RGSSALibraryCatalogue

RGSSALibraryCatalogue
RGSSA Library Catalogue

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Afghanistan & the British Raj (3): The Second Afghan War & its Aftermath

AFGHanistan & THE British RAJ AT RGSSA:
The Second "Afghan War", 1878-1880
AND ITS AFTERMATH


The Second Afghan War (or Second Anglo-Afghan War) was the second major conflict between the British and Afghanistan. It took place from 1878 to 1880 and incorporated not only a crushing defeat for the British and a resounding victory for the Afghans at the Battle of Maiwand, but also a much-celebrated victory for the British at the Battle of Kandahar, or Relief of Kandahar, which ended the war in 1880. The British were enabled to claim over-all victory but they never managed to establish British rule in Afghanistan.(1)
    The Second Afghan War was split into two campaigns or phases, the first taking place from November 1878 to May 1879, and the second lasting from September 1879 to September 1880 (2). The forces involved on the British side were now under the direct control of the British Government, which had by this time taken over the rule of British India from the East India Company. As it had also taken over the old regiments, many of the older men serving in the war had also seen service with the East India Company’s Army.

Prelude to Conflict: British Lion Reacts to Advancing Russian Bear
As always with Afghan matters, the background to the conflict is complex. The Russians were expanding into Central Asia. In the summer of 1878 "Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul."(1) The Amir of Afghanistan at this time was Sher Ali Khan of the Barakzai dynasty, a son of Dost Mohammad Khan. When the British demanded the Amir accept a mission from them as well, he refused permission and threatened to stop any effort to send one. Nevertheless the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton, ordered a diplomatic mission to set out for Kabul in September 1878. It was turned back on approaching the British India end of the Khyber Pass. This triggered the war.

The First Phase


Above: 45th Rattray's Sikhs with prisoners from the Second Afghan War, 1878. “The three Afghan prisoners captured in the advance through the Khurd Khyber are sitting in the centre of the photograph, surrounded by Sikh guards. The 45th Sikh Regiment was raised in 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray, and was popularly known as Rattray’s Sikhs. ... The Regiment served in the Fourth Infantry Brigade, part of the Peshawar Valley Field Force, during the Second Afghan War. The prisoners were lucky to have survived because in the harsh conditions and terrain of the Afghan Wars no quarter was given and prisoners taken, on both sides”  -Wikipedia.

The first campaign began in November 1878. The British sent in a force of about 40,000 troops, penetrating the country from three different points The major battle of this period was the Battle of Ali Masjid. Much of the country was successfully occupied by the British.

Treaty
On the death of the Amir Sher Ali in February 1879 the British seized the opportunity to make the Treaty of Gandamak with the new Amir, Sher Ali's son Mohammad Yaqub Khan. The negotiator was Pierre Cavagnari, in spite of the name a British officer and administrator who had seen service with the Army of the East India Company.(3)

Cavagnari sitting with a group of Afghan tribesmen
The treaty, signed in May 1879, ended the first phase of the Second Afghan War. "According to this agreement and in return for an annual subsidy and vague assurances of assistance in case of foreign aggression, Yaqub relinquished control of Afghan foreign affairs to Britain. British representatives were installed in Kabul and other locations, British control was extended to the Khyber and Michni passes, and Afghanistan ceded various North-West Frontier Province areas and Quetta to Britain. The British Army then withdrew." (1)

Uprising
As can well be imagined, the Afghans were not satisfied with this state of affairs, and there was an uprising in Kabul in September 1879. Cavagnari, who had been given the post of British representative in Kabul, also receiving the Star of India and a KCB, was killed along with the other European members of the mission and their guards, members of The Guides, when he refused the Afghans' demands.(3) This provoked the next phase of the Second Afghan War.

