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British Empire

British Imperial Century: Asia

British troops during the First Anglo-Burmese WarBritish troops during the First Anglo-Burmese WarThe East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. The Company's army had joined forces with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War (1756–63). They continued their co-operation in regions beyond India's shores, acquiring Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah in 1786, capturing Java from the Dutch in 1811 and founding Singapore in 1819. By the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, the British gained control of Malacca in exchange for recognition of Dutch rule over the rest of the East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The Company also annexed several provinces of the neighbouring Burmese Empire, including Assam and Arakan, following its decisive victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–26. The British fought two more wars against a weakened Burma, and took control of the whole country by 1885.

British dependencies in the Malay Peninsula, 1888British dependencies in the Malay Peninsula, 1888


Useful as bases for the growing trade with China, the colonies on the Malay Peninsula's coast of the Straits of Malacca, originally acquired by the British East India Company, together became the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements in 1867. This marked the beginning of British expansion into the Malay Peninsula.

Over the course of the rest of the 19th century a number of Malay Sultans allied themselves with the British Empire. The British signed treaties with some Malay states, appointing “residents” who advised the Sultans and who soon became the effective rulers of their states.



The trigger for the rebellion by the sepoys (hired Indian soldiers) in 1857 was the introduction of the Enfield rifle. The cartridges (firearm ammunition) for this weapon were believed to be greased with a mixture of beef and pork fat, which would greatly offend both Hindu and Muslim Indian soldiers. On 10th May, the Indian soldiers at Meerut broke into open rebellion and marched on Delhi.

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