Major Campaigns 1800-1901
The role of the British army throughout the Century, apart from the major campaigns listed below, was one of civil policing both at home in the United Kingdom and abroad throughout Britain's numerous colonies.
There were, therefore, many thousands of minor skirmishes apart from the major events listed below.
1792-1802 The French Revolutionary Wars
1792-1802 The French Revolutionary Wars
(Tournai, Valmy, Jemappes, The Nile, The Pyramids, Marengo)
1798 Irish rebellion
1803-05 Second Anglo-Maratha War
1803-15 Napoleonic Wars
1806-07 British expedition to South America (Montevideo, Rio-de-la- Platte)
1807 Alexandria Expedition
1808-14 (Spanish) Peninsular War (Torres Vedras, Salamanca
Corunna, Talavera, Vitoria)
1812-1814 American War (New Orleans) - Treaty of Ghent
1814-1816 Nepal War (India)
1815 Napoleonic War (Waterloo) - Treaty of Vienna
1816-1818 Third Maratha War (India)
1819 Peterloo Massacre
1824-1826 First Anglo-Burmese War
1829 Policing duties transferred from army to new Civilian Police recruited by Robert Peel's ministry - "bobbies" or "peelers"
(1832 Parliamentary Reform Act in England)
(1833 Burgh Act in Scotland)
1837-38 Canadian Revolt
1839-1841 First Afghan War
1839-1842 First Opium War (China)
1843 Mahratta War
1845-1846 First Sikh War
1848-1849 Second Sikh War
1852-53 Second Anglo-Burmese War
1854-1856 Crimean War (Treaty of Paris 1856)
1856-1861 Second Opium War
1857-1858 Indian Mutiny
1860 China War
1868 Abyssinian Expedition
1878-80 Second Afghan War
1879 Zulu War (Rourke's Drift)
1879-82 Egyptian (Urabi) Revolt (Tel-el-Kebir, Kassassin)
1880-81 First Boer War (Mujaba Hill)
1884 First Egyptian (Nile) Expedition, Army of the Nile, Gen. Gordon, Fall of Khartoum
1885 Second Egyptian (Suakim) Expedition, the Mahdi.
1885-86 Third Anglo-Burmese War
1896-97 Matabele Insurection
1898 Sudan consolidated under Kitchener.
1899-1902 Second Boer War (Treaty of Vereeniging 1902)
The French Revolution of 1789 and, especially, the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793, alienated France from every country in Europe. Strong militia forces were conscripted by the French government and officered by experienced soldiers rather than the nobility, a high percentage of whom had been executed during the Reign of Terror.
"The French Revolution was to spread out from Paris across the whole of Europe. It gave rise to a generation of warfare, and its echoes reverberated long into the Nineteenth Century and afterwards." (Churchill, History of the English Speaking Peoples)
Seizing the initiative in 1792, France declared war on Austria and Prussia. The following year France declared war on Britain and the Dutch Republic. The French Revolutionary government of the "First Republic" conscripted 300,000 young men to serve in the army under command of Generals Dumouriez and Kellermann. Much of the initial fighting took place in Flanders (Belgium) but soon expanded to include the Italian states, Austria, the Americas (especially Louisiana) and the Middle East (especially Egypt, thereby threatening British interests in India).
The British contributed some 20,000 troops under command of the King's son, the Duke of York (and later commanded by King William III himself) to the Allied armies. These troops included many of the regiments which had formerly been raised to support William's claim to the English crown in the late 1680's.
The wars saw the promotion and rise to power of a young artillery subaltern, Napoleon Bonaparte.
The wars ended, albeit on a temporary basis, in 1802 with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens.
1798 The Irish Rebellion
Roman Catholic rebellion (often led by priests) against English rule in Ireland has been ongoing since Henry VIII established the Protestant Church of England. The situation was intensified by Oliver Cromwell's policy of "plantation" immigration. Consequently, British troops have maintained a permanent presence in Ireland known as the "Irish Establishment".
In 1798, the Roman Catholic Irish launched a vicious and bloody revolt under the leadership of John Holt, with tacit support from the French. The "Irish Establishment" troops were augmented with regiments from England and atrocities were committed by both sides, but more significantly by the British who raped, murdered and massacred civilians and combatants indiscriminately.