The Second Phase
In the second phase of the war Major General Sir Frederick Roberts "defeated the Afghan Army at Char Asiab on 6 October 1879, and occupied Kabul." A rebellion  in December 1879 failed. "Yaqub Khan, suspected of complicity in the massacre of Cavagnari and his staff, was obliged to abdicate."(1)

British Install Abdur Rahman Khan as Amir
There were several solutions the British considered but in the end they opted for installing Abdur Rahman Khan, (more properly Abd al-Rahman Khan), a cousin of Yaqub Khan, as Amir. The consequences of this decision, as we'll see when we look at the aftermath of the war, were extremely significant.


Afghan Victory at Battle of Maiwand
At this Yaqub Khan's brother, Ayub Khan, who had been serving as governor of Herat, rose in revolt. In the Battle of Maiwand on 27th July 1880 he totally defeated the British troops under General Burrows. It was "the biggest British disaster, and the greatest Afghan victory" of the war.(2)
   Ayub's next move was to besiege the remainder of the British garrison at Kandahar. In response, on 8th August 1880 General Roberts set out with an army of 10,000 from Kabul to relieve Kandahar—over 300 miles away.

The Relief of Kandahar
The relief of Kandahar is one of the military exploits recounted in the book based on Edmund Musgrave Barttelot's writings and published after his death by his brother Walter:

Barttelot, Walter George, & Barttelot, Edmund Musgrave, 1859-1888
The life of Edmund Musgrave Barttelot, Captain and Brevet-Major Royal Fusiliers, Commander of the Rear Column of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition : being an account of his services for the relief of Kandahar, of Gordon, and of Emin, from his letters and diary. 3rd ed.
London, R. Bentley, 1890

Barttelot had a successful military career but his reputation in Britain was seriously marred by his madness and resultant death in Africa. His name crops up in several publications of the late 1880s and early 1890s about the Dark Continent because he was one of the explorers in "Stanley's rear-guard", the Rear Column of Henry Morton Stanley's "Emin Pasha Relief Expedition" of 1887-1889. According to some accounts Stanley's own picture of this incident was extremely prejudiced. Walter Barttelot's book was intended to defend his brother's reputation.(4)
    Several years before this tragic episode, however, Edmund Barttelot was an officer with the 7th Royal Fusiliers in India, and was thus amongst the troops who relieved Kandahar. "The march from Kabul to Kandahar was quite a feat in that it moved so many men such a distance and in a relatively short period of time. They marched through terrific heat and dryness, not knowing what resistance they would meet on the way..."(2) General Roberts's venture was, however, a resounding success. Kandahar was relieved: "the day after Roberts arrived, on September 1st, he defeated Ayub Khan and the Afghan army, effectively ending the conflict of the Second Afghan War." (2)

A British Victory or Not?
With the confirmation of the Treaty of Gandamak by the British Government's choice, the Amir Abdur Rahman, the British retained control both of the territories ceded by Yaqub Khan, and of Afghanistan's foreign policy, in exchange for protection and a subsidy. They would no longer maintain a British Resident in Kabul, it having at last dawned, after the successive murders of their representatives during the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars, that this was considered provocation by the Afghan people. This situation was generally depicted in rosy terms by English writers, an attitude which is reflected in many modern accounts, but this was largely spin. Maybe the advance of the Russian bear towards the territory of the British Raj had been halted—but internal events in Russia were fast overtaking Russian policies in any case.

"The Khaiber Pass. A village in the pass belonging to independent Afghans,
showing tower and fortifications", photograph by T.L. Pennell

Aftermath oF War: The Reign of The Iron Amir
After 1879 the fate of Afghanistan was shaped by the new Amir, the British-appointed Abd al-Rhaman Khan (or Abdur Rhaman, as contemporary accounts refer  to him).

The Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan
The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia holds several books about the Amir. A close-up is provided by:

Gray, John Alfred, 1857-1929
At the court of the Amir.
London : R. Bentley, 1895

John Alfred Gray's personal account describes the court life in Kabul in the latter part of the 19th century during the reign of the Amir Abd al-Rhaman Khan, covering such diverse topics as "Life in Kabul"; "The Kabul bazaars"; "Ethics"; "Afghan surgeons and physicians"; "Life in Turkestan"; "The birth of Prince Mahomed Omer"; "The rearing of the infant Prince"; "The Amir"; "The Amir's conversation"; and "The Amir as an art critic". Dr. John Gray was surgeon to the Amir for five years. He was only a young man when he went out on his adventure to Afghanistan. Back in England he did a further a medical qualification and settled down to a practice in the respectable London borough of Ealing (5)—a far cry from the exotic opulence of the Amir's court!

Afghan Life in the Later 19th Century

"A Cavalry Shutur-Sowar or Camel-Rider", photograph by T.L. Pennell
Life for most of the population was of course nothing like court life. It's not the accounts of the explorers and soldiers, but those of the missionaries, which afford us a view of how the ordinary people lived. During the 19th century there was a stronger and stronger British missionary presence in the Indian subcontinent, and by the later part of the century they had made tentative inroads into Afghanistan—not an easy task on a merely physical level, when we consider the terrain, and near to impossible on the theological level. Whatever we may think today of these earnest proselytizers, they did make a genuine contribution to the health and physical welfare of the people amongst whom they lived. There are many testaments to such endeavours in the literature of the British Raj and of the British Empire in general. One such in the RGSSA library is:

Pennell, T. L. (Theodore Leighton), 1867-1912.
Among the wild tribes of the Afghan frontier : a record of sixteen years' close intercourse with the natives of the Indian marches. 5th & cheaper ed.
London : Seeley, Service & Co., 1913

Theodore Leighton Pennell (1867-1912) was an English medical missionary during the 19th century. His work took him over a wide stretch of the territory then known as the Northwest Frontier of British India, in what is now Pakistan, and thence to Afghanistan. His book Among the wild tribes of the Afghan frontier abounds with descriptions of the lifestyles, habits and customs of the Pushtun peoples of the area. Together with his photographs of the daily lives of the people these accounts are the enduring legacy of his work, and a valuable contribution to the social history of the area.

"Women going for water at Shimvah"

Above is one of the few contemporary pictures of women of the Frontier area; nearly all of the figure studies in the books on Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier in the RGSSA’s collection are of men.

Efforts at conversion such as those of Pennell, nibbling away at the fringes of Afghan territory, were never to lead to anything more. The Amir chosen by the British was never going to allow his people to be converted—or, indeed, Westernised at all.

The Iron Amir
Abd al-Rahman Khan (or Abdur Rahman Khan), the British choice for Amir during the Second Afghan War, was to reign successfully and firmly over Afghanistan until his death in 1901, becoming known as "The Iron Amir."

"Abdur Rahman, the late Amir of Afghanistan: drawing by Lady Helen Graham"

Wheeler, Stephen, 1854-1937
The Ameer Abdur Rahman.
London: Bliss, Sands and Foster, 1895. (Public men of to-day)

Willcocks, James, Sir, 1857-1926.
From Kabul to Kumassi : twenty-four years of soldiering and sport / by James Willcocks ; illustrations by Helen Graham.
London ; Murray, 1904.

The Amir was both ruthless and politically adept. Cruel episodes of genocide went side-by-side with the cool-headed balancing of the opposing powers which surrounded him in Central Asia. During his reign he completely consolidated his position and gained dominion over the warring tribes of Afghanistan.
    The results of their appointment were doubtless not what the British had expected: far from being a puppet, the Amir used the British government's annual subsidy of 1,850,000 rupees to import munitions, and "availed himself of European inventions for strengthening his armament, while he sternly set his face against all innovations which, like Railways and Telegraphs, might give Europeans a foothold within his country." He was a fervent believer in Islam, in 1896 adopting the title of Zia-ul-Millat-Wa-ud Din ("Light of the nation and religion"); an educated man, he published treatises on jihad. (6)
    It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that Amir Abd al-Rahman’s religious conservatism and fierce patriotism, both of which prompted him to shun the West and its ways, in combination with the militarism which had always characterised the Afghan dynasties, a tradition which he continued and consolidated, moulded the Afghanistan of today.

