Exiled King Theebaw and his exotic cheroots

Konbang-ThibawThibaw Min (sometimes Theebaw) (1859 – 1916) was the last king of Burma. His reign ended when Burma was defeated by the forces of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, on 29 November 1885. King Thebaw was put in a bullock-cart with his queen by the British and in the presence of a great crowd of weeping subjects, they were conveyed to a steamer on the Irawadi and thence into exile. Without much of the wealth and jewels he had formerly possessed, while in exile he recorded this testimonial for Esoof Cheroots (a brand of Indian cigarettes). This appeared in The Times in 1890.

My late father, the Royal Mindon Min, the golden-footed lord of the white elephant, master of a thousand gold umbrellas, owner of the Royal peacocks, lord of the sea and of the world, whose face was like the sun, always smoked the Esoof cheroot while meditating on his treatment of the bull-faced, earth-swallowing English. Had I done the same I should never have lost my throne, but I used the opium-drugged cheroots from Manila and the trash which was sent to me from San Francisco, and I fell.

Umbrellas are used ceremonially in Burma – when his wife Queen Supayalat died in 1925 she was described as lying in state, ‘shielded under eight white royal umbrellas…’, attended by 90 Buddhist monks and the British Governor Sir Harcourt Butler with a guard of honour of the Mounted Police complete with a 30 gun salute. She lies buried at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Kandawmin Gardens between the tombs of Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother Khin Kyi and the former UN Secretary General U Thant. King Theebaw was buried at Ratnagiri, India (where he had received a state pension of 100,000 Rupees a year) in a small walled plot adjacent to a Christian cemetery, along with one of his consorts.

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The Yellow Perils – Yokohama F.C. (1909)

'The idea of Japs playing football ----in the English Cup too- struck them as being intensely amusing …'

So wrote the sports writer William Pollock of the fans and players before the match in his short story 'The Yellow Perils' which appeared in the  January 28th 1909 number of Pearson’s Weekly. It’s also unlikely that these same sceptics would have backed a Japanese rugby team to beat the South Africans in the 2015 World Cup in England.

'The Yellow Perils' is a fictional account of the exploits of a visiting soccer team, Yokohama F.C. in pursuit of The English Cup, where their extraordinary success in trouncing not only a few lowly London teams, such as Hammersmith Rovers and Shepherd’s Bush, but also such League One titans as Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City, astounded everyone who witnessed them play.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years on–a naval officer’s visit to Japan in 1946/1947

To mark the terrible events of seventy years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, here are some postcards bought by my late father while visiting Japan, late in 1946 or early in 1947, as a commander in the Royal Navy. They were found interleaved in the first volume of a two volume guide book entitled We Japanese, first published in December 1934 and June 1937,by H.S.K Yamaguchi, the managing director of the exclusive Fujiya Hotel at Miyanoshita, situated in the mountainous region of Hakone, eighty miles SW of Tokyo.

The first and second volumes of this four hundred page guide to ‘many of the customs, manners, ceremonies, festivals, arts and crafts of the Japanese’ were reprinted in October and December respectively. A third and final volume appeared in 1949. My father probably bought his copies while staying at the hotel, which was established in 1878 by a member of the Yamaguchi family, and today advertises itself as the oldest ‘Western-style’ hotel in Japan. He wouldn’t have met the guide’s author, who had made great improvements to his hotel in the thirties, because he had died in 1944, but he might have rubbed shoulders with some of its famous guests. During the war one of these was the loathsome ‘Butcher of Warsaw’, Joseph Meisinger, but he had been captured by the Allies in September 1945. At other times celebrities staying at this exclusive hotel included Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Charlie Chaplin, and the Emperor of Japan himself. In 1978 Yoko Ono took John Lennon here.

Today, at £133 pp per night, the Fujiya Hotel no doubt trades on its exclusive reputation, but it is still cheaper than a less famous rival nearby. If you do decide to visit it, the receptionist may let you consult the final issue (1950) of the guide to Japan that my father bought nearly seventy years ago. [RMH]

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E. M. Forster, the Rajah and his tutor

Most people who know E.M.Forster’s Passage to India (1924) also know that the background research for the novel was undertaken while the author worked as private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas, senior, who ruled a tiny State in north central India. In 1953, many years after the novel appeared, and sixteen years after the Maharajah had died, Forster published as The Hill of Devi  recollections of his time in  what he called ‘ the oddest corner of the world outside Alice in Wonderland’.

