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CRAWFURD'S EMBASSY TO Ava.*
The most remarkable circumstance, perhaps, connected with the history of the Burmese, is our extraordinary ignorance respecting them. Excepting the singular tribes inhabiting Tibet, there is no portion of the population of Asia about which our notions are more crude, vague, and unsatisfactory, although they inhabit a country bordering upon our own territories, and into which it does not appear peculiarly difficult for a traveller to penetrate. The attempts, however, which have hitherto been made to obtain precise information on the manners, customs, and opinions that prevail in Ava, and the neighbouring countries, have been exceedingly few, and their history is imperfect and obscure.
Before we examine the work of Mr. Crawfurd now before us, it may not perhaps be uninteresting to trace a slight sketch of the history of the intercourse of European nations, or rather of European travellers, with the Burmese, Peguans, Siamese, and the other nations of India bevond the Ganges. Among the earliest voyagers who visited these countries, was Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, wbo was born of obscure parents at Menteinar Velho, near Coimbra, about the year 1509. His early adventures, having no relation to the countries of which we are now treating, we shall pass over, merely observing, that having been taken prisoner by Corsairs at a very early age, and undergone numerous hardships, he embarked for the East, and arrived at Diu in the year 1537. India was at this period over-run by Portuguese adventurers, who, like Mendez Pinto, had their fortunes to carve out for themselves, and were not extremely delicate about the mode of effecting it. Arriving with Pedro de Faria, Captain-General of Malacca, in Trans-Gangetic India, Pinto was dispatched as an ambassador into the interior, to conclude treaties with the Native princes, and also to observe their weakness and the nakedness of the land. Pinto, like many others, was unfortunate in these expeditions, and returned to his countrymen poorer than he went. To repair this misfortune he became a pirate, and after a series of extraordinary adventures, among which the most singular was an attempt to plunder the tombs of the Chinese kings on a solitary island in the Gulf of Peking, he returned westward, and visited the kingdom of Ava, of which he has left a curious account in his travels. He afterwards joined Francis Xavier in his mission to Japan ; and accompanied that celebrated man until his death. Mr. Crawfurd considers his account of the
Journal of an Embassy from the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava, in the year 1827, by John Crawfurd, Esq. F.R.S. F.L.S. F.G.S. &c., late Envoy. With an Appendix, containing a Description of Fossil Remains, by Professor Buckland, and Mr. Clift. Colburn. London, 1828. events which occurred during his visit to tbe Burman empire, as exaggerated and unfaithful ; but others, though allowing that his relations, being written from memory, are inexact and somewhat embellished, place considerable reliance upon his testimony.
The next European who visited Ava, or, at least, compiled an account of the country, was Gaspard Balbi, a Venetian, and, like Chardin and Tavernier, a jeweller by profession. He travelled with commercial views into the East, in 1579, and remained there nine years; and on his return to Europe, in 1588, published, under the title of · Viaggio delle Indie Orientali,' a very exact account of the various countries which he had visited. This work, says M. Gingnené, was inserted by the De Brys, in their collection of Travels in the East,' in seven volumes, published at Frankfort in 1606.
Balbi was succeeded by Ralph Fitch, an English merchant, who travelled in the East from the year 1583 to the year 1591. Like a genuine traveller, he was seduced into his adventures by the mere desire of seeing strange countries and manners; and he was fortunate enough to find several of his countrymen who were actuated by the same desires. They set out, in the first instance, for Tripoli, in Syria, passed into Mesopotamia, descended the Euphrates, and then embarked for the island of Ormus. Passing from thence to Hindoostan, and remaining some time at Goa for commercial purposes, where they were imprisoned and persecuted by the Jesuits, they at length exchanged their nioney for pearls, and fled farther towards the East. Crossing the peninsula from the western to the eastern coast, and losing two of their companions by the way, one of them having changed his religion and deserted them at Goa, and the other entering into the service of the Rajah of Futtepoor, they at length reached the Ganges, and embarked for Pegu in 1586. Ascending the principal river of the country, they arrived at a large city, which at that period was much frequented by the Chinese; and afterwards visited the place whence rubies, sapphires, and other precious stones are obtained. He returned to England in the April of 1591, and compiled an account of his travels, which Mr. Crawfurd, who has trodden part of the same ground, pronounces to be ' surprisingly accurate and faithful.' The work is contained both in Hackluyt's and in Purcha's Collections; and M. Eyries, a competent authority, remarks, that it is still read with pleasure and interest, because it contains many curious particulars respecting the countries visited by the author.