Although the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Vinegar Hill, resistance to British rule was to continue for 200 years.
1803 - 1805 Second Maratha War
Britain's East India Company, formed originally in the year 1600 as a 'Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies', expanded within the course of two centuries to become a huge organisation responsible for the government of large portions of the Indian sub-continent. They maintained their own army, mainly in the form of local troops serving under European officers.
When local rulers rebelled against East India Company policies, it was often necessary for the East India Company's troops to be augmented by British troops.
The major power in India apart from the East India Company was the Maratha Empire, which was, itself, subject to minor wars within various family groups. The first serious insurrection occurred in 1775-1782 and saw the East India Company defeated. Thereafter, the number of British, or 'King's', regiments stationed in India was increased.
Four British cavalry regiments and two British infantry regiments joined the East India Company's local troops to fight the Second Maratha War of 1803-1805, the outcome of which maintained the status quo in the region. (The British forces at the time were commanded by General Arthur Wellesley who would later become the Duke of Wellington).
1803 - 1815 Napoleonic Wars
(Austerlitz, Borodino, Salamanca, Trafalgar, Waterloo)
In 1789, the French people, supported by the bulk of the regular army, rose in revolt against the aristocracy. After a brief skirmish with troops loyal to King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette, a Republican government was established. Throughout these troubled times a junior army officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, rose through the ranks to lead the French army and, in 1804, Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France.
With an army of 300,000 (mainly conscripted) men, and by negotiating strategic alliances with Prussia and Russia, Bonaparte quickly establish an empire which stretched from East Prussia in the east to the Spanish Peninsular in the west, and the toe of Italy in the south to the English Channel in the north.
In 1804 it was only the English fleet which prevented an invasion of the British Isles.
1806-07 British expedition to South America
During the Napoleonic Wars, Spain was (officially, although there was some resistance amongst the population) allied with France, and it followed that Spanish imperial possessions were fair game for British aggression.
Attacks on Spain's South American colonies at Buenos Aires and Montevideo were led by General William Beresford and resulted in unmitigated disasters for which Beresford himself was held accountable by the British government.
1807 Alexandria Expedition
Seeing an opportunity for expansion, Turkey formed an alliance with France and assisted Napoleon Bonaparte in his invasion of Egypt in 1978. The French advance was initially successful and Bonaparte was negotiating with Indian Princes, such as Tipu Sultan, with regard to challenging the British hold on the Indian sub-continent.
The Alexandria Expedition, led by General Alexander Mackenzie-Fraser, was intended to undermine the French/Turkish hold on Egypt. In this they were not particularly successful.
1808 - 1814 (Spanish) Peninsular War
(Corunna, Talavera, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vitoria, Toulouse)
The British involvement in the struggle to defend Portugal, and later Spain, against French aggression and Bonaparte's imperialist policy is a story of remarkable tenacity and one of the longest, and most testing, campaigns ever waged by British troops.
There are fundamentally two parts to the campaign; in the first instance, Sir John Moore's efforts with a comparatively small army against large French forces between1808 and 1810, and secondly a larger army commanded by General Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, which was successful in driving the French from the Peninsular after three years of constant and often bitter fighting, between 1810 and 1814.
Had Bonaparte not chosen to invade Russia (with disastrous results) in 1812, with a consequent reduction in the support he could provide to his generals in Spain (notably Soult), Wellesley's task would have been considerably more difficult, if not impossible. As it was, French resistance over the four years was intense. Fighting in horrific conditions, especially in winter, the allied armies of Portugal and Britain, together with Spanish irregulars, forced the French over the Pyrenees and into their home country during the winter of 1814.
British troops finally entered Paris in April 1814, at which time an 'army of occupation' was established temporarily, and Bonaparte was sent into captivity on the island of Elba.
1812 - 1814 American War
(Lundy's Lane, New Orleans)
America's declaration of war against Britain was motivated and facilitated, to some extent, by the success of the French Revolution in Europe. America's government wanted to resolve some issues left unsettled after the War of Independence (1775–1783) and also wanted to take control of areas of Canada (if not the whole of North America).
