State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 79 Autumn 2007


Olga Tsara
Linnaeus Tripe's Views of Burma

One of the rarest and perhaps most surprising collections of photographs in the Library's Picture Collection is a set of 120 photographs of Burma (now Myanmar) by Linnaeus Tripe.1 Their acquisition by the Library was approved by the Library's founder, Redmond Barry, in 1863. Of the 50 sets produced by Tripe in 1857, only seven are known to survive today.2 The photographs were taken in 1855 and represent the first known photographic records of parts of Burma.3 Produced when photography was still in its infancy, they represent a turning point in the attitude of commissioning governments, who were coming to the belief that, in terms of documentary accuracy and expense, photography was preferable to drawings and paintings.
Captain Linnaeus Tripe (1822–1902), an army officer in the employment of the East India Company, served in the Indian army from 1839–1873.4 In the 1850s when he became photographer to the British Colonial Government in India, his first assignment was as official photographer to the diplomatic mission to the Burmese capital, Amerapoora. The British felt that Burma threatened the security of India, and after driving the Burmese out of eastern India in 1824–1826, they seized the rest of lower Burma in the second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852–53. They then wanted to annex the province of Pegu, but since the King rejected this request, a friendly mission (known as the Mission to Ava) was sent to Amerapoora, headed by Major Arthur Phayre, with Henry Yule as the secretary. Apart from officials with diplomatic duties, the mission also included other members whose duty it was to collect information on the social, economic and geological features of the country.
At this time, the Court of Directors of the East India Company was moving away from using draughtsmen to record views and people, subscribing more and more to the idea that photography was a more economical and accurate way to record visual information. By 1854 all colonial governments in India had been ordered to use photographers rather than draughtsmen. Colesworthy Grant had been employed to join the Mission as artist and photographer, but when it was found that his photographic skills were not up to standard, Linnaeus Tripe was seconded to the mission as ‘artist in photography’.5
The mission lasted nearly five months — from August to November 1855. Due to poor weather and illness, Tripe was only able to work for 36 days, leaving him with no time to re-photograph any views that might have needed revision. He issued an explanation (that verged on an apology) with the photographs:
The accompanying Views, taken by the undersigned when attached to the Embassy to Amerapoora in 1855, in justice to him as a Photographer employed by the Government of India, should not be looked upon as a challenge to Photographic criticism: but as a series of views of subjects interesting on account of their novelty; many having been retained solely on that account when they would certainly have been otherwise
discarded. As excuses, too, for these defective photographs he would wish it known, that he was working against time; and frequently with no opportunities of replacing poor proofs by better. Also that, from unfavourable weather, sickness, and the circumstances unavoidably attending such a mission, his actual working time was narrowed to thirty six days. If criticism be provoked, it is trusted that her chidings will be mild.
[The note was signed and dated by hand in 1857.]6
Despite Tripe's harsh judgement of his own work, the resultant salted paper prints from calotype negatives were received favourably by his contemporaries7, and are still renowned for their grainy texture and beautiful purplish-pinkish black hues.
The slow calotype process (see note)8 meant that photographs of people in action were not possible. Amerapoora. Wooden Bridge [Plate no.45] is very rare in the series, for it shows two men sitting at the base of a tree. They have moved during the exposure time so their heads are slightly blurred. But even here the men are not the main subject of the photograph; they simply sit on the side and are not explained in the accompanying caption. The subject of this photograph is the teak bridge, which leads to the colossal statue of Gantama [Plate no. 46]. The bridge (also shown in another photograph)9 still exists, but very few of Amerapoora's buildings survive today, as the royal capital was moved to Mandalay just a few years after Tripe's visit.10
