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The setting for this article is the Anglo-Nepal war 1814-1816, known in British circles at the time as ‘The Gorkha War’. The two adversaries were the East India Company [EIC] and, up to this point, the rapidly expanding and all-conquering Gorkha Empire. The Company feared the expansionist aims of Gorkha, and a decision was made that Gorkha needed to be put in its place, and that place was to be the hills. The rich revenue areas of the plains were to be exclusively British. This would also have the advantage of permanently weakening Gorkha by denying it the revenue from the plains that it needed not just for expansion but also to maintain itself as a unitary state. This intent was embodied in a unilaterally derived ‘Principle of Limitation’ which Gorkha was ‘invited’ to accept. It was, in effect, an ultimatum, and its rejection in both word and deed inevitably led to war.
For very different reasons, before, during and after the War, China featured large in the calculations of both sides. Even before the war started, Gorkha sent a dispatch to the emperor pleading, as a loyal vassal, for immediate material support to help fight the British. This request was based on a patently ludicrous claim that the EIC was determined to conquer Nepal in order to prepare a passage for an intended invasion of Tibet and that Gorkha had been offered large bribes to give EIC forces free passage through to Tibet. As the article will highlight, this absurd claim would come back to haunt the Gorkha court. Given the allegations made against it, the EIC also had pressing reasons to get its side of the story to the emperor. A major problem for both sides was that they could only communicate with the Qing court through two very strong characters in Lhasa: the all-powerful Manchu ambans. It is a story with many twists, with, for example, Nepal starting the war asking for Chinese aid and finishing it by asking for British support and guidance, though doubts have been raised over the sincerity and purpose of this request.
The Qing [Ch’ing] dynasty was officially proclaimed in 1636 in Manchuria. It seized control of Beijing in 1644, and later extended its rule over the whole of China before expanding into Inner Asia. An expedition to Tibet in 1720 expelled the invading forces of the Dzungar Khanate and established Qing control over the region. In the period after 1751, Tibet was brought more formally under the wing of Qing military control. The Qing government established resident commissioners in Lhasa, the ambans, to exercise authority for them. Qing military successes over the Gorkhas in 1792 during the Sino-Gorkha war had far-reaching consequences for Tibetan political and military history. Extensive military reforms were implemented and the ambans were given greater responsibility for the security of Tibet’s borders. These changes marked the beginning of the high point of the Manchu protectorate in Tibet, during which the country was more closely incorporated than ever into China’s imperial administrations. [S.G. Fitzherbert, see reference below]
The outlines of the historical events in this article are simple to sketch out but the detail is more elusive.
In the opening section, which covers a subject on which I previously had little knowledge, I have drawn heavily on Caroline Stevenson’s book, Britain’s Second Embassy to China, Lord Amherst’s Special Mission to the Jiaqing Emperor in 1816. I also consulted British trade and the opening of China, 1800-42, by Michael Greenberg and Volume 3 of 5 of The Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China 1635-1834 by H.B. Morse which covers the period of interest.
In subsequent sections, I refer to several main sources. The subject is well covered in Chapters 3 and 4 of Leo Rose’s book, Nepal: Strategy for Survival published in 1971. I also refer to his nine-page article, China and the Anglo-Nepal War 1814-1816, published in ‘Proceedings of the India History Congress’ Vol.24 , pp. 208-216. In both these publications, Rose makes references to Chitta Ranjan Nepali’s book, Janaral Bhimsen Thapa ko Tatkalin Nepal [General Bhimsen Thapa and the Nepal of His Day].
Most of the same ground is covered in Chapter 2 [‘Nepal 1792-1816’] of Alastair Lamb’s book, British India and Tibet 1766-1910. Both Rose and Lamb draw heavily on material from the East India Company files in the British Library. The system of filing in this digital age has changed from their day, and particularly from Rose’s, but over three recent one-day visits I managed to locate most of their references to understand their context. Papers Respecting the Nepaul War from the General List of Papers Regarding the Administration of the Marquis of Hastings was an invaluable source of contemporaneous material. [Referred to in this article as NWP, standing for Nepal War Papers]
Two other helpful sources are worth highlighting. First, a long article by John Bray, ‘Captain Barré Latter and British Engagement with Sikkim during the 1814-1816 Nepal War’, published in Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture. Volume II: The Sikkim Papers, pp. 77-93. Secondly, the most scholarly account I have found of the origin and early days of British recruitment of Gurkhas, A Special Corps: The Beginnings of Gorkha Service with the British, by A.P. Coleman.
I have also benefited from reading, Boulnois, L. (1989). Chinese Maps and Prints on the Tibet-Gorkha War of 1788-92 and The Geluk Gesar: Guandi, the Chinese God of War, in Tibetan Buddhism from the 18th to 20th Centuries, by S.G. FitzHerbert.
Finally, in researching for this article, I discovered Matthew Mosca’s outstanding book, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy, the question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China, published in 2013. Chapter 3 has an interesting and highly informative section, ‘The Qing Response to the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-1816’, which, as the heading indicates, covers the period which is the focus of this article. Mosca throws new light on many pertinent issues. His ability to translate relevant source material directly from Chinese into English is invaluable as most of the Chinese-sourced material in the British Library quoted by Rose and Lamb was translated into English through the intermediate medium of Persian.
[Note: Although the Rajah of Nepal is quoted frequently as the source of letters from Kathmandu to the emperor, the effective absolute ruler of Nepal at the time was the Mukhiyar or Prime Minister, Bhimsen Thapa. The British in India were described in Tibet as Farangi, a Persian term, derived from an Arabic name for the Franks, with mildly derogatory overtones. Pileng is a Chinese name derived from Farangi.]
The Honourable Company’s fear of offending China
It is not possible to analyse British policy towards Nepal at this time – and, for a long time after the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli on March 4, 1816, which brought the war to an end – without understanding the reasons for the deep-rooted British intent to try to avoid upsetting China.
The Company’s extreme sensitivity to Chinese reactions is well exemplified by the words of John Adam, secretary to the Government of India, writing on behalf of the Governor General, Lord Moira, in a dispatch to Edward Gardner dated 14 Sep 1816, a few days after he arrived as the British Resident in Kathmandu:
“The maintenance of Peace and Amity with the Emperor of China is an object of such real consequences to the Commercial Interests of the Company and indeed of the United Kingdom, that no effort ought to be spared on the part of this Government to prevent the present state of things from taking a turn which might occasion even any suspension of those relations. In this view alone, therefore, exclusively of all considerations of more direct expediency and convenience for this Government, the avoidance of any engagement with the Nepalese which may embroil us or give umbrage to the Chinese must be regarded as the basis of our whole proceeding. Giving every credit to the Nepalese for the reality of their apprehensions and the sincerity of their resort to your advice in their present difficulties, it is not to be doubted that their deposition and their views [however erroneous] of their own interest will prompt them to seek to involve us in disputes with the Chinese, whether in the hope of averting the wrath of that people from themselves or finding in the process and result of a War some opportunity of recovering a part of their lost possessions. These considerations dictate the observance of great caution in attending to the representations and entreaties of the Nepalese even under the most favourable view of their conduct and intentions.” [British Library IOR/P/BEN/SEC/281 File 13383 ‘Narrative of Proceedings connected with the Advance of a Chinese Force towards the Frontier of Nipaul’]
For the British, establishing a residency post in Kathmandu was one of the most important points in the Peace Treaty, and one of the most objectionable for the Nepalis. Yet, in a following paragraph to that just quoted, Moira indicated that he would be prepared to sacrifice it rather than upset the Chinese:
“The last observation points especially to the establishment of a British Residency permanently at Kathmandu, an arrangement which as indicating an extreme intimacy between the British government and a State considered by the Chinese as one of their own feudatories, may vary naturally have given umbrage to them. Whatever convenience and advantage the maintenance of that establishment would produce, it would not be expedient to risk for those comparatively unimportant objects the great interests involved in our relations with the Empire of China and His Lordship in Council would be prepared as soon as the questions at present pending with the Nepalese are adjusted to withdraw the Residency at that Court, if its maintenance should really appear to have the effect here supposed. The known reluctance of the Nepalese however to receive the Residency and their probably undiminished desire to be relieved of what they consider a restraint on their actions and a mark of dependence, must render us cautious in receiving from that quarter any impressions regarding the light in which that establishment is viewed by the Chinese. We must endeavour to ascertain that point by direct communications with the Chinese themselves, if practicable, or at all events by information obtained through an unsuspected Channel. It would be extremely inadvisable to, except in case of urgency, to convey a premature intimation of any design of withdrawing the residency which might embarrass us were circumstances to arise to alter our views in that respect at a future time. You will accordingly bear this in mind, but at the same time be ready if occasion require, to express the willingness of the Governor General in Council to remove this source of the jealousy entertained by the Chinese.” [See reference above]
The reasons for the Company’s great fear
One reason for the ultra-sensitivity to Chinese views was a belief that, following on from the Nepal-Tibet War which ended in 1792, Nepal had entered a feudatory relationship with China. There was a misunderstanding of what this involved but later references will show that to a large extent the EIC’s misunderstanding stemmed from the way Nepali officials often exaggerated the closeness of Nepal’s relations with China to deter the EIC from contemplating any attack on Nepal.
However, the main reason by far for the Company’s acute sensitivity to Chinese feelings was tea! By 1815, the English had become hooked on the beverage: “an indispensable necessity of daily life”. [See Stevenson, Footnote 1 of Page 1] By 1815, sales of tea in the country amounted to 22,758,155 lbs worth £4,058,092. It was the major source of profit for the EIC, well in excess of revenue from India, and yielded a large income for the government through taxation. China was the only producer.
To understand the significance of all this, it is worth giving a brief summary of the history and reach of the EIC across the globe at this time, and its central position in the lives and incomes of many wealthy and influential families in England. To quote from Greenberg:
“British trade between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan was for over 300 years the legal monopoly of the East India Company. That unique institution, in the East successively Factor, Diwan and Raj, at home so closely bound up for generations with the fortunes of the leading families that Edmund Burke [in 1785] could declare, “to say the Company was in a state of distress was never more nor less their saying the Country was in a state of distress”, was nurtured on pepper and sustained its ripe years on tea…Tea had become so much the national drink that the Company was required by Act of Parliament to keep a year supply always in stock. The revenue which tea brought into the British exchequer averaged, in the last years of the monopoly, [ceased in 1833] £3,300,000 per annum. Tea from China provided about one tenth of the total revenue of England and the whole profit of the East India company.” [Greenberg, p.2 and 3]
By the time of the Anglo-Nepal War, the Company’s grip on the totality of British trade was weakening but as indicated by Greenberg, this gradually forced it to turn its whole commercial attention to tea. Tea became its raison d'être but at a time when getting it out of China was becoming increasingly precarious.
