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The camp on Shergai Heights - looking south - showing the old fort and hills towards Bazar.

The camp on Shergai Heights - looking south - showing the old fort and hills towards Bazar.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(18)

Item number: 18

Length: 17.8

Width: 31.1

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view looking down onto the British Army camp near Shagai, a plateau at the start of the route through 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, 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.

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.

Immediately west of Peshawar is the great central range of the Safed Koh mountains, which forms the southern wall of the Kabul river basin, and whose northern spurs are split by the Khyber Pass. The route from Peshawar to Kabul proceeded from the fort at Jamrud through an arid stony plain slashed by water-courses. Three miles beyond Jamrud, the route entered the mountains at the opening called Shadi Bagiar, and here the Khyber Pass began. The route went through a ravine and then joined the road made by Colonel Mackeson in 1839-42, ascending on the left-hand side to the plateau called Shagai.

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