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Wednesday 2 April 2008

Fighting Tibet - Sikkim Field Force 1888

During the course of the 18th & 19th centuries British forces were almost constantly engaged in conflict somewhere on the planet, mostly in and around the periphery of the Indian sub-continent. A consequence of these obscure and long forgotten colonials wars is a sprinking of memorials to the sons of Cumbrian gentry who died in exotic and far flung places.

One such is at Greystoke - (I think! This picture was taken by a friend and we omitted to make a record of where). It commemorates Lieutenant Edmund Hudleston, Royal Artillery, 6th son of William Hudleston of Hutton John, who died in 1889 at Padong in the eastern Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, famous for the great peak of Kangenjunga.

Hudleston's death in Sikkim came towards the end of a century of British expansion in India, driven by a rapacious lust for profit and a constant search for security of its commercial interests. But how did Britain's Army get involved in Sikkim?

In 1814 expansionist Nepalese policies in the Himalayas led to war with the forces of British India. The Nepalese were defeated and in 1817 Britain signed the treaty of Titalia which restored to Sikkim various territories seized by the Nepalis and had a secondary purpose of effectively establishing Britain as Sikkim's protector. But the British had ulterior motives. They were interested in acquiring the province of Darjeeling, part of Sikkim, both as a hill resort and an outpost from where Tibet and the peoples of the Himalayas would be accessible for trade. Succumbing to pressure the Maharaja of Sikkim, Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal, ceded Darjeeling to British India in 1835 in return for an annual subsidy of some 6,000 rupees. However, relations between the two countries rapidly deteriorated. Many people left Sikkim to seek work in British Darjeeing, threatening the power of the feudal lords who resorted to forcibly returning the migrants, a policy which irritated the Brits. Further, in 1849 a certain Dr. Campbell, the Superintendent of Darjeeling and Dr. Hooker, a botanist, were captured and imprisoned. Though they were released after a month the Brit's patience snapped. In February 1850 a punitive expedition was sent into the Kingdom, the subsidy stopped and Darjeeling and a great portion of Sikkim formally annexed to the Crown.

In response to attacks on British territory further expeditions were sent into Sikkim in 1860 and 1861 that seized the capital Tumlong. Other British interventions to settle differences between the native Sikkim and Nepalese and the subsequent settlement foisted on Sikkim was perceived to favour the Nepalese and led to considerable anti-British feeling. The Maharaja, Thutob Namgyal, retreated to Chumbi.

Meanwhile the British were making concerted efforts to establish trade links with Tibet and a delegation led by Colman Macaulay, Financial Secretary to the Bengal Government of British India, was sent to Sikkim in 1884 to explore the possibility of establishing a trade route with Tibet through the Lachen Valley.

Road building undertaken by this mission was viewed with suspicion by Tibet and in 1886 some Tibetan militia occupied Lingtu in Sikkim near the Jelepla pass. In May 1888, the Tibetans attacked Gnathang below Jelepla but following the arrival of British reinforcements, including young Lt Hudleston, the Tibetans were pushed back.

Finally, in 1889, Claude White was appointed as the first political officer to the country and Chogyal Thutob Namgyal became a mere vassal of the Great White Queen. A further chunk of the world map went pink.

A memorial was built at Gnathang commemorating the British forces who died. If anyone is visiting Sikkim maybe they would get me a photo?


himalayanreview said...

i have heard about this place and i would definitely like to visit it.

himalayanreview said...

i have the