Apart from the diplomatic goals of the Mission, the members of the expedition were charged with recording as much information about the country as they could. Tripe's intention was to capture views of Buddhist architecture and art, and the series is made up of many views of pagodas and kyoungs (monasteries) mostly in the two main cities of interest, Amerapoora and Rangoon, with a few views of other sites in Prome and Mengoon. He photographed exquisite buildings, such as the Shwe San-dau Pagoda in Prome [Plate No 2] the Sheen-byeen-baudhi Pagoda in Pugahm Myo11, and Mygabhoodee-tee Kyoung in Amerapoora [Plate no. 42], as well as examples of roadside structures, such as Tsagain Myo. Water Pots,12 which revealed local customs. The accompanying captions provide information and anecdotes for the viewer. Notes on local industry are made, such as in Ye-nan-gnoung. Chatty Manufactory;13 and in the caption for Amerapoora. Palace of the White Elephant14, Tripe wrote the following about the albino elephant residing there: ‘The white elephant is the same Crawfurd saw in 1826; it is now fifty years old: it has its guards, four white and eight gold umbrellas, officers of state, regalia, &c., &c.’.15
As Janet Dewan notes, ‘many of the Rangoon views constituted a visual progress report on the state of the cantonment, and the new town and waterfront that had been laid out after the British took control of the city in 1852”16. Rangoon. Signal Pagoda [Plate no. 102] is located in the cantonment, for example, and Rangoon. A Street; old Style [Plate no. 101] shows Rangoon in disrepair. To quote Dewan again:
The condescending title and caption of the plate suggests that the photograph was made, in effect, for propaganda purposes, to show the sad state of old Rangoon before the British began to implement their new town plan. Since the destruction of the old city of Rangoon by the British in 1852 was almost total, it is not surprising that this ‘old style’ street looks uninviting.17
Tripe made 219 negatives which were developed on the spot, and he printed the photographs upon his return to Calcutta (the printing process took over a year between 1856 and 1857). He and Yule selected 120 negatives to print. The government of India requested 50 prints from each negative, 20 of which were requisitioned by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London. It is one of these 20 sets that is held by the Picture Collection at the State Library of Victoria.18 The photographs were signed, blind-stamped and mounted, and issued in a folio. Each has a title and descriptive caption on the mount below the image. These captions were written by Tripe himself, sometimes using the published words of Henry Yule.
Henry Yule (1820–1889) published an account of the expedition, A Narrative of the Mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855 : with Notices of the Country, Government, and People,19 in 1858. The volume was illustrated with lithographs by Yule himself — sometimes based on photographs by Tripe to which Yule added illustrations of the local people usually in the foreground.20 The volume is also illustrated with engravings by Captain Colesworthy Grant (1813–1880). Though some sources maintain that Grant's engravings were based on Tripe's photographs,21 this does not seem to be the case. His engravings are mostly of non-architectural subjects.22 He produced a series of pen and ink drawings and watercolours in 1855, many based on Tripe's photographs, but they do not appear in Yule's Narrative. Grant's series is called A Series of Views in Burma Taken During Major Phayre's Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855, and is held by the British Library.23
Frederick Alfred Guillaume, the first London bookseller to the Library, having been engaged by Redmond Barry took the initiative in purchasing Tripe's Burma photographs in London. Guillaume and his son, John Joseph, were the Library's booksellers from 1854–1865. Their brief was to acquire works for the Library and to publish a catalogue of holdings.24 His letter to Barry describes the photographs:
… I have the honour to enclose Bills of Lading of 9 Cases for the Library. I have enclosed in one of the Cases 2 works that I have taken the liberty of purchase on your behalf they were offered for sale to one by a chairman of the late Hon East India Company, one is a large work on the Ganges Canal (unpublished) + the other is the original set of 120 Photographs taken by Captn. Grant who accompanied Captn. Yule in his mission to the Court of Ava + which Photographs were never published in Captn. Yule's work. The books are not blocked on the side so if you think proper you can return them to me + I will sell them in London…25
Guillaume had the set of photographs bound by Zaehnsdorf.26 From the correspondence between Barry and Guillaume, it becomes obvious that Guillaume was expected to have everything bound before despatching it to the Library. The cost of the binding was £6 6 .0.27

