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Willoughby Wallace Hooper
Some of King Theebaw's Guards at the East Gate of the Palace enclosure, [Mandalay], the day we entered
13.6 x 19 cm
Shelfmark: Photo 312/(21), Item number: 31221
Curatorial description (Accessed: 27 February 2017)
Photograph of royal guards at the East Gate of the Palace enclosure at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar) taken by Willoughby Wallace Hooper in 1885. The print is from 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 the Burma Expeditionary Force, commanded by General Sir Harry Prendergast, advanced swiftly up the Irrawaddy from Rangoon, the capital of British Burma, to Mandalay, the Burmese royal capital, in craft requisitioned from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. The British entered Mandalay on 28 November, taking King Thibaw (reigned 1878-1885) prisoner and beginning an occupation of the city. Shortly after the king began a journey into exile in India with Queen Supayalat, where he died in 1916, and the war culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British on 1 January 1886. A caption by Hooper accompanying the photograph describes the guards and their fate: “Their appearance was not prepossessing. Since then, for the most part, they have become ‘Dacoits.’ During the King’s time they received pay from the Government, or at all events were supposed to do so, and if they at times found themselves without their monthly allowance, they helped themselves where they could and no one objected. On our arriving and taking over the management of the country they were all turned adrift; they no longer received pay, and they were no longer allowed to help themselves, so, having no means of earning an honest livelihood, they naturally turned Dacoits and were ready to form the bands of so-called “rebels” with whom we now have to deal.” 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”. 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 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 dacoits. 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.