Initially, trade with China took place through several Chinese ports but in 1757, an imperial edict confined all foreign trade to Canton. The trade was restricted to, at most, four months in the year, between October and March, when the winds of the South China Sea allowed. For the remaining eight months of the year, the Chinese authorities insisted that all foreign traders should leave Canton. All staff then retired to the Portuguese colony of Macao, at the mouth of the Pearl River on which Canton lay. Eight months of leisure followed, consisting of a social round of balls, tea parties, and cricket matches.
In Canton, the EIC staff lived in a palatial factory with a decorative balcony overlooking a lush garden. The factory typically housed 12 Supercargoes (officers in charge of commercial activities), eight writers, two tea inspectors, two surgeons, and a chaplain. [Originally a Supercargo was an officer aboard a merchant ship whose duty it was to superintend the cargo and commercial transactions of the voyage. From 1770, the Company’s Supercargoes were no longer ordered to return on the ships in which they were specifically interested but to form themselves into a single body which should remain in China from year to year. Over time, four of this body became the Select Committee of Supercargoes at Canton, the official representatives of the Company in Canton.]
All western ships coming to trade at Canton stopped outside Macao where captains were issued with a permit and allocated a Chinese pilot who navigated the ship to its up-river anchorage at Whampoa. On average, at the start of the annual trading season, about twenty British cargo ships, known as East Indiamen, arrived at Macao having completed the six-month journey from England. The route to Canton commenced at the narrows of the Pearl River situated at the northern end of the estuary called the Bocca Tigris (‘Tiger’s Mouth’). Navigation on the Pearl River was difficult due to numerous sandbars, tidal patterns, and thousands of junks engaged in the large domestic coastal trade that crowded the river. Teas were weighed, packed, and sealed in crates in the EIC Factory in Canton and sent to the Company ships waiting at Whampoa.
However, the main problem for the Company was not shipping but, in the absence of a trade deal with China, getting a safe and assured arrangement in Canton for the annual purchasing of tea at an affordable price in the quantity required. In 1793, to get the emperor interested in negotiating a trade deal, an embassy led by Earl Macartney, had been dispatched to Peking. He was treated hospitably but his mission was an abject failure. Memorably, in reaction to Macartney showing him some goods manufactured in Britain, the Emperor replied, “Strange and costly objects do not interest me. As your ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I see no value in strange objects and ingenious. And have no use for your country manufactures.” [Greenberg, p.4]
This absence of a trade deal meant that the Company’s officers in Canton had to deal with a complex web of local and regional authorities in and around Canton. The provincial government was in the charge of the governor-general or viceroy who presided over the provinces of Guangdong and neighbouring Guangxi, and who worked in association with the viceroy of Canton. The most important figure from the Company’s perspective was the Hoppo, or chief superintendent of customs, who worked independently of the viceroy and was the emperor’s financial representative at Canton. The Hoppo oversaw the small group of licensed Hong merchants consisting of 12 members who formed themselves into an association known as the co-Hong. As the intermediaries between foreign merchants and the provincial government, Hong merchants were often caught in the middle between the demands of government officials or mandarins and those of the Company. They were therefore exposed to the greed and extortion of the local officials, especially the Hoppo and his crew, and bankruptcies were frequent.
Inevitably, given the situation portrayed above, EIC records contain extensive details of endless friction between the two communities, ranging from incidents of violence and murder to matters of local law and protocol. These chapter headings from Volume 3 of Morse highlight some of the concerns: ‘Extortion and Homicide, 1810’, [p.130]; ‘Blackmail levied by Subordinate Officers, 1812’, [p.174]; ‘The Tyranny of the Hoppo and the Viceroy, 1813’, [p.199] and ‘Difficulties of the Hong Merchants, 1815’, [p.226].
Since 1800, low-level discussions had taken place about sending another embassy to Peking. Understandably, after the failure of the Macartney mission, there was no great enthusiasm for it. Attitudes changed in 1815 when dispatches reached London which indicated that the whole Company operation in Canton was under threat from, “violence, injustice and despotism of the Government”. By the end of July, the Secret Court of Directors had decided that an embassy should be sent in the name of the British sovereign that would serve to, “place the Chinese trade on a basis of steady and fixed principles which will guard it against the fatal effects of an arbitrary, capricious, or unjust exercise of power”. (Stephenson, p69, quoting, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company to Buckinghamshire, 28 July 1815 in BL IOR MSS EUR F 140/36).
The first task was to find a suitable person of rank to fill the position of ambassador on such a delicate and difficult mission. It was the view of the Company Directors that a military man would be most suitable as this profession was held in the highest honour by the Chinese and a man of that description ‘would prove acceptable’ to them. Stevenson also writes: “Recent British military activity in Nepal, a Chinese tributary, required a man ‘best adapted to the feeling and taste of the Chinese’. Such a candidate should be a ‘Man of High Rank, and of Military character, and also of a pre-possessing appearance’ (Chairs to Buckinghamshire, 3 March 1815, in BL IOR G/12/196 (Reel 1) F 9).
The quoted Footnote 7 states:
“British military action in Nepal was thought to be of ‘no small importance’ for British interests in China. Lord Moira wrote to the Select Committee in November 1814 of a considerable Chinese force assembled in Tibet in response to Nepalese soldiers gathering on the frontier. The British had no designs on Tibet, but nonetheless, there was a “threat of Chinese invasion of Nepaul for the purpose of imposing on that kingdom the delegations of feudal or tributary dependence, or perhaps of actually reducing it to subjection.” (Letters from Lord Moira, November 1814, and Edward Gardner, British Resident, Catmandhu, in BL MSS EUR F 140/46)”.
The man chosen to lead the embassy was Lord William Pitt Amherst. On February 8, 1816, with a sizeable entourage, and 830 dozen bottles of the finest wines and spirits available, he departed from Portsmouth bound for China on board the man-of-war, HMS Alceste. [Details on wines and other provisions carried are given at the end of the article]. Lord Moira was aware of the dispatch of this mission, and of its risks, expense, sensitivity and importance. It would have added to his reasons for doing all he could to avoid upsetting the Chinese.
The Governor General consults
Given all that is outlined above it is no surprise that before launching his war on Gorkha, Lord Moira consulted with those who he regarded as having the experience to give him an informed view on likely Chinese reactions. First on the list was William Moorcroft who in 1813 had ventured illegally into Tibet through Gorkha-occupied Kumaon. During the trip, he made some important contacts. In his response, he passed on information from a well-connected Kashmiri trader that the Rajah of Nepal, fearing a British attack, had appealed to the Chinese at Lhasa for help and that the Chinese had expressed their willingness to assist.
There was no way of immediately checking the truth of this report but in March 1815, the Company captured a draft of an appeal from the Gorkha Rajah to the Chinese Emperor which appeared to confirm what Moorcroft’s informant had told him.
There is no evidence that a copy of this exact draft was ever sent but as will be highlighted below, there are many letters from the Rajah to the Emperor which use complete sections of this draft, word for word. It is as if it was used in the Gorkha court as a primer to be consulted each time letters were prepared for dispatch to the emperor.
The Supercargoes in Canton were also consulted. In a letter from Macao of October 5, 1814, their assessment was more encouraging to Lord Moira:
“As far as our knowledge and experience of the character and conduct of the Chinese Government enables us to judge, we are far from apprehending any real prejudice or injury from a display of the power of the British nation, under circumstances of such clear and obvious justification as those adverted to in your Lordship’s despatch. We are persuaded that a knowledge and conviction, that the Honourable Company have principally the means of retaliating any measure of injustice or injury, is the best, if not only security for the preservation of their trade with this country.” [NWP. p.272].
The most important and influential person consulted was Dr Francis Buchanan Hamilton, a Scottish doctor and botanist. [He was also known as Dr Buchanan. He adopted the surname Hamilton after inheriting his mother’s estate.] He had accompanied Captain Knox to Kathmandu in 1801 and was the most experienced adviser on Gorkha matters available to the company. His response covers 10 pages in the Nepal War Papers but this extract, which cautions against any thought of annexing Nepal, is the most quoted: “a frontier of seven or 800 miles between two powerful nations holding each other in mutual contempt seems to point at anything but peace.” [NWP, p.45]
In 1819, he published a book, An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal. The information that it contained on Sikkim was largely based on a second-hand account from a lama who had fled to Purnea in British India following the Gorkha invasion as well as from “natives of the Company’s territory, who had visited the lower parts of Sikkim”. It includes an outline history of Gorkha attacks on Sikkim from 1782 onwards and subsequent Sikkimese resistance with intermittent assistance from Bhutan and Tibet.
It is significant, therefore, that in an important letter dated November 2, 1814, which John Adam wrote to David Scott, the Magistrate of Rangpore and the man in contact with the Sikkim Rajah, he attached an extract from Buchanan’s response which concentrated on his comments on Sikkim. This extract of the letter from John Adam clearly shows what was on his mind:
In a letter to Major Bradshaw, Commander on the Frontier of Sarun and Tirhoot, dated November 26, 2014, Adam repeated the words in para 4 above but added:
“The distance of your position, and the entire occupation of your time by the other obvious duties assigned to you by these instructions, has induced His Excellency the Governor General to adopt the resolution of entrusting the conducting of any communications or negotiations, which it may be found practicable to open with the Rajah of Siccim or the authorities at Lassa, to Mr. David Scott, the Magistrate of Rungpore; and that gentleman will accordingly be instructed to endeavour to effect the object above stated, and encourage the Rajah of Sikkim to attempt the recovery of the possessions wrested from him by the Goorkhas, and to act against them in any manner in his power, as well as to excite other chiefs, with whom he may have influence, to do the same. Mr. Scott will also be instructed to endeavour to communicate with the authorities at Lassa, with a view to conveying to them an explanation of the causes of our rupture with the Goorkhas and the general objects to which our arms are directed.” [NWP p.258-259]
Scott clearly believed that the opening of relations with Sikkim, a small hill state with historically close ties to Tibet, would make an important contribution to the war effort by opening an eastern flank to threaten Gorkha and, secondly, would help to establish contact with the Chinese in Lhasa so that, to echo the language of the extract above, “they could be assured that the EIC have no design of appropriating to ourselves any Tibetan territory, but that our sole object was to punish the insolent aggression of the Nepalese”. The man who was key to achieving both these aims was Captain Barré Latter of the Bengal Army, effectively the local military commander and a very experienced soldier.
Latter had been promoted to Captain in 1805. At the age of 36, he was appointed to command the Rangpur Local Battalion in September 1813. His headquarters was at Titalia, to the north of Rangpur and close to the boundaries of Gorkha-controlled territory. It is now the most northerly town in Bangladesh. In the spring of 1815, he led a force of over 2,000 men into Sikkim to encourage its Rajah to keep fighting the Gorkhas and quickly established contact with the Sikkim authorities. In return for some ammunition and a promise of restoration of territory lost to the Gorkhas, the Sikkimese were persuaded to cooperate with the British and to act as a link between the EIC and Lhasa. [Personal information on Latter comes from Bray].