An American invasion of Canada was repulsed and after two years of fighting, the war concluded with little practical change to the status quo. (The war is notable for the participation of native Americans on both sides, but especially fighting for the British.)
1814 - 1816 Nepal War (India)
The war was a consequence of the East India Company's expansion into the north west, particularly into the productive Kathmandu Valley region. After a bloody campaign, the East India Company was ultimately successful in their invasion.
The British were so impressed by the fighting qualities of the local Gorkha (Gurkha) tribesmen, however, that an alliance was formed with highly respected Gurkha regiments being incorporated into the British army.
1815 - Waterloo (Treaty of Vienna)
Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 saw the 'Grande Armee' virtually annihilated not by combat, but by attrition. Simultaneously, the British and their allies had defeated the French forces in Spain and occupied France, causing Napoleon to both abdicate (as Emperor) and sign a treaty of non-aggression at Fontainebleau (6th April 1814).
Bonaparte broke the treaty, however, and, supported by a wave of French nationalism, raised a new and powerful army in the early months of 1815. Taken somewhat by surprise, British and Prussian troops were rushed to France to meet the new threat. Bonaparte opened hostilities at the village of Quatre Bras on 16th June, 1815, at a time when the main body of the British army, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, was camped in and around Brussels. (Legend has it that many British officers were dancing at a ball on the evening of 16th).
The action at Quatre Bras was indecisive, and on 17th Wellington's main body of troops arrived. As thunderclouds formed in the sky, Vivian's Brigade engaged French Cuirassiers and Lancers who were advancing in the vanguard of Bonaparte's army. Judging that the French position was stronger than his own, Wellington ordered a withdrawal towards the village of Waterloo.
The British withdrawal was conducted in an orderly fashion and there were many significant engagements with a number charges and counter-charges by both the French and British cavalry. The Royal Horse Artillery galloped from one location to another (a difficult exercise when the roads were obstructed by infantry), unlimbering to fire and then relocating. Late in the afternoon, a heavy thunderstorm broke and the roads and fields became extremely muddy. As darkness fell, the entire British army bivouacked in open ground as the temperature dropped and rain continued to fall.
The Battle of Waterloo, one of the most important events in the history of Britain, began at 11am on Sunday, 18th June, and concluded at 11pm the same day with Bonaparte's troops defeated and retreating in disorder.
1816 - 1818 Third Maratha War (The Pindari War)
The (British) East India Company's power bases were historically at the ports - notably Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Madras (now Chennai) in the West and
Bombay (now Mumbai) in the East. Although the Company governed large areas of land, by far the major portion of the sub-continent was governed by local princes, often in conflict with each other as well as the Company.
The Maratha tribes, predominantly Hindu by religion, were the most predominant. They maintained large, well-armed armies often trained by European officers (especially French) and sometimes including European mercenaries. The Pindaris were a particularly warlike and aggressive faction who exhausted British patience to the point that the East India Company declared all-out war. By 1818 the entire Maratha nation was subdued and large tracts of land ceded to British control.
1819 Peterloo Massacre (Manchester)
On 16th August 1819 around 60,000 people gathered at St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester,
to rally for parliamentary reform. Shortly after the meeting began, a troop of Hussars and local yeomanry rode into the crowd, wielding clubs, swords and sabres, leaving 18 dead and more than 700 severely injured. In the following years, the Peterloo Massacre was the subject of several trials and inquiries. It now counts as one of the most significant events in the history of the British labour movement. Francis Archibald Bruton’s account of the day’s events, published for its centenary and based on a detailed examination of contemporary accounts, is both dispassionate and moving - (summary by Phil Benton).
1824 - 1826 First Burmese War
The East India Company's invasion of Burma in 1824 was little more than a greedy expansion of their territory in North East India with a view to increasing their influence and trade. Although, at first site, successful (in spite of heroic resistance from the Burmese people), the war was costly and caused economic problems for the British.
1829 Policing duties transferred from army to new Civilian Police recruited by Robert Peel's ministry.
In the years prior to 1829, the first action for a local (district) magistrate facing any sort of problem would be to call in the military, either regular soldiers if any were available, or the local militia, possibly yeomanry (amateur cavalry, similar to today's Army Reserve in the UK or the National Guard in the USA).
