Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Late Konbaung Myanmar and the English Wars (1824-1885AD)

1856 - 1857
First contact with Burmese and US governments

The very first contact between the governments of Burma and the United States were probably the letters sent from King Mindon in 1856-7 to Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan (and their Secretaries of State). King Mindon hoped the Americans would agree to a bilateral treaty and that this treaty would help provide some protection against further British aggression. This is a copy of the letter to President Buchanan. Note the traditional designation of the country as "the kingdoms of...

1856 - 1915
Irish monk of Myanmar

There is a the long and colourful history of relations between Myanmar and Ireland and the many Irish men and women that have played a role in Burmese affairs. Perhaps one of the most unusual was U Dhammaloka (original name unknown), who was born to a poor family in Dublin in the 1856, he migrated to the United States, made his way on the first trains across America, then traveled by steamship to Japan before winding up in Rangoon just...

1856
The dawn of Myanmar-US relations

Official Myanmar-US relations began in 1856 with a letter from King Mindon to Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. King Mindon's modernization drive was then in full swing. Over the next 15 years he tried to reform all aspects of government, fundamentally changing the revenue system and reforming administrative structures, minted coins, sent students to Europe (and appointed them to high positions on their return), setup the first factories and expanded the oil industry (one of the...

1858 - 1929
The first student from Myanmar to study in US

The first Burmese student to come to America (and perhaps the first Burmese ever in America) was Maung Shaw Loo, who traveled from his native Moulmein to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 1858, just before the Civil War. 

The photo was taken in the little town of Goshen, Indiana c. 1865. Maung Shaw Loo left Burma in 1857 aged 17 for studies in Calcutta. During the Indian Mutiny in 1858 he stowed away on a ship for America; when discovered he managed...

1 January 1859
King Thibaw's birthday

1 January 1859 is the birthday of King Thibaw who is the 41st son of King Mindon and the Laungshe Queen, 11th and last king of the Konbaung dynasty, regnal title Thiri Pawara Ditya Lanka Wizara Nanda Yatha Tilawkadhipati Pandita Maha Dhamma Razadhiraza, assumed the throne October 1878, deposed by the British November 1885, died in exile 19 December 1916 age 57.A controversial choice and a controversial king, he nevertheless presided over a reformist government that tried desperately to modernize...

13 December 1859 - 1925
HM Queen Supaylat, the Last Queen of Burma (Myanmar)

HM Queen Supaylat, the Last Queen of Burma (Myanmar) was born 13 December 1859 she became the ""Middle Palace Queen"" of King Thibaw at the age of 19. During her seven years on the throne she fought attempts by reformist ministers to curtail royal authority (especially royal spending). She also fought to limit the number of queens and royal concubines.British propaganda portrayed her as a decadent tyrant, dominating her husband and opposed to all change. Negative images of the king...

1860s
A young member of the famous "Hairy Family of Mandalay".

This portrait was probably taken in the 1860s. At least three generations of this family suffered from what may have been congenital hypertrichosis universalis. They were patronized and protected by the Burmese kings from the 1820s until the the fall of Mandalay. They were later exhibited as circus freaks by PT Barnum in London and then in the US. I believe the little girl in the photograph is Ma Phon, who died in Washington DC in 1888, a long way...

1862
Burmese polo at the Court of Ava mid-19th century.

Modern polo originated in Manipur (where it had been played for centuries and known as 'pulu'). The British discovered Manipuri polo following the First Anglo-Burmese War and brought the game to Calcutta where it was first played in 1862. The origins of Burmese polo are not known but could well have been Manipur as well.

1863
Pagoda Road, 1863

This is a watercolour painted by traveling German artist Eduard Hildebrandt just ten years after the Second Anglo-Burmese War.

