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View from a little below the fort [at Ali Masjid] showing sunga from which the enemy kept up a very harassing fire on the advancing columns.

View from a little below the fort [at Ali Masjid] showing sunga from which the enemy kept up a very harassing fire on the advancing columns.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(25)

Item number: 25

Length: 17.7

Width: 30.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view from the steep heights just below the fort of Ali Masjid looking down onto a British Army camp in 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.

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. The sunga, a stone breastwork, can be seen on a spur further down the hillside overlooking the camp.

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