In a letter to Adam dated December 19, 1815, Latter was able to report:
“It is satisfactory to observe, that the communication with the Sikkim Rajah’s country is now perfectly open, and that the enemy are not able to offer any obstruction to the different parties sent by the Kajee, but confine themselves to the fort at Naggree. This not been accomplished by the force which the Sikkim Rajah has brought into the field, but from the inhabitants, who are of the Schapee cast, being generally hostile to the Nepaulese Government, under whose yoke they have so severely suffered.” [NWP p.924]
This communication link with the Sikkim Rajah was to produce a rich source of information and intelligence, and not just between Chinese officials in Lhasa and the EIC.
The Qing Empire and Gorkha
The first direct contact between British India and the Qing court took place in 1793, the consequences of the decision to send an Expeditionary Force to expel the Gorkhas from Tibet. At the time of the first Gorkha invasion in 1788, their rise, motives, and strategic situation were reasonably well understood by the ambans in Lhasa, who had communications with them since the 1760s, but even their very name was unknown in Peking [Mosca, p135]. The first part of the war ended when the Tibetan government, without informing the Qing court, agreed to pay the Nepalese a very large sum of money annually. The second part of the war started in 1791 with another Gorkha invasion after it became clear that the Tibetans had no intention of honouring the conditions of the truce.
The Qing court was angry that it had been bypassed during the first phase of the war, not least because it had sent a large body of troops into Tibet. The deployment had been costly and the emperor had even issued an edict appealing to the local population to support the troops and force the invaders to retreat. There was some debate within the Court about how to respond to the second invasion, which amounted to a major punitive Gorkha expedition into Tibet. By October 1791, Gorkha forces had reached as far as Shigatze where the famous and immensely rich monastery of Tashilhunpo was looted and the Lord Guan temple ransacked. The Gorkhas returned to Kathmandu with considerable war booty.
The response decided on resulted in the largest military action ever undertaken by the Qing in Tibet. An imperial force of some 17,000 troops was mustered, including a crack contingent of one thousand ‘Solun’ troops composed mainly of ethnically Evenk and Daower soldiers and some veterans of the bitter Jinchuan campaign. The Solun contingent was led by the experienced Evenk General, Hailencha, one of the most battle-hardened commanders in the empire. They entered Tibet from Xining in the north, shortening the march but making it in the dead of winter 1791–92, crossing high mountain passes in deep snow and cold. They reached central Tibet in the spring of 1792 and within two or three months could report that they had won a decisive series of encounters that pushed the Gorkha armies back deep into their own country [S.G. Fitzherbert and L. Boulnois, see references under sources listed above].
Overall command of the force was given to Fuk’anggan, “son of the eminent statesman Fuheng and brother of the grand councillor Fucanggan, one of the best-connected members of the Manchu elite. He had recently put down uprisings in Taiwan and Gansu and had a reputation of one the empire’s foremost commanders. Among his staff were He-lin, the younger brother of the influential grand councillor and Sun Shiya, a Chinese official with high level experience in several earlier campaigns. These appointments by the emperor ensured that conditions at the front would be carefully watched in Beijing.” [Mosca, p.139]
I have included the above detail on the commander and his staff to highlight that this was a major Manchu military effort. It is not surprising, therefore, that it was strong and effective enough not just to root the Gorkhas out of Tibet but, by June 28, 1792, it had pushed them beyond the border at Rasuwa and as far back as Betrawati where the Gorkhas made a determined stand. Both sides were exhausted and each had good reason to end hostilities: with Qing supply lines heavily extended and winter looming, and Gorkha having unfinished business in Garhwal in its expansionist drive westward, and in confronting a threat from Sikkim in the east. A peace treaty was signed on Oct 2, 1792. Both sides claimed victory but there is no doubt about who proclaimed their triumph loudest and longest.
The Qing proclaimed it as a great victory and in Chinese historiography, the Gorkha Wars are counted among what Qianlong himself described as the “ten Great Victories” of his reign. [Note: Qianlong ruled from 1736 to 1795] Paintings to commemorate the successful campaign were commissioned. Here are two examples:
According to Boulnois, quoting Regmi, the name of the place is Syapruk, close to the current village of Syaphru where the Gorkha forces tried to make a stand after their defeat at Rasuwa Gadhi – see below.
Rasuwa Gadhi on the Tibet-Nepal border was the site of a major three-day battle in July 1792 which ended in a decisive Qing victory. Tilman in 1949 and Forbes in 1956 visited the Chinese side of the crossing and reported seeing a stone slab inscribed with Chinese characters. Forbes photographed it and had it translated. It was erected on November 26, 1792 and refers to the demarcation of the frontier after “the victory over the Gurkhas accomplished by General Fu, the Great General for the Pacification of the West”. Forbes also gives a translation by Sir Charles Bell of the inscription on a famous pillar in Lhasa which describes in detail and colourful language the victories by the Manchu armies “in the land of thieves” where they “traversed the mountains, so difficult to pass through, as though they were moving over a level plain and crossed rivers with great waves and narrow gorges as though they were small streams.”
[For details see my article ‘All change at Rasuwa Gadhi’, published in HIMALAYA, The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies].
These lines from Mosca are particularly noteworthy:
“While advancing into Nepal, Fuk’anggan memorialised that he had received a communication from his foes claiming that Tibet was in imminent danger from the tribe of “Delhi Padshah of India to the south. [nan Jiaga’er zhi Dili bacha buluo] According to the Gorkhas, only their own efforts had hitherto prevented this, but if the Qing did not grant them aid they would no longer be able to resist. Fuk’anggan considered these claims a deliberate misrepresentation of earlier efforts by the Delhi Padshah to aid Jumla in its fight with the Gorkhas. This was probably a reference, gleaned by Fuk’anggan from Indian informants to the late 1791 battle in which the ruler of Awadh [nominally Vizier to the Mughal emperor] fought with the Gurkhas over the western Himalayan regions of Kumaon, Almorah and Srinagar. The Qing commander responded to his foes that “Delhi Padshah is extremely far from Tibet, they do not even communicate with each other, so how could they desire to occupy Tibetan land?” [p.140]
Some of the detail in the treaty agreement signed on October 2, 1792 is unclear but there is no disagreement that one outcome was that Nepal would accept the suzerainty of the Qing emperor and this would entail sending a delegation to pay tribute to the Imperial Court every five years. The first of these missions under the leadership of Kazi Dev Dutta Thapa left Kathmandu almost immediately after the signing of the treaty. This quinquennial mission system continued until 1906. Mosca, relying on quoted Chinese sources, asserts that Nepal’s first tributary envoys took advantage of their time in Peking to inform the Qing court about their conflicts with the Europeans and asked for assistance if they were attacked by another country. He writes: “The response was blunt: the Qing government would on no account send troops beyond Tibet. If the new tributary was forced into a fight and emerged victorious this would please the court, but even if the Gurkha state was pressed to destruction the most aid it could expect was exile within Tibet for the royal house. In short, the Gurkhas totally failed in their attempt to alarm Qianlong about the possibility of an invasion of Tibet from India.” [Mosca, p.145]
Wartime correspondence between Gorkha and the Qing emperor
In the section of his book headed, ‘The Qing Response to the Anglo Nepal War of 1814-1816’, Mosca writes:
“Scarcely two years after Manning’s departure, a more serious crisis forced the Qing government to reconsider the security of the Himalayan frontier. Nepal, almost from the moment it established tributary ties, had tried to persuade the Qing to support it in its military rivalries. Its pleading intensified when British India went to war with the Gurkhas in 1814, but Nepal failed to convince Jiaquin and his ministers that it was in their own interest to repel the Pileng from the Himalaya. This inability to persuade Beijing that the British conquest in India entailed risks for Qing security highlights the enormous gulf between the strategic worldviews of Nepal and British India on the one hand and the Qing government on the other.
Soon after the Qing accepted Nepal as a tributary, the amban, Sungyun, elaborated on relevant Qing policy. Though now a tributary, he observed the Gurkhas remained the single greatest threat to the Tibetan frontier. Their “greedy and violent nature”, evident from their clashes with several other tribes, made it probable that the Gurkhas would soon provoke their own downfall. Once in difficulty, Sungyun reasoned, they would turn to the Qing for assistance. In this case, he wrote, “it is most appropriate for [Qing ambans] to ignore it”. Sungyun emphasised this last point, observing that if pushed to “utter desperation”, the Gurkhas might claim that “since they are a Qing tributary, we should immediately send troops to their rescue”. He explained that the Qing had no such duty, and that an amban’s sole obligation was to counsel the Gurkhas to live at peace with their neighbouring states. By remaining avowedly neutral on its Himalayan frontier the Qing government hoped to insulate the border from external turbulence.” [Page 175, quoting Chinese sources. Note: Jiaquin ruled from 1796 to 1820] ]
This was prescient from the amban. The Anglo-Nepal war started in September 1814 but Rose, drawing on a letter from the Nepal Rajah published in Chitta Ranjan Nepali’s book, states that one month earlier the Kathmandu Durbar had dispatched an urgent petition to His-ming, the Chinese Amban at Lhasa, requesting that it be forwarded to Peking immediately. The main theme of this communication was that the British were determined to conquer Nepal in order to prepare a passage for a proposed invasion of Tibet. The Durbar alleged that the British had promised not to harm the Gurkhas and had even agreed to pay 60-70 lakh rupees if Nepal would not impede the advance of the British force on its way to Tibet.
His-ming was predictably sceptical about what he judged to be a highly alarmist communication and refused to forward the petition to Peking. In his reply he stated:
“There never has been hostile feelings between Tibet and the Firangi. The men of the Firangis have never been to Lhasa in the past. For what reason will they now reconnoitre the mountain route to invade Tibet? There seems to be little purpose in this... You have also asked us to forward your petition to the Emperor of China who is the custodian of the whole world. The kings of this world have not yet been able to deposit the treasure of China. It is not customary to give treasures of China to other countries. We ambans cannot forward such requests. You, Wang, must take good care of the country. If you do so, the favour on you will be continued for many generations. Do not write such requests in the future.” [Letter from His-ming to the Nepal government, 15 Sep 1814, from C.R. Nepali’s book]
There was more on this theme in other refusals from the ambans as this extract from Mosca highlights:
“The Gurkha's represented themselves as a buffer state fighting a proxy battle entirely on behalf of their overlord. Qing authorities, in keeping with established policy, rejected this view. First, the ambans found the strategic picture painted by the Gurkhas to be improbable. Huturi [a new amban] observed that the Peling tribe, southwest of the Gurkhas, “has never had contact with Tibet”. Since there was no mutual enmity, and “people from this country have never come to Tibet why would it attack? “Extremely untrustworthy” Gurkha claims were “fabricated” in the hope that by “scaremongering with overblown statements” the Gurkhas would be able to use Qing money to “accomplish their selfish wishes”.” [Mosca, p.177]
So, what broke this lengthy sequence of ever more frantic appeals [sources speak of at least 12] from the Rajah of Nepal and ever more emphatic rejections by the ambans? In his article, Rose addresses the question by quoting from a report by a British Muslim agent which can be found in this file. [Full reference given below].
