The Hampshire Regiment at Mandalay attending Divine Service on the morning of Christmas Day, 1885
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of British army troops of the Hampshire Regiment attending a church service outside a Buddhist monastery at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), taken on Christmas Day in 1885 by Willoughby Wallace Hooper. 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, the Burmese royal capital, 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 of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of the king and his queen Supayalat to India. As a consequence of royal patronage there was a wealth of monastic architecture in Mandalay, and a caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the circumstances of this image: “This regiment is quartered in some of the numerous Phoongyee Kyoungs, or Monasteries, outside the city walls on the N.E. These buildings make capital barracks for the men. As for their appearance, I imagine that British troops have seldom, if ever, been quartered in such brilliant looking edifices all ablaze, as they are, with gold-leaf and fragments of looking-glass. The service on this day, as on Sunday mornings at that time, was held in the open-air outside one of these buildings, as shewn in the picture, the men being paraded fully armed, as in those days it was impossible for any one to say when an alarm might be sounded. This, as well as other buildings of the kind, was erected as a 'work of merit,' but the builders little thought that one day the Christmas Hymn, 'Hark! The Herald-Angels,' would be sung by British solders in that place.” 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.