Rangoon. South Tazoung of the [Shwe Dagon] Pagoda.
It is in these Tazoungs, of which there are four, that the figures of Gautama are placed; they are the chapels, in fact, for devotion. H98.41/110


Amerapoora. Wooden Bridge.
Carried over the West limb of the Lake on piles about 7 feet apart with some openings [bridged with loose planks] for the passage through of large boats. H98.41/45

Amerapoora. Colossal Statue of Gantama close to the N. end of the bridge.
Its height is 37½ feet above the throne. H98.41/46


Engraving of plate 46, the Colossal Gautama, in Henry Yule, A Narrative of the Mission sent by the Governor General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855. London, Elder Smith, 1858. *SF 915.91 Y.

and because the photographs were expensive — £24 — he did not have the binding stamped with the Library's block, thereby giving himself the option of selling them on in London should the Library decide not to keep them.
Guillaume knew the Library had a copy of Yule's Narrative because he himself had sent it in his 1860 dispatch.28 He mistakenly refers to the photographer of the Burma views as Grant — that is, Colesworthy Grant, mentioned earlier — obviously not noticing that each of Tripe's photographs bore his blind stamp on the mount above the image, and was signed on the lower right corner. The Burma views are exceptional in that they are all signed; Tripe did not sign any of his other known work.29 The note written by Tripe, and quoted above, is not included in the Library's set, and was probably missing by the time that Guillaume purchased it, which would explain his failure to credit Tripe with the authorship of the photographs.
Redmond Barry sought to build a reference collection which would broaden the minds of Melbourne's citizenry, and in the process of doing so, succeeded in establishing the
oldest photographic collection in Australia. The first purchase of photography by the Library — under Barry's strict supervision — was from the Architectural Photographic Association in London in 1860, and included views of Europe, the Middle East, the Holy Lands and America, by reputable photographers such as Francis Frith, Bisson Frères, Edouard-Denis Baldis, Carlo Ponti, James Robertson and Felice Beato.30 The works were contemporary, and demonstrated the development of photography at the time, making them not only educational in terms of world history and geography, but also in terms of understanding the technological development in the art and science of photography itself.
The Association recommended the purchases, based on technique and aesthetic merit, and on the subjects depicted.31 While it can be argued that one of the attractive features of this early photography was that it was by famed and reputable photographers, the same cannot be said for the 120 views of Burma by Tripe. It is true that Tripe acquired a reputation as a master of the calotype process, but reviews of his work came mainly from exhibitions in the East.32 It is not clear that his reputation reached London, especially not as early as 1863 when Guillaume purchased the set for the Library. Further, he began as an amateur photographer, and returned to that status once his appointment with the government of India was over. Were Barry and the Library aware of his reputation — enough to spend such a handsome sum of money on the purchase of the set? It seems not. Obviously of paramount importance was the subject matter of the photographs. Given that Barry's second brother — Captain Henry (‘Harry’) Barry — served with the British Army in India throughout the 1840s and was killed in action in Burma in 1853,33 it is understandable that Barry would have had a great interest in Burma. He must have been very saddened by the loss of his brother; in later years he made a pilgrimage to his grave in Bombay. The acquisition of Tripe's photographs in 1863 would have enabled Barry to see the Burma that his brother knew.
It was not until the late 1980s, when the volume of photographs was transferred from the Library's book stacks to the Picture Collection, that Tripe's authorship of the photographs was formally recorded in the Library's logs. For nearly 120 years the Library's old card catalogue and accession register filed the work under “Yule”. As a result of the work of Janet Dewan — the foremost expert on Linnaeus Tripe — and the emergence of post-colonial studies as a fertile field of thought and research, interest in Tripe's work is increasing. At the State Library we are receiving many more requests from scholars, curators and art dealers to view it. As one of the librarians charged with the care of this work, it is always a source of pride to be able to retrieve and show such an impressive and immaculate volume.

Prome.North entrance of the Shwe San-dau Pagoda.
Burmese Temples are usually, if the ground permits, on heights, the approach being by a flight of steps, guarded by Griffins: that shown above is very fine, the Griffins are eighty feet high, and with the carved gables of the roof, bristling with gilded vanes, form a magnificent approach to the Pagoda above. H98.41/2

Amerapoora. Mygabhoodee-tee Kyoung from E.
This small monastery, near the Residency, attracted much attention from the richness of its carvings and the beauty of its situation. H98.41/42


Rangoon.A Street; old Style.
This may give an idea of the amount of labour and material required to make Rangoon streets and roads what they are. H98.41/101

Rangoon. Signal Pagoda.
From this a very extended view of the town and river can be had. It is used as a signal station because of the distance at which a ship coming up the river can be described. It is known as Sale's Pagoda. H98.41/102



Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H98.41/1–120, LTWEF 18.


Janet Dewan, The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe: A Catalogue Raisonné, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2003, p. 219.


There are earlier known photographs of Rangoon only.


Tripe's life and career are discussed in detail by Janet Dewan — the world's expert on Tripe — in her articles and book: ‘Linnaeus Tripe's Photographs: Notes toward an index’, History of Photography, vol. 8 no. 1, January 1984; The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe: A Catalogue Raisonné, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2003; and ‘Linnaeus Tripe: Critical assessments and other notes’, The Photographic Collector, vol. 5, no.1, 1984; and by G. Thomas, in ‘Linnaeus Tripe in Madras Presidency’, History of Photography, vol. 5, no. 4, October 1981.


Dewan, Janet, The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe, p. 6. Dewan goes on to detail the movements of the expedition, pp.6–9.


Text provided by Janet Dewan in correspondence with Olga Tsara, 4 February 1998.