British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel established a civilian 'police force' of 1,000 men in London in 1829, and gradually civilian police were established throughout Great Britain, thereby relieving the Army from policing duties except in extreme cases.
1837-38 Canadian Revolt
(Dickinson's Landing, British North America Act)
Political unrest led to a revolt by Canadian citizens which was ruthlessly put down by the British, a number of Canadian leaders being executed. However, the revolt was ultimately successful in that British administration of the colony was revised by the British North America Act of 1840.
1839 - 1842 First Afghan War
For a comprehensive account of the British in invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 the author recommends the book Return of the King by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2013). Essentially, the British Governor in India, George Eden, Earl of Auckland, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to install a puppet monarch in response to an imagined (and totally unsubstantiated) threat from Russia. Entering unopposed, a subsequent revolt by the Afghan people saw the British defeated. In retreating from Kabul, the entire British contingent was annihilated in horrific circumstances. A second, punitive invasion was ordered under General Pollock. This invasion was successful, but British forces committed many shameful war crimes in retaliation for their previous losses.
1839 - 1842 First Opium War (Treaty of Nanking, ceding of Hong Kong)
To its everlasting shame, the East India Company encouraged the growing of opium poppies by Indian farmers (thereby causing a food crisis), and peddled the resulting drug for huge profits, selling opium especially into China. When Chinese authorities became concerned as to the number of addicts dependent on the drug, they restricted imports and, in consequence, Britain declared war citing 'free trade' as a reason.
The war, fought mainly by the Royal Navy, was a conclusive victory to the British who, as part of the settlement, obtained the island of Hong Kong.
1843 Maratha War (India)
(Gwalior Campaign, Maharajpore)
The Maratha tribes ruled huge tracts of India from 1674 and were in constant dispute with Britain's East India Company until they were finally defeated in 1818 (Third Maratha War). In 1843 the Maratha tribes rose again in revolt when the East India Company took control of still more land in the Punjab district, although the fighting was mainly in central India. Even in Britain the war was seen as a 'cynical and ignoble' grab for land by the East India Company.
Although the Marathas were defeated by East India Company troops augmented with 'King's troops', and the scene was set not only for further rebellion in the North East of India, but also the Mutiny which would follow in fourteen years' time.
1845-46 First Sikh War
(Mudki, Aliwal, Treaty of Lahore)
Having tacitly supported the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839, Sikh rule in the Punjab had been somewhat turbulent around 1840, subject to internal power struggles and bloody coups by political factions. Nevertheless, the Sikh nation maintained a powerful army trained by European, and even American, professional soldiers.
Worried by the British expansion into the Maratha territory two years earlier, the Sikh army was mobilized in 1845. The East India Company initiated hostilities with an army commanded by Sir Hugh Gough. Although the British won the war in the short term, fighting recommenced within three years.
1848-49 Second Sikh War
(Ramnagar, Chillianwala, Gujrat)
Political tensions in the Punjab (North West) area of India remained unresolved after the British victory in 1846, and when two junior civil servants of the East India Company, Lieutenants Patrick Vans Agnew and William Anderson, were murdered in 1848, an expedition led by General Sir Hugh Gough marched north to restore British interests. Surprisingly, Amir Dost Mohammed Khan of Afghanistan sent troops to support the Sikh rebellion, even though the Sikh rulers had previously given tacit support to British aggression in Afghanistan.
Initially, Gen. Gough lost a number of battles, particularly at Chillianwala. Reinforced, he defeated the Sikh army at Gujrat after which the entire state of the Punjab came under British control.
When the (primarily Hindu) regiments of the East India Company mutinied in 1857, Sikh troops recruited by the British after the war of 1848-49 remained loyal.
1852-53 Second Burmese War
The East India Company's invasion of Burma in April, 1852, was little more than an aggressive land grab initialized by Lord Dalhousie, Governor General of India from 1848 to 1856. Under scrutiny and criticism in the House of Commons in London, the circumstances of the British aggression were misrepresented by East India Company supporters.
In the face of superior British forces, the Burmese ruler (King Mindon Min) ceded large areas of Burma to British control. As a consequence, there was political unrest throughout Burma culminating in a Third Burmese War in 1885.
