Washing plant of the Burma Ruby Mining Co. - washing gravel from the rich mines of Mogok, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900, showing a view of gravel washing drums used by the Burma Ruby Mining Company at Mogok in Mandalay Division, Burma (Myanmar). The prints are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one of a series of “stereoscopic tours” of foreign countries published as part of the Underwood Travel Library. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. A caption on the reverse of the mount describes the view: “This machinery is located, as you see, out of doors; you are in a valley among the tiger-haunted hills of northern Burma. These circular tanks, where mud is being churned by the revolving wheels, contain earth and gravel much like what you see in the bank yonder. As the horizontal wheel in the tank revolves, combing the mud with those vertical rods set in the spokes, the small stones that had been mixed with the mud separate themselves from it. Indeed there is a clever mechanical device that we cannot see here, which assorts the stones according to size. The stones are then dried and examined by experts to discover such rough rubies as may be mixed with the worthless waste. Unaccustomed eyes would be likely to pass over some of the most valuable gems. Garnets and sapphires (the ruby itself is practically a red sapphire) are also often found in the gravel…The managers of this washing mill are British, but the grimy workmen you see here now are chiefly up-country Burmese of various tribes. We are so near the frontier of China that a good many Chinese too drift into the valley, looking for employment and for possible fortunes.” Stereoscopic views became enormously popular in the mid-19th century as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. A stereoscope produces the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The prints in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value.