Going one step further, we might say that the current conflict in Afghanistan can be traced back, not merely to the country’s tribal roots and endless dynastic quarrels, but to the British choice of Abdur Rahman Khan as their preferred ruler during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

References
(1) "Second Anglo-Afghan War", Wikipedia
(2) "The Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878-1880",
(3) "Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari", Wikipedia
(4) "Edmund Musgrave Barttelot", Wikipedia
(5) "[Obituary: Dr. John Gray]", British Medical Journal, 2 (3595), p. 1034 (Nov. 30 1929), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2452545/?page=1
(6) "Abdur Rahman Khan", Wikipedia




Friday, 18 October 2013

Afghanistan & the British Raj (2): The First Afghan War

AFGHANISTAN &THE BRITISH RAJ AT RGSSA:

THE FIRST "AFGHAN WAR"


Continuing the theme of Afghanistan. (See the May 2013 posting for the first entry.) The Afghanistan exhibition curated by the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia is about to travel to Whyalla. It offers a unique opportunity to view some of the RGSSA's oldest books with links to Central Asia and the Islamic civilisations, plus interesting artefacts, 19th-century works of travel and exploration, and a selection of books, articles and photographs relating to the Afghan cameleers who helped to open up Australia's Outback.

The blog is focussing on the books which give firsthand accounts of Afghanistan as it was gradually and very painfully revealed to the West during the 19th century.

The First Afghan War, 1839-1842
The First Afghan War, as the British called it (First Anglo-Afghan War, sometimes called "Auckland's Folly"), was fought against Afghanistan by the forces of British India, the Army of the East India Company, from 1839 to 1842. It effectively ended with the one of the greatest disasters in British military history: humiliatingly, not a pitched battle, but the ill-conceived and appallingly badly managed retreat from Kabul. 4,500 British-led Indian soldiers and 12,000 camp followers died.(1)

Prelude to War: "Bokhara" Burnes
By the 1830s Russian expansionism led the British to fear a possible Russian invasion of India by way of Afghanistan. The British government therefore decided to send an envoy to Kabul to form an alliance with Afghanistan's Amir Dost Mohammad Khan against Russia. "Whoever they chose to lead such an expedition would have to be a man of exceptional qualities; the endeavour, and its dangers, would be the equivalent of a pioneering trek to the South Pole, or the first flight to the Moon. The man they chose would need to be able to withstand mountain passes and deserts, the threat of bandits, of being held hostage or sold into slavery. More than this, he needed to be an expert in languages, to possess an intimate knowledge of native culture, to have a gift of affability, of making friends in difficult circumstances, and above all to be observant: a sponge for current and reliable information, that might be brought back and presented to the government in Delhi as it pondered its policy. Fortunately for them, the hour presented the man: the one to undertake this task would be Lieutenant Alexander Burnes."(2)

"Bokhara" Burnes in the costume of the country
It was this Scottish soldier's first great expedition that earned him the nickname "Bokhara Burnes":

Burnes, Alexander, Sir, 1805-1841.
Travels into Bokhara : being the account of a journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia ; also, Narrative of a voyage on the Indus, from the sea to Lahore, with presents from the King of Great Britain, performed under the orders of the supreme government of India, in the years 1831, 1832, and 1833.
London : J. Murray, 1834. 3 v.

