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General view of Peshawur looking towards Khyber.

General view of Peshawur looking towards Khyber.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(7)

Item number: 7

Length: 20.2

Width: 29.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of Peshawar, with a view across the cantonment towards St John's Church and the distant mountains of the Khyber Pass, taken in 1878 by John Burke. 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, at first assisting 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.

The Khyber Pass is bounded on the east by the Peshawar Valley. Now the capital of Pakistan's North-west Frontier Province, Peshawar or 'frontier town' was given its name by Akbar because of its proximity to the Khyber Pass. It lies within a horseshoe ring of hills on the edge of the mountain range which separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. Its origins are ancient and it was a flourishing Buddhist pilgrimage site under the Kushanas nearly 2000 years ago. It was an important regional capital under the Mughals from the 16th century. With their decline it passed to the Durranis of Afghanistan, but was taken by the Sikhs in 1823. The British defeated the Sikhs and brought Peshawar under their control in 1849. They built a cantonment adjacent to the old town, and established it as their frontier headquarters.

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