Asmai Kotal showing where Captain Spens 72nd Highlanders was killed [Kabul].
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph taken in 1879 by John Burke with a view at the top of the snow-covered hill overlooking the northern approach to the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, a cairn and a flag marking the grave of Captain Spens. It is part of a series of pictures of Afghanistan taken by Burke during the Second Afghan War (1878-80), which form an important visual document of the country as it was during the time of the Great Game or Anglo-Russian rivalry in the region. In 1878 Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'.
A ridge runs through Kabul from the northwest to the south east, and is split in two by the Kabul River which here runs due east. Called Asmai Heights on the north and Sher Darwaza Heights to the south, this break in the ridge is guarded by the fortress. To the north of Kabul lies Wazirabad Lake. Kabul lies at an altitude of 6000 feet, surrounded by mountains, and is isolated by snow in winter, usually by the end of October. In winter, December to March, Kabul is very cold, although heavy snow is not the norm. Captain Nathaniel James Spens (born 1845 in Edinburgh) of the 72nd Highlanders was killed during the storming of the Asmai Heights near Kabul. In October 1879, British troops under General Roberts reoccupied Kabul as a result of the killing of the British Resident Sir Louis Cavagnari in September. The Afghan war was far from over and Roberts was charged with securing Kabul, opening lines of communication via the Khyber Pass with the rest of the British troops and punishing those responsible for the killing of the Resident.