1854 - 1856 Crimean War (Sebastopol, Balaclava, Inkerman, Alma)
War on the Crimean peninsula, a part of Russia situated on the north shore of the Black Sea, saw an unlikely alliance between Britain and France as the two countries challenged the combined forces of Russia, Prussia and Austria. Causes for the war were complex. In part, Britain feared that Russia had eyes on the wealth of India. Russian imperialism was also apparent in Western Europe where Prussia and Austria stood for a conservative 'Holy Alliance' which suppressed progressive freedom movements in countries we now know as Poland, Hungary, Italy, the Balkans and Greece. In this respect, Britain and France might be viewed as the champions of Liberal democracy. There was also a perceived threat to the independence of Turkey.
Whilst the war demonstrated the soundness of British discipline and regimental tradition, these attributes were negated by the incompetence of the higher command. Soldiers starved to death as rations rotted on the wharf a few miles away. Troops succumbed to illness and disease in their tens of thousands, and incompetent commanders in the field saw disasters such as the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava (see below).
The outcome of the war was indecisive. The resulting public outcry against the military command resulted in army reforms introduced by Lord Cardwell in 1868.
1854 Charge of the Light Brigade
Immortalised by Tennyson's romantic poem, the Charge of the Light Brigade was an epic blunder which saw many hundreds of British cavalryment and horses slaughtered for no practical reason. The mistake arose when orders were misrepesented and misunderstood and resulted partly from animosity between the Cavalry Commander, Lord Lucan, and the Commander of the Light Brigade, Lord Cardigan.
From a high vantage point, the Army Commander, Lord Raglan, observed Russian troops manhandling captured guns and taking them to their lines. He issued orders for the Light Brigade to retrieve the guns which were being towed away. In the valley, Lord Lucan received orders (conveyed by an aide-de-camp, Captain Louis Nolan, 15th Light Dragoons) to "Charge the guns". Unable to see the guns on the high ground, Lord Lucan ordered a charge against batteries of guns established in the valley, a suicidal exercise for cavalry. Too proud to question the orders, Lord Cardigan led his Brigade to certain destruction. Cardigan himself survived the charge.
The Light Brigade was comprised of the following regiments: 4th Light Dragoons (strength 118, losses 79), 8th Hussars (strength 104, losses 66), 11th Hussars (strength 110, losses 85), 13th Light Dragoons (strength 130, losses 69), and 17th Lancers (strength 145, losses 110). NOTE: The casualty figures quoted are those provided by war correspondent (and eye-witness) William Howard Russell - they were subsequently adjusted as stragglers returned and prisoners were accounted for.
1856 - 1861 Second Opium War(Treaty of Tianjin, ceding of Kowloon)
When allegations of piracy were brought against a British merchant ship (the 'Arrow') by Chinese authorities in Canton harbour in October, 1856, the incident quickly escalated into full-blown war.
As with the First Opium War (1839-42), issues of 'free trade', and especially the sale of opium in which the East India Company maintained a monopoly, were fundamental to British aggression. The British were supported by France, anxious to expand French interests in Indo-China.
After some half-hearted resistance, Chinese authorities gave in to British demands, which included the ceding of Kowloon province (on the mainland opposite Hong Kong) to British control.
1857 Indian Mutiny
From the early years of its conception in 1600, Britain's East India Company was envisaged as a trading company with mutually beneficial interests. For some two hundred years, this ambition was achieved, with many Europeans employed by the Company showing respect for, and occasionally adopting, local customs and traditions (see, in particular, William Dalrymple's book White Moghuls).
To protect their interests in what was often a hostile and violent environment, with many local civil wars being fought between states and principalities, the East India Company raised and trained its own army, some 67,000 men in 1776. The army employed local soldiers, or 'sepoys', under command of European officers (who were trained at the Company's own military academy in England).
In the early 19th Century, however, policies of aggressive expansion were adopted by Governors such as Wellesley, Auckland and Dalhousie and the East India Company's armed forces expanded to include some 300,000 local soldiers divided into three local armies based in Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. These local troops were augmented by some 50,000 British troops, or 'King's' troops, sent out from the United Kingdom.
