Fires and Urban Planning in Yangon (1841-1857) – 1/ Fire in 1841: King Tharrawaddy’s Replanning and New Fort City

A series of fires happened in Yangon (Rangoon) between 1841 and 1857, which affected the city’s urban planning and development in respective contexts. Different sources were referenced to comprehend the written narratives on fires and their influences. Fires happened in 1841, 1852, 1855 and 1857 are noted.

For the fire in 1841, instead of repairing the stockades in Yangon, replanning and construction of a new fort city inland was decided by King Tharrawaddy. Yangon was positioned for mainly commerce, with slow reconstruction of houses due to uncertainties.

The fire was situated after the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, when Rangoon was returned to the Burmese after the First Anglo-Burmese War. Although the cause of fire is missed from both sources, similar narratives on its effects on the post-war development of the city are seen. It can be understood that the fire in 1841 led King Tharrawaddy to evaluate the role of Yangon, as built by King Alaungpaya in 1755. In the view of defence, it was decided by the King to relocate fortification and build a new city away from the river near Shwedagon Pagoda. The new fort city named Aung nye aung bnin1, was surrounded by a bund but with stockades unbuilt, where officials moved to reside. Alaungpaya’s Yangon remained a trading port for commerce and industry. Considering the collapsed houses, reconstruction was postponed by an uncertainty of removal of the town.


‘On the 8th February 1841, a disastrous fire occurred which destroyed many houses and a part of the stockade around the Fort, but no attempt was made to restore the defences. “The portion of the stockade then burnt down remains in that state and I am not aware of orders regarding it having yet arrived”, Brown reported. “The impression that the town might be entirely removed by order from Court has hitherto deterred many from rebuilding their houses, and intelligence has just been received that orders are on the way to the effect that the houses which were burnt are only to be repaired in a temporary manner in order that the loss to the owners may not be so great in the event of the removal of the town, of the propriety of which measure His Majesty will judge when he arrives here.” ’

(Pearn, 1939, p.152)

‘It had been established by the events of that year that Alaungpaya’s Rangoon, close to the River, could not be defended against an invader coming from the sea. It was useless to attempt to restore the defences of the town which had quite properly been allowed to fall into decay once more. A new town in a stronger position, out of range from the River, guarded by fortifications not easily taken, was called for.’  

(Pearn, 1939, p.153)

‘It was returned it to the Burmese as part of the Treaty of Yandabo after the war, but destroyed a few years later, in 1841, by a devastating fire. When King Tharrawaddy arrived and rebuilt the city, he relocated the fortifications back to Dagon, 3 kilometers inland around the Shwedagon Pagoda, using the pagoda hill to afford greater defence for a new walled city.’

(Ware, 2016, p.31)


1. Bertie Reginald Pearn, History of Rangoon (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), p.154.

Bibliography

Pearn, Bertie Reginald. History of Rangoon. (Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1939).

Ware, Anthony. “Religion and Urbanism in Origin of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar/Burma: An urban history of religious space, social integration and marginalisation in colonial Rangoon after 1852.” In Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualising sustainable cities for South Asia, 27-45. (Oxon: Routledge, 2016).

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