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Jellalabad. Pipers Hill, with city in left distance.

Jellalabad. Pipers Hill, with city in left distance.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(80)

Item number: 80

Length: 17.9

Width: 31.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view looking towards the walled town of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, with sentry posts on the hillside in the foreground, taken by John Burke in 1878. The town’s defences were destroyed at the end of the First Afghan War (1838-42) but were rebuilt in 1878 when it was fortified by a surrounding high wall with bastions and loop holes. 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, 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.

The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India's frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.

British suspicions of the Amir's perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan.

Jalalabad, the traditional winter capital of Afghan rulers, was the first major city of Afghanistan encountered after traversing the Khyber Pass. Situated in a fertile valley watered by the Kabul and Kunar rivers 90 miles east of Kabul, it had once been an important town of the Gandhara period (1st to 5th centuries AD), but the modern city was built by the Mughals. Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire, first planted gardens here, and his grandson Jalaluddin Akbar built the city named after him in the 1560s. It stands in a strategic position on the trade route to the Indian sub-continent. The British troops' occupation of Jalalabad was largely uneventful, and although minor skirmishes with local chiefs took place around it they moved about the city freely. Burke took a number of photographs of the city and its surroundings which are believed to be among the first taken of it; there are no other surviving images from this period. The British spent a considerable amount of time here waiting for the Amir Yakub Khan in Kabul to accept their terms and conditions.

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