Beasts of Rebellion

On Monday I had a couple of hours spare in London, either side of a meeting, so I did some lightning research in the British Library. I’d ordered some of the Public and Judicial Records on the Hsaya San rebellion of 1930-2. For those unfamiliar with the rebellion, it was the biggest one to hit…

Proliferating Elephants

One of the things that I was not sure of when helping to set up the recent Elephants and Empire exhibition at Myanmar Deitta gallery in Yangon, was the intended purpose of these photographs. Originally taken by staff of the Steel Brothers company documenting the teak industry, there were no accompanying written documents explaining what they…

Translating Titles

During the colonial period a series of white men published books about elephants based on their experiences of working with them in Burma. By independence in 1948, there was a clear canon of texts about elephants. Authors cited certain writers who were deemed to be ‘authorities’ in the subject: Mitchell, Pfaff, Hepburn, Ferrier, Evans, Sanderson…

Paratextual Pachyderms

This week I read Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot’s 1912 book The Life of an Elephant. It was one of a number of fictional accounts of animal lives written in the early-twentieth century that attempted to capture what it might be like to be another species. Eardley-Wilmot himself had previously published a popular volume on the life of…

Smells Like Empire (to an Elephant)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post about British colonizers’ sense of smell in Burma. I suggested that what they thought smelt bad revealed their prejudices about Burmese society. In addition, I wrote that they believed their nasal experience of Empire led them to have more refined sensibilities than their compatriots back home….

Elephant Steeplechase

So, on 25 May 1858, this apparently happened in Yangon. This chaotic scene is an elephant steeplechase. According to the newspaper report that accompanied this engraving, the officers of the garrison posted in Yangon organised this event as part of their celebrations marking Queen Victoria’s birthday. They dressed as jockeys and raced the elephants, which…

Retiring Elephants in the Southern Shan States

In 1936 the imperial government sanctioned the abolition of the elephant establishments used by several colonial officials serving in the Southern Shan States—the more accessible part of the hilly regions of northeast colonial Burma. Most of the elephants were sold off. But two elderly female elephants did not attract any buyers. They were both around…

Hunting White Elephants Across Archives

It’s a miserably wet day in Delhi, so I’m using this as an opportunity to catch up on my blog, which has been neglected for the past few weeks. I’m in Delhi, instead of Yangon, in order to use the National Archive of India. This is the first time that I have used this archive….

An Elephant’s View of Empire

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about a travel book on Burma purporting to have been written by a dog. Yesterday, whilst I was researching in the British Library, I read a similar book written from the perspective of an elephant from Burma. It was published in 1930 as part of a…

Learning About Elephants in Empire

The primary reason for my recent research trip to the London Metropolitan Archive was to learn about the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation’s employment of elephants. The largest file that I went through dealt with attempts to improve the health of these animal workers during the inter-war years. These were collaborative efforts between the colonial state…

Evans, Evans, Evans and Elephants

A week or so ago I resolved a case of mistaken identity. I managed to separate three different men called Evans, whom I had originally thought were one man. All three had connections to elephants in Southeast Asia in the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century. Evans number one was Griffith H Evans. He was a…

Sun, Skin and Colonial Sensibilities

July has been a busy month. I spent the first week at two conferences at which I gave two entirely different papers. The first was on animals in colonial Burma. The second was on the history of sunstroke. But as different as these two topics may appear, there is some overlap. In the late-nineteenth century…