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General Roberts and Sirdars of Kaubul.

General Roberts and Sirdars of Kaubul.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1879

Shelfmark: Photo 430/3(25)

Item number: 25

Length: 19.3

Width: 31.3

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph taken by John Burke in 1879 at Kabul in Afghanistan, a formal posed portrait, with General Roberts seated at the centre of a group of Afghan sardars or chieftains. General Roberts (1832-1914) was famously active in the Second Afghan War and the Boer War (1899-1902) amongst other campaigns; he was the last commander-in-chief of the British Army (1901-04) before that office was abolished.

The views in this album concentrate on the topography of Kabul and military scenes during the British occupation of 1879, in the period of the Second Afghan War (1878-80). John Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the war, 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'. During Burke's two-year Afghan expedition, he photographed the country as well as its people, including the darbars or meetings that took place between the British leaders and Afghan chiefs which led to the uneasy peace treaties characteristic of the campaign. His photographs were an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game (concerning the territorial rivalry between Britain and Russia) were played out.

In July 1879, having negotiated the Treaty of Gandamak with the new Amir Yakub Ali, whereby the presence of a British Resident in Kabul was agreed to, Sir Louis Cavagnari arrived to take up the post. Just two months later in the volatile atmosphere, he and his mission were killed by Afghan troops and the Residency was sacked. It was obvious that despite the treaty the Afghan war was far from over, and the troops from the first part of the campaign begun in 1878 were recalled to take Kabul in a second phase. British forces entered Kabul under the command of General Roberts in October 1879 and occupied the city, launching punitive action against the Afghans. Roberts was tasked with establishing a line of communication with British forces via the Khyber Pass and securing his forces at Kabul.

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