A group of Dacoits captured near Mandalay
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a group of dacoits or armed robbers captured near Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1886. The photograph is from a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86), 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’. Two editions were issued, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, along with a set of lantern slides. Hooper made the series while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force commanded by General Prendergast, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. The war culminated in the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India, followed by the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. However Burmese resistance to British rule continued for several years after the annexation. There was intermittent warfare with guerrilla fighters as well as dacoits armed with weapons which the British had failed to seize on the surrender of King Thibaw. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph, in which he describes the dacoits as “wretches” and gives an account of their alleged torture of victims, concluding, “These remarks of course apply only to the professional Dacoit or robber, and the term is misapplied when used with reference to the majority of the enemy with whom we are now engaged. It would be nearer the truth to call them the late King’s army, and the malcontents made so by our indecisive policy at the commencement of the campaign.” Hooper was a dedicated amateur photographer and his photographs of the war in Burma are considered “one of the most accomplished and comprehensive records of a nineteenth century military campaign”. The series is also notable for the political scandal which arose following allegations by a journalist that Hooper had acted sadistically in the process of photographing the execution by firing squad of dacoits. 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 photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.