. The route book, which was first issued in 1903, was divided into four parts, namely northern, north-eastern, western, and southern and the Shan states. In the war-time issues, routes labeled C, D, G, H, L, and M survive.
Attempts to define the boundaries of British Burma (BIB-4) – an issue that still engages Burma, China, and Thailand – began after the first territorial annexation of 1826, but did not reach the status of an international agreement until the 1890s. The collection has secret/confidential reports from the Anglo-Siamese Commission of 1892-1893, the Amherst (i.e. Tenasserim)-Siam Commission of 1894-1896, the Burma-China Commission of 1894-1899, and the Sino-British Commission of 1935-1936.
The Burma Gazetteer (BIB-5) provides a highly detailed, multi-volume account of early twentieth-century British Burma, compiled by the district officers. The Gazetteer is divided into Part A – which comprises monographs on, for example, the history, geography, administration, and economic life of each district – and Part B, which contains tables of statistics. There are A volumes for 26 districts only, produced between 1910 and 1935. The B volumes of statistics appear in three editions, which were published after the census returns of 1901, 1911, and 1921. These are: 1906-1907: 36 volumes (the China Hills and Shan and Karenni states are not included); 1912-1913: 42 volumes, numbered 1-42; 1924-1925: 42 volumes, numbered 1-43 (Rangoon, vol. 5 in 1912, omitted). Included in this section are a number of other works relating to particular districts or states that do not form part of the Burma Gazetteer series.
Provenance and historical background
The non-classified works (V/27), mainly the volumes of the Burma Gazetteer, are part of the large collection of official publications managed by the Registry & Records Department at the India Office.
All the India Office departments were subsumed within the Commonwealth Relations Office (subsequently the Foreign & Commonwealth Office) after India, Pakistan, and Burma became independent in 1947-1948. In 1982, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office transferred the administration of the India Office Library & Records to the British Library, where it now forms one part of the Library’s Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collections (specifically, the former Oriental & India Office Collections; OIOC).