Dewan, ‘Linnaeus Tripe: Critical assessments’, pp. 47–65.


Calotypes are paper negatives. The paper could be prepared ahead of time, but had to have silver nitrate and gallic acid washed over it just before the photo was taken. The prepared calotype paper could be used when dry but was more sensitive when moist. The paper was loaded in the camera and exposed from anywhere between 10 seconds and 10 minutes if it was sunny. More time was needed if there was not enough available light. The exposed negative was washed with a fixing liquid and dried. Tripe waxed his negatives, making them more translucent. He produced salted paper prints, which are contact prints, thus did not enlarge or reduce his images from the original large format negatives.


Amerapoora. View at N. end of the Wooden Bridge. (H98.41/44). Original caption reads: The wooden Bridge leads across the Toung-deman Lake to the W. suburbs of the city, at this end of the suburbs are a number of Pagodas and Kyoungs clustering around a colossal figure of Gantama.


Information from the British Library's website:


Pugahm Myo. Sheen-byeen-baudhi Pagoda. (H98.41/13). Original caption reads: A peculiar specimen of Pugahm architecture rather Hindoo-like in style. The spire and walls outside are crowded with figures of Gantama in Niches. In the enclosure in front are some fifty ancient inscribed stones. It dates from about 1200 AD.


Tsagain Myo. Water Pots. (H98.41/36). Original caption reads: It is a frequent thing, in a Burmese thoroughfare to see, placed for the use of the passers by, waterpots, suspended from the boughs of trees, or under a carved wooden shed, or in one roughly made as above.


Ye-nan-gnoung. Chatty Manufactory. (H98.41/11). Original caption reads: Petroleum is exported from Ye-nan-gnoung [whence its name river of fetid water] in pots such as are represented above.


Amerapoora. Palace of the White Elephant (H98.41/73).


“The white elephant is associated with the legends of the Buddha's life and occupied great symbolic significance in the hierarchy of the Burmese court. Sinbyudaw or Lord White Elephant was ritually bathed and anointed and treated with great reverence with a white parasol held over it wherever it went. In reality albino elephants were a pinkish grey in colour rather than pure white”. Information from the British Library's website:


Dewan, The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe, p.6.


Dewan, The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe, p.295.


Of the twenty sets sent to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, four copies are now at the British Library — Oriental and India Office Collections, and one is at the State Library of Victoria. Another two sets belong to the Hulton Getty Picture Collection and the Victoria & Albert Museum, making a total of seven known surviving sets. Dewan, The Photographs of Linnaeus Tripe, p. 742 and p.219.


Sir Henry Yule, A Narrative of the Mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855 : with Notices of the Country, Government, and People, London, Smith, Elder, 1858 (*SF 915.91 Y9).


Examples are Plates 2, 14, 20, 19 and 18. All the plates in Yule's book were lithographed by Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen.


See A website on modern Burma (called Myanmar since 1989) —


Examples are Plates 17, 28.


Some of the works can be viewed online:


Relations between the Guillaumes and the Library are described in: Richard Overell, ‘The Melbourne Public Library and the Guillaumes: the relations between a colonial library and its London book supplier 1854–1865’, in Frank Upward and Jean P. Whyte, eds, Peopling a Profession: Papers from the fourth Forum on Australian Library History, Monash University, 25 and 26 September 1989, Melbourne, Ancora Press, 1991.


VPRS 5888 — Correspondence inward from Guillaume (1 volume), Extract of letter from F.A Guillaume to Sir Redmond Barry, 26 December 1863.


Bound in London by Zaehnsdorf, in green morocco with gold lettering. Binder's identification appears on flyleaf verso.


We know this from the Library's stock book of 1864–65.


Melbourne Public Library, Catalogue of books recently added to the Public Library, Melbourne, Victoria, London, F. Guillaume, 1860 (no. 15), p.73.


Dewan, ‘Linnaeus Tripe's Photographs: Notes toward an index’, p. 31.


Christine Downer, ‘Portfolios for the Curious: Photographic Collecting by the Melbourne Public Library 1859–1870’, in Ann Galbally [et al.]. The First Collections : the Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and the 1860s: University Gallery, the University of Melbourne Museum of Art 14 May — 15 July 1992, Parkville [Vic.], The Museum, 1992, p.p. 73–76.


Downer, p. 73.


Janet Dewan, ‘Linnaeus Tripe: Critical assessments and other notes’, pp. 47–65.


Ann Galbally, Redmond Barry: an Anglo-Irish Australian, Carlton (Vic.), Melbourne University Press, 1995, p.63.