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BURKE, John.

[Album of photographs from the Hazara Expedition, 1891.]

Published: 1878-93

Stock code: 107517

Price: £8,000

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A collection of fine photographs largely originating from the Black Mountain, or Hazara, Expedition of 1891, with the ownership inscription of Captain C. J. H. H. Noble to the front free endpaper. The North West Frontier Province was highly unstable and restive local tribes, in particular the Yusufzai, were a major problem for the British, who converged on the region from three directions with a total force of some 7,000 troops. From the photographs it is clear that Burke was attached to the Indus River column: there are views of Attock, Abbottabad, Rawalpindi, the Indus Valley and several of Murree, regimental photographs, camp views, various images including Sikh soldiers and a striking scene of “No. 1 Mountain Battery shelling Diliasi from Palosi” (Burke 81). The final two photographs – each of the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment – are puzzling: Charles John Herbert Hay Noble (b. 1870), son of Col. C. S. Noble of Murrayfield, Edinburgh, received his commission in the Yorkshire Regiment in September 1894 having after five years in the ranks. He was promoted lieutenant January 1897 and Captain in the Manchester Regiment in June 1900. He served with the Jsazai Expedition (1892) and as transport officer to the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment in the Tirah Expeditionary Force campaign on the North West Frontier Province, led by Sir William Lockhart (1897-98). In 1900 he travelled from India to South Africa on special service, where he distinguished himself in reconnaissance, led a successful night raid on a Boer farm and was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 7th May 1901) before dying of wounds received in action at Schalkie Farm, near Bethlehem, in November the same year (Dooner, The Last Post, Roll of Officers who fell in South Africa 1899-1902, cited after, online, accessed 12/1/15). At around seventeen years old John Burke travelled out to India as an assistant apothecary to the Royal Artillery, but he spent very little time in the service before forming a partnership with William Baker, a retired sergeant of the 87th Regiment, in a photographic studio; “the first commercial photographers in Peshawar and in the North-West Frontier … [ranking] among the earliest war, news and landscape photographers in the Indian subcontinent … [becoming] over the next decades the first photographers to work in large areas of northern British India and the independent feudal realms of Kashmir and Afghanistan” (Khan, From Kashmir to Kabul, p.11). Outside of the extensive archive of the photographs themselves, they left little record of their lives, taking a prominent place “among the finest forgotten photographers of the British Raj”. Whatever the reason for the work of their studio so often being passed over in favour of better-known photographers, Bourne and Shepherd for example, it is not due to any technical or aesthetic shortcomings; “The chemicals and procedures they used have aged better than those of many others … [and] the rich composition of their images is immediately apparent. In their time, they won many of the top photography awards in competitions throughout British India”. Burke’s work was also far more widely published in Graphic and the ILN than that of any of his competitors. This excellence has not been lost on genuine connoisseurs of Indian photography, one of the first modern publications of Raj photography Worswick and Embree’s The Last Empire … – based on Worswick’s pioneering collection, now at the Getty Research Institute – included more photographs by Burke and Baker than by any of their contemporaries. “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’ … Burke’s two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where the strategies of the Great Game were played out” (BL on-line cataloguing).

Landscape folio (380 300 mm). Contemporary black half roan, dark green morocco-grained boards ruled in gilt, all edges gilt, white moiré-silk effect endpapers. 39 albumen photographs each c.215 280 mm mounted to stiff card leaves, detailed inked captions on mounts identifying location and personnel, discreet captions and Burke catalogue numbers in the plate where applicable (26 photographs labelled Burke, Burke and Baker or “B”; 2 with numbers only; 5 captioned “J. Winter”; remainder uncaptioned), contemporary tissue-guards laid in. Binding slightly rubbed, some light staining to boards, neat restoration of the joints, head and tail of the spine and to the corners, a few very minor spots of foxing to mounts, first photograph slightly oxidised and a few slightly faded along margins but prints in the main in excellent condition, retaining their rich tonal contrasts.

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