1865
An unidentified gentleman (possibly Byedaik or Shwedaik secretary) at the court of King Mindon c. 1865

Photo credit: Royal Ontario Museum 

August 1866
The assassination of the Prince of Kanaung

In August 1866 the course of Burmese history changed forever with the assassination of the Prince of Kanaung (in the photograph).The Kanaung Prince was the younger brother and partner in government of King Mindon. He was also the Crown Prince. Together they set out to transform government, modernise the country, and defend its independence. Under the Kanaung Prince's direction, dozens of students were sent to Europe, including for military training the army was overhauled, modern factories, including for arms and...

2 August 1866
Prince of Myingun

HRH the Prince of Myingun, on 2nd August 1866, rebelled against his father King Mindon, killing his uncle the Prince of Kanaung and a number of high officials. His rebellion lasted several weeks and was crushed only after considerable bloodshed. The Prince of Kanaung had been the kingdom's leading reformer and his death crippled efforts to modernise the army and other royal institutions. This photograph of the Myingun Prince was taken in Saigon where he died in 1923. My great-great-great...

1868 - 1905
“Thangyet Wun” U Myu

A rare portrait of the "Thangyet Wun" U Myu (later styled Mingyi Minhla Maha Sithu Kyaw). U Myu was a scion of an old family of Ava nobility and was one of the first Burmese to be educated in Paris, obtaining a degree in engineering at the the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1868 and returning for further study in France in the 1870s. He held different posts in Mandalay, leading King Mindon's efforts to build the country's...

1880s
King Thibaw’s School

The only photograph I know of King Thibaw's school. This was the SPG School also known as "Dr Marks School" in Mandalay, just to the west of the palace walls. Rev. James Ebenezer Marks who had been the headmaster of St John's School in Rangoon was invited in 1869 by King Mindon to build the school together with an adjoining church and clergy house. Seven royal princes including Prince Thibaw attended the school. Prince Thibaw was remembered as a "tolerably...

1870
Portrait of an unidentified Burmese gentleman c. 1870, Cornwall, UK.

1871
The very first Burmese mission to France

The very first Burmese mission to France was the 1871 mission led by the Kinwun Mingyi. During that mission (which was meant as a signal to the British that they could court other powers in Europe), the Kinwun and his team toured the Louvre, where they looked at the Egyptian mummies, paid their respects at Napoleon's Tomb, and and visited the National Library. At the National Library, they were shown an old map, purported to have been drawn by Marco...

March 1871 - 1872
First Burmese embassy to Europe

On a hot and sticky March morning, the SS Tenasserim, flying the peacock flag of the Burmese kingdom as well as the Union Jack, steamed down the Rangoon River and into the salty waters of the Indian Ocean. It was a new state-of-the-art ship, built in Glasgow for the Henderson passenger line, and came with no less than twenty well-appointed first-class cabins. On board was a delegation from the Court of Ava, led by the scholarly Kinwun Mingyi, a minister...

1871
King Mindon’s donation of “hti” for the Shwedagon

King Mindon's officials led by the Myoza of Popa arrive in Rangoon to donate a new "hti" for the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1871 the British were in occupation of all of Lower Burma including Rangoon. The Chief Commissioner at the time (Sir Ashley Eden) agreed that King Mindon could donate the new hti but insisted that it could only be done via British authorities; the hti would be received by the British and handed over by them to the Shwedagon...

26 December 1872
Panthay Rebellion of 1872

On 26 December 1872 the 16-year long "Panthay Rebellion" was crushed with the recapture of Dali and the execution of the Panthay leader Du Wenxiu. Du Wenxiu took an overdose of opium when he was captured, but he was decapitated nonetheless and his head was encased in honey and sent to the Emperor as a gift. Tens of thousands of Panthay were slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands in total likely died as a result of the rebellion. Thousands more found refuge...

1872 - 1963
The man who would be king – Prince of Pyinmana

HRH the Prince of Pyinmana who had been a candidate for the throne in 1878 and whom the Japanese considered as a possible new "king of Burma" in 1942. He was born in 1872 and was the son of then King Mindon and a half-brother of King Thibaw. Educated at St Marks School, Mandalay and at Dehra Doon, he was last suriving child of King Mindon and lived until 1963, the year NASA launched its first television satellite and the...