I have the honour to enclose for the information of His Excellency the Governor General in Council, a translation of a paper of intelligence which I lately obtained giving details from the account of an eyewitness of the particulars of the reception by the Chinese authorities at Dergurcheh of the late Mission which preceded from this court to the Chuonchoons, or Chinese commanders, in Tibet, and containing also some intelligence in Affairs connected with this Durbar previous to the death of the late Maha Rani.
“Translation of a Narrative of some events connected with the Mission deputed by the Emperor of China for the purpose of investigating into the truth of certain communications made by the Government of Nepal relative to the origin of the war with the Honourable Company and of particulars of the meeting that took place between it and the Nepalese deputation at Digurchee, as written by a Kashmeer who was present at that interview.”
“On the Breaking out of Hostilities in 1814 between the Honourable Company and the Rajah of Nepal, the latter transmitted several letters to the Chinese government through the customary channel of the Chinese officers residing at Lassa. These however allowed considerable space of time to elapse without forwarding them to their Court and in the Interval a letter for the Emperor of China written by the Governor General reached Lassa from Calcutta by way of Rungpore. The purport of it meant to caution him against aiding the Goorkhas in the pending contest and to inform him that similar intimations have been made to the surrounding Rajahs. This had the effect of rousing the Chinese authorities and making them weigh the necessity of imparting to their government what they had so long withheld from them and until now viewed as a subject unworthy of attention. They accordingly transmitted to Pekin the Governor General’s letter with the last of those sent by the Raja that arrived at about this time.”
That is the end of the extract quoted by Rose but it is worth adding the lines that followed to get the full significance of what is in the report:
“The Emperor on perusing the letter of the Governor General was somewhat displeased remarking that from the communication the English appear to look upon themselves as Kings but upon him merely as on one of their neighbouring Rajahs. His Vizier however appeased him by the explanations he entered into and the letter from Nepal was read. It stated that as no reply had been vouchsafed to the 12 former letters that had been addressed to the Emperor they were left in a deplorable condition and that the English by superiority of arms had arrived near their capital commanding them to give up the roads leading through the country of Bhote. The Emperor on this enquired as to the number of letters that had arrived from the Rajah of Nepal to which the Vizier replied that none had, on which he directed that a Chuonchoon, two Taruns with a Military Force should repair to that Tuorten to ascertain the real state of things and protect that boundary of the empire and that an army should follow them.
The Chuonchoon and his party were met on their route by a Messenger from Nipaul who announced to them that peace had been concluded. The deputation however continued their way to Lassa from whence they wrote to the English that they learned of their being anxious to obtain possession from the Gorkhas of the highways of Bhote with the intent of entering into China but that they were wrong in going by so round about a way to achieve their object and if they persisted in those views they would themselves point out to them an easier and less circuitous a route.
To Nepal they wrote that if, as you have written, the English demand of you the surrender of the roads through Bhote we must go to war with them but if that you have lied you shall be destroyed.” [IOR/P/BEN/SEC/286 dated December 25, 1816]
Rose highlights two obvious points from this extended extract which reportedly aroused the emperor’s displeasure: the tone of the language used by the Governor General and his apparent shock and anger at hearing about the letters which were not passed on to him. He links the second point to the emperor’s decision to order the immediate dispatch of a military force to Tibet to ascertain the state of affairs there and to protect the boundaries of the empire. That assertion will be examined later.
However, first, did the ambans in fact refuse to pass on 12 letters addressed personally to the emperor from the leader of a large tributary state? In the Great Qing Empire, where the emperor was treated as a god, it would have taken a very brave amban to refuse to pass on one such letter, never mind twelve. In fairness to Rose, a footnote at this part of his article says, “No Chinese sources on this series of events are available”. From multiple Chinese sources, as my highlighting in the extended extract below shows, Mosca indicates that not only were the letters passed on but the emperor, Qianlong, was personally directly involved in suggesting to the ambans points to be included, usually in very direct ways, verging on the belligerent, in their responses to the Gorkha Rajah:
“In a further petition, the Gurkha ruler reported victories while pleading for aid to keep fighting his wealthy enemy. To loosen the imperial purse strings, he pointed out that Kathmandu was a critical strategic pass “under the control of the Qing Emperor”, and that the Gurkhas were duty-bound “to protect the southern frontier”. With Qing funds the Gurkhas could destroy the enemy. Xi-ming, [a new amban] like Huturi before him, considered these requests a ruse to solicit Qing aid for a private Gurkha venture. Fully agreeing, Qianlong armed his officials with fresh rebuttals to deploy if these presumptuous requests continued. One was to emphasise Qing neutrality. The Gurkha ruler was to be informed that if the emperor granted it to the Gurkhas, would he not then be obliged to grant [hypothetical] Pileng requests for aid as well? Xi-ming was ordered to maintain frontier troops in full readiness, but to fight only if the Pileng really did invade Tibet. Developments across the border were to be entirely ignored.
One tactic adopted by the ambans to forestall Gorkha requests was to falsely reply that they were too outrageous to pass on to Beijing. Instead of chastening the Gurkha ruler, this response stimulated even more pressing requests to compel them to report their affair upward. Thus, the Nepali king petitioned once again, averring the truth of earlier declarations. Now he also asked for an imperial edict ordering the Pileng to remain within their own frontier and for permission to send a tribute memorial, clearly an attempt to circumvent communication by ordinary petitions that the ambans ostensibly refused to forward. Faced with these demands, Qianlong reiterated the need to emphasise neutrality: the Gurkhas should be informed that the Qing had never given inequitable aid to only one country and could not grant assistance to Nepal without also lending it to the Pileng. This echoed Qianlong's argument that the Qing would not aid the Gurkhas just as it had not helped the Bal-po tribes whom the Gurkhas had conquered. Qianlong authorised a sterner reprimand. Gurkha claims that the Pileng aimed to conquer Beijing itself after taking Tibet were “preposterous in the extreme”. The Gurkha ruler was to be reminded that Tibet was well guarded and had nothing to fear from a puny tribe like the Pileng; Beijing was still more secure. By making false claims, Qianlong warned, it was the Gurkha ruler himself who would face the imperial wrath.
One dimension of the Gurkha ruler’s petition sheds light particularly on the Qing tribute system. For the Gurkhas, tribute was part of a strategic alliance. For this reason, Beijing's tenacious neutrality was unfathomable: “I think the Gurkhas are people who have submitted to the Qing court; how can they be compared to the Pileng?” in his next petition the Gurkha ruler expanded on this line of reasoning, reporting that the Pileng have also ordered us to submit and I am truly in a difficult situation. I have submitted to the Qing and should request instructions to carry out. If you command me that as a Qing subject I absolutely cannot submit to the Pileng then I beg that you will quickly bestow on me a large sum of money and assist me. Xi-ming initially replied that surrendering to the Pileng will be viewed as a betrayal of the emperor but Qianlong's edict corrected this view. The Emperor wanted the characters to be informed that, “in regard to the passage about the Pileng ordering you to submit, you two states are at war, and whether or not you submit, the Qing court will in no way interfere.
Despite being rebuffed, the Gurkha government continued to depict the tributary relationship as a strategic agreement. Its next petition reported the Pileng demanded a steep price for a peace treaty: the Gurkhas would have to cede passage to Tibet and become Pileng subjects. Having already submitted to the Qing, the Gurkha ruler wrote he “could never again make a second submission to someone else”. Moreover, if he became a Pileng tributary the Pileng would not permit us to pay tribute to the Qing. In other words, unless assistance was forthcoming, a crucial buffer state would pass under Pileng control. Qianlong found this claim truly deceitful and grossly disrespectful and criticised Xi-ming for his failure to stem Gurkha misbehaviour. If tribute did not appear at the appointed time, they were to be told, this would be considered treason. In short, for the Gurkhas tributary status meant in principle a quid pro quo military alliance in which they protected the Qing empire in return for material aid and, as a last resort, a guarantee of their survival. For Qianlong, tribute was exclusively bilateral: provided it was submitted on schedule, the Qing would never constrain their agreements with other states nor support them in their quarrels. If there were defeated, tributary relations would be established with their successor.” [p.177-179]
Launching the army into Tibet
So what caused the emperor to launch a military force into Tibet? Mosca writes as follows, making no reference at all to the causes mentioned in Rose’s article:
“...only in the winter of 1816 did another concerted British push get underway. By that time, the crisis had unsettled the Himalayas for almost two years, and the emperor saw the need for more active measures. In an edict of February 20, 1816, he appointed Saicungga, the commander of the Chengdu border banner Garrison, as imperial commissioner with a brief to enter Tibet and “watch the situation”. The parameters of his mission were made extremely clear. Reports indicated that the Piling were in the ascendant and might even seize Nepal and exterminate its royal line. Provided that did not violate the Qing frontier “then this is entirely a matter between foreigners, a meaningless squabble, and there is no need to interfere whatever the outcome.” Under no circumstances, Jiaquin told Saicungga, was he to threaten the Pileng for reasons to do only with the Gurkhas. He authorised force only if one of the sides-Gurkha or Pileng-violated the border or if the Gurkha king fled into exile and the Peling tried to compel his extradition. It was also crucial, the emperor added in his next edict, that Saicunagga keep his arrival quiet so that the Gurkhas would not falsely assume the Qing were preparing to save them.” [p.180]
So how did Saicunagga interpret the emperor’s direction? He clearly believed that his highest priority was to find out who had been telling the truth between Gorkha and the Company or, to put it another way, who had been lying to his emperor? Based on all the sources quoted by Rose and Lamb, the kindest way of answering the question would be to say that his approach was far from even-handed. As the examples which follow will show, with the EIC there was a strong presumption of innocence which accounts for the reasoned and polite approach. With Gorkha, on the other hand, there was a strong presumption of guilt which accounts for the belligerence and aggression in which Saicunnagga and his people went about investigating the Gorkha claims.
Again, it is worth highlighting that Mosca’s original work from Chinese sources reveal an important point which Rose and Lamb seemed to have missed: Saicunagga acted in a way which was totally contrary to what the emperor directed and expected. This extract from Mosca explains:
“Disregarding his instructions, Saicunagga struck out on a bold diplomatic course after he arrived in Lhasa in May 1816, bringing about the first direct Anglo Qing contact across the Himalayas in over twenty years. He entirely concurred with Qing policy but worried that the Gurkhas might resent China's neutrality to the point of abandoning their tribute payments or even inciting the Pileng against Tibet. To forestall this, he decided to bring matters to a head. Assuming that the Gurkhas’ charges against the Pileng were fabricated, he informed both sides that a massive Qing force had been sent to Tibet to annihilate whichever party, Gurkha or Pileng, had invented the disrespectful claims about ceding a route to Tibet and halting tribute payments. Saicungga expected that the Pileng would confirm that the charges were false, and he could then use this evidence to force the Gurkhas to confess their misrepresentations and beg forgiveness. One bold stroke, he expected, would end the festering affair. To underscore Qing resolve, he and Xi-ming would conspicuously inspect the border defences.
