Mandalay Hill as seen from the NE corner of the city
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of Mandalay Hill at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1885. The photograph is from a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86) made by Hooper while serving as Provost Marshal with the British army. The Burma Expeditionary Force entered Mandalay, on 28 November 1885, taking prisoner the last king of Burma, Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), and beginning an occupation of the city. The war culminated in the annexation by the British of Upper Burma on 1 January 1886 and the exile of the king and his queen Supayalat to India. The last royal capital of Burma, Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon Min as a new seat for the Konbaung dynasty, marking a shift from Amarapura, at the foot of Mandalay Hill, an ancient sacred site, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy. This view shows the hill silhouetted in the distance and the north side of the moat surrounding the city in the foreground with monastic buildings and a pagoda on the far side. Hooper describes the hill and the use to which it was put during the occupation in a caption accompanying the photograph : “The hill, which is about 500 feet high, is a quarter-of-a-mile from the city, which it completely commands. It is covered with low jungle. The ascent is by a covered flight of steps to within a short distance of the top. Half way up there are some finely carved Kyoungs, in one of which is an immense gilded figure of Gautama, some 40 or 50 feet high. On the summit are some more Kyoungs and Shrines, to which Theebaw used to send a daily offering of fowls. It is now used as a signalling station, and signals from it can be flashed in all directions; it is in direct communication with Ava and Yankeentoung, where we have military ports. This picture is taken from the Gymhhama ground, which is under the city wall between it and the moat, where we frequently have athletic sports, races, &c…” 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”. They were 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 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 photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.