Burnes had joined the Army of the East India Company as a lad, and once in India showed extraordinary abilities, earning rapid promotion. He also, remarkably for a British officer, learned Hindustani and Persian. He had been serving in "Kutch" or "Cutch" (Kachchh), in western British India when in 1831 he was appointed to lead a British party to Lahore, in the north-eastern Punjab in what is now Pakistan, the ostensible reason for the trip being to take a gift of horses from King William IV to Maharajah Ranjit Singh.(1) Lahore was not under British rule: it was then the capital of the powerful Sikh Empire, and Ranjit Singh was an important and influential ruler. Lahore lies on the Ravi river, which flows west and then south-west in the Punjab, joining the Chenab River, a tributary of the Sutlej, and thence of the mighty Indus.
    The Indus "had not been navigated by Westerners since the days of Alexander the Great; knowledge of it was scanty, and as with Afghanistan, the government in Delhi was conscious it needed to know more about the territories beyond its borders."(2) It would be a river journey of over 1,000 miles. Burnes carried out the mission "in an exemplary fashion, collecting scientific and cartographic data on the one hand, whilst also using his diplomatic talent to maintain good relations with the tribal chieftains and nobles in the regions through which he passed—all suspicious of the motives of the explorer."(2) His book gives a unique account of the opulence of court life under Maharajah Ranjit Singh.
    During this trip he met the deposed Afghan ruler Shah Shuja (or Shuja Shah) Durrani at the British station of Ludhiana. Significantly, Burnes didn't think much of him; he wrote: "I do not believe that the Shah possesses sufficient energy to seat himself on the throne of Cabool; and that if he did regain it, he has not the tact to discharge the duties of so difficult a situation"(2). Truer words were never written. The British authorities' misguided reinstatement of Shah Shuja was to lead to their crushing defeat in the First Afghan War.

Mission to Afghanistan
The expedition to Bokhara (Bukhara) was a great success and led to Burnes's next appointment, the mission to Afghanistan. His posthumously published account is:

Burnes, Alexander, Sir, 1805-1841.
Cabool : being a personal narrative of a journey to, and residence in that city, in the years 1836, 7, and 8.
London : J. Murray, 1842.

After the success of his venture up the Indus, the organisation of this second mission was left up to Burnes. Both his own experiences and the example of earlier European travellers to Afghanistan decided him to travel light, with no display of either military power or wealth to incite an attack. He took only three companions.(2) On his way through the Punjab he again called in at Lahore, where he encountered a Frenchman, a "M. Court" who had come over from Persia by way of Afghanistan. His advice about the safest way to travel in the area prompted Burnes to dress in the local Afghan clothes and get rid of his European tents, beds, chairs and so forth. As a result, he made it through safely. It was not to be the marauding tribesmen who would be responsible for his death in the country, but the stupidity of his military superiors.
    Burnes's wonderfully detailed account of his journey, encompassing Jalalabad, Kabul, Bamiyan, Kunduz, Mazar-i Sharif and much more gives an astoundingly unprejudiced and appreciative picture of all he observed: the way of life, the natural features, the architecture, the wild flowers in bloom on the hills and the formal gardens of the towns, and all the local variations in religious observances and beliefs. He actually discussed theology with the locals, in spite of M. Court's warning that it was a risky topic. "Most important of all, he was able to understand the contemporary politics of the country, by meeting and conversing with many of the chiefs and leading men. ... With his characteristic charm, he was able to form close relations with many members of the ruling Barakzye family in Peshawar and Kabul".(2)

The Amir Dost Mohammad Khan
Of these the most important was the Amir Dost Mohammad Khan (1793-1863), who had become Amir of Afghanistan in 1826 after the decline of the Durrani dynasty and the exile of Shah Shuja Durrani to the Punjab. Burnes discovered that he was a highly intelligent man with an active mind, and their wide-ranging discussions led him to the conclusion that "Dost Mohammed was the only person with the acumen and vigour to re-unify the Empire of Afghanistan."(2) The Amir was willing to become an ally of the British and Burnes realised that with only a little help he would be the man to help prevent Russian encroachments into northern India.

