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Fort Attock with bridge of boats & Khairabad, from below the old serai on left bank of Indus.

Fort Attock with bridge of boats & Khairabad, from below the old serai on left bank of Indus.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(4)

Item number: 4

Length: 20.3

Width: 32

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the Attock Fort, now in Pakistan, taken by John Burke in 1878. John 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'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, in partnership at first with William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.

With the spread of Russia's sphere of influence in Central Asia, British foreign policy in the 19th century was motivated by fears of their Indian Empire being vulnerable to Russian moves southwards. The Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia, termed the Great Game, precipitated the Second Afghan War. The British were trying to establish a permanent mission at Kabul which the Amir Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit. The arrival of a Russian diplomatic mission in Kabul in 1878 increased British suspicions of Russian influence and ultimately led to them invading Afghanistan.

Attock, on the eastern bank of the Indus, is of key importance as it is here that the Indus is crossed by the military and trade route down through the Khyber Pass. The fort was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1581 to support his own wars in Afghanistan. It was held by the Sikhs in the 19th century, they had taken it from the Afghans in 1813. The Sikhs yielded it to the British in 1849. The view shows the fort, dramatically poised over the Indus just south of the point where the Kabul river enters it, with the British-built bridge of boats in the distance. The bridge of boats was a vital artery for British forces during all their campaigns in the region until they constructed an iron bridge in 1883. On the bank opposite Attock is the village of Khairabad.

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