NEPAL-COMPANY WAR (Anglo-Nepal war)


Situation: Geo Strategic- Political

Lord Minto, the Governor General (1807-1872) had maintained a low profile in India, especially against the Gorkhas. His consideration had been  due primarily to the fear of Napoleonic invasion of India in collusion with or without Russia. Later Franco-Russian threat had made the British do their worthless forays into Afghanistan and place forces in North West Frontier Provinces- a folly they realized too late to rectify. A bigger folly was, of course, their imagining a Franco-Nepalese alliance in India.

In 1813, the British thus far had secured six leading regions in India and remained contended with what Minto had taken over. These included: Mysore, Travancore, Baroda, Poona, Hyderabad and Oudh. But Gwalior, Indore, Nagpur, resented the British efforts and began to prepare to avenge their recent defeats. The weak and disunited Rajputs of Rajputana remained highly vulnerable. The Rajputs' vulnerabilities emanated from their dynastic ego and jealousy on whose account they had been nabbed one after another, by the Moghuls. The pindaris lid by Chitu and  Amir Khan too hated the expanding power of the British. In Punjab, Ranjit Singh was growing powerful, though the British had attempted to quarantine him through the Amiratsar Treaty of 1809.

Lord Moira Who took over as Governor General and Commander-In-Chief Indian Army in 1813 was burning with the ambition of leaving an empire for the British and a name for himself. Fresh from the American War, he evolved a strategy to bite more pieces of land and humble the opposition into submission by either alliance or attrition. He wanted his name to be added to those British who grabbed the maxium territory in India. If he could not help retain it in America, there was a chance in India. it was thus to be his life's opportunity.

Gorkhas, besides the Marathas and the Sikhs were regarded as the third dangerous power the British had to contend with or defeat.

The growing Distrust

By late 1790s, the British received a surprisingly favourable situation: they had firm control over the Indo-Gangetic Valley of the Oudh Raj, though Marathas still had their sway over Delhi; the internal dissension in the Nepal Durbar was creating situation for its King to abdicate in favour of his infant son and proceed to Benaras. Here he would seek virtual security of the British and could be exploited. The British dreams for expanding trade  with the Tartary and China over the Himanalyan regions, brightened up.[1] Also, the house of Oudh was disintegrating and the British had exploited it as a treasure house or an alternative 'Bank of England' to meet their adhoc financial requirements.

For the British, at this stage, trade, in fact, the Sine-quo-non. The trade of East India Company to Tibet and China involved, in the west, a passage throught the Gorkha occupied Kumaon, Garhwal, the Punjab Hill States, and in the east through Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. These areas were seen as essential trade-corridors.[2] In his efforts for trade, Warren Hastings had to infiltrate Bogle to Tibet in 1774 to explore the best possibility. The trading centres in Tibet were at Yatung, Lhasa, Shigatse, Gartok and Leh, in Ladakh, The traders of the Company knew fo " The great commerce which naturally ought to exist and which formerly did subsist between the vast Cis and Trans-Himalayan Regions."[3] Territorial possessions, willy-nilly, was becoming essential by the British, for which Moira saw an overall favorable situation under development.

A ray of hove really signaled from within Nepal and it was no less than, as we said earlier, a frustrated King Rana Bahadur Shah in abdication, who was prepared to succumb to means and machinations that could regain his throne at Kathmandu, once again. And he did what the Afghan Kings ofter did. He signed a parallel treaty called " TREATY WITH RAJA OF NEPAL- 1801 BETWEEN MAHARAJA AND THE MOST NOBLE GOVERNOR GENERAL MARQUIS WELLESIEY".[4]  Such fraudulent a document it was that it raised shock waves in the Durbar. Fearing not only the demise of the Raja, the Durbar, under duress agreed  to sign a similar treaty something like the treaty of 1792-93 which Kirkpatrick promoted.

Trade with Tibet and China was thought to be best provided through the Gorkha territories. although it later proved without adequate foundation. The Durbar saw the British efforts leading nothing but to colonization. With the characteristic British penchant for intrigues, subversion and embroidering threats, such as threat from China, the Franco-Russian threat, these, were hoped to provide better modus vivendi for trade. But the Nepalese trusted neither the British intentions nor encouraged their overtures.

Then followed Knox's[5] much debated and much hated mission to Nepal as agent of the Governor General at Kathmandu. Knox's was, undoubtedly an undesirable mission. And little wonder that he was made to vacate the office within one year. The fundamental cause of war that followed had, in fact, its roots in the failed Knox mission. In 1767 a similar, though more hostile, mission of going to the aid Malla Raja by Kinloch, had already sowed sufficient seed of hatred and distrust for the Firingis amongst the Gorkhas. Vansittart recorded the Nepalese feelings that prevailed then: "Regarding throwing open the country to the Europeans, the Gorkhas have a saying with the merchants come the musket and with the Bible comes the Bayonet. They have always shown greatest objection to admitting any European into Nepal and they seem to consider that, were they to relax this rule, their independence, of which they are extremely proud, would shortly be lost".[6]

The Gorkha repugnance to call Europeans to Nepal was both from fear of their swamping the Nepalese trade and resorting to anti-national-tricks. It was, however only in 1800s that situation deteriorated. Kirkpatrick had noted. " Notwithstanding the narrow spirit which directs the commercial concern of this people the government affords on the whole, considerable protection to foreign merchants." [7] He also remarked that the standard gold coin was 2 percent inferior to the Calcutta Mohr. The British began looking for shawl wool from Ladakh nad its being knitted by the Kashmiri weavers. Bogle and Moorcroft, as we saw, were sent for acousting the market and bringing the samples. The Sikhs of Ranjit Singh also were carrying out similar trade at the time.

Such fears-which prevailed-then saw Capuchin (Italian) missionaries being evicted out of Nepal as from Tibet. The repugnance that spread among the Nepalese for the Europeans resulted in the British image turning as tyrants and  the biggest violators of human rights. For the Nepalese' three Ks, Kinloch Kirkpatrick and Knox, became the symbols of the British threat of Nepal.[8] And events that followed, created ruptures irreparably.