In 1695, Ava was visited by an embassy from the Governor of Madras. This embassy was conducted by a Mr. Edward Fleetwood, who, from various circumstances, appears to have been well calculated for the post he occupied. Mr. Crawfurd has given two or three curious and characteristic extracts from his relation. The next account of the Burman dominions occurs in ‘Hamilton's New Account of the East Indies ;' but in interest and value it is far in
ferior to Fitch's narrative, written one hundred and twenty-three years earlier.
As we approach more nearly to our own times, our accounts become proportionably scanty and uninteresting. In the year 1755, while a fierce war was raging between the Burmese and Peguans, Captain Robert Baker, the commander of an East Indiaman, was sent by the Company on an embassy to the Court of Ava, at the time when Alompra was seated on the throne. The Company's ambassador was not surrounded, on this occasion, by much of that pomp and circumstance which Orientals require ; but he was not on that account ill received. His presents, however, were mean and scanty; but, on the other hand, his prostrations and politeness were profuse. These prostrations, he says, 'were performed on the knees, bowing the head three times low down, which was repeated three separate times, from the place where it was first began, to the palace steps.' From Captain Baker's account of his interview with Alompra, we discover that his Burman majesty was by no means disposed to underrate the merit of his own actions, or the strength of his country or armies.
Another embassy was sent to Alompra in 1757, three years before the death of that prince, froin the chief of Negrais. The ambassador on this occasion was a Lieutenant Lester, who, after expressing some little reluctance, complied with the usual etiquette of the Burman Court, and approached the sovereign on his knees. Alompra conversed for a considerable time with the envoy, partly on indifferent matters, and partly on his own achievements; and, having put himself into a good humour by boasting of his own mighty deeds, allowed the Company to reap the benefit of it by granting them the island of Negrais, with leave to build a factory at Bassein, and at the same time signing a favourable commercial treaty; which, as Mr. Crawfurd observes, was the last concession made to the English, through mere diplomatic agency, by any state to the east of the Bay of Bengal.
From this time until 1795, when the mission of Colonel Symes took place, a period of thirty-four years, we appear to have had little or no diplomatic intercourse with the Burman empire; in which a prophecy, of older date than the age of Alompra, existed, foretelling that the country would one day be overrun and subdued by white men. The mission of Colonel Symes was followed, in 1796, by that of Captain Cox, the narrative of which has only been recently published. In 1802, Colonel Symes went on a second mission to the Court of Ava, of which no account has hitherto appeared ; and, in 1809, Major Canning was entrusted with a mission to the same Court. Our next intercourse with the Burmese was such as war induces; and the mission of 1826, of which the narrative is now before us, brings down the history of our negociations with these barbarians to our own days.
Having thus presented the reader with a slight sketch of the history of our intercourse with the Burmese, from the earliest times down to the present, we shall endeavour to extract from Mr. Crawfurd such information respecting the country and its inhabitants, as appeared to be either new or interesting. Before we do this, however, we shall make one or two remarks upon the work itself. Mr. Crawfurd is already extensively known as the author of the “ History of the Indian Archipelago,' a work of much merit; and of 'An Account of an Embassy to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China.' The great fault of these two works, is prolixity, and want of method : words are multiplied without mercy, trivial circumstances are related with too much minuteness, and things naturally connected are separated in the description. The present work is still more faulty in these respects. At every page we experience the want of condensation; and are wearied with slight notices of subjects which should have been viewed in connexion, and described once for all. In one word, the book is too large, and too inartificially written. Notwithstanding this, however, it must be confessed to possess very considerable merit, as it contains information nowhere else to be met with, and many remarks upon Asiatic society, which are evidently the fruit of much learning and experience.
