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National Army Museum

Shah Shuja, grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali and the head of the Sadozai clan, ruled the remains of his grandfathers empire from 1803: Our intention, he wrote, was that from the moment of mounting the throne, we would so rule our subjects with justice and mercy, that they should live in happiness within the shade of our protecting wings. Within six years he had been defeated by his Barakzai enemies and had had to flee into exile in India.

National Army Museum

The Barakzais

Dost Mohammad was his fathers eighteenth son by a low-status wife. His rise to power was brought about by his own ruthlessness, efficiency and cunning. Dost Mohammad slowly increased his hold on power, until in 1835 he declared a jihad against the Sikhs and had himself formally anointed as Amir.

Akbar Khan (above and right), the most intelligent and effective of the sons of Dost Mohammad, pictured below.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

British Library

The Peoples of Afghanistan


RMN (Muse Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier British Library

Three courtly Afghan horsemen, as drawn by the artists of the Elphinstone Mission in 1809. The Chaous Baushee in his dress of office

British Library

A family from Kafirstan (above left), a Kharoti Ghilzai (above right) and (below) Pashtun horse traders. Afghanistan was a country sharply divided along tribal, ethnic and linguistic lines.
Private Collection, photograph courtesy of Simon Ray, London

The Umla Baushi in his dress of office

British Library

A Dooraunee Gentleman

Chandigarh Museum

The Sikhs
Maharaja Ranjit Singh in a Bazaar, LI118.110, Private Lender, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, and his nobles.

British Library

RMN (Muse Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

Sikh horsemen. Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler and great enemy of Dost Mohammad who created a powerful kingdom in the Punjab.

Two infantrymen from Ranjit Singhs state of the art Fauj-i-khas regiment, trained for him by ex-Napoleonic veterans.

Playing the Great Game


National Portrait Gallery, London Mohan Lal by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson Scottish National Portrait Gallery John Murray

Sir Claude Wade, a Bengal-born Persian scholar, was one of the original spymasters in the Great Game that grand contest of imperial competition, espionage and conquest that engaged Britain and Russia until the collapse of their respective Asian empires, and whose opening moves were being played out at this period.
National Army Museum

Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough, was the first to turn anxiety about Russia into public policy. Our policy in Asia must follow one course only, he wrote in his diary, to limit the power of Russia.

Mohan Lal Kashmiri, Alexander Burness brilliant Indian assistant and intelligence chief, understood Afghanistan better than any of the British. As long as they followed his advice, all went well.
Getty Images

The Scottish agent of the Great Game, Alexander Burnes, in the field in Afghan dress. He always complained that this famous image did not look in the least like him.

Major Eldred Pottinger, nephew of Wades great rival Sir Henry Pottinger, was in Herat disguised as a Muslim horse trader when the Qajar Persian army attacked it.

MacNeill, the Russophobe British ambassador in Tehran whose cable, The Russians have formally opened their diplomatic intercourse with Kabul convinced the British that Dost Mohammad needed to be replaced. Lord Auckland should now take a decided course, he advised, and declare that he who is not with us is against us... We must secure Afghanistan.

Henry Rawlinson ran into Vitkevitchs Cossacks by chance in the half-light of dawn while lost on the Persian-Afghan frontier. His record-breaking ride from Mashhad to Teheran brought news of the secret Russian mission to Afghanistan. He later become political agent in Kandahar during the British occupation.

Ivan Vitkevitch was a young Polish nobleman who, while in exile on the Cossack steppe, became fascinated with the Turkic culture of what is now Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. He was the perfect intelligence agent to take on Burnes, and after much shadowing of each others footsteps, the pair finally met for Christmas dinner in Kabul in 1838.

Royal Geographic Society

National Portrait Gallery, London

Alexander Burnes, the dashing Scottish intelligence officer sent out to gather information on the non-existent Russian threat to British interests in the east. When the book he wrote about his travels became a huge success, the Russians, who read it in French translation, were prompted to embark on intelligence gathering of their own, sending Vitkevitch first to Bukhara then Kabul. Hawkish paranoia in London thus ended up bringing into being the very threat it had most feared and so was born the Great Game.

