The Eyewitness: The Life and Times of Dr Clement Williams at the Court of King Mindon in Mandalay, 1861–1879

Poster for The Eyewitness: The Life and Times of Dr Clement Williams at the Court of King Mindon in Mandalay, 1861–1879 with Ron Graham on 30 November 2023Thursday, 30 November 2023 | 10:00 to Noon EDT | Room 857, Eighth Floor, Kaneff Tower, York University and virtually via Zoom

With Ron Graham, award-winning author and journalist

Respondent: Aurore Candier, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France

Very little has been written about Clement Williams, despite his role as Britain’s political agent in Mandalay (1863–1865), his long friendship with King Mindon, and his career in business until his premature death in 1879. Drawing heavily on primary sources in the British Library and a range of secondary material, the book aspires to being the first accurate, detailed and contextual biography of Williams to accompany a large selection of his photographs in the Royal Ontario Museum. It is primarily intended for the non-specialist reader who may know almost nothing about nineteenth-century Myanmar and its last great king at a pivotal period of imperial wars and economic transformation, though it can also be used (I hope) as a kind of micro-history or case study for scholars of the period. In that sense, it’s a rather old-fashioned narrative, heavy on who he was and what happened when, light on academic theory and personal interpretation, but bookended by a prologue and epilogue that give background and aftermath to Williams’s story. I know of no other comprehensive account of Britain’s political agents in Mandalay between the Second Anglo-Burmese War and the final conquest in 1885.

Ron Graham is an award-winning author and journalist in Toronto with a long-standing interest in Burmese history, politics, arts and religion. He’s been a student of Vipassana meditation for more than 50 years, was president of PEN Canada with Aung San Suu Kyi as his special file in the 1990s, and helped bring the collection of early Burmese photographs to the Royal Ontario Museum while serving as a government-appointed trustee. His research in London and Cambridge proved that the photographs were taken by Dr. Williams in the 1860s, establishing them of historic importance as the earliest and rarest images of Mandalay and King Mindon’s court.

Virtual attendees can register at this link

This event is part of the Burma Past and Present: Religion, Ethnicity and Power, a series of readings and discussion of works in progress. We will be reading and discussing work in progress with the author. Please email to receive a copy of the reading.