The Amir Dost Mohammad Khan in later life
   Tragically, as it would turn out, Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of British India, ignored Burnes's advice—largely, it seems, because Dost Mohammad wanted British help to regain Peshawar, on the north-West Frontier, which the Sikh Empire under Ranjit Singh had seized in 1834.(3) Thus "Auckland's Folly".

British Reinstate Shah Shuja as Amir, & Advance into Afghanistan

The reinstated Shah Shuja holds court
Taking the advice of Sir William Hay Macnaghten instead, Auckland decided to reinstate the deposed Shah Shuja Durrani as Amir. Troops of the Army of the East India Company marched into Afghanistan in March 1839, reaching Kandahar on 26 April. Shah Shuja was proclaimed as ruler, and the deposed Dost Mohammed took refuge in the mountainous Hindu Kush.(3)

Eye-Witness Accounts of the First Afghan War
What was it really like in Afghanistan for the British during the First Afghan War? We have several books which tell us. Two are by husband and wife. Sir Robert Sale, one of the British commanders, produced a volume of lithographs:

Sir Robert Sale

Sale, Robert Henry, Sir, 1782-1845.
The defence of Jellalabad / by Sir R.H. Sale ; drawn on stone by W.L. Walton.
London : Published for the proprietor by J. Hogarth ..., [1846?]

Sale's wife, Florentia, Lady Sale, wrote more fully of her Afghanistan experiences:

Sale, Florentia Wynch, Lady, 1790-1853
A journal of the disasters in Affghanistan, 1841-22.
London, J. Murray, 1843.

When the First Afghan War began, Colonel Sale was assigned to the command of the 1st Bengal brigade. He reached Kandahar in April 1839, and in May occupied the Heart plain. Heading for Kabul, the British stormed the city of Ghazni, "Sale in person leading the storming column and distinguishing himself in single combat."(4) They then reached Kabul easily. Sale was awarded the KCB and promoted to major-general. "He was left, as second-in-command, with the army of occupation, and ... conducted several small campaigns ending with the action of Parwan which led directly to the surrender of Dost Mahommed Khan."(4)
    The British forces were now in cantonments, and everything seemed so peaceful that many of their families came to join them in Kabul, including Lady Sale and her daughter, also married to a serving officer. Lady Sale's journal gives a vivid picture of the carefree, elegant—and in some cases sybaritic—life of the British in Kabul.

Burnes in Kabul
Alexander Burnes at this time had become the political agent in Kabul. It's an interesting sidelight on his character—and perhaps helps to clarify the readiness with which he took to the charming and decorative Afghan costume—that the life he led there, far from that we might expect of a stern Scottish soldier, was little short of hedonistic!

"View of Cabool, from the East", plate facing p.234, from Burnes's Cabool;
from an original sketch of Kabul "by Capt. H. Wade, of H.M. 13th Regiment"

Afghan Uprising
The Afghans had never truly accepted either the presence of the British or their puppet ruler, Shah Shuja, and after a while hostilities flared. The Afghan tribes flocked to support Dost Mohammad's son, Akbar Khan. Burnes had at one stage left Afghanistan but he was back again: all his advice was ignored and the British authorities insisted on supporting Shah Shuja instead of Dost Mohammad Khan.
    By the time Sale's brigade was ordered to head to Jalalabad to clear the vital line of communications to Peshawar on the North-West Frontier (near the end of the Khyber Pass, close to the Indian-Afghan border), the situation was very dangerous indeed—not least for the British forces in cantonments outside Kabul, in a position which would be nigh impossible to defend.


Murder of Burnes
Violence flared in Kabul and Afghan rebels, led by Akbar Khan, murdered Burnes. Hedonist he might have been, but the calmness with which he continued at his post, and the ferocity with which he fought after the killing of his political assistant, Major William Broadfoot, killing six assailants before meeting his own fate, won him a heroic reputation.

