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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Willoughby Wallace Hooper

Other: Captain W. W. Hooper 
Other: Col. Willoughby Wallace Hooper 
Other: Colonel Willoughby Wallace Hooper 
Dates:  1837, 4 February - 1912, 23 April
Born:  England, South London, Kennington
Died:  England, Devon, Kilmington
Active:  India / Burma
Colonel in the 7th Madras Cavalry in 1858 and a keen amateur photographer, Hooper was seconded from his military duties in order to photograph a series of ethnographical images in the Central Provinces of India. Produced in 8 volumes by subscription between 1868 – 1875, ‘The People of India’ contained much of Hooper’s work and that of many other photographers. His photo-montage work illustrating tiger hunting was produced ca. 1872 and Hooper photographed the victims of the Madras Famine in c1878. Heading the Burma Expeditionary Force as Provost Marshal he photographed the campaign and his album ‘a Series of One Hundred Photographs’ was published in 1887. In 1886 a court of enquiry (IOR/L/MIL/3/960) was held into the extortion of evidence and his involvement in photographing a group of dacoits in Mandalay at the time of their execution by firing squad.
For an account of the scandal of Colonel Hooper photographing the execution of the dacoits in Mandalay see:
Geary, Grattan, 1886, Burma, after the conquest: viewed in its political, social, and commercial aspects, from Mandalay (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington), p.241-243
The second instance which may be adduced is that in which the too curious use of the photographic camera added an unseemly element to military executions in Mandalay. Being desirous of getting photographs of the prisoners' attitudes and expressions at the moment the bullets struck them, the Provost-Marshal set up a photographic camera in a convenient position when the dread words of command, "Ready! Present" were given. The discharge was then delayed for a few minutes while the camera was brought to bear on the doomed men; the focus attained, the signal was given, the bullets struck the waiting men; the negatives were secured. This procedure probably did not add perceptibly to the suffering of the men expecting momentarily the fatal bullets; but there is something unpleasant and almost sinister at the coolness and deliberation with which the action of the tragedy was suspended in order that a scientific record might be taken of the effect, physical and moral, of the shock of bullets, on the persons of defenceless and despairing men. Lord Dufferin at Calcutta and the Ministers in England shared the indignation of Mr. Bernard, when they came to know what had been done. The then Secretary of State, Lord Randolph Churchill, at once telegraphed instructions that grave and immediate action should be taken with regard to the officer concerned. His successor ordered that the Provost Marshal should be tried by Court-martial. But no one supposes that statesmen and administrators, accustomed to recognise and respect the rights of humanity, would fail to reprobate acts of the kind. The fatal thing is that such acts under certain circumstances become inevitable under a natural law, which ordains that the practice of cruelty makes even merciful men cruel, dulling the moral sense until it is impossible to draw the line with any precision between what is legitimate and what is not.
It is fair to say that Colonel Hooper has the reputation of being a very good officer, and that the desire to photograph the Burmese when struck by bullets is attributed, not to any inhumanity, but to what may almost be regarded as a passion for securing an indelible record of human expression at the supreme moment. It is related of him that on one occasion when a sepoy went shooting at large at his officers and comrades, he ran out with a photographic apparatus and brought it to bear upon the sepoy, who was in the act of taking aim at him. The homicidal soldier was struck at the instant by a bullet from another sepoy, and Colonel Hooper obtained his negative. At the battle of Minelah the gallant officer carried his camera under fire, so that it might be available for the record of any exceptional incident.
The photographing of the men shot at Mandalay under the circumstances mentioned was undoubtedly reprehensible. It created a bad impression, from which Colonel Hooper must be prepared to suffer in public opinion. But it is open to doubt whether there is not something very pharasaical in the spirit which revolts at the operation of photographing a batch of men at the moment of their execution, when their execution in batches is accepted as an ordinary incident in the subjugation of a conquered people. If all the men who were shot were dacoits, or had committed any moral offence other than that of hazarding their life in a lost cause, the shooting would be righteous as well as necessary, but, speaking generally, the executions in such cases are exemplary, and not punitive. It is the custom to close the eyes and the ears to the real nature of the "salutary severities" which are sparingly alluded to in the narratives of military operations in a vanquished country. It would be a great gain to the cause of humanity if there were more Colonel Hoopers, who would focus and fix and make widely known, every horror which it is the custom to slur over in referring to incidents of the kind. If people at large realised with anything like exactitude, the real nature of the price which subjugated populations pay for the blessings of civilisation, sounder views on such subjects would perhaps become more prevalent. As has been said above, if the severities produced always and everywhere the tranquillising effects which are generally expected from them, it might be a duty to acquiesce, as it is the duty of a surgeon to inflict pain as the price of an ultimate good.

He is buried in the parish church, St Giles, Kilmington, Devon, England.