The Economic Causes

The economic cause constituted the major cause of conflict with Nepal. The Treaty of Commerce was akin to the present from of GATT- General Agreement of Tariffs and Trades. The British made constant  efforts to persuade the Nepalese government to allow them their trade through Nepal and through the Indian territories in their occupation. Form Kirkpatrick, the y moved to Maulvi Abdul Qader (1795) and later Knox (1801), but the Nepalese Durbar refused to budge an inch.

Added to the list of causes came the land-grab avarice, which brought  the Gorkhas into India and which became the ambition of the British, as they saw a golden land laid before them. David Ochterlony, then an agent at Ludhiana grudgingly noted in 1811 his views on the Gorkha territorial control:" They are now in undisputed possession of the whole country from the Jamuna to Sultaj, extending to the north to the dependencies of the Empire of China with  the exception of Kinnaur which the Raja of BAsahar had been allowed to retain."[9] On 24 August 1814, he for example, noted of Dehra Dun as  a " potentially thriving entrepot for Trabs-Himalayan trade". and contemplated annexing Garhwal not so much with the view to revenue but for security of commercial communications with the country where the shawl wool is produced. Soon they got to know that Kumaon provided batter facility for trade with Tibet- China. Therefore, the annexation of these two areas became part of their strategic objectives. Out of such necessity for trade and its security, the British historians also saw the need for "preserving the moral nad physical energies of the parent country  (through) the bales and mountains of the Indian Alps."[10]

While trade, indeed, was the major objective of the company, out of its, grew a concept of 'political safety', which ipso-facto meant a strategy of dissuasion and larger areas of occupation.

That, it was a flawed strategy is explained by PJ Marshal:[11] "Political safety meant military preparedness. The military expenditure for 1761-62 to 1770-71 was 44 percent of the total spending of 22 million pounds. War and diplomacy rater than trade and improvement…most of the soldiers-would-be politicians and Governor Generals rarely understood. The political safety of Bengal was their first priority and they interpreted safety as requiring the subjugation of Mysore, the Marahas the Pindaris, Nepal and the Burmese".

This flawed perception, thus became the second major cause for the war.

The China Factor

The China factor also built up. The Nepleese had placated it as part of their  psychological canard that a treaty alliance existed with China after the 1792 war. So effective was the Nepalese demonstration that the British also began to regard Nepal as vassal of China and that, an attack on Nepal would provoke China, Which it could ill-afford. Walter Hamilton records that in 1802 when Gott was deputed by Wellesly to examine the forest of Kumaon, the Gorkha commander expressed great apprehension as his arrival would be seen a provocation. He told him that the Emperor of China had threatened to depose the Raja of Nepal if he permitted the Europeans to explore his country. Whether deliberately planted or not, the British seemed to bite at  the bait.[12]

This impression lingered on. But over a period of time as situation developed and intelligence improved, the British began to take limited risks in dealing with the Nepalese – Chinese friendship or alliance. Its best example is seen ( and we perforce jump the gun) in the directive that was given to General Marley, tasked to advance to Kathmandu in 1814-15. He was directed to inform the Chinese, if confronted, that "the British objective of operations was only punitive and not acquisitive."[13] It is historically surmised that though the Knox mission was the great political affrontary of the time and that Kathmandu Durbar was in tatters, the British impulse to invade Nepal earlier, was prevented, to a large extent, by this imagined Nepalese-Chinese alliance.

The Territorial Disputes

The territorial disputes also built up to augment the hostility, anguish and vendetta:

  • Kheri, Sheoraj, Butwal.
  • 22 villages near Rautehat- Jaunpur.
  • Bhim Nagar in Morung.
  • Villages near Pinjore.[14]

In these cases neither the Gorkhas nor the British could put up convincing cases of defence or legitimacy, and enquiries made by Young, Ochterlony and Bradshaw made no headway. The Gorkhas stuck obdurately to Sheoraj and Butwal, which though part of Palpa-Tansen, were contested by the British to be part of Oudh under their protection. So erroneous had been the impression that late historians like J Talboy Wheeler called it, " gradual absorption of the British territories by the Gorkhas." In consonance with this thinking even political agents like William Fraser observed: "This power emboldened by a long course of success nad conquest had commenced a deliberate course of insult towards its (British) lower ministers which at length became absolutely necessary to Nepal."[15]

A case that then developed was one of the two robbers having plundered a house, use morally viable adjectives in their own defence and justification. The British usage of the Gorkha claims as "Inadmissible", and their ambitions as "insatiable thirst or ambition and limited power" , fitted into this theme. And the Gorkhas calling for an alliance with the Indiana states to throw the Firingis out, was no less.[16]

Moira, in his report to the Directors had described it as " Gorkha passion for war" and added that they " had an overwhelming opinion of themselves, so inaccurate were their notions of our resource."[17] However, BD sanwal felt that " reasonable points in favour of the Nepalse government  were kept aside and unnecessary emphasis was laid on the genuineness."[18] Panderal Mooon was convinced that "the British claims were not in all cases indisputable." They, were, is fact, untenable.[19]

The root cause- even if an auxiliary root-of war between the Company and Nepal as Forbes said was due to the desire of the Barons of Nepal to extend their sway over the Zamindars; and, irrespective of what the British  pipers might tell of the glory in the filed, it was the shareholder in London and Courts of Kathmandu that called the tune.[20] The both set of the people were hell-bent to exercise their own so called rights.

The White Man's Superiority: A Psyche of 'Super-race'

There is an innate psychological urge among men and women- and also in races- to dominate the others. It has taken forms of colour, caste, creed religion, ethnicity and so on. The Jewish diaspora, the Aryan migration, the Europisation of the two Americas and Australia are some of the examples. In the 19th Century, Europe gave this expression through trade and colonization by white  races, then regarded as superior to the natives. Its effect, though  not marked, nor admitted, needs to be seen in the context of Anglo- Gorkha

War. Major General Rollo Gillespie saw the Gorkha challenge to the British supremacy as "Opinion is everything in such a country as India: and whenever the natives shall begin to lose their reverence for the English arms, our superiority in other respects will quickly sink into contempt. Forebeareance under repeated insults committed by those lawless marauders who acknowledge no law ! But their convenience unavoidably would hanve brought our national character into disrepute among the various nations to the east." It was this assumption of psychology of colonization that served the British rule. Most of the m tried to establish that this was not to be true. And a new twist as even the annexation of India by the British in the words of JH Batten (in 1815 official Report on the Province of Kemaon) opined that ".. finally peace and plenty would smile on the very plains invited to the land neither by Mohemmedans nor Hindus but by the Christians of a Western Atlantic Islands."

