The remains of a magnificent Kyoung, adjoining those occupied by the Hampshire Regiment, which was burnt down on the 24th March, 1886
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the remains of a kyaung (monastery) destroyed by fire at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1886. The photograph is from a series documenting the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885-86), 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’. Two editions were issued, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes, and a set of lantern slides. Hooper made the series while serving as Provost Marshal with the British Expeditionary Force, which entered Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, on 28 November 1885. King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) was deposed and taken prisoner, and a military occupation of the city began. Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon Min on a site close to Mandalay Hill, an ancient sacred mount, in fulfilment of a Buddhist prophecy that a religious centre would be created there. As a consequence of royal patronage, there were pagodas and monasteries throughout the city. This view shows the ruins of a monastery burnt down on 24 March 1886 during the unrest which followed the British annexation of Upper Burma, announced on 1 January of that year. Hooper described the circumstances of the fire in a caption accompanying the photograph: “This Kyoung adjoined those occupied by the Hampshire Regiment. The fire, which was one amongst the many which occurred in Mandalay about that time, was the work of incendiaries instigated, as was known to me, by one of the members of the Hloot-daw [Royal council of ministers]. The fire broke out during the forenoon in some Kyoungs beyond this; the troops turned out, and after some pretty warm work it was believed that the fire was extinguished, but it broke out again during the afternoon in this one, and there was a terrific blaze. The Kyoung occupied by the Hampshire Regiment was, with difficulty, saved; more than once the roof caught fire, but all hands worked unceasingly till the danger was past, and nothing remained of the building now photographed but the charred stumps of the pillars on which the Kyoung was raised, and the brick steps.” 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”. 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.