Floating Palace on the Irrawaddy River
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of King Thibaw’s state barge moored on the Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwaday) at Mandalay, probably taken by an unknown photographer in the 1890s. State barges were magnificent gilded vessels used by kings, courtiers and high officials in spectacular ceremonial processions and water festivals. Thibaw was the last king of Burma and ruled from 1878 until 1885, when Mandalay was annexed by the British Empire and the Burmese monarchy was exiled to India. Mandalay, founded in 1857, was Burma’s last royal capital and the royal barge was normally moored on the west side of the moat surrounding the city. The location of this view on the Irrawaddy is therefore probably Mandalay. The barge is double-hulled with gigantic twin figureheads in the form of nats, Burmese territorial spirits. The accommodation area of the boat is covered by a tiered roof with a spire known as a pyat-that denoting sacred royal or religious space. The photograph is from an album devoted almost entirely to Lord Elgin's Burma tour of November to December 1898. Victor Alexander Bruce (1849-1917), ninth Earl of Elgin and 13th Earl of Kincardine, served as Viceroy of India between 1894 and 1899.