From this rose another need- the character and leadership in the Indians to defend themselves which the British found lacking. Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras said of it in1824: " It we pursue steadily in proper measures we shall in time so far improve he character of Indian  subjects to  enable them to protect themselves. "This very feeling continued as Filed Marshal Roberts C-in-C 1885-93 reflected: "Native officers and Eastern races however brave and accustomed to war do not possess qualities that make good leaders of men." Such views also led to the hatred for the Eurasians or the Anglo-Indians.

One thing about history is that while its larger cycles might be repeating themselves but they constantly discard and disprove hurriedly formed human theories. By 1945, it became clear that bravery was not the pre-serve  of Whiteman lesser still of the self-styled martial people. The Gorkhas dicidedly broke this myth in the Anglo-Gorkha war. The fallibility of the British soldiers and arms was so distinctly prominent that in the wrds of "Edward Bishop as "recently as 1929 military historians avoiding the issue commented that the questions of Moira's columns redounded so little to our credit."[21]  But such complexion-oriented complexes then had deeper roots.

Envy also became the cause of clash with the Gorkhas. They were called " unpyincipled horde" and those who falsely " struck awe among various states." childish, it might appear, but it was true. The final cause was built by the May 18, 1814 incident in which a post below palpa was overrun by the Gorkhas. It hadeen worked out as the ultimate overt excuse by the British. It provided what Edward Thornton remarked as providing "anxious display of the Governor General's military talents."[22] Then no amount of pleadings for sanity could prevent the British from entering into war. The Gorkhas had even offered to hand over the disputed villages to the British, if that was what could end the dispute and the war.

Failure of Diplomacy

Failure of diplomacy emerges as another cause. The main characters  were, a brusque and ambitionus- Moira on the one hand and an inexperienced, though intelligent and patriotic Bhim Sen Thapa, as Prime Minister of Nepal, on the other. Moira had been prejudiced and jaundiced by people like Paris Bradshaw who saw the world being divided between the British virtue and others' vices. Then there was Ochterlony who suggested " to repel the present and prevent future aggression it will always be necessary to convince Amar Singh that his hills are not to us inaccessible and his forts impregnable."[23]

Despite entreaties from Bam Shah, Amar Singh and others, Bhim Sen Thapa also obdurately stuck to his stance, which though not very conciliatory, was dignified. The Gorkhas did every thing to prevent the war form breaking out which even Penderal Moon observed: " They had no desire for war themselves but were unwilling to be intimidated; and remembering how the British had been repulsed at Bharatpur, hoped to put up successful resistance in the mountain-fastnes."[24] But Moira still chose to call it as the Gorkha passion for war. And to add to it, Ochterloney beefed up Moira's obsession by writing back to him: "The expulsion of the Gorkha power from the country between the Sutlaj and Jumna is a necessary measure against the government of Nepal." Among others who advised Moira-but were over – ruled against the war was H St J Tucker, Wellesley's old financial adviser who deplored the risk by saying: "What an opportunity for the Marathas, while we are knocking our heads against those mountain."[25]

Self over-Estimation

Over estimation of personal capabilities both by the Gorkhas and the British served as a good cause for the war. The Gorkhas, saw the British failures at Bharatpur (1805), the deceit adopted by the British to defeat and kill Tipu Sultan (1799), as examples of their moral bankruptcy, as against their own strength. This strength also emerged from the undue potential being given to the mountains that geographically defended Nepal from India. Bhim Sen Thapa declared: "The Chinese once made war to seek peace. How will the English be able to penetrate into our hills ? We shall on our exertions be able to oppose … our hills and fastness are work of God and are impregnable" [26] To that Moira added that  the Gorkhas had inaccurate notions of his resources. It became a case of intimidation and muscle flexing.

Cause Summed Up

The basic cause for war was thus a greed to grab territory and power both by the Company and the rising Gorkha power. The Company needed it for trade and prosperity and the Gorkhas for power and sustenance. Both had found the Indian states weak and subservient. Therefore, there could not be any better situation for both of them of claim and counter-claim their so called rights to fight.

What added to the British belief that the Gorkhas were 'conquerable'? is the bigger question of the war. For, unless the vulnerability of na enemy is known, a state of deterrence is forced to maintain. It is only after own superiority is well established that a recourse to war is adopted.  The capability of an adversary is estimated on what Duke of Wellington called: 'One's ability to see the other side of the hill.[27] The British intelligence, even by standard of those times, was superb. They had also hoped that their old stratagem of subversion would succeed if their military prowess failed. The instrument of propaganda too was expected to yield results.

Subversion tactics played a considerable part in this war both at preliminary stage and during the war. The British had made it a fine  art of conquering not only the Gorkhas but all of India. In that they always targets. They repeatedly offered the temptations of Jagir to Amar Singh and pensions to others. To Bam Shah, their offers ranged from Governorship of Province of Doti to all other temptations. Though there were signals, albeit, wrong to and from Bam Shah, it was absolutely certain that he never bargained his loyalty to the British offers.[28] In the list of subversions, every British official made deliberate attempt to either win over the Gorkhas or black-mail them. Part of this technique did succeed when fighting broke out.

The British ability to create cleft among the already divided Indian states and the non-existent Asian solidarity was another aspect. They hoped they will be able to effectively employ them in achieving their strategic aims. Through a 'Proclamation'  they had offered adequate temptations to the rulers to restore their states to them . Similar gestures were made to some of the Gorkhas commanders who, in their view, were 'malcontent and dissatisfied' with Kathmandu. All this had also been fed to them though their adventurous lots such as Moorcroft and others.[29]

Organisations and Tactics that Made Fighting Possible

The Gorkhas

The Regmi Papers place the strength of the Gorkha Army as 18,000 in  AD 1800 which had mobilisational capability of 40,000. He lists out four battalions-Kalidaksh, suboorj (?), Sriath and Gorkh-and 36 companies, which were on the orbat of the army at Kathmandu. It is at variance with other records  which show:

  • The strength of the force that took part in invasion of Kumaon-Garhwal in 1790-91 was companies.[30]
  • The British intelligence estimated the Gorkhas having 31 companies in 1805 with a strength of 8,040 which progressively increased to 10,000 in 1815 and 12,000 in 1819. They also accepted a mobilisational capability of Nepal at 57,000. This, obviously was the result of the Pajani system. Hamilton, more accurately, estimated the Gorkha strength in 1802 as 65 companies.

The Gorkha sources themselves have been confusing and mixed up as no credible records seem to have been maintained. Assuming Hamilton's information near accurate, it becomes clear that in 1814 the Gorkhas were  upward of 65 companies which increased during the war to almost 120 companies . The assessment of the strength of the strength of the Gorkhas for the Anglo- Gorkha War was estimated at 12,000 lightly armed men whose deployment was appreciated as : West of Jamuna – 4,000; between Jamuna and Kali 2,000; East of Kali-6,000. Each of the Gurkha battalion was 600 strong with flint-locked rifles and their firing standards were good; they had 300 artillery pieces of 3-4 pounders mostly carried menslung .

While the tactical unit remained a company, the four battalions we mentioned were, in fact, ceremonial organizations, which were raised by General Amar Singh Thapa, the father of Bhim Sen Thapa, at Tansen Palpa and Kathmandu. These were experimental battalions, which Thapa raised to counter the growing British mance. He would later claim them to have achieved standards better than the British's .

The overall command and control system of the Gorkhas was based on their own and traditional system of commanders, which was partly monarchial and partly open to aristocracies and commoners. A credible effort to modernize their army. A Chautaria comprising the blood brothers of the Prince Regent or the King represented the monarchy. A subba and Kazi, for example, were  both a judge, a Police officer and revenue collector, besides being a military commander.  A Bhandar found a part of the twelve to fifteen-men-council. The team could be assigned military powers, if required. While a company was normally commanded by a Subedar, it was not uncommon to find a Captain to command either one unit or a number of units placed in a fort. Both Captain and Subedar represented the military leaders from the commoners.

A company had a norma strength of 160 with four Jamadars, one Major, equivalent to Havilder/Sergeant Major Adjutant, Kotiya (Quarter-Master) and the ranks and file. It also had a small band with local musical instruments. The artesens like blacksmith were also included. A company could then look like what is shown below.




Total Fields

Khuwa (Salary)





Rs 400
















Kotiya (QM)





Rank & File




Non Combatants




  1. The Indian Currency and Nepalese currency were at variance even Then  400 Indian Rupees were equivalent to 700 Nepalese Rupees.
  2. A Subedar was allotted 15 fields with yield of 100 muris (20 mounds). A Jemadar was allotted 7 fields.    
  3. A company had 3-4 Platoons, which could fight independently.

The family tree was :

Company Headquarters


Fighting Platoons (3)                                                             Band Platoon (1)

Except the four battalions which were organized and dressed on the European lines, the other troops  were dressed more informally than what are more authentically shown in the India  Revealed: The Arts and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35. They carried a flag of yellow cloth with a Hanuman in black, embroidered on it. [31]

Bhim Sen Thapa was a far seeing man who saw the threat, to the areas of occupation  and Nepal developing from the British. He visualized a deliberate militarization of Nepal and the occupied territories as the only solution to effectively contain their influence. The financial constraints, no doubt, could not improve or match their capability with the British; and they, therefore, remained what Hearsey wrote to Moira in 1813: "Their musketeers are infamous and their gun powder the same … flints are bad; they have little or no clothing and are very ill paid." This is further substantiated by Moira's report of June 1815 after the first Campaign .. "The Gorkha force was most part armed, clothed and disciplined in the imitation of our Sepoys".  This was obviously tutored and manipulated and highly incorrect. However, his praise of the Gorkhas was true. The soldiers were known to be courageous, active, robust, obedient and patient under  great privations as well as intelligent and quick of apprehensions. IN an earlier report he assessed  the Gorkhas differently, as he wrote : "Although weak in military skill, their men are towers of strength. Their officers spirited."[32]

The great Achilles heel of the Gorkhas was their logistics and aritillery. we have devoted adequate to them else where. The main characteristics of the Gorkha organizations lay in their being lightly armed, unencumbered by heavey weapons or equipment. A portion of their strength carried flintlocked muskets which provided lesser and often inaccurate fire. But their riflemen were known to be veryfine marksmen, who influenced the battle at critical moments by bringing down the key British appointments including their assaulting Generals. Their artillery was as great a hindrance as their logistics. Equipped with small calibred guns from 1.5 inch to 4 inchs, they could at best be used as antipersonal weapos.Their ability to batter a fort or emplacement was minimal. And it was this deficiency inter-alia that caused failures at Langurgarhi and Kot Kangra.

What remarkable actually were the Gorkha ability to sense the direction of attack, produce integrated fire at the attacker with deliberate and coordinated fire control.It is this fire control and the critical lethality of their weapons (muskets,bow and arrows, use of missiles, panjis of browned bamboos and use of ground ), which made them formidable defenders. Combined with these were the sudden spoiling attacks with khukris, which bloodied the British and often routed their assaulting columns.

To Gorkhas, women were both wives and mothers as also fighters. some of them moved about dressed as men. The local women also joined them in fighting. besides nursing  the wounded and the dying, they  built walls, collected stones to be thrown as missiles. perhaps the first example of women joining the men in fighting a modern enemy is found in this war. speaking of the women's  role at  the battle of Kalunga,Kennedy, vansitart and fraser wrote of the Gokha women's valour; "During the assaults on the fort women were seen hurling stones and undauntly exposing  themselves; and several of their dead bodies and 4 wounded were subsequently found amidst ruins of the fort".

Tactics are influenced primarily by the terrain one operates and fights in, the type of the enemy, and his techniques of fighting. The Gorkhas developed both defensive and offensive tactics. IN defence they followed principally the system of covering the rotes of movement of an enemy. They built forts; stockades provided depth to forts by throwing out a part of their strength in early warning role.

The defenses they occupied showed tactical brilliance. Their forts dominated all approaches and had layered perimeters of defenses. To protect themselves they created foxholes into which they moved when the main fort was heavily shelled. Their strong bunkers looked like dog-kennels to the British but they saved them form effects of shell. The Mongoloid looks of the Gorkhas scared the softer British officers and tightly uniformed sepoys. Their use of Panjis was as skilful as their use of internal moats.

