The laager and abattis, N. West corner Sherpur [Kabul].
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph taken in 1879 by John Burke with a snowy scene of soldiers and artillery in the Sherpur Cantonment on the outskirts of Kabul in Afghanistan. It is part of a series of pictures of Afghanistan taken by Burke during the Second Afghan War (1878-80), which form an important visual document of the country as it was during the time of the Great Game or Anglo-Russian rivalry in the region. 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'.
The Sherpur cantonment was situated a mile north of the city of Kabul. It was planned by Sher Ali (1825-1879), Amir of Afghanistan, as the main winter headquarters of his army. The cantonment wall was over a mile and a half long with massive towers at regular intervals for artillery. In October 1879 British forces under General Roberts entered Kabul and occupied the Bala Hissar citadel in a fresh phase of the Second Afghan War after the killing of the British Resident Major Cavagnari and his mission in September. Roberts' tasks were to establish a line of communication with British forces via the Khyber Pass, secure his forces at Kabul, and punish those responsible for the death of Cavagnari. Realising that the arrival of reinforcements during the harsh Afghan winter was difficult, Roberts decided to quarter his troops at the more modern and well-defended Sherpur for the winter season. It is said that on the day this picture was taken, about 100,000 Afghans from all over the country attacked Sherpur, but the British, who used the new Gatling machine-guns, pushed them back after fierce fighting. We can infer from this that the photographer was very much part of the front line of the war.