It was inevitable that the Company's aggressive expansion and annexation of land would cause resentment in certain areas of the sub-continent, particularly in the north around Delhi. When, in 1856, the local sepoys were expected to serve away from their homeland (General Service Enlistment Act), many soldiers became rebellious, a situation made worse by (unfounded) rumours that a new rifle cartridge introduced at the time contained animal fat in conflict with their religious beliefs. Civilian agitators plotted with native sepoys, especially those employed in the Bengal Army, in order to overthrow British rule.
Hostilities commenced at Barrackpore on 29 March 1857, when a soldier named Mangal Pandey of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry assaulted a British officer and was subsequently hanged. This incident triggered further mutinies at Meerut and then Delhi before the entire region erupted in violent and bloody revolt in May 1857. Although large numbers of local Indian troops remained loyal to the Company, reinforcements were hastily brought from Europe, both King's regiments and volunteers for the Company's regiments.
After a year of bloodshed, the rebellion was finally put down by July, 1858, at which time the British instigated a series of bloody reprisals. As a testament to the poor administration of the East India Company (which was, in itself, the primary cause of the rebellion), the British government disbanded the Company and assumed direct control of British interests in India.
1868 Abyssinian Expedition
Described by at least one contemporary commentator as "one of the most expensive affairs of honour in history” (Harold Marcus), the year 1862 saw the Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia (sometimes 'Theodore') threatened by insurrection within his country. When Britain refused his request for military aid, in 1864 Tewodros seized a number of British missionaries and diplomats and imprisoned them.
With no developments for three years, in 1867 the British government ordered an expedition to rescue the hostages. The task was given to the Indian army, a force totalling some 13,000 British and Indian soldiers commanded by Gen. Sir Robert Napier. These troops spent three months struggling over mountainous, inhospitable terrain. When Napier's troops confronted Tewodros at Magdala, the British hostages were released (although a number of native hostages were murdered).
Having rescued the hostages, the British force withdrew, taking with them a huge collection of Ethiopian treasures and historical artefacts. A fictional account of the expedition is contained in the book Flashman on the March (George MacDonald Fraser, 2005).
1878-80 Second Afghan War(Malwand, Kandahar)
Political instability brewed in Afghanistan under the Emir Sher Ali Khan, son of the charismatic leader Dost Mohammad Khan. Somewhat mischievously, Sher Ali Khan flirted with Russia and refused to co-operate with British representatives, who promptly made a pre-emptive strike with some 40,000 troops (both King's regiments and Indian regiments), occupying most of the country and establishing a British mission in Kabul under Sir Louis Cavagnari.
As soon as the British army had withdrawn, however, Cavagnari and his entire staff were murdered in September, 1879, prompting the British army to return under command of Maj. Gen. Sir Frederick Roberts. Just as had happened in the First Afghan War some forty years previously, this second invasion was something of a punitive expedition with atrocities committed by both sides.
After winning a major battle at Kandahar in September, 1880, the British installed a puppet ruler, Abdur Rahman Khan, as Emir. (See, in particular, Charles Miller's book Khyber, British India's NW Frontier; The Story of an Imperial Migraine 1977).
1879 Zulu War (iSandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Ulundi)
Southern Africa, rich in mineral deposits and fertile grasslands, was first settled by Europeans late in the 17th Century, especially the Dutch, some of whom were escaping religious persecution, but many of whom were traders capitalizing on the important trade route to the Dutch East Indies. When Dutch influence in the Far East diminished, Britain assumed control of South Africa in about 1800, paying the Dutch government 6 million pounds. By 1820 there were some 5,000 British and 20,000 Dutch, or 'Boer', settlers in and around the Cape of Good Hope.
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, European colonization would expand and that this expansion would, naturally, be opposed by local African tribes. A major war broke out in January, 1879, when the British High Commissioner Sir Henry Bartle Frere ordered an attack on the Zulu nation, led by their charismatic leader, King Cetshwayo kaMpande.
Lt. Gen. Lord Chelmsford, commanding the British troops, dramatically under-estimated the strength of Cetshwayo 's Zulu warriors, who were armed not only with spears and clubs, but also with firearms. In January 1879, 52 British officers and 806 other ranks were slaughtered at iSandlwana together with 471 African nationals who fought with the British.
