Anglo-Nepal War

Anglo-Nepal War
   A conflict between the British East India Company and the Gurkhas, also spelled Gorkha, the ruling ethnic group of Nepal, and sometimes referred to as the Gurkha War. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, the Gorkha Kingdom, after establishing its sway over Nepal, began to expand in Terai and Uttaranchal regions. This brought it in conflict with East India Company, the paramount power of the subcontinent. The war started in November 1814, when the Company launched four columns into Nepal. Major-General David Ochterlony’s column from Ludhiana and Major-General Robert Rollo Gillespie’s contingent from Saharanpur attempted to encircle the Gurkha Army. Meanwhile Marley and John Wood’s columns from Patna and Gorakhpur advanced toward the Gurkha capital Kathmandu. Marley and Wood’s column were unsuccessful and had to turn back. Between November 1814 and January 1815, Wood’s contingent was held up at Gorakhpur because of the lack of transport, supplies, and fear of the Gurkhas. Gillespie was ordered to occupy Dehra Dun and besiege Jaithak. On October 31, 1814, Gillespie died during the assault on the fort of Nalapani, situated five miles from Dehra and garrisoned by 600 soldiers under Balabhadra Singh. The company’s infantry, operating in line formation and practicing volley firing, did not prove to be suitable in hilly terrain covered with forest. Also, the sepoys of the Bengal Army had no training in mountain warfare.
   The Gurkha defense system was based on a series of hill forts and stockades. From the stockades constructed of wood and stones amidst the slopes of hills, the Gurkhas, under Amar Singh Thapa and Ranjor Singh Thapa, obstructed the passage of company soldiers. Most of the forts were constructed on the spurs of the hills, which could be reached only through narrow, winding, steep rocky paths. Artillery support for blasting the stockades and the hill forts was not easily available. In the roadless Himalayan terrain, the British found it almost impossible to bring the heavy guns drawn by bullocks and elephants into action. Streams, jungles, and mountains obstructed the deployment of even gallopers’ guns drawn by horses. Because of the lack of flat plains, there was no room for the company’s cavalry to deploy and maneuver. So the company recruited 4,000 irregular Rohilla infantry armed with matchlocks from Rohilkhand. The British used the Rohilla light infantry as skirmishers and sharpshooters. They were encouraged to use their initiative to take aimed shots at the enemy soldiers.
   The mobilization of enormous military and financial assets by the company enabled it to gain some success. By February 1815, the company had deployed 19,000 British troops and 30,000 sepoys. For supplying the troops in the hill, 75,000 porters were employed for seven months. Between October 1814 and April 30, 1815, the commissariat paid 392,410 rupees as wages to the coolies. Ochterlony’s occupation of the Malaun hill fort in May 1815, and his victory at Makwanpur in February 1816, forced the Kathmandu government to sue for peace. The company’s battle casualties were 3,000 and another 2,000 were lost as a result of sickness and desertion. At the conclusion of the war the company and the Gurkha Kingdom signed the Treaty of Saguli. Under the terms of the treaty, the Gurkha Kingdom retained its autonomy in internal administration; however, the Company acquired the right to conduct Nepal’s foreign policy. Moreover, the company annexed Kumaun, Garhwal, Terai, and Dooars regions from the Gurkha Kingdom. In the course of the war, the British officers were impressed by the Gurkha soldiers’ ability to take advantage of the terrain to ambush the company’s infantry marching in rigid formation. Hence, after 1816 the Company raised several Gurkha infantry battalions from the Magars and Gurung tribes of central Nepal.
    Great Britain, Ministry of Defence. Nepal and the Gurkhas. London: HMSO, 1965;
    Tuker, Francis Ivan Simms. Gorkha: The Story of the Gurkhas of Nepal. London: Constable, 1957.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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