Click here to skip to content

The Kabul River, Jellalabad; the scene of the disaster.

The Kabul River, Jellalabad; the scene of the disaster.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(67)

Item number: 67

Length: 11

Width: 28.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the spot on the Kabul river near Jalalabad in Afghanistan where soldiers of the 10th Hussars drowned on the night of March 29, 1878, 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.

The first British soldiers inside Afghanistan after the taking of the Khyber Pass were from the 10th Hussars. Raised in 1715, they came to be known as the Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Hussars, after the then Prince of Wales became their commanding colonel in 1784. In the middle of that dark night of March in 1878, a squadron had just crossed the Kabul river and the Hussars were following a pack of mules close to the first group. Finding themselves in deep water their horses panicked, and in the confusion men, animals and baggage were swept by the fast waters to their death. 49 members of the Hussars perished. 'All that morning and day the search was continued but only nineteen bodies were recovered. At half-past seven the next morning the burial took place in the little cemetery which has been made a short distance from the camp.'

Search within this collection

Elsewhere on our websites


Latest events - register free online

Mobile app

For iPhone, iPad and Android

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Email link to a friend

Write a brief note to accompany the email

Your friend's email address: