By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
An iron smelting furnace built in Yadanabon era (1853-1885 AD) among many historical buildings in Sagaing Township which has already turned 705 shows an evidence on bully of British till today.
The Department of Archaeology and National Museum is maintaining such furnace located in Thazi Ward near ShwetaungUmaw Pagoda in Sagaing. It was one of industries established in Yadanabon era. Construction of the furnace started in June 1874 but it did not finish till 1878. Upon completion, the furnace could operate production with the use of 100 tonnes of coal per day.
Industries in Yadanabon era
After two aggressive wars with British, Myanmar poured out utmost efforts for modernizing the country as much as it can. Such energetic efforts were dubbed as last endeavours of Konbaung dynasty by veteran writer Ma Kyan.
Starting from 1854 AD, Kin Mindon and Crown Prince Kanaung established modern industries and workshops, changed new currency system, cast coins and sent youths abroad to learn modern technologies. As of 1858, they established industries in Yadanabon Royal Palace.
Maha Yazawingyi History mentioned there were more than 50 industries and factories in Yadanabon era but British records stated there were nine factories only, quoted by historian Daw Kyan in her paper on factories in Yadanabon era. Firm evidences showed existence of cannon and gun factory, weaving factory, ship-building factory, saw factory, coin factory, sugar factory, indigo factory and iron smelting furnace.
There were two iron smelting furnaces in Yadanabon era. One of two took a position near Saw Factory, northwest of Ponnnagon cemetery. Such furnace was combined with five workshops including blacksmith, metal smelting and iron smelting furnace. Another one was Sagaing iron smelting furnace.
Iron smelting furnace vs. deceitful Clement William
Cornerstones were laid by Prince Makkhaya, Secretary of Bhamo and Pontoon superintendent in Nayon of 1236 ME for construction of Sagaing iron smelting furnace. The Myanmar Herald Tribune daily issued on Saturday on 13 June 1874, showing the story with headline “Son Prince Makkhaya, Secretary of Bhamo and Pontoon Officer leave for Sagaing to inspect cornerstone laying of iron smelting furnace”.
The government of Myanmar king signed an agreement with Dr Clement William in October 1870 to take machinery and recruit industrial technicians for construction of the iron furnace. According to the agreement, Dr Clement William took responsibilities for sending the iron furnace by charging K380,000. He left for England in 1871 to buy necessary machinery.
Kinwun Mingyi talked with Dr Clement William in England about issue of iron furnace in 1872. The minster sent glass superintendent to inspect machinery for iron furnace. Clement William reported to Kinwun Mingyi on purchase of the iron furnace in October 1872, saying that as he paid 15 pyas per K100 for increasing charges of iron, coal and labour wages, it was no reason to exceed more than K380,000 of charges, and pledged to give the iron furnace within 17 months.
He sent 50 tonnes of lower structure for the furnace to Myanmar from Liverpool of England on 17 December 1872. Clement William called on Kinwun Mingyi at Yangon port on 29 March 1874 and said full equipment of machinery for Sagaing iron smelting furnace arrived but Myanmar did not get it.
Clement William demanded more K60,000 but Myanmar government paid K440,000. Even though, full equipment of the iron furnace did not arrive in Myanmar. In negotiation, Clement William further demanded K72,940 from Myanmar government.
He showed reasons on increasing prices of iron in England, over charges in boycott of labourers, remaining salaries for two engineers, buying of asbestos bricks for sugar mill, different currency value in changing gold coins, and cost for return of two engineers to England.
The government of Myanmar king paid K62,360 to Clement William in May and June of 1875. So, total expense for the furnace to Clement William reached K512,940 and there remained to pay K10,580. But, Clement William evaded to English without handover of equipment for the furnace which arrived in Yangon, to Myanmar government.
Youth engineers from England William, Jones, Holgate and Graham fitted machinery at Sagaing Iron Furnace in April 1874. But, their installation did not complete due to lack of full equipment. Myanmar government paid salaries to engineers for 16 months and expense for returning charges to
England to them.
Bias decision for iron smelting furnace case
Myanmar government sent a complaint to the commissioner on the case of Sagaing iron furnace in October 1875 and demanded K2.6 million as compensation for losses in the project and cost for salaries of operators, interpreters and workers. Clement William also complained that he did not get complete amount for the project from the Myanmar government and wished to get K190,000 more including interest and compensation for expense not paid till the agreement term was overdue.
The case did not reach agreement till 1876. Both sides agreed to accept the decision of Deputy Commissioner Colonel H.T. Duncan, the representative of British government in Royal Palace. So, the trials started on 31 July 1877.
H.T. Duncan decided Myanmar government had to pay further K26,680 including remaining cash K10,580 for the iron furnace to Clement William. In the decision, Clement William had to hand over machinery for the iron furnace which arrived in Yangon to Myanmar government within 30 days. After that, Myanmar government had to pay K16,680 to Clement William within 10 days. Remaining K10,000 had to be trusted at Charter Bank with the accounts of a Bishop or other one agreed by both sides. Clement William had to take the cash after handing over the machinery to Myanmar government in line with the agreement. Within 10 days after taking over the machinery, if Myanmar government did not pay cash, it had to pay 10 per cent interest per year for the delay terms.
H.T. Duncan left the compensation demanded by Myanmar government because it could not mention how about loss for the case. Although Myanmar government accepted his decisions with great consideration, Clement William requested the commission to submit his appeal to the Indian government. But, the commissioner turned down the appeal of Clement William because the former decision was fair.
The case of iron smelting furnace concluded in 1878. It was expected that although Myanmar government took over machinery from Yangon for the furnace, it was not sure to get complete sets. At that time, foreign engineers returned home while it was time of dying for King Mindon. As such, it was assumed that installation of machinery could not finish at the iron furnace.
Malpractice of British
After Myanmar had lost her independence in 1885, British sold factories and workshops including Sagaing iron furnace in Yadanabon era. Arrangements were made to sell machinery which were not yet to install yet to England. Although transport charge might be high, British expected such machinery in good conditions stockpiled on bank of Ayeyawady River would be sold in England easily. But, they assumed buyers would be from India, the procurement might be better. As such, they inserted advertisement for sales in the dailies and engineering magazines issued in India.
Parts of machinery from Sagaing iron furnace was assessed as K35,240 and arranged to be sold in Mandalay but British got lower prices for the parts. Although anyone did not know how British sold Sagaing iron smelting furnace, there remain some parts of machinery and the furnace till today.
Situation of iron smelting furnace
A 15 metres high brick building constructed on a square shape foundation in northeast corner of the furnace is blast furnace plant. Its bottom is formed with 1.1 metres wide and 2.1 metres high ventilation. Upper side of 3.2 metres wide hole is blast furnace kiln and the lower side, smelting of iron ore. While cleaning the furnace, parts of molten lava but any evidence was not found for operating the furnace yet.
Circular and square pits were found in the compound of the iron furnace in addition to tubes made of concrete tubes. In addition, a brick tank with 10 metres in length and 8 metres in width can be seen there.
Although King Mindon strived for shaping Myanmar as an industrialized nation with modernity last around 150 years but his mission failed due to disturbance in various ways and means committed by the colonialists. And then, Myanmar lost her independence in 1885. Whatever it maybe, endeavours of Myanmar in the past remain historical evidences, showing Sagaing iron smelting furnace as a significant proof.
(Translated by Than Tun Aung)
Last endeavours of Konbaung Dynasty
Diary on journey to London (Kinwun Mingyi)