Antiqua Print Gallery Anglo-Persian War
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Anglo-Persian War

The Anglo-Persian War lasted between November 1, 1856 and April 4, 1857, and was fought between the United Kingdom and Persia (which was at the time ruled by the Qajar dynasty). In the war, the British opposed an attempt by Persia to reacquire the city of Herat, which was nominally part of Afghanistan (then a very loose entity) but which had been part of Persia under the Qajar dynasty. Persia ultimately agreed to surrender its claims to the city.

Origins

In the context of the Great Game — the Anglo-Russian contest for influence in Central Asia — the British wished for Afghanistan to remain an independent country friendly to Britain as a buffer against Russian expansion towards India. They opposed an extension of Persian influence in Afghanistan because of the perception that Persia was unduly influenced by the Russians. The Persians had repeatedly attempted to acquire Herat by force, most recently in 1838 and 1852; both times British opposition had convinced them to back down prior to war. They made a fresh attempt in 1856, and succeeded in taking the city on 25 October. In response, the British Governor-General in India, acting on orders from London, declared war on 1 November.
Separate from and in many ways prior to the dispute over Herat was an incident concerning one Meerza Hashem Khan, whom the British ambassador hoped to appoint as a secretary in the mission in Teheran. The Persians objected, creating a dispute that escalated when rumours appeared that the British ambassador had improper relations with the man's wife, who was the sister of the Shah's principal wife. The dispute escalated still further when the Persians arrested the woman; the British ambassador broke relations when they refused to release her. Indeed, the initial mobilisation of British forces began in response to this incident, although it is unlikely that the British would have gone beyond the occupation of one or two islands in the Persian Gulf had the issue of Herat not arisen.

1856

In the aftermath of the disastrous First Afghan War, the British were reluctant to send a force through Afghanistan to relieve Herat directly. Instead, they elected to attack the Persians on the Persian Gulf coast. As a first step, a British-Indian Naval squadron, commanded by Commodore Young, landed a force that captured the strategic Kharg Island followed by the primary port of Persia at Bushire/Bushehr on 10 December 1856 after a short naval bombardment. There was then a delay as the British waited for reinforcements.

1857

Once reinforcements arrived, an Army expeditionary force under Major General Sir James Outram advanced on Brazjun/Borazjan, which the Persians abandoned without a fight. The British appropriated or destroyed the supplies at the site and then, deciding against a risky pursuit into the mountains, began to return to Bushire. During the withdrawal the British force was attacked at Khushab, on 7 February 1857. The Persians caught the British in a potentially dangerous situation, but the British forces ultimately managed to inflict a heavy defeat on the attacking Persians in what turned out to be the largest battle of the war. Pursuit of the defeated army was deemed impracticable, and thus the British returned to Bushire.
The British then shifted their focus north up the Persian Gulf to the city of Muhammarah (future Khorramshahr) on the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The transfer of forces was delayed by the separate deaths by suicide of two high-ranking British officers, which occasioned a shuffling of commands and forced Outram to leave Brig. John Jacob in command in Bushire. Muhammarah had strong defences and was further protected by the political requirement that the British not violate Ottoman territory, as the city lay right on the border. In the event, however, the Persians abandoned the city to a British force under Brigadier Henry Havelock after naval bombardment. The Persians under the command of Khanlar Mirza withdrew to Ahvaz, a hundred miles up the Karun River, where they were attacked by the Royal Navy and forces from the 64th Foot and 78th Highlanders. The town fell to the British on 1 April 1857. On returning to Muhammarah on 4 April the force learned that peace had been signed in Paris on the 4 March. At the time that news of peace arrived, Outram was planning an invasion into the Persian interior that likely would have significantly escalated the war.

Diplomacy

The Persians apparently hoped that the British would not contest their acquisition of Herat — they recognised that they could not expect to win a war against the British army — and thus once British opposition became clear they attempted to back down. Negotiations in Constantinople between Persian ambassador Ferukh Khan and British ambassador Lord Stratford de Redcliffe ultimately broke down over British demands that the Persians replace their prime minister (the sadr-i a'zam). News of the onset of fighting resulted in a formal rupture of talks, but discussions soon began again in Paris, and the two sides signed a peace treaty on 4 March. In the treaty, the Persians agreed to withdraw from Herat, to apologise to the British ambassador on his return, to sign a commercial treaty, and to cooperate in suppressing the slave trade in the Persian Gulf; the British agreed not to shelter opponents of the Shah in the embassy, and they abandoned the demand to replace prime minister as well as one requiring territorial concessions to the Imam of Muscat, a British ally.
The Persians faithfully withdrew from Herat, permitting the British to return their troops to India, where they were soon needed for combat in the Indian Mutiny. Herat returned to more direct Afghan control when it was retaken by Dost Mohammed Khan in 1863.

(Source Wikipedia)