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A Print from a Negative (found in the Palace) of King Theebaw, Queen Soopy-a-lat and her sister

A Print from a Negative (found in the Palace) of King Theebaw, Queen Soopy-a-lat and her sister

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1885

Shelfmark: Photo 312/(73)

Item number: 31273

Length: 9.6

Width: 15.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph taken from a negative found in the Royal Palace at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar) of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), Queen Supayalat and Princess Supayaji, taken by an unknown photographer in c.1885. The image was included by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in his series of photographs documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86), published in 1887 under the title ‘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’. The series was issued as an album in two editions (one with albumen prints, one with autotypes) and as a set of lantern slides. Hooper took his photographs while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay on 28 November 1885, beginning an occupation of the city. King Thibaw was deposed and exiled to India and the war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. The negative of this photograph was found in the palace after the occupation began. King Thibaw, Supayalat and her sister Supayaji are depicted sitting on a dais in the palace studio, framed by curtains with a painted backdrop behind and another backdrop leaning against the wall to the side. The print is accompanied by a long letterpress description by Hooper in which the photographer is identified as a Frenchman who was employed as the Court Photographer, or possibly one of his Burmese assistants: “There is a glass studio in the Palace fitted up with all the usual accessories in the way of backgrounds, screens and curtains, also a dark room, and there were quantities of apparatus, chemicals, &c., but the whole in a state of utter confusion and dirt. It appears that Theebaw kept a Court Photographer, a Frenchman, and a staff of Burmese assistants. One of the latter I became acquainted with, and I asked him whether his appointment had been a good one; he smiled and said ‘yes, - but rather a precarious one.’ He was a very poor operator, and he said that when he took a picture of the King, or more particularly when he took a picture of Queen Soopy-a-lat, it was an even chance whether he got a handful of rubies given to him or had his head cut off! The Frenchman gave up the situation. The figure in the centre, next to Theebaw, is Soopy-a-lat. By all accounts she was not an amiable character; Theebaw was entirely ruled by her, and it was she who instigated the horrible massacres of the King’s relatives which took place a short time ago.”

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