Rocky ascent to Ali Musjid. Camp in the distance.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph taken by John Burke in 1878, showing the Ali Masjid region at the heart of the Khyber Pass. 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, in partnership at first with 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.
Of the three columns moving simultaneously into three approaches into Afghanistan, the Peshawar Valley Field Force, led by Lt. General Samuel Browne, was the largest. Its aim was to take the fort of Ali Masjid and thus the Khyber Pass. General Browne's tactic in attacking the vital fortress described as the 'key to the Pass' was to split his force into a further three columns. One advanced up the Khyber Valley, and the other two went up the parallel Lashora valley to occupy the heights above and behind the fortress of Ali Masjid and launch their attacks. Brig. General F. Appleyard commanded the Third Infantry Brigade of the Peshawar Field Force, composed of troops of the 81st North Lancashire, 14th Sikhs and 27th Punjabis. A caption for this photograph reads, 'View looking up gorge from below Sultan Tarra, showing Ali Musjid and ground occupied by 3rd Brigade during night of 21st November.'