By Win Zaw Translated by Than Tun Aung
Two Myanmar kings Mindon and Thibaw, successively reigned over upper Myanmar from 1853 to 1885 in the late Konbaung era. British occupied the whole Myanmar in 1885, ending the 133 years long Konbaung era.
When King Mindon came onto the throne, British had occupied lower Myanmar. Hence, King Mindon sent youths abroad to learn technologies, changed currency system, attempted to establish the industrialized country by building factories and published newspaper. Moreover, the king built fortresses and bunkers at strategic areas along Ayeyawady River, namely Minhla, Kwaychaung, Thabyetan, Asaykhan and Hsinkyon fortresses.
Thabyetan, Hsinkyon, and Asaykhan fortresses took positions near Sagaing, as a tripartite shape on the bank of Ayeyawady River near Sagaing and Inwa, before arriving at Mandalay.
Hsinkyon fortress was located on the bank in Inwa, Asaykhan fortress on Sagaing bank and Thabyetan fortress on Mandalay. Kinwun Mingyi built these fortresses like that of Portsmouth at the British strait in England.
Background history of Sagaing
Sagaing called Zeyapura was built by Athinkhaya Saw Yun in 1315 AD.
Sagaing takes a position at the foot of Minwun mountain range, the western bank of the Ayeyawady River, near Amarapura and Inwa. Ayeyawady River flows from the north to the south at the eastern wing of Sagaing and then turns to the west at the southern wing, as hugging the city.
Zabudipa Uhsaung treatise edited by U Pe Maung Tin and JS Furnivall mentioned, “Sagaing shares border with Ayeyawady River in the east and the south, outlet creek of Sauktaw Lake in the west and Makyeesi in the north.”
Saw Yun, son of Taseeshin, reigned over Sagaing in 677 ME with the title of Thiri Athinkhaya. Sagaing City was built in 677 ME.
U Kalar Maha History, New Twinthin Maha History, Glass Royal Palace History and Zartartawpon History treatises mentioned Athinkhaya Saw Yun had reigned over the city for eight years.
Athinkhaya Saw Yun ruled the city for eight years, Tayaphya 15 years, Shwetaungtet three years, Kyaw Saw 10 years, Hsinbyushin Nawrahta Minye seven months, Tayaphya Nge three years and Min Pyauk 13 years. Seven kings successively reigned over the city for more than 50 years.
In the Konbaung era, King Sagaing ruled Sagaing City and entitled it with Aungchapura and the royal palace, Myanan Aungcha.
It was built in front of the old Sagaing Bridge as of 3 December 1874, and it was completed on 1 January 1879 in the reign of King Thibaw. It was also called as Shwekyetyet fortress concerning Shwekyetyet hill.
Thabyetan fortress was 400 feet long in the east and 108 feet in the west, 362 feet long in the south and 492 feet long in the north. Ladders were placed at four corners to descend into the fortress. Eleven tunnels, nine feet high and six feet wide, were also built in the fortress. The fortress was formed with two rooms for commanders, 10 rooms for soldiers, four rooms for ammunition and three rooms for foods in addition to a well.
The lowest brick structure of the fortress was three feet high, and arm chambers made of bricks were located on the north and west sides. The outer foundation was three feet high. The wall of the fortress was 10 feet high and slope, 20 feet long. The fortress was rounded with 25 feet wide corridor for the way of soldiers. Arms chambers were placed under the second corridor fenced with four feet high brick bunkers.
An earthen wall that was 80 feet long, 50 feet wide and 18 feet high was located 50 feet from the eastern entrance to the fortress. A five-foot bridge lay on the entrance. Thabyetan fortress was strongly built as it was the nearest to Yadanabon Royal Palace.
In the third Anglo-Myanmar War, more than 1,000 soldiers led by Maha Minkhaung Thurein, Naymyo Sithu Kyawkhaung, head of eastern royal compound and governor of Yadana Theinga Town Yebet horse minister Thadoe Mingyi Maha Minkhaung Raza based at Thabyetan fortress to wait for the enemies who would march up along Ayeyawady River. But, Myanmar soldiers missed the chance to fight against British due to the order of Kinwun Mingyi who made efforts for ensuring a ceasefire with British. So. British troops easily occupied Thabyetan fortress on 27 November 1885.