Chicanery and Cover-Up
It seems incredible that all Burnes's excellent advice on tactics was ignored by the British authorities, just as his original advice against supporting Shah Shuja had been. In fact, those to whom he reported behaved shockingly badly and did not pass on all his advice: there was chicanery during his period in Kabul and then a cover-up: "It came to light in 1861 that some of Burnes'[s] dispatches from Kabul in 1839 had been altered so as to convey opinions opposite to his, but Lord Palmerston refused after such a lapse of time to grant the inquiry demanded in the House of Commons."(1)

Sale Takes Jalalabad
On his way to "Jellalabad", that is, Jalalabad, Robert Sale received the news of Burnes's death. He was ordered to return to Kabul as fast as possible, but using his better judgement, decided not to: "suppressing his personal desire to return to protect his wife and family, he gave orders to push on."(4) They reached Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan at the junction of the Kabul River and Kunar River, to find a rebel force installed and the way back to India blocked.
    After severe fighting Sale took Jalalabad on 12 November 1841. Its defensive walls were half-ruined: he immediately set about making it fit to withstand a siege. His volume of lithographs includes his detailed drawings of the improvements he made to the defences. (I haven't digitised any because a small reproduction won't give you any idea of how impressively detailed they are and how careful a tactician he must have been.) On 7 April 1842 the beleaguered garrison "relieved itself by a brilliant and completely successful attack on Akbar Khan's lines."(4) General Pollock eventually arrived with a relieving army, but Jalalabad no longer needed them, thanks to Sale.
    A detailed history of this episode is given in:

Gleig, G. R. (George Robert), 1796-1888.
Sale's brigade in Afghanistan : with an account of the seisure and defence of Jellalabad.
London ; John Murray, 1861

    If the rest of the British forces could get as far as Jalalabad, their way back to the Frontier and thence the safety of India would be relatively clear.

Disastrous Retreat of British from Kabul
In the meantime the British forces in Kabul had fled, with amongst them Florentia, Lady Sale, with her daughter and son-in-law. Lady Sale was known in her lifetime as "the Grenadier in Petticoats"(5): she travelled the world with her husband on all his postings, but it was perhaps not these travels, as varied as any soldier's of the time, which earned her the nickname, but her determination and grit—as her portrait taken in later life attests!

The "Grenadier in Petticoats"
Her journal offers a stringent description of the complete muddle and panic amongst the British in Kabul when the rebellion broke out. She "gives us a full and vivid picture of events", reporting on "the anxiety and ineptitude of Shah Shuja; [and] the procrastination and confusion of command, as men are readied to take action and told to stand down, marched out of the gates, and told to return. She does not soften her words in the portrayal of characters, or dissemble to preserve the good name of anyone".(2)

Panic Leads to Massacre
What followed this panic was the disastrous British retreat from Kabul in the icy Afghan winter of 1841/1842. At the beginning of 1842 an agreement was reached with the rebels for the safe exodus of the British garrison and its dependants from Afghanistan.(6) They were about 16,500 souls, only about 4,500 being military personnel and over 12,000 camp followers. Most of the troops were Indian units, plus one British battalion, the 44th Regiment of Foot. It was ferociously cold: the worst time imaginable to try to get a large contingent, encumbered as they must have been by the cook-waggons and all the camp followers' baggage, through the mountains of Afghanistan.
    They were ambushed in the snowbound passes by Akbar Khan's supporters, with huge slaughter in what was more or less a running battle, culminating in a massacre at the Gandamak Pass. Fewer than forty men survived the retreat from Kabul. A handful of British were taken prisoner. Only one Briton reached the relative safety of the garrison at Jalalabad, a Dr. William Brydon.(6) It was one of the bitterest episodes in British military history.

