The Collection

The photographs hosted on this website were taken by Steel Brothers and Company Ltd. Steel Brothers were a large British firm that worked in the teak industry during the colonial period. During the Japanese Occupation of Myanmar Steel Brothers’ officers were destroyed and most of their records were lost. These photographs were preserved in the company’s offices in London. Today they are held by the London Metropolitan Archives (CLC/B/208/MS29564 ‘Photographs of teak extraction operations’).

The destruction of their records during the Second World War means that we do not know who took these photographs. We also do not know why they were taken. When they were taken is also unclear, although they were taken just before the Japanese Occupation. They were taken at various places in Myanmar.

Teak, Elephants and Imperialism

By the end of the nineteenth century, Myanmar was the largest teak exporter in the world. The industry grew rapidly during British colonial rule. In 1859, around 20,000 tons were produced. In 1900, this had risen to more than 200,000. And by the 1920s, the number was roughly half a million tons of teak. The trade was dominated by large British companies. Deforestation was an major environmental change brought about by imperialism.

Elephants were vital to the teak industry. Elephants helped to cut down the trees and they transported the logs. The numbers of working elephants also increased under British colonial rule. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 elephants worked in the teak industry before the Japanese occuption. Most of these animals were taken from the wild. Imperialism had a huge affect on Myanmar’s elephants.