King Mindon ordered Commodore Perry of Italian Navy and Myanmar engineers to build Asaykhan fortress under the supervision of Daingwun superintendent and Kathe superintendent. After completion, the fortress was guarded by Bo Kyei and 50 soldiers. The location of fortress was the residence of rowers from Sagaing, so it was named Asaykhan fortress.
The fortress was in the shape of semicircular. The straight–line faced Sagaing and the round shape, Ayeyawady River. The road in front of the fortress was five feet high, so the fortress was lower the road.
The straight line side was fenced with a brick wall with eight feet in height and two feet in breadth. The round shape side facing Ayeyawady River was covered with a 30 feet wide ground and brick wall. Four cannons were placed on that wall to target the boats of enemies.
A small cannon each was laid on both sides of the entrance to the fortress, and the stone plaques bearing Asaykhan fortress and the history of the fortress were posted on both sides of the road to the fortress. The fortress was 240 feet wide from the south to the north and 320 feet long from the east to the west. Two cubic shape brick chambers in south and north sides might be arms and food stores as well as bankers of soldiers. The southern brick chamber was formed with two rooms and the northern one, a cubic shape brick chamber with an entrance.
In the third Anglo-Myanmar War, 2,726 soldiers led by governor of Pin City Mingyi Minkhaung Maha Minkyaw Thurein based at Asaykhan fortress. But, as an order sent by the Myanmar Royal Assembly not to fight, Hamshire troop led by General George White occupied the Asaykhan fortress on 26 November 1885.
Three tombs fenced by a small brick wall can be seen outside the door of the northern wall of Asaykhan fortress. Names of fallen soldiers were described on the tombs. Those in a tomb was described that they fell in the battle on 27 December 1885 and another on 10 January 1886. The third tomb mentioned the soldiers on duty fell on 9 January 1886 in English language. These dates were about one month later the event which King Thibaw was taken away.
Just a time when King Thibaw was abducted away, Prince Kyun Nyunt, son of Prince Kanaung, led patriotic troops to fight against British troops near Sagaing Asaykhan fortress. As the dates were just a time when King Thibaw had been taken away, those who fell in the battles were buried in the tombs due to the fight of Myanmar patriotic troops led by Prince Kyun Nyunt.
Square shape Hsinkyon fortress was built on the bank of the Ayeyawady River near Hsinkyon Village, west of ancient Inwa city, in 1874.
The fortress was fenced with tripple walls. The most outer wall was 355 feet long, the middle 293 feet and the most inner one 200 feet. The 31 feet wide water moat was located between the walls, with a bridge on the eastern part of the moat.
The outer part of inner wall was filled with soil to be bunkers. Northern part of the fortress was formed with two rooms. Rotary cannons, launchers and guns were placed on the passage of soldiers. The arms chamber and ignite chamber were structured inside the fortress.
Those marching up along the Ayeyawady River might see Hsinkyon fortress before arriving at Asaykhan and Thabyetan fortresses. The Ministry of Culture preserved Hsinkyon fortress in 1957 as an ancient building in the Inwa area. Two stone plaques bearing history of the fortress were posted on front wing of the fortress, one of two was described in Myanmar and another in English.
The stone inscription bears: “In the reign of King Mindon in 1236 ME, Italian Commodore led the construction of the fortress under supervision of Kinwun Mingyi U Kaung and Yaw Mingyi U Bo Hlaing. Hsinkyon fortress in Inwa, Asaykhan fortress in Sagaing and Thabyetan fortress in Amarapura were built as a tripartite to fight against British who would march up along Ayeyawady River.”
Thabyetan fortress and Asaykhan fortress were 1.5 miles long in distance and Asaykhan fortress and Hsinkyon fortress, one mile and three furlongs long in distance. These three fortresses were built as a design to fight against the enemies in the Ayeyawady River.
Three fortresses around Sagaing City were invaluable evidence of Myanmar who strived for safeguarding the sovereignty of the country as a final endeavours before ending the Konbaung era,said veteran historian Daw Kyan.
Myanmar Encyclopaedia Volume IX
Konbaung Dynasty Maha History (U Maung Maung Tin)