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Landi Kotal Pass, showing road made by the (Q.O.) Madras Sappers.

Landi Kotal Pass, showing road made by the (Q.O.) Madras Sappers.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(64)

Item number: 64

Length: 23.2

Width: 28.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the Queen's Own Madras Sappers and Miners standing by the road they built through Landi Kotal at the western end of the Khyber Pass, taken by John Burke 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'. 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.

Military engineering in India was the responsibility of the Royal Engineers, the Indian Sappers and Miners and the Indian Pioneer Regiments. Their role was to assist the movement of the Army and impede that of enemy forces. Working mostly in rugged terrain, their duties included road and bridge construction, water supply, construction of fortifications, camp construction, and the demolition of enemy defensive works, as well as other general engineering works. They marched and fought side by side with the infantry, cavalry and artillery. The Queen's Own Madras Sappers and Miners was one of three Corps of sappers drawn from each of the British Presidencies in India, and was originally raised in 1780.

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