In attack they divided themselves in columns often mutually unsupported. They fought close quarter battles where skirmish was the rule rather  than exception. Their best examples of attack against the British were at Jaithak (Major Richard's Ludlow's Force) and at Parsa and Samanpur. The above tow examples are reproduced partly, in the illustrations.

The Gorkha had developed a sixth sense for fighting both the defensive and offensive operations. With an uncanny eye for ground they compensated their deficiency in modern arms specially artillery with bravery combined with improvisation. Their natural hardihood enabled them to suffer privations uncomplainingly, turning the same as an enormous instrument of advantage to their meager logistics. In recent times only the Vietnamese of Ho Chi Minh compared with them in hardihood, improvisation and determination. And they proved, they were the best in the world.

The British Organisation and Tactics

The British have been a sea-faring and fighting nation. That was the tune all Europe played. They were quick to learn lessons of failures from the American War (1812-14) as also successes elsewhere. But the larger lessons of tactics and understanding of strategy came to them from Continental wars they fought and the introduction in 1803-1805 of a Light Brigade by Sir John Moore. Earlier, important changes had taken place in the organization in 1796. Certain improvements in tactical drills had been brought about by Colonel David Dundas who advocated the Infantry drills in extended formations. Juibert give them the tactical idea of fire and movement and thus introduced the application of tactics, on a sounder footing.

As a result of organizational changes, the command, control and logistics of the field formations was also separated from policy planning. Of relevance to us is the allocation of threee battalions of artillery along with lascars (or Lascars) to the Bengal Army and European Infantry battalions (HM's Infantry) and Four regular battalions of Indian (Native) Cavalry. It was here that the single infantry battalion regiments were formed into two battalion regiments of which  the Bangal Army had twelve. Each European Artillery had three battalions of five companies; the European Infantry each of the three regiments had ten companies; the Regular Native Cavalry had four regiments of six troops each and Native Infantry had 12 regiments of two battalions each. Every Native Infantry regiment had an establishment of 45 British officers, 2 British Sergeants, 40 Native officers, 200 NCOs, 40 Drummers and Fifers and 1600 Sepoys. The native battalion had two Grenadiers companies [33] One Light company and Seven Battalion companies. The battalion staff of the Native Infantry included Adjutant, Quartermaster and Regimental Sergeant Major and Quarter Master Sergeant, as the  Senior NCOs. The European Artillery battalion had five companies each and mounted Rocket Artillery Troop. The Native Artillery had four troops and its officer commanding was a Major. The Corps of Pioneers had eight companies integral of the Bengal Army. Local Battalions, which were irregular battalions were also raised. Of interest were the Eastern (Rangpur) and local Battalions at, Ramgarh, Mizapur Champaran; Local Infantry Provincial Battalions at Burdwan, Chittagong, Dhaka, Murshidabad, Patna, Purea.  The Hill Rangers were at Bhagalpur. Two Light Battalions were also available under command of Majors with 12 more officers and two Ensigns. They were designed to work as outflanking columns . The First battalion worked with Martindell's Division and the Second with Ochtetrlony's. Irregular Cavalry under J skinner and Gardner were located at Hansi and Khasganj. An Impressive Organisation by all Accounts. This organization was flexible and gave  them the necessary punch. Brigades and divisions were formed out of the operational needs and their grouping was flexible. But the staff was milked from the units and in the absence of dedicated staff and permanent headquarters, command deficiency became evident as the war progressed. The officers picked up for ad-hoc headquarters were junior officers who could not influence the operational decisions of their commanders.

Expansion of the Bengal Army took place form 1814 when the strength of the Native Infantry regiments moved up to 30 and later two more were added. During the period, the HM's regiments were 8th  (King's Royal Irish) Light Dragoons, 24th Regiment of Light Dragoons, 14th, 17th , 53rd, 67th, 69th and 78th Regiments of the Foot.

The Concept of Irregulars-Mercenaries

The Europeans learnt that all regulars could not make up the requirement of troops. Besides, the regulars were expensive to train and maintain. The British caught on this idea of creating  Irregulars from 1793-much later than the pajani system in Nepal. A Corps of Uhlans was the result. Such Irregulars could be equipped with Fusils rather than expensive Muskets.[34] The Irregulars could be under the  battle field control, and their light companies could be attached to be the regular battalions. Irregulars drew foreign emigrants, prisoners wanting to see adventure venture and deserters seeking clemency besides those who could plunder in uniform. Irregulars were created both by the Gorkhas (Rohillas, local men of occupied areas) and by the British. So comprising the riff-raffs they had on both sides Sikhs, Rohillas, Pindaris- any one, every one looking for quick money and adventure. It is right to say their deaths were as mysterious as their births. Their loyalties too varied according to the circumstance of success or the volume of plunder. Some Anglo Indian Soldiers of fortune like Hearsey, Gradner, Skinner, Hosdson Walter Reinhardt, Benoit La Borgne, Martine, Birch et at, took to raising these Irregulars, who through training, loyalty and camaraderie induced a very high sense of sacrifice in some of them. They, later were to become as effective units as the regulars. The Rangpur Irregular Battalion did extremely well in its operations under Captain Barre Latter, during the Anglo-Gorkha War. So did the Irregulars under Gardner, Nicolls and Ross.

In Europe, the Irregulars Cavalry were called as chasseurs-a-Cheval, and the Infantry as Fusiliers (or Fusiliers).[35]

British Leadership before War

This book endeavors to examine the leadership  aspect later in reasonable details. Though their analysis is aptly done in the campaign specifically, however, certain knowledge on the British leadership of that time becomes necessary, even at this stage. Their leadership was generally poor, which affected not only operational efficiency of the units and formation but also the essential camaraderie between the Europeans and the  Indians. As the British began to achieve results of consolidation, the discrimination of white men for the Indians grew. Such overtures were counter-productive to cohesiveness in units and coherence in the Army. The Commanders- in – Chief became responsible to bring about this degeneration which constantly reflected on the results achieved by the British whenever they faced stiff opposition, such as at Bharatpur (1805) and the Gorkha War. The old officers attributed this to lack of rapport between the senior and the junior British officers. One of the officers lamented in the Select Committee proceedings when he wrote; " Almost everyone  in the Madras Army can talk of Lawrence, Clive or Coote but not one in a thousand can say who the C-in-C was."

