Thursday, April 03, 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 these 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.

The reason Hudleston was there is quite complicated, a consequence of British imperial shenanigans.
Sikkim came to the attention of the British Raj as a consequence of expansionist Nepalese policies which in 1814 led to war between the two countries leading to the defeat of the Nepalis in 1816. In 1817 Britain signed the treaty of Titalia which restored to Sikkim various territories previously seized by the Nepalis. The treaty had a secondary purpose of establishing Britain as Sikkim's protector. During this conflict the British became interested in acquiring the province of Darjeeling both as a hill resort and an outpost from where Tibet and Sikkim would be easily accessible for trade and following a lot of pressure the Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal gifted Darjeeling to British India in 1835 in return for an annual subsidy. However, relations between the two countries rapidly deteriorated. The subsidy was not paid and many people left Sikkim to seek work in British Darjeeing thereby threatening the feudal lords in Sikkim who resorted to forcibly getting the migrants back to Sikkim. This annoyed the British who considered these as acts of kidnap. 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 of detention the Brits sent an expedition in February 1850, stopped the subsidy to the Maharaja and annexed Darjeeling and a great portion of Sikkim. The Maharaja proceeded to attack British territory and in 1860 and 1861 the British sent further expeditions that seized the capital Tumlong. Continuing differences between the native Sikkim and Nepalese settlers led to further British intervention. The settlement foisted on the Maharaja 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 a 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 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.