Sir William Hay Macnaghten, seen here with his famous blue-tinted spectacles. A bookish former judge from Ulster who had been promoted from his court room to run the Companys bureaucracy, he became Lord Aucklands Russophobe, protocol-obsessed Political Secretary. His jealousy of the fast-promoted Burnes led him to support the idea of replacing Dost Mohammad Khan with Shah Shuja, an idea Burnes strongly opposed. The two men, who never got on, became the dysfunctional centre of the British administration in Afghanistan.

The Edens
National Portrait Gallery, London National Army Museum

The Sadozais

George Eden, Lord Auckland, the British Governor-General, a clever but complacent man with little knowledge of the region.
Chandigarh Museum

Emily Eden, one of Lord Aucklands unmarried sisters and the writer of some of the Rajs most witty and waspish letters.

In July 1838, Macnaghten visited Shah Shuja and his court in Ludhiana and curtly informed him that after thirty years in exile he was to be replaced on his throne in Kabul with the help of the British.

British Library

Reliant on the Russophobic filtering of intelligence by Wade and Macnaghten, Lord Auckland failed to heed the more accurate message from Burnes on the ground, and became convinced of Dost Mohammads antiBritish position. Poor, dear peaceful George has gone to war, wrote his sister Emily. Rather an inconsistency in his character. Shah Shujas court in exile. From left to right: Prince Timur, Shah Shuja, Prince Safdarjang and Mullah Shakur Ishaqzai.

National Army Museum

RMN (muse Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

Two sepoys of the Bengal Native Infantry.

Preparations for War

A Bajaur jezailchi.

Skinners Horse riding out to war.

Private Collection

RMN (muse Guimet, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

Kabul infantry.

National Army Museum

The British-Indian Army of the Indus make their way east...

British Library

Scenes from the line of march of a Bengal Regiment. This Victorian precursor of the strip cartoon probably shows the Army of the Indus heading through Sindh and approaching Afghanistan.

National Army Museum National Army Museum

Entrance to the Bolan Pass, from Dadur. In spring 1839 a 12,000-strong British-Indian force, the Army of the Indus under Sir John Keane, forced the Bolan Pass and captured Kandahar. The invasion aimed to replace Dost Mohammad with Shah Shuja, who was considered to be more pro-British.

As they navigated the narrow passes of Baluchistan, the Army of the Indus was vulnerable to ambush by the Baluchis, who hid in the ravines; skirmishes and sniping attacks were common. It was the mouth of hell, remembered the sepoy Sita Ram. The Baluchis now began to harass us by night attacks and drove off long strings of our camels. They murdered everyone whenever they had the opportunity and rolled large boulders down the mountain sides.

British Library

British Library

In April 1839, the Army of the Indus captured the city of Kandahar without a fight. Here Shah Shuja held a durbar within sight of the dome of the tomb of his grandfather, Ahmad Shah Abdali.
National Army Museum

National Army Museum

The Storming of Ghuznee. After forcing the Bolan Pass and capturing Kandahar, the Army of the Indus advanced on the formidable fortified walls of Ghazni, protected by thick, sixty-foot-high walls, a major problem for the British who had left their heavy artillery in Kandahar. Mohan Lal Kashmiri, Burness invaluable intelligence chief, discovered that one of the gates was not bricked up and could be stormed if taken by surprise.

The Durbar-Khaneh of Shah Shoojah-ool-Moolk at Kabul. After the seizure of Ghazni, Dost Mohammad fled Kabul and Shuja was re-installed as Shah in August 1839. This Mughal-style reception hall in the Bala Hisar was where he would hold his durbars, and where he irritated his nobles and his British officers by making them stand for hours. As the British officer-turned-artist, Lockyer Willis Hart, noted: This form and ceremony, so hateful to the Affghans, was the Kings foible, and sometimes carried to an absurd extent.

The People of Kabul


National Army Museum British Library

The Kabul Bazaar during the British occupation.