Forster had first met the young ruler, who bore the rather cumbersome cognomen of  Sir Tukoji Rao III, in 1912 , while he was the guest of the high-flying administrator  Malcolm Darling, who had himself arrived in India in 1904.  ‘His Highness’, or H.H., as the Rajah styled himself, was then just in his early twenties, having succeeded his father in 1900 at the tender age of twelve. In 1906 Darling was appointed his tutor and mentor, and in October 31st, 1907 the two men, together with the usual retinue, including possibly the Rajah’s beloved brother, embarked on what might today be called a ‘ fact -finding ’ tour of ’ All-India’ and Burma , which is briefly mentioned by Forster in his book. Various members of the party were responsible for taking snaps of the sights along the way. The Rajah himself can be seen in many of the photos, and Darling features in at least one. The camera used seems to have been a Kodak, which had become popular early in the 1890s—and it is this photographic record, mounted in a Kodak album, with brief identifying captions by the Rajah, that has recently come to light in a provincial auction house in the UK.

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Bear in a cave – a hunter’s tale

Found in an unpublished  typescript -a real life account of big game hunting in India- the author was almost certainly Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Wray. The manuscript was in an envelope with 3 other chapters addressed to him at 'The Croft, Guildford' and he is known to have written With Rifle and Spear : reminiscences of Lt.-Col. J.W. Wray. COPAC gives his dates as 1851-1924 and record this book as being published by The General Press, Ltd.,. They estimate the date as 1925. Certainly these accounts mention rifles and spears, Wray was a dedicated game hunter. The manuscripts came from a couple of very old soldiers - Basil and Russell Steele.

No copies of the book are available and it has not been digitised, apart from an earlier chapter at Jot. Web archives reveal he was in the 108th Foot Regiment and he was a member of the Northumberland and Northern Counties Club. Punch mentions him and his wife in 1916 - the victim of a Pooter like misprint: 'Mrs. Wray entertained the recruiting staff, numbering £21, to tea at Brett's Hall, Guildford, on Thursday.' They add 'Sterling fellows obviously'.

BEAR SHOT INSIDE HIS CAVE

    In one of my previous Chapters I have described the following up of a wounded bear into his cave and finding him dead in there. I knew before I went in that he could not possibly be alive, and I merely went in to make sure of this before allowing any of the beaters to go in and drag him out.
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Japanese Rupees in Burma 1944

Fell out of a book - this curious souvenir of what is now known as The Burma Campaign - which raged from 1941 to 1945 with the Japanese in the ascendant much of this time. The tide was turned (with heavy losses on both sides) in early 1945 and Mountbatten staged an elaborate victory parade, at which he took the salute in Rangoon on 15 June of that year. This took place despite the fact that thousands of Japanese were still fighting hard behind British lines - as they tried desperately to escape across the Sittang river into Thailand, losing heavily as they went. This 100 Rupee note printed by the Japanese was issued under their 'puppet government' lead by Dr Ba Maw in early 1944.

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Hunting panthers in India (1920s)

Found in an unpublished  typescript -a real life account of big game hunting in India- the author was almost certainly Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Wray. The climax is worthy of Henty or Buchan, otherwise it is a good hunter's tale, completely of its time...The manuscript was in an envelope with 3 other chapters addressed to him at 'The Croft, Guildford' and he is known to have writtenWith rifle and spear : reminiscences of Lt.-Col. J.W. Wray. COPAC gives his dates as 1851-1924 and record this book as being published by The General Press, Ltd.,. They estimate the date as 1925. Certainly these accounts mention rifles and spears, Wray was a dedicated game hunter. The manuscripts came from a couple of very old soldiers - Basil and Russell Steele.

No copies of the book are available and it has not been digitised, apart from an earlier chapter at Jot. Web archives reveal he was in the 108th Foot Regiment and he was a member of the Northumberland and Northern Counties Club. Punch mentions him and his wife in 1916 - the victim of a Pooter like misprint: 'Mrs. Wray entertained the recruiting staff, numbering £21, to tea at Brett's Hall, Guildford, on Thursday.' They add 'Sterling fellows obviously'.

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Robert Byron and Tripadvisor review Balkh

Balkh is in northern Afghanistan and  is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly the oldest. Tripadvisor make this claim, as does Robert Byron writing in 1937 in the supreme travel book The Road to Oxiana. Balkh is still known locally as 'the Mother of Cities.' It was the centre of Zoroastrianism and under the Greeks it was renamed Bactra, giving its name to the surrounding  Bactria territory. Balkh is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins but has an extremely long history, going back to the 26th century BC and further - when the plains were fertile…

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