Doorway of a Chinese Temple in Bhamo
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the doorway of a Chinese temple at Bhamo 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, which under the command of General Prendergast entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885, and then took Bhamo on 28 December. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India. Bhamo, situated in Kachin State in the hills of Burma’s far north, is the closest and most accessible point to China. The district population included Chinese-Shan settlers from nearby Chinese provinces and Cantonese who came via Rangoon. There had been a Chinese temple in Bhamo since the mid-19th century. A caption by Hooper accompanies the photograph: “The entrance is a circular one through a massive stone wall 18 or 20 ft. high. It is closed by heavy teak doors fastened with bars and bolts. In the interior of the temple are some weird paintings and some very curious old bronzes. Not very long ago a raiding party of Chinese, about 200 strong, made an attack on Bhamo, but being greatly outnumbered by the Burmese, they shut themselves up in the temple where they held their own, and the Burmese, unable to dislodge them, gave them all they asked and allowed them to retire with their booty.” 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.