A Mandalay Hansom
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of a bullock-drawn carriage at 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 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 album was issued in two editions, 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, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. The Burmese king, Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), was deposed and exiled to India and a military occupation of the city began. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “This picture must be left to describe itself. Like our hansoms it is not built to accommodate more than two; it differs slightly in other respects as may be seen from the photograph. I may perhaps remark that getting in and out of it is a difficult acrobatic performance, and that when you are inside it depends very much on who No.2 is whether you enjoy your ride or not.” In the background of the image can be seen one of the battlemented brick walls which were crowned with spires and formed the huge square fortress of Mandalay, founded in 1857. 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 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 photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.