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Peshawur Fort and surroundings from Jail.

Peshawur Fort and surroundings from Jail.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(6)

Item number: 6

Length: 20.2

Width: 31.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the Bala Hissar fort at Peshawar, 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, 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. 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. The fort of Bala Hissar was built by Babar in 1526-30, with the decline of the Mughals it passed to the local Afghan Durrani chieftains and became their state residence. It was destroyed by the Sikhs after the Battle of Nowshera in 1823 and rebuilt by them under the direction of French engineers in the 1830s. It is trapezoid in plan and its walls of sun-dried brick rise to about 30 ms, with bastions at each corner and on the southern, western and eastern sides. The fort and town were established as the frontier headquarters of the British after they defeated the Sikhs and brought Peshawar under their control.

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