The emperor was outraged that the commander of his secret reserve force had decided to make an aggressive bluff, “the very extreme of reckless bungling”. The emperor pointed out that the diplomatic results might be very different than those envisioned. Suppose the Pileng leader was angered by the false charges of the Gurkhas and asked the Qing to join to join with him in exterminating them? Worse, suppose the Pileng leader, safe at a distance, actually admitted to the Qing that he had uttered the words attributed to him by the Gurkhas as a bluff? Would not the Qing government then be forced to wage war over “a single phrase”? Moreover, might not the Gurkhas rejoice at his arrival and try to usher the Qing down through Nepal to attack their foe? Worse still, Saicungga had decided to give his gambit extra bite by promising that if he should attack the Gurkhas he would make their destruction even more certain by acting in tandem with the Pileng. For Jiaqing, even the empty threat of such an alliance was abhorrent: “the Gurkhas have been our tributaries for many years, and for us not to pity them in their difficulties but to the contrary to lead foreigners to catch their territory in a pincer movement, how can this be reconciled to the high principles of our august dynasty? [tangtang tianchao, dati an zai hu]”.
By then it was too late; Saicungga’s letters had been sent. Mosca explains that, “the letter to the Pileng was translated into Persian and transmitted via the ruler of Sikkim to the British Indian government. The sense of the letter, addressed to the “King of the Pileng”, Gewo’er Zhe’ernaaili] [Governor General] is substantially the same in its Chinese and English version.” [p.180-181]
Here is a complete text of it copied and transcribed by me from a British Library file:
Ordered that the following translation of the letter from the Chinese authorities at Arzung forwarded by Captain Latter be here recorded.
The Chinese Authorities at Arzung
From the three Governors at Arzung namely first Shree Chanchoon Vizier, secondly Shree Tarum and thirdly Who Tarun. Let this letter be taken to the officer commanding in Rungpore who After Opening it and ascertaining its contents will forward it to his master.
The above is a translation of the superscription.
Received 17 Jun 1816
This is written by the enlightened Vizier of His Majesty the Emperor of China and by the two Viziers who are Governors/Hakim of this place namely Whu Tarum and thirdly Who Tarum.
These three of whom one has lately arrived at Arzung having come from the Capital from the presence of the Emperor and the other two namely the Whu Tarum and Who Tarum are the Governors of Arzung have agreed to write jointly to the English gentleman as follows.
[The text continues]
From a letter which was received from the Rajah of Gorkha addressed to the two Taruns it was understood that the English had demanded from the Rajah of Gorkha and of Damoo Shamgah a free passage to this quarter declaring that they had no intention of attacking those chiefs and they only wished to be allowed a free passage to Lassa when it would be seen what would happen. It was stated also that the English proposed that the chiefs would pay to them the tribute which they now pay to China.
A letter to the above effect was received from the Rajah of Gurkha addressed to the two Taruns of Lassa, the two Taruns above mentioned of this place, and the original letter to the Emperor. The Heart of His Imperial Majesty is as pure as the Sun and enlightened as the moon. Truth and falsehood are in all matters abhorrent to him. Not relying upon the Rajah of Gurkha’s letter he, in order to ascertain exactly the truth of the circumstances above mentioned, sent from his own presence Shree Chanchoon of the Royal Army. That person will accordingly soon arrive with the army at Tingree and will enquire into your proceedings.
Such absurd measures as those alluded to appear quite inconsistent with the usual wisdom of the English. It is probable that they never made the declaration imputed to them. If they did, it will not be well as on a former occasion when Phoon Phaw came here to make war against the Rajah of Goorkha a letter was received from the English addressed to Phoon Phaw asking assistance. The hostile course which according to the Rajah of Goorkha’s letter they have now adopted is beyond measure surprising. An answer should be sent as soon as possible to Tingree stating whether the English really made the absurd propositions imputed to them by the Rajah of Goorkha. It is probable that they did not. If they did not, let them write a suitable Explanation to Shree Chanchoon that he may make a corresponding communication to the Emperor, stating that the whole story is a falsehood of the Rajah of Goorkah.[sic] Let the true state of the case be told that it may be reported to the Emperor. The Emperor of China is just. Be it known to the English Gentlemen that His Majesty is just and merciful. Send an answer to this as soon as possible.
Dated, Tingree 21 May 1816. [IOR/P/BEN/SEC/281 dated July 13, 1816]
In reply to Saicungga, the Governor General stated the British case on the origin of the war with Nepal and placed the blame on Gorkha for the attack on Butwal in which several Company officials were killed. He stated:
“It has been agreed that accredited agents shall be received by each government from the other and all the usual offices of amity between neighbouring and friendly states will be studiously performed. The British Government had no views of aggrandisement and only seeks to remain at peace with other states, and no motives of ambition and interest prompt it to extend its influence and authority beyond these barriers which appear to have been placed by nature between the vast countries of India and China.” [IOR/P/BEN/SEC/281 dated 3 August 1816]
The Chinese letter was received in Calcutta on June 7, 1816, and the Governor General’s reply was dated August 3, 1816. In between these dates, the Governor General had received from Kathmandu valuable intelligence on the very different approach that Saicungga and his two main assistants were taking with the Gurkha court, but first some background on the provenance of the intelligence. The Treaty of Sugauli, which marked the official end of the war, was signed on March 4, 1816. The designated Resident, Edward Gardner, arrived in Kathmandu on July 6, 1816. It would not have eased Nepali concerns about having such a foreign official in their capital city that an Acting Resident, with full designated powers, arrived in Kathmandu just six weeks after the signing of the Treaty and presented his credentials to the Rajah of Nepal on April 17, 1816. As this extract from the Nepal War Papers show [p.971] he was selected for the job by Ochterlony and approved by the Governor General personally.
Lieutenant Boileau was well chosen as was the word Ochterlony used to describe him in an earlier letter to John Adam: a zealous young officer. He was clearly not a man to sit around and wait until his very senior replacement arrived. The very first task which Gardner had to do, almost on arrival, was to dispatch to John Adam a report by Boileau and signed by him on 5 July 1816. Below is the transcription of Boileau’s report, which includes an introduction by Gardner, a letter to the Rajah of Nepal from the three principal Chinese officers recently arrived at Lhasa and the Rajah’s response. They are all very clear.
The Resident in Kathmandu
The Resident Catmandoo
To John Adam Esq Private
The enclosed paper having been put into my hands by Lt. Boileau and, appearing to be one of considerable consequence, I have considered it my duty to forward it for the information of His Excellency the Governor General without delay. But not being perfectly satisfied of its Authenticity in a degree least that would warrant my Officially submitting a document of this Nature to Government, I have been induced to Convey it to you in the Form other than in a More Regular one, until further Experience shall have made me better acquainted with this very interesting subject and when the information in question has been clarified.
Lt Boileau acquaints me that having received intimation of correspondence between the Nepaul Government and the Chinese officers at Lassa and strong reports existing of warlike preparations on their part he had used his endeavours to obtain such information as circumstances permitted particularly with a view to ascertaining if any Military Force had actually moved from that place. If the enclosed documents should prove to be really a translation from the Original Correspondence, he must be allowed to have completely succeeded in his object and to have been the means of furnishing his Lordships with some foundations at least for judging the views and intentions of the Chinese Government with reference to late transactions in this country…
Translation of a letter written in the Bhoteia language addressed by the 3 Principal Officers of the Chinese government arrived at Lassa to the Raja of Nepal.
By command of the King of China we the following…address you.
The King has been appraised of your having written to his officials at Lassa that the English had told you that by your giving up the roads going through the Hills of Bhote, “Buatan”, they would make peace with you and exempt you from making the customary presents to the King and of you having solicited for a Chinese Force to proceed to your frontier. On learning this the King expressed great displeasure and immediately ordered us to be furnished with instructions under his seal and to collect the officials and soldiers of the country to proceed to Lassa and Bhote. And if after investigating clearly into matters, it should appear that the English have acted as you have written, to commence war with & smite them to Dust.
In obedience to these orders we whose names are written above, having collected thousands of the fighting men of China, and also those dwelling in Bhote and Lassa, shall proceed to about 15 days journey from Nepaul and duly commence our investigations to ascertain the truth.
If as you have said the English have told you to give up the roads leading through the hills of Bhote and they promised you peace if you did so and that in consequence you would be exempt from sending tribute to the King/Emperor it is very evident that they look upon us in inferior light and entertain thoughts of aggrandisement and provided this is found to be true we have nothing left but to march with our Forces and annihilate them. The capability of the King to do so is known throughout the universe.
Should the English disprove their having advanced what you have said to have provided for them you will have fabricated falsehoods of importance and will have brought down on yourselves the anger of the King. In this case, Gorkhali Beware, you will receive the punishment that would otherwise be inflicted on the English.
It appears to us as not improbable that you may have gone to war with the English and, not having found yourselves able to cope with them, have been induced to write what you have under the idea that the King on its reaching his ears would without investigation send you aid to punish the aggressors, but the King whose favour is equally extended to all would not act so unjust a part. For this Reason is this letter written to you. If the English have aggressed, they shall suffer, if the Gorkhalis, their country shall be swept clean. We reward those that are true to us but punish the guilty, leaning to neither side, justice is our aim.
On receipt of this letter write explicitly everything regarding the truth of your first Communication. The English have been written to on the subject. Their reply will be immediate. Should they declare that the Goorkhas have fabricated the communication mentioned we shall teach Nepaul by the routes of Kutee and Kirung with the hand of destruction. If you are not able to cope with the English, how much less will you be with the Armies of the King? On our arrival the Good and the Bad, the Rocks and the Trees shall be consumed.
We recommend you to be convinced that your affairs are in a deplorable condition and to send a letter imploring forgiveness by the hands of your Baradars and Kajis that we may be enabled to lay it before the King to state that you are but the Children of a Little State to write without considering that which gave rise to his anger and with one accord you are willing to continue your Customary Tribute and will not again commit the faults you have been guilty of. The clemency of the King is great and through our interception he will pardon you and our armies will then return.
Making War or Making Peace with the English is at your option. You will get no Aid from us but if you do not quickly dispatch the letter begging for pardon, consider yourself as your own destroyer. Reflect on the contents of this letter.
Written at Lassa in the age of the King 22 years, 4 months and 22 days. A true translation.
Residents Officer, Nepaul, 5 July 1816. Signed J.P. Boileau Lt.
