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View from Fort Onslow [Kabul].

View from Fort Onslow [Kabul].

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1879

Shelfmark: Photo 430/3(34)

Item number: 34

Length: 20.2

Width: 31.3

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view looking down onto the eastern section of the Sherpur Cantonment, taken by John Burke in 1879-80. The cantonment was situated a mile north of the city of Kabul in Afghanistan.

In 1878 Burke accompanied the 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'. Burke's Afghanistan photographs produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game (concerning the territorial rivalry between Britain and Russia) were played out. 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.

The Sherpur cantonment 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.

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