It would be tiresome and useless to follow the movements of the mission, which consisted of Mr. Crawfurd, Lieutenant Chester, Dr. Steward, Lieutenant Cox, Lieutenant de Montmorency, Mr. Judson (an American missionary), and Dr. Wallich, who was commissioned to examine the forests of Pegu and Ava. They left Rangoon in September, 1826, and sailed up the Irrawaddi to the capital, occasionally landing, and making excursions into the country. During these excursions, nothing beyond the mere exterior of things could be observed, and therefore we pass on at once to the capital, where leisure was obtained for conducting more lengthened investigations. The reception of the mission at Ava, was curious and characteristic.
* At noon (September 31) arrived at Ava, anchoring opposite to the house constructed for our reception. An Atwen-wun* came on board almost immediately, to compliment us, and attend us ashore to our house, where a Vungyi was ready to receive us. The Atwen-wun in question proved to be Maung-pa-rauk, the same who had signed the treaty of Yandabo, but wbo now discharges the office of Kyi-wun, or Lord of the Granaries. Our party landed, and entered an inclosure formed by a bamboo railing. At the front gate of this we were met by the Wungyi Maung-lákaing, who handed me to a large temporary house in the centre of the inclosure, where chairs were ready for us. The conversation which ensued was not of a very interesting nature ; but, upon the
6* From Atwen, interior, and wun, a burden. The word may be translated Privy Counsellor; while the term Wungyi may be rendered Secretary of State.
part of the Burman chiefs, it was dictated by a spirit of conciliation and politeness. As usual, they inquired first after the health of the King of England, and of the Royal Family in general. On our side, we inquired after the health of his Burman Majesty, after that of the Queen, the young Prince, and the favourite Princess. Inquiries after the female branches of their families, it should be observed, are considered by the Burmans as marks of civility ; in which respect they differ entirely from the inhabitants of Hindostan and other countries of Western Asia, among whom such questions would be considered as betraying the utmost indelicacy. The Burman chiefs informed us, that “the glorious King," as they repeatedly called him, bad directed the house we were now in to be constructed for our accommodation; and that he desired we would be at our ease and happy, since friendship was restored between the two countries. They told us, that a guard of eighty men, twenty to each of the four gates of the inclosure, were appointed to keep the populace from intruding upon us. All this preparation was a show of keeping up the usage of the Burman Court, and indeed that of all the nations to the eastward of Hindostan,-of placing foreign ambassadors under a certain restraint, until a public presentation. This was intimated with much delicacy; and it seemed that the rule, in regard to us, was not to be much insisted upon. Maung-lá-kaing, so called from his estate, was the same Wungyi who signed the treaty of peace; and the choice of the two officers who brought this event about, seemed an indication of good feeling on the part of the Court, and was, at all events, certainly dictated by good taste. Maung-lá-kaing was a feeble-looking old man, and extremely emaciated. His manners were gentle, affable, and courteous. He told us his age, which was fifty-eight, although he seemed to us full seventy. He asked all of ours : there is no incivility in doing so among the Burmans; on the contrary, to question their new acquaintances respecting their age, implies that they take some interest in their welfare. After sitting for half an hour, the Burman chiefs left us, and we inspected our new habitation : it consisted of one large house in the centre, surrounded, at the distance of the railing, by five smaller ones, with a large open shed for the accommodation of the Burman officers and attendants ; these temporary dwellings were all raised, according to the custom of the country, on posts a foot high, and had bamboo floors, walls of plaited bamboo, and roofs thatched with grass. Some of us preferred continuing on board, but the younger members of the party took possession of the house; and I sent the European guard ashore, where their comfort could be more attended to.
• When we arrived, a great concourse of people, notwithstanding the attempts of the officers to keep them away, had crowded down to the bank to see the steam-vessel and the strangers. Their behaviour, as we passed through the crowd in landing, as well as