This leadership was equally bad in the European units. John Pemble and Byron Farwell have poor opinion of them simply. They consider them as "wretched in quality".[36] The Service conditions were equllly responsible for this rotten quality, where a soldier in the Company's service and the officers lingered on their ranks for unduly long period. It took an Ensign to become a Lieutenant six years; a Lieutenant to Captain, fifteen years; Captain to Major, twelve years; Major to Lieutenant Colonel, six years; from Lieutenant to Colonel, thirteen years. Thus it took 52 years for an Ensign to be a Colonel. It is no wonder that all their officers were old when they fought the War. Some of them had even  gone infirm and senile, especially at the higher level of command.

The age or overage was not the only factor that affected efficiency but also the poor pay that the junior officers got. By 1809 the British officers caused White Mutiny,[37] the cause of which was  the abolition of the tent contract, by Sir George Barlow, the Governor of Madras, where these officers ofter made hefty profits through Hawalas.

The moral side of the British conduct also effected the quality of the officers' leadership. Prizes and plundered at money became a distinct feature of any operation. For example, the wealth plundered at Tipu Sultan's palce at Seringpatam in 1799 was estimated at more than two million pounds which was given as prize money. The same have been the cases everywhere. Commenting on this aspect, Colonel Ferryman wrote: "Reference to prize money and plunder added zest to the soldiers' live .It was quiet in order and regulated by the government. However, private plunder, though carried out, were regarded as relic of barbarism and genrally denounced but was openly winked at."[38]

British Tactics[39]

Tactics is derived from Greek word Taktoc meaning distribution of thisgs arranged mechanically but as part of higher principles of war. This ill defined word has naturally undergone change over a period of time and now connotes  the deployment of troops against the enemy with a view to defeat him. It takes into account the ground, the fire support and the manoeuvre. In Eurpoe, the  British were exposed to war of movements  and attrition but in India it turned out to be luxury, laxity and a boastful sense of superiority over the natives who failed to stand up to the British show of military power and invariably succumbed to subversion and intimidation. Little wonder, Kazi Amar Singh remarked in his 2 March 1815 letter that thus far the British had not been seriously opposed by any one in India. Notwithstanding the condition in India, the British had followed the tactics of skirmish and battering. The former was carried out by the Infantry and Cavalry, the latter was done by Artillery.[40] David Dundas, as mentioned earlier, had evolved drills for close column and a system of echeloning involving two basic fighting units and Infantry battalion normally of eight companies and a horse cavalry regiment. The successful conclusion of a battle was to be achieved by a integrated volume of fire. This very tactics was adapted by the Indian units in form of attack being developed on the firing line and Reserve. The Firing Line again divided itself into skirmishers and supporters. This is illustrated.

This tactics failed to a large extent in the Anglo-Gorkha War. It had to be repeatedly modified, as we will see in the campaign studies.

Strategic Imperatives


By 1814 Moira's aims had been crystallized as three folds: show a big victory  against  the Gorkhas so as to indirectly convey the message of British Supremacy in India; to clear a trade corridor in the territories occupied by the Gorkhas; and, to build his own image as consolidator of the British gains in India. The victory against the Gorkhas was to act as a spring-board for compaign against the Marathas and probably against Ranjit Singh, beside improving trade in the north.

Some historians, such as Majumdar had described Moira's objective as ' to impose a limit on the military expansion of the Nepalese.'[41] That does not stand the scrutiny of history. For, if it were so, all that Moira should have done was to capture Sheoraj and Butwal, combined with other  insignificant enclaves of dispute. But for Moira the larger issue was trade and the corridor for its expansion to north. His aim, therefore, was: to defeat the Gorkhas in the areas of occupation including Sikkim and impose such terms on them as suited the British interest; and to chastise and humiliate the Durbar through military defeats on them. In concept, therefore, Moira's strategy was to capture territories and impose British will on the Nepalese.

Of this larger strategic aim, emerged the military strategy and the doctrine. The choice of the areas were focused on the corridor for trade,  the Valleyrs of Dun and Kyarda Dun. Further, adequate show of force was to be made against the Kathamandu Valley. And while the military operations were ensuing, the probable allies of the Gorkhas had to be weaned away and rebellions had to be caused in the hinter-land to the Gorkha occupied areas. It could be aided by the Rulers whose states were in possession of Gorkhas and so no. On the question of campaigning season, it had to be a dry season, immediately after the monsoons. In so far the question of a board  front vis-à-vis a narrow front had to be decided for an area of 1600 Kilometers frontage.  Objectives which were separated had to be handled by independent and strong forces. Alternatively, a concentration of force with impressive superiority had to be arranged . Militarily, it was seen that while the forme r would divide the Nepalese efforts, it would also result in lack of superiority at critical points and critical times. The effect of operations on the time schedule of the campaigning season also had to be considered.

Out of the deliberations, the British evolved the plan which we disus subsequently. Psychological operations  of winning over the people of the occupied areas through various stratagems  had to be dovetailed into the plan.[42] In effect it implied that:

  • Whole of Kumaon and Garhwal, Basahar in Punjab hill states adjoining Tibet to be captured.[43]
  • Other areas to be freed of the Gorkha control.
  • Military operations against Nepal to be progressed with a view to reach as far as the Kathmandu Valley.
  • Sikhs and Marathas were to be contained through alliance. The Chinese were also to be assured that there was no permanent territorial interest of the British in Nepal and the manoeuvre was temporary.

Moira was fairly candid – and even boastful in his final report on stratagems of subversions and political expediency. In his 2 August 1815 report he wrote:

" 114 with the operations of the troops it was my determination to combine a system of political arrangement, calculated to promote and secure the objects of the war. The basis of this system was to engage in our cause the expelled Chiefs of the ancient hill principalities reduced by the Goorkas and  thereby to draw over to us their former subjects. The general  tenor of my information led me to belive that the detestation in which the Goorkas were held by the inhabitants of the conquered territory, would induce them to avail themselves of so favorable an opportunity as would be presented, through the invasion of the Goorka dominions by a British army, to rise against their oppressors and exert their utmost efforts for the subversion of their power. It was my intention to employ the influence of their feelings in aid of our cause by engaging to exclude forever the poor of the Goorkas and to re-establish the ancient line of Princes under the guarantee of the British Government on no  other conditions than that the  exertions of the people and their Chiefs should be contributed in the way by which they could best promote the objects of the war. Either from habitual dread  of  the Goorkas, or diffidence of our success, occasioned by our failures in the early operations, this expectation was not generally realized."

