Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Yangon, Global City (1853-1962)

late 19th Century
Scotland's deep ties to Myanmar

The majority of the top companies in Yangon (then Rangoon) in the late 19th and early 20th century were Scottish. Golf and whiskey in Myanmar are of course legacies of this connection. Thousands of Scots lived and worked in this city over several generations and may have constitued as much as 80% of the total "European" population in colonial times.  At the Edinburgh Festival several years ago I gave a talk that was attended by a couple of hundred people,...


The Jewish community of Myanmar

One of Myanmar's least known minority communities are the Myanmar Jews. The first recorded Jew in Myanmar (Burma) was a man named Solmon Gabirol who served as an officer in the Burmese army in the 1760s (under King Alaungpaya). Many Jews who arrived in the 19th century were Baghdadi Jews.At its peak in the 1930s there were more than 2,000 Jews in Rangoon alone (out of a total population of 400,000). The Sofaers were one of the leading Jewish families....


The Goan community of Myanmar

Rangoon was once home to a sizeable community of Goans (from then Portuguese Goa). The building in the picture was one of the biggest Goan businesses in the city: E.M de Souza's chemists (pharmacy) at 465 Dalhousie Street (Mahabandoola). The building now belongs to Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications. Sadly, the portico is gone.


The Minton Mansions Hotel

The "Minto Mansions", now demolished, once considered the best hotel in Rangoon together with the Strand. It was located at the corner of Halpin Road and Leeds Road (opposite where the Children's Hospital is today). Boasted the "only French chef in the Indies" (M. La Claie).


A Rangoon municipal tax receipt c. 1930s

An interesting piece of fiscal history from 1930s: A Rangoon municipal tax receipt. A total of 10 rupees and 14 annas, divided into "general", "conservancy" (ie sanitation), "water", and "lighting" taxes, was paid by the owner of 122 Evanson Street (now Myayagon Street). An assessment and a payment was made on a quarterly basis. (A rupee or kyat was almost equal to a US dollar at the time).

1970
St John's College, Rangoon

St John's College, Rangoon - taken I think just before the war, around 1939-40, but I could be wrong. St John's and several other schools in Burma were amongst the best in Asia until the 1970s.


The old Whiteaway Laidlaw department store at the corner of Phayre Street (Pansodan) and Merchant Street.

The building has been demolished. I'm afraid the new one being built now will not look very nice.

1940s - 1970s
Silver Grill Jazz Club of Barr Street

Once Rangoon's top night spot: the Silver Grill at 82 Barr Street (now Mahabandula Garden Street), a black-tie restaurant and jazz club that was popular with foreigners and Burmese alike both before and after WW2 (and with Japanese officers during the war). Originally owned and managed by the Armenian Peter Aratoon, it later became the State Commerical Bank. The building was demolished, I think in the 1970s (please correct me if anyone knows). This painting was painted by Mr Godley...

1760
Yangon c. 1760.

The map shows the old town to be more or less an island, with the Sule Pagoda across a bay on a small promontory to the north. The town was surrounded by teak stockade 12 feet high, with several gates and two brick roads (the Shwedagon Pagoda Road and Minister's Road) both eventually leading to the Shwedagon (with forests and tigers in between).The old town included (Portugese) Roman Catholic and Armenian churches as well as a mosque, and a governor's...

1824 - 1850s
Sule Pagoda c. 1824

The Sule Pagoda prior to British rule was on an island, connected to the 'old town' of Yangon by a wooden bridge. The old town in the 1820s (running approximately from today's Sule Pagoda Road to Theinbyu and down to Strand Road) included the Governor's (Myowun) residence, a custom's house, Roman Catholic and Armenian churches, several mosques, and the homes of government officials and foreign traders.In the 1850s British planners drained the area and created the grid pattern of streets...

1855
Tiger Alley

Before the flyover: the part of U Wisara Road that extends north from Dhammazedi (formerly Boundary Road) was in British times called "Tiger Alley". It was the main path that lead from Rangoon to Kemmendine (or Kyimindaing - then a separate village). This is the first photograph of Tiger Alley, taken in 1855 by the photographer Linnaeus Tripe, who accompanied the British embassy to King Mindon later that year. It was called "Tiger Alley" because in the 1850s is was...

1855
The pagoda we rarely see: the elegant Signal Pagoda in 1855

The pagoda we rarely see: the elegant Signal Pagoda (အလံပြ ဘုရား) is now inside the old War Office compound. This very early photograph was taken in November1855 by Linnaeus Tripe, at a time when the pagoda acted as a ""signal"" for ships approaching Rangoon harbour.

1865
Sule Pagoda c. 1865.

1868
A view of Rangoon from Dalla c. 1868

A view of Rangoon from Dalla c. 1868 by the American photographer J. Jackson.

1870
A Rangoon office c.1870

1875
The Rangoon waterfront c. 1875.

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.

1890s
Sule Pagoda in the 1890s

For anyone interested in old Burma photographs, there is a wonderful collection in the British Library archives, with hundreds now online atwww.bl.uk. This is a a photograph of the Sule Pagoda taken by the German photograph Philip Kliers in the 1890s. The photograph is taken from Barr Street, the old town hall is to the right and the Shwedagon in the distance. The cast-iron bandstand in the middle of the park (then "Fytche Park") was a gift of a local...

1890
The southern entrance to the Shwedagon c. 1890.

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