A picture taken from the deck of the "Thambyadine", the head quarter steamer, while we were steaming past it up the river early on the morning of the 15th Nov
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the Irrawaddy River in Burma (Myanmar), taken from the deck of the steamer “Thambyadine” by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in the early morning of 15 November 1885. The photograph is one of a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) made by Hooper while serving as Provost Marshal with the British army. He had sailed from Madras in India with Royal Artillery troops in early November 1885 to Rangoon, the capital of British Burma. From there British forces travelled up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, in craft requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. Their advance was so swift that the Burmese scarcely had time to block the river. A caption by Hooper accompanies the print: “It shews the barge prepared by the Burmese as an obstruction to our progress. The barge in question had been furnished with a kind of ‘cheveaux de frise’ constructed of strong teak posts, clamped together and pointed at the ends, the intention being to sink it in the river in a narrow passage in the hope of wrecking some of our steamers. This ‘happy thought,’ however, could not be carried out, as we captured the barge before the plan could be carried accomplished.” In addition to his military responsibilities, Hooper was a dedicated amateur photographer who had worked in India in collaboration with an army veterinary surgeon, George Western, where his subjects had included ethnographical studies, the life of the British, and the Madras famines of 1876-78. The Burma war series of photographs is considered “one of the most accomplished and comprehensive records of a nineteenth century military campaign”. They were published in 1887 as ‘Burmah: a series of one hundred photographs illustrating incidents connected with the British Expeditionary Force to that country, from the embarkation at Madras, 1st Nov, 1885, to the capture of King Theebaw, with many views of Mandalay and surrounding country, native life and industries’. There were two editions, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, and a series of lantern slides was also issued. A political scandal arose following allegations by a journalist that Hooper had acted sadistically in the process of photographing the execution by firing squad of Burmese rebels. The subsequent court of inquiry concluded that he had behaved in a “callous and indecorous” way and the affair raised issues of the ethical role of photography in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma on 1 January 1886 by the British and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), the last of the Burmese kings, and his queen Supayalat, to India.