Answer from the Rajah of Nepal to the foregoing Dispatched from Nepaul, 10 June 1816
Secret. Your letter written in the Age of the King 21 years, 4 months and 22 days I received in the latter end of May and from learning its contents was as much gladdened as I was rejoiced by the extension of your liberality [Recapitulate the letter from the Cheeon Choon and others] we continue in our country under the protection of the King.
The English have deprived us of our old possessions known by the name of Kumaon and have taken from us forcibly all the Country to the west of it as for as the River Alexnanda and to the eastward the country of Siccim and have subjugated the lands close to Nipaul and have destroyed in War many of our troops. It will be to your advantage to allow us to continue established here. If we are not permitted you will certainly suffer. The English are powerful and have possessions to the south and are well supplied with Troops and Stores. Therefore a country impoverished like ours cannot cope with them. Men will not fight without money and from where are those who will be the guardians of your southern gateway be able to secure it.
The enemy are about to enter the cities of Nipaul and what is to be done? We assembled our Baradars and Sirdars and with one voice agreed as to our being under the fostering hand of the King of China. We therefore thought it advisable to state our grievances to him through his officials at Lassa and to inform him that the enemy has reached our cities within a days march and to beg his interference to get the English to restore to us the country that they had deprived us off but no attention was paid to our condition and our petition was returned from Lassa.
The consequence was that when the English said we had nothing to hope for from China penetrated our hills with an immense army – frightened us into submission and parcelled our country to their fancy. We have always continued obedient to the King and said with one accord confess ourselves his tributaries. This is the state of things up to the present moment and as your force arrived so far to investigate into the truth, inform us without loss of time when you approach to Kirung and Kutee that we may send our Baradars and respectable men to meet you and to lay out our grievances before you. Extend your favour to us, your children, and intercede with your King to uphold our State that we may continue as his respected Vassals. [IOR/P/BEN/SEC/282 dated 27 July 1816]
In terms of the letter sent to the Rajah of Nepal, it would be hard to find a starker contrast, both in tone and detail, with the one sent to the Governor General, or more at variance with the emperor’s directions to Saicungga quoted earlier. This contrast is reflected in all the letters exchanged between the parties at this time. As I indicated earlier, the least that can be said about the approach adopted by Saicungga and his officers is that it was a long way from being even-handed. To the British there was always strong presumption of innocence and a politeness that bordered on the obsequious; see as one example the reference above to, “the usual wisdom of the English”. To the Gorkhas there was always a strong presumption of guilt and the language used in many passages is rude, threatening and belligerent. In addition to many examples that could be quoted from the initial Chinese letter given above, this reply to the Rajah of Nepal’s letter also makes the point:
“Not even one of your requests will be fulfilled. We Tachins had made it clear in our previous letter to you when you declared war on the Ferenghi. Nor did we ask you when you made peace with him. No soldiers, as requested by you, will be sent...do not repeat your shilly-shallying. Do not again write your one-sided requests.” [From Rose citing a reference in C.R.Nepali’s book, p.312-14 ]
What stands out particularly from the Rajah’s letter is that over three months after the signing of the peace treaty, the Gorkha court was still reiterating the charges against the British and renewing its appeal for assistance from the Chinese.
What is also striking is how, as indicated earlier, whole sections of the letter from the Rajah directly reflect the ideas and language of the draft letter I referred to earlier. [“Draft of a Petition to be addressed to the Emperor of China by the Rajah of Nepaul, enclosed in Ummer Sing's Letter from Rajgurh, dated March 2, 1815”]
Assessing the import of the advance of a Chinese Force towards the frontier of Nepal
[Note: This file, 13383, sits within British Library file IOR/P/BEN/SEC/281 and the quotations which follow are all taken from it up until the footnote at the end.]
As the date and subject heading of the file suggest, it is packed with exchanges between Lord Moira and Edward Gardner discussing what the arrival of this Chinese force portends and how best to respond to its arrival in Nepal. Before analysing this correspondence, a separate letter is worth highlighting. In the middle of this file, and of these intensive interchanges between Gardner and Adam, the sudden arrival of this letter would have again reminded the Governor General on the need to exercise caution in his dealings with the Chinese.
[Note: The Sunda Strait is the strait between Java and Sumatra. It connects the Java Sea with the Indian Ocean. Anjere was a large port which was totally destroyed in 1883 by a large tsunami. It was the start point of the Great Post Road which ran 1000 kms to the eastern tip of Java.]
The letter is dated June 9, 1816 from an address given as, “Anjire Roads Straits of Sunda” and the opening paragraph elaborates:
“I have the honour to acquaint your Lordship that His Majesty’s Ship Alceste, having the Chinese embassy on board, anchored in Anjire Roads this morning and will proceed in a few days on her course to the Yellow Sea.
I shall take every opportunity in compliance with Lord Castlereagh’s instructions of communicating to your Lordship the progress and result of my proceedings with the Chinese government.
At a time when I am uncertain as to the disposition of that Government to suffer a British Ship of War to proceed a second time to the Gulf of Pe-tche-be, I perhaps ought not to anticipate the time of our arrival at Peking. Ignorant also of the transactions of the last 12 months at Canton, and of the part which may have been taken therein by the Emperor of China and his Ministers, I cannot form any judgement of the reception which the Embassy is likely to meet with at the Chinese capital or of the probable duration of its residence there, but supposing the precedent of Lord McCartney to be adopted and followed upon this occasion, I may expect to reach Pekin in about the middle or towards the end of August, and to arrive from China at Canton before the expiration of the present year. My business will then be to return direct to England.
Your Lordship is acquainted with the unpleasant discussions which took place at the close of the year 1814 between the Select Committee of Supracargoes of the East India Company and the Chinese authority at Canton. To obtain the adoption of a system which shall prevent a recurrence of similar transactions and which shall place our Trade with China on a more secure footing for the future, is the main object of the present Embassy.”
The words highlighted did not bode well for the success of ‘the Chinese embassy’. Almost immediately, Moira sent a letter in reply which was primarily aimed at bringing Amherst up to date with developments on the Tibet-Nepal border as explained in this extract which summarises his view of why China was so angry with Nepal:
“The advance of the Chinese army has now produced a different effect on the mind of the Nepalese government which is under serious alarm for its own safety and concerns its territories to be menaced with an immediate attack. The Chinese are understood to be highly incensed against the Nepalese [whom they regard as tributary to the emperor] for having for some time back discontinued the manifestation of those observances which its dependent relation required and for having engaged in War and concluded Peace with the British government without the sanction of the government of China. This dissatisfaction, we apprehend, involves a doubt whether the Pacification may not have been on such Terms as transfer the allegiance of Nepaul from the Chinese to the British government. In this emergency the Raja of Nepaul has solicited the advice of the British resident of Catmandhu and has expressed an earnest hope for our support against the apprehended designs of the Chinese”.
[Note: With Amherst going straight from Anjere to Peking, his letter to Lord Moira dated 9 June 2016 was passed to an American ship bound for Canton. This reply from Moira, based in Calcutta, addressed to Amherst through the Select Committee of Supra Cargoes in Canton, was dated 14 Sep 1816. Amherst would have received it when he arrived in Canton on 1 Jan 1817, after a long four month journey from Peking, all but the last two weeks of it on inland waterways.]
Manoeuvring between Bhimsen Thapa and David Gardner
In the early pages, this file  is dominated by at times daily letters from Gardner to Adam summarising the latest conversation he had had with Bhimsen Thapa or his immediate subordinates about what the arrival of the Chinese force portends for Nepal-British relations. The views expressed by Moira to Amherst came from these letters.
The file starts with the extract of a letter, dated August 19, 1816, from Edward Gardner, the British Resident in Kathmandu, addressed to John Adam, Personal Secretary to the Governor General. Gardner had assumed the appointment from the Acting Resident, Lieutenant J.P. Boileau on July 8, 1816. He opened by reporting that he had returned a visit from Bhimsen Thapa during which he had presented a gift from the Governor General. He reported that he and ‘the Gentlemen of the Residency’ had been received very cordially. The next day he had a meeting with the Rajah to hand over another gift. After this meeting, Bhimsen escorted Gardner and his attendants around several apartments of the Old Palace. Bhimsen informed him that he and the Chowatra Pran Sah would call upon him the next day for, ‘the transaction of some business.’
Gardner reported that Bhimsen occasionally talked in a most open manner about Chinese officers, “both of recent and older date, informing me among a crowd of people and while showing me a picture which represented the Chinese army that had formerly invaded Nepal, that he had himself been summoned by Cheeanchoor, or commander of their forces at present assembled on the frontier, but that his absence was not possible and that the Rajah had resolved upon deputing other agents.”
At the meeting the next day, Bhimsen arrived with Gujra Misra and Chandra Sekhur Upadhyaya with two attending Moonshees [teacher of languages, especially Hindustani and Persian]. Gardner writes about this visit as follows:
“The object of his visit was connected with the state of affairs to the northward. He began by detailing to me at length what had previously been communicated to me through Chunder Shekar, namely the nature of the relations which the Raja had formally entered into with the Chinese government, the interruption of that intercourse in consequence of later events and the appearance on the frontier of a very considerable Chinese army under the command of a special officer who had addressed several strong remonstrances to this government on the subject of its conduct and had not only demanded that the usual mission should be sent as heretofore but had summoned Bhimsen himself for the purpose of giving the required explanation of its discontinuance.
The connection of this state, he pursued, with the British government had existed for half a century and had lately become more intimate than ever and, although their relations with China were also of some standing, it had been thought proper not to take any steps towards a renewal of them without the advice and concurrence of the British government, and on this subject he begged I would offer him my opinion according to which he promised the readiness of the Raja to act.”
Taken at face value, this was a very significant shift in Nepal's previously declared policy towards the EIC and drew from Gardner one immediate conclusion which he shared with Adam: “This desire of regulating the acts of this Durbar on such matters by our Counsels, appeared to me to evince that something more was apprehended than the offence which it might be supposed a contrary line of conduct might give to the British Government and it served to increase the suspicion which I had before entertained that this State had reason to dread the displeasure of the Chinese and was desirous of avoiding its effects by the interference perhaps of the British Government.”
That did not stop him from taking a strong line to Bhimsen. In brief, he told him not to expect any advice from him or the Governor General unless they were told the true cause for the arrival of such a large Chinese force. He wrote:
“I did not hesitate to observe to them that it was more than probable their government had brought itself into this dilemma by the statements it had made and the unfounded reports it had caused to be circulated during late events and as there is no doubt that all such misrepresentations must err long be fully explained away, I thought it incumbent on them and at same time the most advisable mode of conduct they could adopt, to rectify the mistake they had committed by a candid and fair avowal of the truth which I considered as the most obvious means of removing from them the uneasiness and displeasure manifested towards him by China.”
