Anglo-Nepalese war (1814-16) or the Gorkha war was fought between the kingdom of Nepal and British forces of the East India Company. The war ended with the Treaty of Sugauli (1816). Read here to learn about the significant events of the war.
The British East India Company (EIC) lost numerous battles against Nepalese Gurkhas during the Anglo-Nepalese War (also known as the Gurkha War, 1814–16).
But eventually the British prevailed in a bloody war that for the first time stretched EIC rule outside of India’s boundaries.
Since then, the British have enlisted the Gurkhas in their army after being impressed by their combat prowess.
Background: India and Nepal before the war
From the 1700s, through diplomacy and military conquest, the EIC kept growing.
- Throughout the three Anglo-Mysore Wars, Mysore suffered defeats (1767-1799).
- The three Anglo-Maratha Wars (1775–1819) against the Maratha Confederacy of Hindu kingdoms in central and northern India were intertwined with these battles.
Now that it controlled a sizable portion of India, the East India Company and its new governor-general, the Marquess of Hastings (in office from 1813 to 1823), turned their attention to the far north in search of fresh business prospects.
As a result, in April 1814, the EIC declared war on the monarchy and moved on to target Nepal thus beginning the Anglo-Nepalese War.
The Gurkha Kingdom in Nepal
The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, which had Kathmandu as its capital and the ferocious fighting Gurkhas (also known as Gorkhas), had long had disagreements with its neighbors.
In 1762, the Nawab of Bengal attempted to contain the growth of the Gurkhas but was soundly beaten at the Battle of Makwanpur.
The Shah era of Nepal began with the Gorkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah invading Kathmandu Valley.
By this time Kathmandu reigned over all of the region’s subdued hill lords in 1768, and the Gurkhas had finished subjugating the Nepal Valley.
Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-16)
The Nepalese were especially eager to expand into the southern border area, which at the time was governed by the state of Awadh (also known as Oudh), a protectorate of the EIC ever since it signed a contract of subsidiary alliance in 1801.
1814: Into the 19th century, the Gurkha raids into their southern neighbor’s territory were relentless. A small EIC force sent to better garrison the area was wiped out in April.
Hastings sent four separate armies into Nepal, but three of these columns were repeatedly defeated in several hard-fought encounters.
The Gurkha army only numbered between five and eight thousand men during the war, but crucially, they were fighting on familiar home territory.
One notable EIC loss was at the Battle of Jitgurh (aka Jit Gadhi) of 1814.
The terrain made it difficult for EIC armies to transport their artillery and give the general logistical support armies in the field needed.
The Gurkhas were fierce fighters above everything else.
- The kukri knife, which had a long, curved blade that resembled a machete and was used by the Gurkhas to infamously mutilate enemy bodies, was their most well-known weapon.
- It was useful for slashing and cutting through dense vegetation.
- The Nepalese had matchlock weapons as well.
- Guerrilla tactics were used by the Gurkhas to best take advantage of the challenging terrain of the mountains and forests.
1815: By this time, the British logistics were severely tested so far from their bases in Bengal. Hastings was obliged to send bigger and better-led armies to the frontier in a new round of fighting in 1815.
One notable British Commander, Sir Ochterlony began to reverse the trend of EIC losses. He besieged the major Gurkha fort of Malaon and captured Kumaun (Kumaon) in May 1815.
The EIC attempted to negotiate a peace settlement, but the Nepalese were not willing to give up territories or their independence and so decided to fight on.
The British through subterfuge used local smugglers as guides and bypassed the heavily fortified passes in the valley of Nepal to march the army.
1816: At the Battle of Makwanpur, Ochterlony orchestrated the most decisive EIC victory in Nepal.
More battles and sieges followed with Ochterlony taking the time to build roads to get his heavy cannons into better positions to blast the Gurkha forts.
The Nepalese eventually decided to initiate peace when Kathmandu came under direct threat from Ochterlony and was subjected to the constant campaigning of the EIC with its much superior resources, which allowed it to regularly replenish losses in material and manpower.
Treaty of Sugauli
The Kumaun and Garhwal kingdoms were among the territories that the Nepalese kings ceded to the EIC by the terms of the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli.
It also required them to have a permanent British resident at their court, withdraw from Sikkim, and cede a sizable portion of their territory.
In practice, Nepal became a protectorate of the British, but at least they were exempt from paying an annual subsidy to the EIC, unlike several princely states in India.
There were no further wars between Nepal and the EIC as a result of this treaty, in contrast to innumerable earlier agreements of this kind.
The aftermath of the Anglo-Nepalese war
The Gurkhas became valuable allies to the East India Company, for example, Gurkha battalions participated in the Sikh Wars and played an important part in the Company quashing the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857-8.
Gurkhas comprised about one-sixth of the British Indian Army by 1914.
- The Gurkhas were the first non-British soldiers to have the honor of defending Buckingham Palace, the London residence of the British royal family, due to their renown and reputation for fidelity.
The Nepalese, British, Indian, and Malaysian militaries all still use Gurkhas.
After the Nepalese war, the EIC next moved on to the northeast to fight the three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824-85) and to the northwest and the two Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-49).
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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