Villagers coming in for protection at Pagan
Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of villagers coming in for protection by the British forces 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. On 22 November they reached Pagan, the ruined ancient royal capital on the east bank of the Irrawaddy in central Burma, where they came under fire from the Burmese. The circumstances of the scene in this image are described by Hooper in a caption accompanying the print: “When we arrived at this place the villages flocked round to put themselves under our protection, professing to be rejoiced that the British were about to take over the management of the country, and save them from the state of anarchy and oppression from which they were suffering.” 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 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.