The final outcome of the war, however, was inevitable. Subsequently Britain annexed large portions of land in 1887.
1879-82 Urabi Revolt (Egypt)
Although not a 'colony' as such, Egypt in the late 19th Century was a European 'protectorate' with a puppet government established under Khedive Tewfik Pasha. A large number of British and French nationals worked in Egypt partly as a consequence of the Suez Canal (opened in 1869), and many native Egyptians resented the exploitation of the country's natural resources.
Open rebellion erupted in September, 1881, when an Egyptian army officer, Colonel Ahmed Urabi (sometimes 'Arabi'), led a mutiny in Cairo. There was no blood shed at this time, and many politicians in France and within the Gladstone government in Britain sort a peaceful solution. However, Urabi's popularity spread throughout the country and in June, 1882, some 50 Europeans and 250 Egyptians were murdered by rioters in Alexandria.
In September, 1882, a British army of some 40,000 troops under command of General Sir Garnet Wolseley landed in Egypt, and the Urabi troops were defeated at Tel-el-Kebir. Although not officially a 'colony', Egypt was to remain under British control until 1954.
(Comparisons can be drawn between the Urabi Revolt of 1879 and the Suez Crisis of 1956).
1880-81 First Boer War
(Bronkhorstspruit, Mujaba Hill, Pretoria Convention)
Whilst hostilities lasted a brief four months, relationships between the British government (which ruled large portions of Southern Africa) and Dutch, or 'Boer', settlers were often strained, especially when diamonds were discovered in the Kimberley region and gold was discovered in the Transvaal.
In 1877, the British unilaterally annexed the Transvaal Republic, renaming it the South African Republic. Boer representatives led by Paul Kruger protested to London, and when their arguments were ignored the Boers rose in open revolt. In December 1880, the Boer irregular soldiers, organised into groups known as 'commandos', successfully ambushed a British military column and besieged a number of garrison towns.
Expert horsemen and marksmen, the Boer tactics proved extremely successful using a form of guerrilla warfare. At this time, the British had not yet adopted khaki for their uniforms and made convenient targets in their red tunics. Not wishing to commit more troops to the war, the British government conceded to Boer demands (Pretoria Convention, 1881).
1884 Mahdi War (Sudan)
(First Egyptian (Nile) Expedition, Army of the Nile, Gen. Gordon,
Fall of Khartoum)
Egypt, including the Sudan, being a 'British protectorate' in the 19th Century, the British government was drawn, somewhat reluctantly, into the religious wars of the 1880's. The campaign was to become one of the most arduous ever experienced by British troops.
In 1881 a charismatic leader named Mahomed Ahmed proclaimed himself the Mahdi (the 'redeemer of the Islamic faith') in the Sudan, initiating a religious war against both the Egyptian government and their British allies. Local tribes rose in support of the Mahdi, who very quickly assumed military supremacy. To meet this threat, British troops, some of whom were already in Egypt as a result of the Urabi Revolt, were shipped to the Red Sea ports.
For the Nile Expedition, commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Garnet Wolseley, volunteers were recruited from British cavalry regiments to raise four 'Camel Corps'. The campaign lasted two years and was somewhat indecisive, the Mahdi having died of typhus in 1885.
1885 Second Egyptian (Suakim) Expedition.
Following the death (from typhus) of Mahomed Ahmed in 1885, leadership of the religious uprising in the Sudan was taken up by Osman Digna and a second British expedition, under command of Maj. Gen. Sir Gerald Graham, was despatched to quell the rebellion.
The expedition was also, to some extent, a belated attempt to relieve the city of Khartoum, where the British garrison under Gen. Charles Gordon had been massacred in January, 1885.
After a brief and superficially successful campaign, General Graham's troops were withdrawn in May, 1885, leaving the comparatively junior officer Lt. Col. Herbert Kitchener as Governor General of Eastern Sudan.
1885-87 Third Burmese War
The third war saw Burma totally subjugated to British rule, first as a province of India, and later as separate colony.
