Fires and Urban Planning in Yangon (1841-1857) – 5/ Fires in 1841-1857: Destruction and (Re)construction

Fires as destruction to Yangon (Rangoon), happened between 1841 and 1857, led to various decision-makings upon the urban development of Yangon. The role for urban planning was by King Tharrawaddy and then by surgeon Dr William Montgomerie, engineer Lieutenant A. Fraser and Chief Commissioner Captain Arthur Purves Phayre on policies.

Yangon’s urban development was influenced in ways of construction of a new fort city in addition, ‘ab initio’ colonial urban planning, reconstruction during colonial development and law restriction on grass-thatch roofing. In 1841, the fire led King Tharrawaddy to evaluate the Yangon as city of defence as early-defined, and decided to replan and build a new city near the hill. In 1852, the fire in the Second Anglo-Burmese War burnt down traces of Yangon and colonial urban planning as ‘ab initio’ was rationalised. In 1855, set-back was brought to progress of the urban development of the colonial city and reconstruction was needed. In 1857, law against the employment of grass-thatch roofing was enforced. Although fire safety measures through urban planning were raised, including the width of main roads as firebreak and a water reserve for fire services, they were mostly executed in the civic and business area near the River only.

Despite the establishment of a permanent brigade in 1883 and a new fire station in 1884, fires continued to affect Yangon1. One could narrate this happening as a view on cities as destruction and (re)construction.

1. Bertie Reginald Pearn, History of Rangoon (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), p.264.


Baker, Thomas Turner. Recent Operations of the ‘British Forces at Rangoon and Martaban (1852). (London : Thomas Hatchard, 1852)

Htin Aung, Maung. A History of Burma. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967)

Laurie, William Ferguson Beatson. The Second Burmese War : A Narrative of the Operations at Rangoon, in 1852. (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1853). Reprint, Itineraria Asiatica. Burma ; v. 9. (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2002).
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).

1 Comment on “Fires and Urban Planning in Yangon (1841-1857) – 5/ Fires in 1841-1857: Destruction and (Re)construction

  1. Disasters trigger shifts of urban transformation, urban reconstruction and planning. You applied a plenty of archival materials to describe the four changes of town planning in Rangoon brought by conflagration. However, you could propose some questions to further the research and make your own analysis and arguments rather than just quotation. For example, what are the detailed background and impacts of these urban changes and their links? Why could British experts has the authority to locate a new urban planning? How did this new planning influence on the social environment? Moreover, to make the statement more clear and easier to understand, it is better for you to integrate your historical materials such as maps and images with the narratives.

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