One of the Enemy's Gunpits at Ava
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of British forces dismantling cannons in a Burmese gun pit at Ava (Inwa)in Burma (Myanmar) taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper on 27 November 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. On 22 October 1885 Britain had issued an ultimatum to Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885), the last of the Burmese kings, and by 9 November an effective refusal of the terms had been received. The Burma Expeditionary Force of 10,000 troops, commanded by General Sir Harry Prendergast (1834-1912) then 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. On 26 November envoys from King Thibaw met General Prendergast with offers of a Burmese surrender when the flotilla was approaching Ava, and on 27 November a ceremonial laying down of arms by the Burmese took place at Ava. Ava had been the capital of the Burmese kingdom for 400 years till 1841. The print is described by Hooper in an accompanying caption: “This picture which was taken under very unfavourable circumstances on the evening of 27th Nov., shews a party of Royal Artillery removing the guns which were mostly destroyed as useless. The far side of the river is Sagain.” The war culminated in the exile of King Thibaw to India with his queen Supayalat and the annexation of Upper Burma, announced by the British on 1 January 1886. 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.