The Big Bell at Mengoon, a little above Mandalay, on the other side of the river
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the bell at Mingun Pagoda in Mingun, 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, along with 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. The war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886 and the exile of King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) and Queen Supayalat to India. Mingun, 11 kms from Mandalay on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, is best known for its immense and incomplete pagoda begun by King Bodawpaya (ruled 1782-1819) who founded Amarapura. He intended it to be the tallest Buddhist monument in the world, rising to a height of 150 ms, but died in 1819 before it could be finished. This photograph gives a view of the massive pagoda in the background with its famous bell in the foreground. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes its size and history: “After the Great Bell of Moscow, this is probably the largest bell in the world. The following are its dimensions:-height, 18 ft. 6 in.; diameter at base, 16 ft. 6 in.; diameter at top, 9 ft.; height of interior, 11 ft. 8 in.; weight, 103 ¾ tons. It was cast in the reign of Theebaw’s father, and is said to have a quantity of gold and silver amalgamated with the metal of which it is made, as many of the Burmese, desirous of performing an act of merit, cast their offerings of precious metals, jewelry, etc., into the molten mass.” 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.