Dacoits, Meteorites, New of the Mutiny, & the ‘Buffalo Prince’: a Career in Burma

[Manuscript account of service to the Burma Commission in Burma, 1857-1860].

[N.p: written ca. May-June 1889].

Price: $6,500.00

About the item

Black ink on ruled notebook paper, 127 ff. / 254 pp., 30 to 32 lines per page, approx. 75,000 words, closely written on recto and verso. 1 vols. 8vo. Dacoits, Meteorites, New of the Mutiny, & the ‘Buffalo Prince’: a Career in Burma. Cloth boards. Front cover rubbed, spine ends worn, upper cover with vertical split, still holding. Internally fine. Black morocco backed slipcase and chemise.

Item #305377

A detailed and digressive retrospective account of the early years of the long service of Col. Alexander Gordon Duff (1828-1904) in Burma, composed in his retirement in the spring of 1889. Duff notes that he is reviewing his diaries while writing this account. Duff was a former officer of the Madras Native Infantry, and there is a great deal of whining about his misery while appointed to the Arrakan Hill Road, with detailed gossip on the failings of his superiors, including quite a damning verdict on Col. (later Sir) Arthur Phayre, who filled appointments “with the scum of the province”. He writes bluntly of the local military administration: “… the inefficiency of the instruments employed. Prominent in this respect was the Pegu Light Infantry which was simply instead of a disciplined body a disorganised rabble.” While rebellions inspired by the Mutiny were a constant fear, he was not concerned about the reliability of the native Police under his own supervision, but rather the possibility of contagion in districts with unreliable appointees.
Later, as he is more settled in his post, there is considerable detail of the work of the assistant commissioner in rural Burma, practical tasks such as regulation of fisheries and tax collection, the usefulness of knowing short cuts in river traffic, occasional mentions of shooting pheasant, peafowl and deer for the pot, as well as dealings with itinerant snake charmers, wild elephants, recurring fears of cholera, and a number of unusual incidents.
The memoir begins at the end of 1856, “I do not think there is much to tell of my last year at Tonghoo” [modern Taungoo]. He had been ordered down to Rangoon to await transport at the end of a year of “foreign service”. Upon his arrival in Rangoon, he shared lodgings with Quartermaster General Col. Farren, “in those days living in Burma was anything but luxurious, food was indifferent, butcher's meat was hardly to be had, green vegetables there were none, potatoes were a costly luxury”. Yet he did not want to return to India.
“I had got my name sent up to Sir Archibald Bogle, then Commissioner of Moulmein, as a student of Burmese and desirous of joining the Commission”. He was offered a job on the Arrakan Hill Road by Lieut. Forlong, who assured him there is no fever in the hills. This was a lie but “believing as I did in the lies he told me brought me all such good fortune as I ever experiened, and was in fact the turning point in my career.” 25 January 1857, a special messenger arrives with telegram from Forlong to Executive Engineer Ingram, that Duff was wanted by Sir Archibald Bogle at Moulmein; when he arrives at Kyaukpyu, he learns that the position has been filled and experiences deep disappointment. “I little dreamed that I should see it as Deputy Commissioner … where after more than 27 years wanderings my career in that service finally ended.”
May 1857, released from road service; in Rangoon, meets [Henry Tristram] O’Reilly who had been Deputy Commissioner at Tonghoo, now Magistrate at Rangoon, “if I could pass the examination in Burmese he would give me the very first appointment that fell vacant.” When word reached Rangoon of the terrible events of the Mutiny, all European soldiers were ordered to return.
Duff received an appointment as an Extra Assistant Commissioner, with promise of the first promotion to Assistant Commissioner. Arrived at Prome (now Pyay) 4 July 1857, “matters had settled down a good deal though dacoity was still unpleasantly prevalent. There were no Europeans in the place except the officials who consisted of the Deputy Commissioner Major Grant Allan, the Asst. Capt. [A.R.] MacMahon, the Extra Asst., myself, the Civil Surgeon … besides these there were two American missionaries of the lowest style of that class, i.e., men who while themselves destitute of any education themselves professed to be converting the heathen”
“When I arrived at Thayetmyo I found that the Police had just captured a man who was believed to be Nga Kyay the Murderer of Captain Latter” [in 1853]. November 1857, sent from Prome to the village of “Nyu Thein Kyoung”, in the center of the subdivision: “a military officer ought to be in charge of such a post”
An account of the loud noises heard early in the morning of 27 December 1857, and a visit to Quen-Gouk [modern Gyogon?], “the most northerly village of my jurisdiction” and the paddy field where the Quenggouk meteorite landed; it was dug out in fragments. “The paddy field was perfectly dry and the ground as hard as iron.” On 24 August 1858, while he is trying a case, an earthquake occurred, of magnitude sufficient to bring down the pagoda of Prome.
“Burma has been pre-eminently the land of mock princes — pinchbeck Perkin Warbecks — and however preposterous the story such an imposter tells …” As the local magistrate, he summoned one such Buffalo Prince and gave him a stern talking to; not long after, another Embryo Prince led a revolt in another province governed by an incompetent Phayre appointee and only the prompt arrival of the Magistrate of Rangoon, O’Reilly, with a force of 35 jail guards quelled the disturbance.
Summary of his work 1858: “I find that in criminal matters I tried 652 persons, recorded the depositions of 869 witnesses and passed orders on 1784 petitions. In civil matters I tried 121 suits and passed orders on 1081 petitions, all the above business being transacted in the Burmese language. Besides this I had to keep a variety of accounts and wrote 449 official letters in English.”
1859 opens with an account of the crimes and arrest of an outlaw named Shoay Goungalay, “who was a very daring Dacoit leader.” In August 1859 isoffered an appointment from Hopkinson, Commissioner of Moulmein as Superintendent of Forests in that division; already knew [Dietrich] Brandis then head of Forest Dept in Burma, subsequently chief of Deptartment for the whole of India; declines that offer; the flood in September 1859 came to within a foot of the floor of his “well-raised” house; receives from Phayre an offer to transfer to the Thayetmyo subdivision, accepted it and arrived there 5th October. In 1860, offered the post of Superintendant of Police of Prome District but apparently declined it; the year 1860 closes with a note about the valley of the Mahtoon “a pretty little river” running into the Irrawady. Duff retired in 1883 as Commissioner of the Tenasserim Division, completing 26 years as a civil servant in Burma, with 3 years in military dervice before that.