As part of my background reading about Myanmar, which is rapidly turning into an informal unstructured study of British colonialism in Burma and South East Asia I’ve been reading, end enjoying immensely, Beth Ellis’s An English Girl’s First Impressions of Burmah which is truly a little gem of late Victorian travel writing. (Besides the UK Kindle edition and various paperback reprints there is also a US Kindle edition and a free version from Project Gutenberg).
It’s amusing, witty, and paints a quietly fascinating picture of the minutiae of colonial life. It should definitely be better known.
However there are two puzzles.
Beth Ellis refers to the hill station she visits as Remyo, though no such placename can be found by googling or on wikipedia. She visited before the railway line as complete but describes the railway having been pre built awaiting the arrival of the line. We also know that it was somewhere near Mandalay and took two days to get to using a combination of horse riding and carriage. We also know that you could look out onto the Shan State hills.
We know that Beth Ellis visited in 1897/8 and that the railway through Maymyo to Lashio via Hsipaw was under construction at that time which, given the distance travelled make Maymyo the most likely location being 70km from Mandalay, but up in the hills.
Maymyo was established as a military post in 1896 on the site of an existing Shan village and named after a Colonel May, the first British commander of the military post. My guess is, and it is only a guess, that the original name of the village of Remyo, and when Ellis visited the previous name was still in use and the name Maymyo came into use shortly afterwards. Certainly a railway map from 1900 shows the town as Maymyo. However Ellis describes the town as being in the process of being laid out with vacant blocks being marked out so it is perfectly possible that the town had not yet been renamed.
The other puzzle is just who was Beth Ellis. She turns out to be even more enigmatic that W G Burn Murdoch. Looking at the British Library catalogue page for her works we can see that she wrote several books and that she lived from 1874 to 1913, making her 23 when she visited Burma.