There was much vacillation from the Nepal side on this point but one week and two visits later, they apparently decided to adopt a course of full disclosure. Gardner, in a dispatch, dated August 28, reported as follows. My highlighting:
“In the course of the visit, Gujra Misra and Chandra Sekhur Upadhyaya left aside in a great degree their usual obscurity in their communications with me and spoke with an openness and freedom which I had not been accustomed to hear from them…
…The tenor of their discourse to me was that this government was averse to deputing the intended mission to Lassa before it was decided what instructions should be given to the agents until the measures which were proper to be pursued were defined and determined upon, and on my expressing some surprise at the difficulty on this subject which they appeared to labour under, they informed me in a few words that the object of the Chinese government was not merely to insist upon the renewal of the former marks of vassalage it had enforced and received from the State or to seek explanations of the late occurrences, but that it was deeply offended, considering Nepal a tributary to the Emperor, at this government having ordered into war and concluded a peace with the English without his sanction or knowledge and that the Chinese army had been assembled and have advanced for the express purpose of resenting this Offence and entering Nepal. They stated that the actual danger might be arrested and postponed for a time, perhaps by a compliance with the summons that had been sent for the attendance of some of the officers of the Nepal State but they felt consumed that no explanation they could offer would tend to satisfy the government of China and that in the end hostilities would be resorted to. Such an event, they remarked, could not be a matter of indifference to the British government as a result might even put the Chinese in possession of Kathmandu and consequently of the whole country and under these circumstances, they looked for advice and support from us. They confirmed however the latter expression to a favourable disposition towards them on our past and an inclination to befriend them and did not make any direct solicitation for active aid and assistance but contented themselves with protestations that the actual administration of this Country was at our disposal and that it would implicitly conform to whatever we might dictate for its guidance.”
At this point it is worth recording Rose’s speculative interpretation on why Bhimsen Thapa and his high officials were meeting the Resident almost daily and making these novel proposals to him, including linking the presence of the Chinese army in Tibet and Peking’s new hostile attitude, to the new positive turn in British-Nepal relations:
“At this point Kathmandu embarked on some intricate manoeuvres. Concern over Chinese intentions may to some extent have prompted the Darbar’s curious behaviour, but in the main, its motivation obviously had a different basis. Nepal hopes to exploit Calcutta's apprehensions regarding the presence of the Chinese army in Tibet to effect two basic objectives - the withdrawal of the British Resident at Kathmandu and the restoration of part or all of the territory lost in the Sugauli Treaty.” [Strategy for Survival, p91]
To support his view, Rose also draws particular attention to the words I have highlighted in the extract above. I will analyse the validity of his assessment after addressing what he identifies as Nepal’s twin objectives.
The Residency question
Nepal’s attempt to seek restoration of territory lost in the war will be dealt with in the next section of this article. This section deals with how China dealt with persistent requests from Nepal to persuade the British to step back from establishing a Resident in Kathmandu. Nepal had long resisted the appointment of a British representative in their capital but Article 8 of the Sugauli Treaty is very clear: “In order to secure and improve the relations of amity and peace hereby established between the two states, it is agreed that accredited ministers shall reside at the court of the other”.
The evidence from the files is that China did indicate to Nepal that it would try to achieve this aim. In a dispatch from Kathmandu, which reached Calcutta on Jan 11, 1817, Gardner wrote:
“A few days ago a letter was received by Bhimsen Thapa sent from the Lama at Lassa giving the people here hope that provided they continued as faithful tributaries to China the promises which Chuhonchoon made to the Nepalese leaders before they left Digurcha of obtaining the withdrawal of the Residency would be fulfilled and that the Lama had briefed the Chuonchoon to urge the matter with the British government. An answer was immediately sent by Bhimsen begging the Lama to continue his efforts.”
In the early part of this article, I quoted at length from a dispatch in this same file from Adam to Gardner of Sep 14, 1816, which indicated that if the Chinese had pushed hard enough the British were prepared to step back on the issue:
“The last observation points especially to the establishment of a British Residency permanently at Kathmandu, an arrangement which as indicating an extreme intimacy between the British government and a State considered by the Chinese as one of their own feudatories, may vary naturally have given umbrage to them. Whatever convenience and advantage the maintenance of that establishment would produce, it would not be expedient to risk for those comparatively unimportant objects the great interests involved in our relations with the Empire of China and His Lordship in Council would be prepared as soon as the questions at present pending with the Nepalese are adjusted to withdraw the Residency at that Court, if its maintenance should really appear to have the effect here supposed.”
With his access to Chinese sources, Mosca gives a more comprehensive account of the machinations which led to a decision by the Chinese not to force the issue:
“A sustained push towards Kathmandu early in 1816 brought the Gurkhas to terms, and the treaty was ratified on March 4, 1816. From the Qing perspective, this settlement contained only one sticking point. On the Indian subcontinent the British had used residents, permanent British agents, to supervise and often undermine Indian states. Aware of this, the Gurkhas hoped to escape the British residency stipulated by the peace treaty. To this end they systematically attempted to convince the British deputation supervising post war developments in Nepal that the Qing government resented the residency clause. Confused about why Saicungga was advancing towards the Nepali frontier, the British were also apprehensive about this issue. Their policy aimed at “the avoidance of any engagement with the Nepalese or any other measure that might embroil us with, or even give umbrage to, the Chinese, and there were even willing to relinquish the residency for the greater objects involved in the maintenance of pacific and friendly relations with China. However, they were prepared to do so only as a last resort, if Qing officials positively insisted on it.
Faced with these competing statements, Saicungga reluctantly found himself forced to arbitrate between the Pileng and the Gurkhas. In his first reply to the Qing imperial commissioner, the Governor General pointed out that exchanging Residents allowed better communication and a more solid peace. For their part, a Gurkha agent informed Saicungga in early October 1816 that they feared the Resident would seize Kathmandu and asked the Qing to force him out. Saicungga refused to help the Gurkha renege on their agreement and cited the Pileng claim that Residents were a means to keep the peace. To the Pileng leader, however, Saicungga replied that an envoy would promote peace only if willingly received and that given objections it might be better to show good faith and withdraw him. In February 1817 the British agreed to withdraw their resident if the Qing would send an agent to Kathmandu and mediate future disputes. Ambans Xi-ming and Ke-shi-ke replied that the Qing had many subject tribes but had never sent a permanent agent to any of them. They added that, we expect that you Pileng, who often trade at Guangzhou and have long been acquainted with imperial prestige, must naturally be well acquainted with fundamental Qing policies. This reply made no further mention of withdrawing the Resident and the matter was dropped.” [p.182-183]
The assessment basically accords with the British records but as indicated in the extract from the relevant file in the British Library, the Chinese request was very weakly expressed. This must have increased British confidence that it could be safely ignored. In his book, Rose reports on the key part of the letter as follows:
“The Chinese commander, however, did finally write to Calcutta that, ‘in consideration of the ties of friendship’ between China and India, “it would be better and we should be inexpressibly grateful” if the British withdrew their Resident from Nepal.” [p.93]
Lamb is even briefer:
“The Chinese seem to have admitted that they had no grounds for intervention in the relations between the Company and Nepal, though they did request politely, and in vain, for the withdrawal of the Kathmandu residency, ‘out of kindness towards us and in consideration of the ties of friendship”.[p.36]
The obvious incoherence in the otherwise excellent written English of these two respected historians stems from the fact that the words in the British Library file on this point are barely legible. However, I have examined the images of them on my computer and I can assure readers that H.T. Prinsep, writing in 1825, less than 10 years after the events described, clearly had access to a much clearer copy of the letter from the Chinese General:
"You mention that you have stationed a Vakeel in Nipal. This is a matter of no con-sequence: but as the Raja, from his youth and inexperience, and from the novelty of the thing, has imbibed some suspicions, if you would, out of kindness towards us, and in consideration of the ties of friendship, withdraw your Vakeel from thence, it would be better, and we should feel very much obliged to you." [History of the Political and Military Transections in India during the Administration of the Marquis of Hastings 1815-1823 by H.T. Prinsep. Vol 1, p.213]
This very roughly echoes the translation which Mosca offers from Chinese sources: “Saicungga refused to help the Gurkhas renege on their agreement and cited the Pileng claim that Residents were a means to keep the peace. To the Pileng leader, however, Saicungga replied that an envoy would promote peace only if willingly received and that given objections it might be better to show good faith and withdraw him.” [p.183]
The file references quoted by Rose support Mosca that, “In February 1817 the British agreed to withdraw their resident if the Qing would send an agent to Kathmandu and mediate future disputes, but this was not a solution that was acceptable to the Qing empire for the reasons given. So, the matter was dropped and Nepal had to live with what was stated in Article 6 of the Sugauli Treaty.” [p.183]
The territorial question
If attempts to achieve the first objective of what Rose describes as Nepal’s intricate manoeuvres ended in total failure, did Nepal do any better in its efforts to achieve the recovery of lost territory?
It is clear from the extracts given below from one of Gardner’s dispatches to John Adam that tied in with requests seeking British guidance and support, the Gorkha courtiers had their eyes firmly fixed on seeking some restoration of part or all of the territory lost under the Sugauli Treaty:
“In the course of this conference Gujraj alluded occasionally to the intended arrangement regarding the Tarai and expressed, or rather hinted at, the willingness of the Raja to abide entirely by the liberality of the British government in the execution of it. I suspect however they are not fully satisfied with the extent of territory proposed to be restored to them but I did not at all enter on the discussion of this matter…
…In dwelling upon the support the Durbar was solicitous of receiving from the British government, Gujra Misra connected in a manner with this question the arrangement which had been prepared regarding the Tarrai which, with many expressions of the liberality of the British government and the willingness of the Rajah to abide entirely by its generosity, he said was not considered as adequate to the relinquishment of the two lakhs of rupees, as the Jumma or annual revenue derived from a portion of the lowlands which would revert to them, under the proposed terms, could not be estimated to exceed 50,000 Rupees, if so much. Bhimsen as the Minister, he remarked, would draw upon himself considerable odium and incur the ill will of the Baradars, should he consent to deprive them of the pensions that had been stipulated for in their favour for so small an acquisition to the State and he hinted that if, as I had repeatedly stated, the reversion of that portion of the Tarrai was granted as a boon and not as a computation for the pensions records [in which light however they confessed they received it] that they would be happy to take it as such and receive the amount of pensions or also that they would take it as a valuation to be deducted from the amount of the two lacs of Rupees.
Understandably, Gardner records that:
“I, of course, informed them but I was not at liberty to receive any proposition of such a nature and which I was somewhat surprised at their making, as it had been understood that their Government had felt a repugnance to benefit by the Stipulation in question and that in consequence the arrangement for the restitution of the portion of the Tarai had originated entirely with a view of meeting the wishes of the Raja as had been expressed indeed on that head.”