The retinue of Shah Shooja-ool-Moolk. This image includes Mahomed Shah Ghilzai, Akbars Khans father-in-law (on the left) who was bought over by the Anglo-Sadozai regime and was awarded with the fearsome ceremonial title of Chief Executioner. He would become one of the leading rebels and more than anyone else was responsible for the 1842 massacre of the retreating British garrison in the high Ghilzai passes.
British Library

National Army Museum

The women of Kabul were to prove irresistible to the occupying British troops with disastrous results.

British Library

Rattrays sketch of the rows of tents during the early days of the occupation before the building of the cantonments. The rock of the Bala Hisar rises to the rear left of the picture.

National Portrait Gallery, London

British Library

National Army Museum

The elderly and ineffective gout-riddled British military commander in Afghanistan, General William Elphinstone, collapsed into nervous indecision at the outbreak of the uprising.
British Library

Afghan foot soldiers of the insurrection against the British occupation fire their accurate long-barrelled jezails down onto the indefensible British position in the cantonment.

Amir Dost Mohammad surrenders to the British envoy Sir William Hay Macnaghten in November 1840. Macnaghten and his aides were out riding in the valley of Qila-Qazi near Kabul when the surrender occurred.

Afghan insurgents prepare an attack on the British cantonments outside Kabul. This image shows how the elegant colonial cantonments, with the Mission Compound on the left, were surrounded by hills on all sides and almost impossible to defend.

National Army Museum

Courtesy of Robert Lawrence

National Army Museum

Captain Colin Mackenzie commanded the defence of the commissariat fort against the Afghan insurgents. Both he and Lawrence (right) became celebrities on their return and enjoyed posing in Afghan costume.

Eyre, the artist, in selfportrait.


National Army Museum

National Army Museum

George Lawrence
National Army Museum National Army Museum National PORTRAIT GALLERY

Captain Skinner, here a hostage prior to the British withdrawal, would be killed in action at the Jagdalak Pass during the Retreat of 1842.

Lady Sale, turbaned in captivity.

Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale, known to his men as Fighting Bob for always throwing himself into the fiercest combat.

Alexandrina Sturt (ne Sale), taken hostage by Akbar Khan after the massacre in the Khurd Kabul Pass.

The interior of the fort where the British hostages were kept.

Essex Regiment Museum

Tate, London 2012

The last survivors of the 44th Foot were exposed and surrounded at dawn as they stood at the top of the hill of Gandamak. Overwhelmingly outnumbered, the troops made their last stand. They formed a square, and defended themselves, driving the Affghans several times down the hill until they had exhausted the last of their rounds, and then fought on with their bayonets. Then, one by one, they were slaughtered.

Lady Butlers famous oil, The Remnants of an Army, which depicts Dr Brydons exhausted arrival at the walls of Jalalabad on his collapsing nag.

The British Garrison at Jalalabad, from the top turret of which an eagle-eyed staff officer was able to spot Dr Brydons approach and send out rescuers.
National Army Museum

The meticulous but merciless Major-General George Pollock, commander of the Army of Retribution which laid waste to south-eastern Afghanistan and burned Kabul to the ground.

National Army Museum

National Army Museum

National Army Museum

General William Nott, one of the most senior Company generals in India, was a brilliant strategist and ever-loyal to his sepoys the fine manly soldiers to whom he was fiercely attached. He was to prove much the most effective of the British military commanders. In August 1842 he marched across Afghanistan, defeating all the forces sent against him, and arrived in Kabul on 17 September, two days after Pollock had retaken the city.

The Army of Retribution arrived in Kabul in September 1842. After releasing the British hostages, they destroyed the great Chahar Suq covered bazaar. A new mosque built in celebration of the British defeat was also razed to the ground, and fires started across the city. The cry arose that Cabul was given up to plunder...

Kapany Collection of Sikh Art

Dost Mohammad (seated, to the left of the ring of dancers) is received in Lahore, on his way back to Kabul. He was restored to the throne in 1842 following the final British withdrawal and the treacherous assassination of Shah Shuja by his own godson. He would reign until his death in 1863.