Thomas Cook & Son, Burma and Colonialism, 1886-1948

Conference: The Asian Conference on Asian Studies (ACAS2022)
Title: Thomas Cook & Son, Burma and Colonialism, 1886-1948
Stream: South-East Asian Studies (including Thailand/Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos)
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Antonio Eduardo Hawthorne Barrento, School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon, Portugal


Thomas Cook & Son (TCS) was an active contributor to the travel boom that occurred to and within Burma after the British occupation of Upper Burma in 1886. By 1887, it announced that a direct railway line to Mandalay would soon be opening, and, by 1890, it organized nine different types of tours within the country and opened an office in Rangoon. Established in Bombay since 1881, it came to extend some of the material that it issued about India to Burma as well (together with Ceylon), beginning with a booklet in 1890. Burma was to soon became a significant destination for TCA. Against this background, this paper aims to examine the various intricacies of the relationship between TCS and colonialism in Burma. It was a complex one. While TCS came to be given the sobriquet ‘Booking Clerk to the Empire’ by the turn of the century, it was not simply an official agent in Burma but acted mostly as a private independent entity. At the same time, TCS indirectly contributed to the greater colonial project by, on the one hand, facilitating imperial knowledge of Burma and, on the other, promoting the achievements of the Empire in the territory. In doing so, TCS served as an indirect promoter of the Empire. This was not the only way in which the Empire and TCS were interlinked. Much as was the case in Egypt, TCS benefitted in Burma from all the colonial travel improvements in the territory and the region.

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