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John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India, Burma
Son of Thomas and Maria Hooper of St John’s Grove, North Brixton; baptised at St Mark’s Church, Kennington, 19 May 1837; Educated at Thomas Whitehead’s, Ramsgate; writer in the Secretary’s Department, East India House, 1853-8; commissioned into 7th Madras Light Cavalry, 1858;[1] Lieut, 1859; Capt, Apr 1870; Maj, 1878; Lieut-Col, 1884; Army rank of Colonel, 1884; retired 1896. Stationed at Kamptee, 1857-61; transferred for service with 4th Cavalry, Saugor and Secunderabad, 1862-6; serving at Bellary, 1872; Provost Marshal, Burma Expeditionary Force, 1885-6. Photographed hunting scenes, ethnic groups, military and domestic scenes in south India from the 1860s, some in collaboration with George Western. Contributed to The People of India (8 vols, 1868-75) and photographed victims of the Madras famine of 1876-8. Made a series of 100 photographs of the Third Burmese War 1885-6 while Provost Marshal with the expeditionary force. These were published as Burmah: a series of one hundred photographs (1887), in two editions, one with albumen prints, one with autotypes. Also published Lantern readings illustrative of the Burmah Expeditionary Force (J.A. Lugard, London, 1887) and Tiger shooting (J.A. Lugard, London, 1887). These last two works are pamphlets to accompany sets of lantern slides.
‘Employed under Chief Commissioner Central Provinces from October 1861 to June 1862, taking photographs of various races in those provinces.’[2]
Letter from Hooper to Chief Commissioner, Central Provinces, 3 November 1862, reports on his photographic work:
I have the honor to submit herewith 20 copies of a series of photographs of the tribes in the Nagpore Province, which, by Government order of 21st September 1861, I was deputed to execute under the orders of the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces. In the month of October 1861 my services were placed at the disposal of the Chief Commissioner for the purpose of taking these photographs. Owing to sundry delays which took place in procuring chemical, &c., from Bombay and Calcutta, I did not leave Nagpore till the beginning of December. I then proceeded to Raepore, and as Captain Lucie Smith, the Deputy Commissioner, was about to go on his circuit through the district, I, as I had been directed, joined his camp and marched with him through the northern portion of the district round to Ruttunpore, photographing, as I went along, specimens of such tribes as I was enabled, through his assistance, to procure. These consisted of Gonds, Chumars, and Cowers; the two former, as far as I could learn, about equal in number, forming the principal inhabitants of that part of the country. The Cowers are a Hindoo race not so numerous as either the Gonds or Chumars, but they appear to be scattered all over the district. On my arrival at Ruttunpore, I found Captain Fulton, the Deputy Commissioner of Belaspore, there; he was about to go through the Hill Zemindarees to the north of his district. I at once attached myself to his camp, and accompanied him through the Mahtin and Uproroh Zemindarees, taking photographs of the tribes who inhabit those parts, viz., the Bringewars, Dunwhars, and Bhoomias. The two former are far more civilized than the Bhoomias; they live in villages amongst the Gonds, and engage in the same pursuits; they are, I believe, aborginals. The bhoomias are regular jungle men, living among the hills about Mahtin and Ummerkuntuck; from all I could gather concerning them, they appear to be aborigines of the soil, but very little appears to be known of them.
The photographs which I took of them, I had the greatest difficulty in procuring, as having never seen an European before, they were naturally very much alarmed, more specially as it was very difficult to make them understand what I was doing with them. After leaving Mahtin, I went west through Pendree to Ummerkuntuck with Captain Fulton, where I again met with the Bhoomias; and, after a good many failures, I succeeded in getting one specimen. From this place I went south to Belaspore, where I arrived about the end of April; and, as it was then too late in the season to attempt a journey across to Bustar or Chanda, I returned to Nagpore to print the negatives I had taken, which prints I have now submitted herewith.[3]
Letter of 17 November records Hooper’s work in Central Provinces:
I am directed by the Officiating Chief Commissioner to submit 18 copies of a series of photographs of some of the tribes of the Nagpore Province, taken by Lieutenant W. W. Hooper, 7th Madras Light Cavalry, whose services were placed at the disposal of the Commissioner of Nagpore, for this purpose, towards the close of 1861.
2. These photographs were intended to form part of the series of photographic portraits of the tribes of India, which were sent to the Great International Exhibition held this year in London, but it was not apparently found practicable to organize this arrangement in time for despatch to England within the prescribed period. Indeed, Mr. Hooper did not retuen to Raepore until the commencement of the monsoon, during which season he was not able to print copies of the negatives. These circumstances have delayed the submission of the photographs until the present moment.
3. Mr. Hooper, in his letter and in the catalogue of the photographs (copies of which are annexed), describes generally the characteristics of the tribes he met and photographed. Mr. Hooper’s tour was confined to that portion of the Districts of Raepore and Belaspore which lies to the north of the plain of Chutteesgurh. The country is broken up by a variety of small hills and ranges of irregular formation, spurs of the great Sathpoora Range, which culminates at Umerkuntuk; it is but little cultivated, and but sparsely populated, being inhabited chiefly by the wild tribes portrayed by Mr. Hooper…[4]
Photographs of Vijayanagara by Hooper are reproduced in Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar) (London, 1900).
Transcript of court of inquiry proceedings IOR/L/MIL/3/960; Grattan Geary, Burma after the conquest (London, 1886); John Falconer, Willoughby Wallace Hooper, ‘A craze about photography’ (Photographic Collector, Winter 1983, pp.258-86)] 

  1. Λ IOR/L/MIL/9/244/f.630-7 
  2. Λ IOR/L/MIL/11/79/15. 
  3. Λ Letter from Lieutenant W. W. Hooper to Assistant Secretary to the Chief Commissioner, Central Provinces, dated 3 November 1862. Public Proceedings (General), Foreign Department, Government of India, IOR/P/205/13. 
  4. Λ Letter from J. H. Rivett-Carnac, Assistant Secretary with the Chief Commissioner, Central Provinces, to Colonel H. M. Durand, Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department, No. 154A, dated Camp Hutwas, 17 November 1862. Public Proceedings (General), Foreign Department, Government of India, IOR/P/205/13. 

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Printed biographies

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• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Willoughby Wallace Hooper.] 
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