One of King Theebaw's war steamers fully armed and equipped for the purpose of annihilating the presumptuous "Kalars"
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of one of King Thibaw’s war steamers on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River 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. 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. King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) was the last of the Burmese kings, and following his surrender to the British in late November 1885, he was sent into exile to India with his queen Supayalat. The annexation of Upper Burma was announced by the British on 1 January 1886. The steamer and its encounter with the British are described by Hooper in a caption accompanying the photograph: “It had 4 heavy guns on board, loaded for action, and was manned by 76 warriors; these, however, did not prove quite equal to the great things expected of them, for when the little “Kathleen” ran alongside, and six of our blue-jackets sprang on board, they precipitated themselves into the hold and allowed the vessel to be taken possession of without raising any objection. This occurred on the 26th November.” 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 photographer in documenting human suffering and the conduct of the British military during a colonial war.