Left bank of the river at Myingyan with native boats moored alongside
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the left bank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River with boats moored alongside at Myingyan in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1885. The photograph is one of a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) made by Hooper while serving as Provost Marshal with the British army. In early November 1885 British forces advanced swiftly up the Irrawaddy River from Rangoon, the capital of British Burma, towards Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, in craft requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. This view shows the wide reaches of the river, with Burmese rice boats moored in the foreground, steamers in the distance, and buildings on the riverbank. The print is accompanied by a caption in which Hooper describes events at Myingyan: “The Expedition reached this spot, where there is a town of some importance, on the 24th November. The town was held in considerable force by the Burmese, who had numerous masked batteries and gun-pits along the banks from which they saluted us with an ineffectual fire from guns and firearms of various descriptions. The firing was kept up till some time after dark. On the following morning, after a few more shots, some of the troops were landed, and the place quickly taken possession of. An encampment was formed round the house of the Irrawaddy Co.’s Agent, which house has since been utilised as a mess-house by the officers of the garrison.”
The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma on 1 January 1886 by the British and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), the last of the Burmese kings, and his queen Supayalat, to India. Hooper was a dedicated amateur photographer and his photographs of the Burma war are considered “one of the most accomplished and comprehensive records of a nineteenth century military campaign”. It was 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’. There were two editions, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, and a set of lantern slides was also issued. 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 ethical role of the photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.