The Lonely Planet Guide of 2011 for Myanmar included an intriguing reference to some old British graves near an orphanage close to the banks of Lake Inle at a town called Maing Thauk, once the site of Fort Stedman, the British Headquarters for the Southern Shan states of Burma.
Lake Inle. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Britain’s Indian government had for some years been concerned by the close commercial relations developing between the French in Siam (modern Thailand) and the Burmese government under King Thibaw. This was the origin of the Third Burmese War which saw the capture of Mandalay in November 1885 and the formal annexation of Burma from 1st January 1886. Thereafter began the process of subduing the various hill tribes in the Shan states. Fort Stedman was established for this purpose in 1887. By 1889 the situation was sufficiently calm to focus more on the “Anglo-Siamese Boundary Commission” which by 1892 had established the frontier between Burma and Siam. I assumed that the graves would be linked to these events. The truth would be somewhat different.
Left: The stupas near the grave sites. Right: The graves of Major Edward Baynes Nixon, Commandant of the 3rd Burma Regiment, and Lieutenant Edmund Walter Jamieson. [Click on these images to enlarge them.]
In October 2012 we took a boat across the lake and, after 20 minutes walking, reached the orphanage expecting to find some graves nearby. But no villagers had any knowledge of graves until an elderly man beckoned us to follow. We went down a country lane, across a dried-up river bed, turned right up another path, scrambled up a steep bank and then waded through wet long grass as we approached a group of small Buddhist stupas on a hillside. For a moment I thought our guide had misinterpreted my crossed fingers and was leading us not to Christian graves but to the pagodas themselves. But suddenly he descended a steep bank and with a younger assistant began slashing at the shoulder-high grass with a stick. Suddenly a grave appeared and then a second.
It took some rubbing with leaves for the inscriptions to become visible but it was soon clear that the graves told a fascinating if tragic story. The first belonged to Major Edward Baynes Nixon, Commandant of the 3rd Burma Regiment, “cruelly murdered on 11th February 1891”. The second was to Lieutenant Edmund Walter Jamieson, the Adjutant of the same regiment, who died in the same incident “while arresting the murderer of his commanding officer”. Nixon was 42 and Jamieson just 28.
I guessed that this event would have made it into the British press at the time; but I was amazed how quickly news travelled from this remote outpost of empire. The report from The Times of London was carried in the British press only two days later, on 13th February. The details were sketchy but it was clear that Nixon and Jamieson had been killed by a Corporal (Naik) of their own regiment. Nixon had been shot dead in his house and Jamieson had died from his wounds a day later. Two other Indian soldiers (sepoys) had been killed by the same man.
The fuller story emerged a month later, on 18th March 1891, following a longer piece in the Rangoon Gazette . The young Corporal (a Pashtun from what is now the Pakistan/Afghan borderlands) was a great favourite in the regiment but was nursing a grudge at being passed over for promotion. Just before morning parade he called at Nixon’s house and asked for a word. He was admitted and shot Nixon dead before leaving the scene of the crime and hiding behind a pagoda further up the hill. Young Jamieson, on being told that his Commanding Officer had been shot, gathered some men and ran up the hill not realising that the Corporal was the offender. On asking the Corporal where the offender had gone he too was shot together with one of the Indian soldiers.
Clearly this was a melancholy event for the families. Edward Nixon’s grave mentions a “heartbroken wife”. This was Emily, his second wife and also his cousin, by whom he had an only son. Edward was from Fermanagh in Ireland but had been born in India and spent much of his life there. Edmund Jamieson was from the Isle of Man but unmarried.
Two details lend this story an additional poignancy. Firstly Nixon’s grave appears to be empty. In fact I nearly fell in as I recorded the details. The drop was at least 4 feet deep and I can only assume that the heavy monsoon rains or wild animals are responsible. Secondly it appears that Nixon was a truly remarkable man. In 1872 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal for saving an Indian soldier from drowning when fishing at a lake near Udaipur in Rajasthan. An article in The Times records that “Lieutenant Nixon plunged into the water and went to the rescue, disregarding the fact that the lake was as well stocked with alligators as with fish. After swimming about 70 yards he reached the drowning man in safety”. That, nearly 20 years later, he died at the hands of another soldier carries a particular irony.
I see from the internet that these graves were photographed by a traveller in 2007 but the abundant vegetation of the region is making them increasingly hard to find.
Frontier and Overseas Operations from India. volume 5 Burma. Simla: Government Press, 1907.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. Friday 13th February 1891.
Nottingham Evening Post. Wednesday 18th March 1891.
Register of King William College, Isle of Man, 1833-1904.
Swanzy, The Rev Henry. The families of French of Belturbet and Nixon of Fermanagh, and their descendants. Dublin: 1908.
The Times. LondonP: 5th April 1872
Last modified 27 September 2014