On this point it is pertinent to stress that in all the material I have consulted for this article I have failed to find any evidence of interest from China to help Nepal recover territory despite all the vehement pleas that were made. Nor did I find any indication that the EIC ever considered returning territory as a direct consequence of Nepal’s requests to it for help and guidance in dealing with the arrival of the Chinese military force in Tibet but it is worth noting, quoting from John Whelpton’s, A History of Nepal, p.43, that:
“With considerable skill, Bhimsen Thapa managed within one year to negotiate an improvement in the peace terms. Rather than pay pensions to the Nepalese bharadars who had held land assignments in the Tarai, the British agreed to return to Nepal the central and eastern Tarai, though not the far western section [ie, the present-day districts of Kanchanpur, Kailali, Banke and Bardyia] which had already been gifted to the Kingdom of Oudh]
The motivation behind Nepal’s ‘intricate manoeuvres’?
To quote Rose’s assessment: Concern over Chinese intentions may to some extent have prompted the Darbar’s curious behaviour, but in the main, its motivation obviously had a different basis.
I would put it a lot stronger than, “may to some extent.” Bhimsen Thapa and his senior people would have had very clear and searing memories of the succession of battles lost to the Manchu army in the 1792 campaign and this was bound to have had an influence on how they assessed the threat posed by the arrival of the Chinese force on the Nepali frontier in 1816, and particularly given the initial aggressive utterances of its senior commander. The Nepalis are right to draw attention to their army’s very impressive stand at Betrawati which prevented the Manchu army from marching into Kathmandu but a close study of the war reveals many Manchu victories in the campaign before that point. In 1792, Manchu military power was at its peak and had a succession of successful campaigns throughout Asia to demonstrate that it was an army to be reckoned with. Some of its highly experienced elite units were a match for anyone.
For various reasons Manchu military power was starting to wane by the time of the Anglo-Nepal War but Gorkha was not to know that. The Gorkha army had just suffered a series of heavy losses at the hands of the EIC forces and had just signed a humiliating peace treaty when news of the arrival of the Manchu force under its experienced senior commanders reached Kathmandu. It is inconceivable that Bhimsen Thapa and his experienced commanders would have received news of this new threat with equanimity. They would have been very concerned.
Clearly and understandably, the Gorkhas saw an opportunity to turn this new threat into an opportunity to engage British support and gain British concessions, but their efforts failed mainly because the Chinese quickly saw through their patent lies about British intentions. In the battle for the emperor’s ear, they lost.
The Chinese response to the Governor General’s letter dated, August 3, 1816 effectively closed the issue and was a prelude to the withdrawal of the Chinese army. Below, in a footnote to the article, is the key part of the letter, transcribed by me.
To the victor the spoils
Nepal’s extensive efforts to engage China to persuade the British to undo some of the painful concessions it was forced to make in signing the Sugauli Treaty came to naught and, as was the case with its pleas for help during the war, it found out the hard way just how limited and restricted were China views on the obligations it owed its vassals. Gorkha never understood or accepted the Qing view that its tributary relationship had nothing to do with seeing Nepal as a strategic partner. In its many petitions Nepal persisted in asking for help on the erroneous basis that by playing its part in protecting the emperor and his domain it was entitled in return to be given protection and material aid; hence their invariable cursory dismissal. The Qing had a diametrically different view. They saw tribute as exclusively bilateral; provided it was submitted on time, it would never limit its agreements with other states nor support them in their quarrels. Such an interpretation was anathema to Gorkha and it suffered accordingly.
It was a very different story for the EIC. Despite doubts expressed within the Company before and during the War, Lord Moira was able to claim, based on its outcome, that the fears expressed beforehand had not materialised, and that the successes were considerable and of potentially great benefit to the Company; most notably, in many of his letters, he highlighted the great benefits which would come from having uninterrupted access to trade across Lipu Lekh. The extensive interactions between the Company and the Qing administration triggered, after the signing of the peace treaty, by the false allegations made by the Gorkha leaders, strengthened all the gains made, including confirmation that China accepted the borders agreed in the Sugauli Treaty as they affected China. Most notably, the calculation made that China would not react to the Company’s acquisition of Garhwal and Kumaon as those territories did not form part of Nepal as understood in the 1792 Sino-Nepalese treaty, proved correct. In this regard, it is striking, how China, much to Nepal’s strongly expressed frustration, and despite having many border disputes of its own with India, has never uttered a single word of support for Nepal’s recent claim to the Limpiyadhura area.
Another significant EIC gain, made as a result of the actions which took place after the signing of the peace treaty, was the strengthening of the Company’s position in Sikkim to the detriment of Nepal. During the war, it was decided that to prevent further Gorkha expansion in the British sphere Nepal should be surrounded on three sides by territory under British control or protection. In this policy, Sikkim played a crucial part. The Treaty of Titalia, which was negotiated by Captain Barre Latter in February 1817, guaranteed the security of Sikkim by the British and returned Sikkimese land annexed by the Nepalis over the centuries. In return, the British were given trading rights and rights of passage up to the Tibetan frontier, a long-held aspiration by the EIC. Lamb records that Lord Moira rightly considered the establishment of relations with this small state to have been something of a diplomatic triumph “which we never could have imposed by force of arms from the extreme difficulty of the country.’’ [Lamb, p.39]
A further gain for the EIC which followed from Nepal’s machinations after the signing of the Sugauli Treaty was confirmation of China’s acquiescence to Britain establishing a Resident in Kathmandu. This removed the worry that Nepal’s continuing status as a vassal of the Qing emperor gave it some special protection from British interference particularly in its external affairs. The consequence was that Britain saw itself more empowered than ever to interfere in relations between Tibet, Nepal and China, most usually working with Nepal to weaken Tibetan control and influence. The most glaring and nefarious example of this cooperation was when Britain and Nepal worked together to justify the 1904 invasion of Tibet, the main result of which was to strengthen Chinese influence in Tibet. Kanchanmoy Mojumdar’s book, “Political Relations Between India and Nepal 1877-1923” contains many other examples of such cooperation. In the first article of my Rana trilogy, ‘Ranas and Gongs’ I give this example from the book:
“At this time, British officials were trying to get Chandra Shumshere to negotiate a new treaty that would recognize Britain as the sole power to negotiate on Nepal’s behalf with Tibet, China, Bhutan, and Sikkim. In return, Britain would guarantee Nepal’s territorial integrity. Chandra had hinted to Manners-Smith [the Resident] that he would be interested in such a treaty. The British were also interested but were cautious about the commitments Chandra would inevitably insist on in return. Both sides were driven by apprehension over China’s attempt at the time to strengthen control over Tibetan affairs. (For full details of the various machinations that went on over this “new treaty”, see Chapter 6 of Kanchanmoy Mojumdar’s book).
The Amherst-led Embassy to Peking
Finally, a brief word on the Amherst-led Embassy to Peking. Amherst and his entourage arrived in the city on August 29, 1816, but a meeting with the emperor did not take place because of his refusal to kowtow. Despite this setback, the extensive interactions between the Company and the Qing administration which followed the deployment of a military force into Tibet, had no impact on the trade through Canton. There were continuing administrative challenges in Canton but, for the moment, the EIC continued to enjoy the rich profits of its exclusive control over the tea trade.
Amherst returned to Canton and set sail for England on January 21, 1817. On February 18, 1817, HMS Celeste, in the Straits of Gaspar in the Java Sea near the island of Pulu Leak, struck a submerged rock and sank. There was no loss of life. Lord Amherst was taken to Batavia aboard HM Brig Lyra. He arrived back in England on August 17, 1817. There are mixed reports on whether some of the expensive wines which must have been saved for the long return journey were recovered. For those interested, they are listed below the Footnote.
To the address of the Governor General forwarded by Capt Latter under his dispatch dated 13th of Dec 1916 and recorded on the proceedings of the Secret Department on 28th December 1816.
From Shree Chanchoon and Shree Chanchoon
From Shree Chanchoon, the principal Vizier and Shree Chanchoon
Received 21st December 1816
We had the honour to receive through the Rajah of Siccim your Lordship’s letter, dated 3rd August adverting to the firm friendship which has long existed between the two states explaining the true causes of the late War between the Gorkha Rajah and the British government with the circumstances which led to its continuance and to the ultimate conclusion of peace and stating that with a view to consolidate the friendship thus established Vakeels had been appointed respectively by each Government to reside at the Court of the other. We were highly gratified by the receipt of this letter. A translation of it having been prepared for our perusal we became acquainted with its contents from beginning to end. It fully satisfied us that the late war originated entirely in the misconduct of the government of the Gorkha Rajah. Indeed when the Gorkha Rajah sent an address to the Emperor calumniating your government by stating that you had asked for a passage to the Chinese Dominions through his territory holding out to him a promise of relief from the Tribute which he pays to China His Imperial Majesty who by God’s favour is well informed of the conduct and proceedings of all mankind reflecting upon the good faith and wisdom of the English constancy and the firm friendship and other cases which has so long subsisted between the two states to the benefit of the whole world placed no reliance whatsoever on that confounded representation. This is a most happy outcome for your government and subjects for which you ought to be thankful to God.
We have understood from your Lordship’s statement that links has been re-established between the British Government and the Gorkha Rajah. This is very right and proper. For the future let each government confine itself to its own boundaries directing its attention zealously towards the welfare of its own subjects. Manifest a sincere desire and let not there be any interruption of harmony. [IOR/P/BEN/SEC/286 dated Dec 23, 1816]
Wines and provisions carried by HMS Celeste on her journey to China
“Preparations of the HMS Alceste Reference to the nature of the provisions and stores brought on board the Alceste for the long voyage to China indicate the lifestyle of privileged guests on board an early nineteenth-century British man-of-war. Included among the wine and spirits were 120 dozen bottles of first growth Chateau Margaux Claret at a cost of £444, 132 dozen Chateau Lafitte at a cost of £488 and 126 dozen bottles of Chateau Latour at a cost of £466. Aperitifs and liqueurs consisted of 240 dozen bottles of Superior Port at a cost of £528, 240 dozen bottles of East India Madeira and 108 dozen bottles of Superior Sherry. White wines included 78 dozen bottles of Old Hock, 30 dozen bottles of Sparkling Champagne and other white wines. The wine bill alone cost the Company £5,163.17.00. Other stores included ‘120 Packages’ of cognac, Jamaica rum, brandy, Scotch whisky, cider and ‘Taunton Ale’ adding up to £5,710.6.8. Jams, jellies, preserved fruits, brandy fruits, raspberry vinegar and sundry confectionaries totalled £340.12.00. Dried fruits, chocolates, ‘Jordan’ almonds and 66 lbs of the ‘finest Louchong and Hyson Teas’ were included as well as ‘12 Canisters of Oatmeal, Groats & Pease’ (BL IOR MSS EUR F 140/36). Spices and herbs were also loaded on board, as well as oils, sugar, vinegars, anchovies, caviar, pickles, cheeses, hams, pickled tongues, ‘truffles and morsels’ and crates of beef.” (BL IOR MSS EUR F 140/36).
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