British Hostages in Afghanistan
Portrait of an Afghan, said to be Akbar Khan, by Vincent Eyre
Lady Sale's party—she, her daughter (Mrs Sturt), and other members of British officers' families—were lucky to be taken prisoner at the beginning of 1842 rather than slaughtered along the way. They were eventually rescued, later in 1842, and got back to India.
    Another account of the British hostages' captivity in Afghanistan is given in:

Eyre, Vincent, Sir, 1811-1881
The military operations at Cabul, which ended in the retreat and destruction of the British Army, January 1842 : with a journal of imprisonment in Affghanistan.
London : J. Murray, 1843

Vincent Eyre (later Sir Vincent) was one of the many young Englishmen who joined the East India Company's army: in his case, the Bengal Establishment. After 10 years' service he was appointed "Commissary of Ordnance" to the Kabul field force, in 1839. Like the Sales, his family went out to Afghanistan expecting the comfortable life of a peaceful posting. Eyre and his family were also captured during the Afghan uprising led by Akbar Khan in January 1842. Ironically, it was their months in captivity which saved their lives. Besides writing a diary of his experiences, Eyre, who was a considerable artist, also sketched the personalities—officers, women, and even enemies—whom he met. They are charming works, with a great delicacy of touch.

Two of Eyre's sketches of the Kabul prisoners
The manuscript of the diary is said to have been smuggled out to a friend in British India. It was published in England as Military Operations at Cabul in 1843 and immediately ran into several editions. The colour lithographs of his portraits were sold as a set under the title: Portraits of the Cabul Prisoners. The lucky Eyres, like Lady Sale, were later rescued. Eyre went on to a distinguished military career.

End of the War
British morale was greatly shaken when reports of the disastrous retreat from Kabul began to filter through. In September 1842 the British forces retook Kabul and freed the prisoners. Reprisals included great destruction and terrible, vicious slaughter of civilians. The British then withdrew from Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. Dost Mohammad was released and was able to re-establish his authority in Kabul.(6)

What Would Happen Next?
With British influence west of the Khyber Pass waning the way was left open for Russian influence: an opportunity of which the Russian Bear did not fail to take advantage. We see, in the 30 years following the First Afghan War, steady Russian encroachment on Afghanistan. By 1873 "Russian control ... extended as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya."(6)


Above: Sketch map of the route of the mighty Amu Darya, the largest river of Central Asia (known in the 19th century as the Oxus River), from its origin in the lofty Pamirs to the Aral Sea. It forms the northern border of modern Afghanistan. By 1873 most of the countries of modern Central Asia (shown in pink) were under direct or indirect Russian control.

References:
(1) "Alexander Burnes", Wikipedia
(2) Bijan Omrani. "Will we make it to Jalalabad?"
            http://www.bijanomrani.com/?p=jalala
(3) "Dost Mohammad Khan", Wikipedia
(4) "Robert Sale", Wikipedia
(5) "Florentia Sale", Wikipedia
(6) "First Anglo-Afghan War", Wikipedia


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Vale Kevin Griffin

VALE KEVIN GRIFFIN

    We recently had the sad news that the RGSSA’s former librarian, Kevin Griffin, has died. He had been very ill for months and had had to give up his library work. The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia has been without a librarian since then and it has really brought home to us what a great deal of work Kevin did, even though he was only part-time.
    Kevin was a very modest person, so I won’t indulge in fulsome praise or post a photo of him. I shall just say, on a personal level, that it was a pleasure working with him. His work for the RGSSA will speak for him. He was instrumental in the decision to set up a computerised catalogue for the Society for the very first time and mount it on the Internet, a move which is giving scholars world-wide access to the RGSSA’s unique collection of works of exploration and travel. In-house, he produced a series of fascinating exhibitions, drawing on his wide knowledge of the collection. His expert work as a bibliographer is best seen in his catalogue for the big exhibition Terra Cognita: Four Hundred Years of European Exploration, Travel and Discovery, which was mounted in 2008 for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the York Gate Library collection in South Australia.

"Terra Cognita" title page (picture on navy mat)
The electronic version of this illustrated publication is available at :

Below we see an extract which shows Kevin’s ability to write concise and telling annotations:



Thank you for your tireless and dedicated work for the RGSSA Library, Kevin.
We miss you.