chapter  6
25 Pages

From Madras to Burma: the Nattukottai Chettiars and Development 1852-1939

From the time of their conquest of Lower Burma in 1852 the British were aware of the great potential of the fertile Irrawaddy Delta region as a source of foodstuffs and raw materials and a possible market outlet for British manufactured goods. So far, throughout the eighteenth century, the Delta had been poorly developed, sparsely populated and a mere backwater of the last Burmese kingdom. 1 Indian commercial ties to the region were long-standing, but they were now given substance by the British conquest. The earliest British endeavours to develop the region were based on attempts to settle Indian agriculturalists on land by a programme of land grants begun in 1874. Between 1876 and 1878 more than 15,000 Indians came to the Delta to claim government land as free cultivators, but the type of agriculture was unfamiliar to them and these efforts were generally regarded as unsuccessful. An equal failure was an attempt to make large grants to Indian capitalists on attractive conditions, and although about 9,500 Indians were brought to work on these estates, this too did not succeed.2