Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

British Burma (1826-1942)

Moulmein (Mawlamyine) 1872, with the prison in the foreground.

"Frau mit Zigarre" c. 1875. Portrait by the German ethnologist and explorer Fedor Jagor who was in Rangoon collecting for Berlin museums.

1878 - 1912
A Karen in America 1878

Moung Edwin was one of the very first Burmese students in the United States.  He was also one of the earliest foreign students from any country in America.  

He was born in 1849.  His father was U Shway Bo, the first Pwo Karen pastor in Burma.  After arriving in the US in 1875 he first attended the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  This was the same seminary that Martin Luther King Jr would attend 75 years later.  He then...

1879 - 1951
The life of U Chit Hlaing

U Chit Hlaing (1879-1951), barrister and national leader, was once the towering figure in Burmese politics, attracting enormous crowds, known as the "Uncrowned King of Burma", before losing influence to a younger generation of politicians in the 1930s. This is a portrait of him taken in 1931 in London where he was attending the Burma Roundtable Conference chaired by Lord Peel.

20 March 1879
President Grant’s visit to Rangoon

On 20 March 1879, Ulysses Grant, former US President and commander of Union armies during the Civil War arrived in Rangoon for a short visit. He was on a round-the-world tour following his retirement as president in 1877. President Grant and his family were entertained at Government House (now destroyed), where he and then Chief Commissioner HT White discussed the possibility of a future "Anglo-Saxon League" to "impose peace on the world". President Grant found Burma to be a much...

The Burmese dwarf "Smaun Sing Hpoo"

The Burmese dwarf "Smaun Sing Hpoo", "the smallest most perfectly formed man in the world", standing at 2 feet 10 inches and weighing 18 pounds, and an expert gymnast. He and his sister (also a dwarf) were born in British Burma around 1880 and first toured Europe before arriving in New York in 1905. They performed at Hammerstein's Victoria Theater on 42nd Street (owned by the father of Oscar Hammerstein Jr, the famous Broadway producer), to mixed reviews. The sister...

Drawing of downtown Mandalay in the late 1880s, near the old Zeygyo bazaar.

1884 - 1935
Rangoon tram c. 1935

Rangoon's first steam tramway was built in 1884 and ran from the Strand to the Shwedagon. Electric trams were introduced in 1906, about the same time as in Singapore, Manila and Bangkok. In the 1930s trams provided efficient public transportation all around the city. The tramway system was effectively destroyed during World War Two.

November 1885 - 6
A British firing squad executes Burmese 'rebels' outside the walls of Mandalay.

The Third Anglo-Burmese War had lasted only two weeks, leading to King Thibaw's surrender in November 1885. But the real fighting was only just beginning and would last nearly 5 years. There was no single resistance against the new occupation, but many different groups, led by Konbaung princes, various myoza and myothugyi, Shan chiefs, and others. The British invaded Upper Burma and won the Third War with 10,000 men. But 40,000 were required for the 'Pacification' of 1886-7. Thousands of...

Mandalay "B Road" in 1886

1886 - 1930
Proposed railway connecting Rangoon to Bangkok in 1886

Until the building of the Burma Road in the late 1930s, there was really no proper overland connection between Burma and either India, China, or Siam (Thailand). The railway to Bangkok was of course never built. Modern infrastructure in British Burma was focused almost solely on the export of rice, oil, and logs from the port of Rangoon. The rest of the economy was barely developed.

A portrait of a Burmese gentleman in 1887

"A Burmese Gentleman". A portrait taken by the German photographer P.A. Klier in 1887, probably at his studio on 3 Signal Pagoda Road, Rangoon. That style of Chinese fur-lined jacket was particularly fashionable during the 1880s.

April 1888
Mandalay 1888: An Englishman discovers Thingyan

(From the Illustrated London News, April 1888) For anyone wondering why "New Year" is celebrated in mid-April: 1. "Thingyan" (spelled "Saṁkran" in Burmese) is derived from the Sanskrit "Saṁkrānti". It is the same word as "Songkran" in Thai. 2. "Saṁkrānti" means the day the sun moves from one "rashi" or constellation of the zodiac to another. There are actually 12 "thingyans" in a year! 3. The "new year" marks the movement of the sun from the last constellation (Pisces or...

The Burmese "dacoit' leader Maung Hmone who surrendered to the British in 1889

The drawing is from an 1889 issue of the Illustrated London News. (It seems also started wearing English clothes.) 1889 was more or less the last year of the bloody "Pacification" of Upper Burma by the new British occupying power. 40,000 British and Indian soldiers had been deployed to crush the multi-headed, at times chaotic, and often fierce resistance. Tens of thousands of Burmese lost their lives as a result of the fighting, forced displacement and the resulting near famine...

"A Burmese lady, her servant, and two citrus fruits" - a photograph by Phillip Adolophe Klier c.1890.

Sule Pagoda and the old Municipal Office c. 1890

Photograph of Sule Pagoda and the old Municipal Office (Ripon Hall) c. 1890 by Phillip Adolph Klier

1890 - 1910s
Sons of the Prince of Myingun

Sons of the Prince of Myingun in Paris c. 1890. They both died in exile in Saigon in the 1910s.

Traditional justice: a Myothugyi receiving a petition at his Yon c. 1890

The myothugyi were the hereditary lords of Burmese towns and the surrounding villages. Some families had ruled their areas for centuries. Under colonial administration, the hereditary myothugyi were gradually replaced with salaried myo-ok (township officers) reporting to the aye-baing (deputy commissioners).

Rangoon from the river c. 1890.

The Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara hill in the background, the Holy Trinity Church, District Courts and Public Offices, and the Sule Pagoda in the foreground. Photograph by Philip Adolphe Klier of Signal Pagoda Road.

The 16th century Buddha at Wingaba c. 1890

It is now part of the "Nga Htat Gyi" pagoda. (Photograph by WLH Skeen and Co. of 2 Sule Pagoda Road)