The Gorkhas

The Gorkhas evolved primarily a defensive overture. In the occupied areas the troops were to fight through dissuasive operational art. At the home front, the enemy was to be kept at bay; and not allowed to cross the border. Adequate forces were to be concentrated at the expected points of convergence of the enemy. The border of Nepal thus became a Laxman Rekha or the limit of penetration for defense of Nepal, while  flexible response was to be adopted in the occupied areas.

As commanders in situ were regarded the best judge of the terrain, the positions they chose to defend and abandon was their prerogative. But the overall strategies were worked out on two principles. Firstly, in  occupied areas, space was to be traded for time and a mobile defence with lines of limit of resistance were to be selected. There was no control on battles from Kathmandu, though reinforcements were planned. Secondly, the defence of  Nepal, was to be based on accepted border from where the enemy was to be raided, attacked and finally destroyed. In both contingencies operational art was to be based on fighting battles around the well defended forts. Withdrawal from them to another set of defences was subject to the progress of the battle.

Diplomacy was to be used for achieving a negotiated settlement of the entire dispute with the British. The efforts at defusing tension and combat had to be explored through all means. Search for allies on the concept of an 'Asian Solidarity' had to be worked out constantly. Even the old enemies and doubtful friends had to be won over. He pleaded to the Tibetans Marathas, Rohillas, Sikhs, the Chinese for succour.[44]

It was a desperate effort in alliance, as except the Marathas, others were strange bed fellows. Ranjit Singh as we saw had been tied on to the British through the Treaty of Amritsar and he himself was watching the progess of the battle. Until the end of the campaign he seems to have regarded the Gorkhas as alien as the British, if not worse.

There are rare people who draw chestnuts out of fire for others. Ranjit Singh and the others of the Indian states who still existed, were least venturing to do that for Amar Singh in India. But even jumping the gun prematurely in this matter of alliance, one cannot resist quoting Pemble's observation that "had  the Sikhs (of Ranjit Singh) and Marathas joined their strength to that of the Gorkhas, it is hardly debatable that the British would have been expelled from northern India".[45]  It would have definitely been for good. But the Indians lacked strategic foresight and consequently were nibbled at, and finally individually chewed-up. A golden opportunity was thus lost by India in defeating an invasion and consolidating under one banner.

Back home, Bhim Sen Thapa tried to raise the morale of his people and told them that the The British have taken Hindustan because no one had opposed them. And their power and resources had geatly increased and they intended to capture our territory. We shall have 22 lakhs people to expel them.[46]

The Gorkha Defensive Deployment

The Gorkhas streamlined their overall command in occupied territories.[47] They occupied in varyig strengths the forts of Bhylee (Arki) subathu, Murni, Jaithak, Jagatgarh, Kalunga, Virat, Rowain, Tasksal, Taragarh (Nalagarh), Mustgarh, RAmgarh chain of forts, Rajgarh chain of forts including Malaun and forts in Almora and Garhwal. The Gorkhas were thus compelled to occupy larger number of forts and areas with lesser strength which seriously threatened their defensive capability. They needed to follow a pragmatic strategy of offering graduated and flexible response (stronger in the areas of British advance and thinner in depth). But wrong assumptions perhaps led them to following a uniform display of strength everywhere.


Preparation forward


Both sides began to work feverishly for the war from early 1814. The British, in fact, began their intelligence collection from the time Moira landed as Governor General and Commander-in-Chief. In that twin capacity he did not have to refer his preparations for war to any one. Along with intelligence began the psychological operations. The Gorkhas too were not inactive; they collected their vital information through various means and sources. However, they placed their reliance more on their 'valour' than the 'British discretion'. The British employed with finnese, the Kautilyan stratagem of Sam, Dam, Dand and Bhed.[48]

By 10 June 1814 instructions were issued to Rutherford to terminate all diplomatic transitions with Nepal. So was the nominal trade. The war had already begun on this date.[49]

The actual declaration of war against the Gorkhas is recorded as 1November 1814, though a decision had been taken eight months back and the war began from mid-October. As part of the overall strategy, four divisions of the Bengal Army were concentrated on four different axes stretched between Danapur (Patna) in the east to Banaras to Bilaspur to Meerut, on the west. ON both the flanks, two groups of Irregular forces operated in support of the main operations. ON the east, leading form the Jalpaiguri-Siliguri corridor to the fort of Nagri in Sikkim and on the west in Kumaon another group of Irregular forces operated. These forces worked under Major Barre Latter of the Rangpur Battalion with a force of 2400 men and Colonel Gardner (later Colonel Nicolls), respectively. Latter had Irregulars from Bihar and Oudh alongwith some local Gorkha settlers and a few Sikkimese. Under Gardner there were some Regulars mixed with Irregulars. Hearsey's  force, comprised local Rohillas, Kumaonis, collected at Pilibhit for operations in the Kali Kumaon.

Plan of Operations

The strategic objectives of Moira finally worked out as :

  • 1st Division (Div) under Major General Bannet Marley at Danapur, to seize pass at Makwanpur, preliminary to advance to Kathamandu.
  • 2nd Div  under Major General John Sulivan Wood having concentrated a Benaras was to secure Butal, thence Palpa and advance to Kathmandu where it was to link up with the 1st Div.
  • 3rd Div under Major General Rollo Gillespie was to advance to Dehra Dun via Saharanpur and thence to Srinagar (Garhwal). He was to operationally control Ochterlonyu as he advanced upto line Nahan-Subathu.
  • 4th  Div under Colonel David Ochterlony to advance through Bilaspur to Ramgarh, Arki/Malaun-Subathu- Jaithak and to link with Gillespie's forces (where he would cease to be independent) for final march to Srinagar.

Thus began, what Sir George Nugent one time C-in-C, described. "petty warfare on the frontiers of the British territories which rarely lasted more than one campaign and which always ended successfully". It was also epected that Moira's foray into Kathmandu Valley would be over by the Christmas. Both of them were in for shock.

A Simple Comparison of Forces

Before we proceed to analyse the operations as they developed, it is necessary to compare the two forces as objectively as possible, in terms of their strength, fire power, mobility, ability to reinforce, morale and fighting techniques.

