A steamer of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company with flats alongside, shewing the way troops were conveyed up the river
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a steamer of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Comapany with flats alongside on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 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 advanced swiftly up the Irrawaddy River towards Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, in craft requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. A caption by Hooper accompanies the print: “The flats [barges] are, as it were, tucked under the arms of the steamer, being securely fastened to it on either side. They are flat bottomed, and only draw about 4 feet of water, but they are capable, on their two decks, of accommodating a large number of passengers.” 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. Hooper's photographs of the war are 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, a dedicated amateur photographer, 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 the photograph in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.