The fleet at Pagan...This place was reached by the Expedition on the 22nd November
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the British fleet on the Irrawaddy River at Pagan (Bagan) 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. Pagan is an ancient royal city whose golden age fell between the 11th and the 13th centuries when it was the capital of an extensive Burmese kingdom. More than 5000 Buddhist monuments built by kings, nobles and monks survive on the plain on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy in central Burma. The scene in this image is described by Hooper in a caption: “The picture shews the fleet at anchor. In the foreground are two of King Theebaw’s steamers half submerged, they having been scuttled and deserted on our approach. The enemy had a battery here from which they fired on our advanced guard, the “Irrawaddy,” but a few well directed shells from her guns sufficed to make them clear out, and we landed without further opposition.” 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 Burma war series is 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 series 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.