Based on the British intelligence and assessment (which were generally over-estimated), the Gorkhas' strength was as given below:

(a)     Strength : 5,000-7000 in India.

 10,000 in Nepal.

 (b)    5,200 muskets (fusils) were reported to be distributed at Nahan (1,600) Hindur (300) Basahar (500) Kumarsein (200) Subathu (500) Arki (2,000) miscellaneous (100). It does not include weapons and strength at Sringar and Kalunga. While the number  of weapons did not exceed this figure, they were distributed all over. One among those Gorkhas carried a fusil; the others were armed with bow  and arrows, Khukris, and swords, Weapons captured during war were to be used to the best advantage.

(c)     Aritillery: 3 pounders-30-40 in India and Nepal.

          4 pounders-Arki, Rajgarh and Jaithak.

          1.5 pounders to 2 pounders-100 in India.

(d)     The above strength of manpower, weapons and guns proved excessive and inaccurate. The British estimates were based on hear say more  than correct assessments. However, these will still present a picture of the Gorkha strength.

(e)                The strength given by Francis Hamilton in Nepal was also sketchy. He listed strength as: Palpa 1,200; Chisapani 200; Bonat 1,200.

The initial British strength, on the other hand, is correctly tabulated as follows:

(a)     Cavalry-664.

(b)     Infantry- 4,061 (Europeans).

                        31,0008 (Natives).- final figure:52,180

                        17,111 (Irregulars).

(c)     Dromderry – 200.


(d)     Pioneers -843 .

(e)     Artillery – 3,628.

(f)     Private followers – 1,50,00 (Ochterlony's force had and logistic support. 42,134 followers alone.

(g)     Artillery Pieces – 106,

          Field guns – 47, Howitzers – 20,

          Siege guns – 14, Mortars – 23.

In comparison with Gorkhas, the British had an absolute superiority in Cavalry, Pioneers and at least, the superiority of 10 times in Infantry and 100 times in Artillery. The Gorkhas, however, excelled in morale, fighting technique, mobility, degree of tenacity, offensive spirit and above all, their ability to sacrifice themselves for their cause.

[1] Tartary denoted Northern Himalayan regions of Ladakh, and Tibet. British then had poor perception of geography. They mixed up Bhutan with Tibet and even the trade routes.

[2]PRNW PP 65; Pemble PP86-87

[3] Selection From Records of Government of Bengal XVII pp 12.

[4] Document on Treaties, Engagements & Sannads, Number XXIV. Rana Bahadur hob nobbed with the British to have himself 'reinstated to the throne'.

[5] Hasrat PP 208-209.

[6] Hand Book for Indian Army:Gurkha (1915) PP 42.

[7] Kirkpatrick PP 204; Pol Con Sep 21,1795, No 24.

[8] On threee 'ks": Moira's secret letter of 11 May 1815 addressed to Board to Directors said: " of the objects of dispute which has given rise to war owes its remote origin to the consequences of Kinloch expedition, and the ulterior objectives of Kirkpatrick and Knox's missions were defeated by enemity and jealousy of party .. and its obstinacy presents only obstacles to pacification." See letter reproduced in Hasrat PP 149.

[9] Ludhina Agency Records Vol II PP 395; PRNW PP 65. Pemble PP 85. Problem with China assumed frictitious  shape when Chinese bagan to see British expansion in India as threat to Tibet. The Nepalese troops in European uniform were also seen by the Chinese as the British troops in Nepal.

[10] History of Birtish India, VOL VIII by Mill PP 59-60.

[11] In the New Cambridge History of India-Vol 2 : Bengal The British Bridgehed Eastern India (1740-1828) Orient Longman 1987.

[12]  Water Hamilton PP 103. Perhaps there is partial truth in it as form 1792 the Nepalese  were obliged by the treaty to send 'quinquennial embassy' or tribute to China. But Nepal was never the vassal of China nor under its suzerainty.

[13] Pol Con 14 Sep 1816 No. 43; Pemble PP 79

[14] Ludhiana Records PP 197. The final excuse built up when 18 Policemen were killed in a Gorkha raid in a place below Palpa on May 18, 1814 . It provided the ultimate excuse of war to Moira, who was regarded as 'anxious to display his military talents'.

[15] Wheeler PP 472 and Fraser pp 3.

[16]  Ludhiana Records PP 394-395.

[17] Hasrat reproduced at PP 257,

[18] BD Sanwal pp 133-141.

[19]  Moon, Penderal PP 378 note-8.

[20]  Forbes PP 346-47.

[21] Memoirs of Gillespie; Psychology of Colonization by Mannoni and Calibar;  Theory of Social Change by Honewood.

[22] The Story of Gurkha, Bishop, PP 11.

[23]  See Edward Thorntons. The History of the British Empire In India Vol IV, PP 336.

[24] Stiller The Rise of The House of Gorkha pp 332; and Ochterlony's letter of 13 July 1813,

[25] Moon PP 378.

[26] Ibid PP 378.

[27]  Gorkha. A History of Gurkhas, Tuker PP 78. Also see Pol Cons April 22, 1814, No. 43. Para 10; Prinsep 465-66.

[28]  Generals & Strategists by the author. PP 16.

[29]  PRNW PP 73, 142, 144-45, 207, 344, 711-712.

[30] See Lieutenant Colonel Spaigt's Article Gorkha Expansion; M Scots report of 27 Dec 1814. The original Gorkha Battalions were Hanumandal. Singh Nath and Sri Nath. Also wee Sainik Itihas.

[31] William Fraser, Though a political agent, was an adventurer who helped raise an Irregular battalion under Martindell which provided very useful manpower for the eventual raising of the Gorkhas. Fraser's opinion of Gorkhas is worthwhile to quote: The Goorkhalis are a famous superior race in size and discipline and determination. They are said to run a steep acclivity …..

[32] See PRNW pp 258, The author of The History of the Bengal Artillery notes at PP2 the Gorkhali words of commands in French and their dress, being British. It showed the Gorkha keenness to imbibe the changes.

[33] Gorkha history by Vansitart, Fraser and Kennedy saw them fighting at Kalunga.

[34] Grenadier Company consisted of soldiers of exceptionally good height who could carry more weight and fight longer. They carried about  60 pound weight of arms and ammunition, especially Grenades.