Britain had previously been concerned by French expansion in Indochina, and accordingly an expedition to secure Burma was organised under command of Maj. Gen. Henry Prendergast, although the Royal Navy (operating on the Irrawaddy River) was the primary driving force. Prendergast had some 3,000 British troops and 6,000 Indian troops at his disposal.
In the face of over-whelming British fire-power, little resistance was offered by the Burmese rulers, although bands of guerillas were to harass the British for years to come.
1896-97 Matabele Insurrection
(Siege of Bulawayo)
The Matabele tribe occupied lands now known as Zimbabwe and had previously launched an armed resistance against European incursion in 1893-94, sometimes referred to as the First Matabele War.
In 1896 a more serious revolt took place with many European settlers being murdered. British troops under command of Gen. Frederick Carrington (with Col. Robert Baden-Powell on his staff) were mobilized to put down the revolt. Baden-Powell, in particular, formed a close working relationship with British 'scouts' led by American-born Frederick Burnham.
After the (somewhat controversial) assassination of the Matabele leader by Burnham and another British 'scout', a peace settlement was negotiated in 1897.
1898 Sudan campaign(Sudan consolidated under Kitchener)
Towards the end of the 19th Century, many people in Britain were beginning to question the role of Britain as a world power and the merits, or otherwise, of the 'British Empire'. Winston Churchill, for example, writes with admiration of the Mahdi Muhammad Ahmed as a gallant foe whose call for rebellion was entirely understandable. Churchill also describes in graphic detail the carnage of war, writing of the catastrophic cavalry charge at Omdurman in 1898 (where he rode as a subaltern attached to the 21st Lancers) thus:
"Riderless horses galloped across the plain. Men clinging to saddles lurched helplessly about, covered in blood from perhaps a dozen wounds. Horses streaming blood from tremendous gashes limped and staggered with their riders. In 120 seconds 5 officers, 66 troopers and 119 horses had been killed or wounded."
In stark contrast to Churchill's philosophy regarding the Empire and the fine qualities of the Mahdi, Kitchener's army cruelly suppressed the uprising. Kitchener believed firmly in the merits of the British Empire and set about establishing the Sudan as a prime example of 'the benefits of British rule'. A detailed account of the campaign written by Churchill in his capacity as 'war correspondent' can be found in his book The River War (1899).
1899 - 1902 (Second) Boer War (Mafeking, Ladysmith,Treaty of Vereeniging)
Partly as a consequence of the Zulu Wars of 1879, during the 19th Century Britain acquired colonies in southern Africa. These colonies included the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal, together with the important ports of Cape Town and Durban which, prior to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, were vital for Britain's access to India and the Far East.
Discontent amongst Dutch farming settlers, known as "Boers", resulted in a Declaration of War following the Bloemfontein Conference of October 1899.
The Boers immediately besieged British troops and civilian loyalists in the strategic towns of Mafeking, Ladysmith and the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. In November, British divisions under Gen Paul Methuen and Gen Buller V.C. attempted to relieve the besieged towns, but the Boer methods of guerilla warfare proved remarkably effective against British troops - within a week, three separate columns were defeated by Boer farmers. The Boers conducted an aggressive guerilla campaign against the British. Acting as irregular mounted infantry, each Boer soldier had a horse on which to withdraw after a surprise attack, tactics which kept them out of range of the British troops' superior firepower.
An Expeditionary Force was quickly dispatched from the UK under command of the elderly Lord Roberts (68) with a somewhat younger Gen Kitchener as his deputy and Chief-of-Staff. The Expeditionary Force included much needed cavalry reinforcements which enabled Gen Roberts to match the Boers' mobility. The cavalry contingent was commanded by Gen Sir John French (48), who is said to have performed extremely well and whose efforts contributed to final victory for the British in 1902, in spite of a prolonged and determined campaign by the Boers.
Significantly, in relieving the Siege of Kimberley in 1900, French defeated the Afrikaner General Cronje by overrunning the enemy with a cavalry charge by his whole division.
On the departure of Lord Roberts from South Africa in 1901, Kitchener was left to mop up the final resistance of the Boers and to supervise the first stages of self-government for the colony. Kitchener's experiences in both the Sudan and South Africa set him in good stead for the task yet to come, the creation of a modern fighting force to combat German aggression in 1914.