Certificate Given by Kabul Prisoners in 1842 to Babu Khan


This photograph of a certificate given by prisoners held in Kabul is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The certificate, relating to an important episode in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42), apparently had remained in the possession of an unknown Afghan for some 40 years before being reproduced by a British photographer during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. In the document, the prisoners attest to the kindness shown them by Babu Khan, who was probably a tribal Pashtun leader, during their captivity in Kabul. The top signature on the left side appears to be that of Major-General William George Keith Elphinstone (1782–1842), the commander of the invading British force. Along with other British officers and their wives and children, Elphinstone was taken prisoner following the Kabul insurrection of November 1842. Following negotiations with Akbar Khan, son of Dost Mohammed, Elphinstone’s army was granted safe passage to return to India. The guarantee of safe passage notwithstanding, the British force was attacked and annihilated by tribesmen on the retreat from Kabul. Only one British survivor reached Jalalabad. The Second Anglo-Afghan War began in November 1878 when Great Britain, fearful of what it saw as growing Russian influence in Afghanistan, invaded the country from British India. The first phase of the war ended in May 1879 with the Treaty of Gandamak, which permitted the Afghans to maintain internal sovereignty but forced them to cede control over their foreign policy to the British. Fighting resumed in September 1879, after an anti-British uprising in Kabul, and finally concluded in September 1880 with the decisive Battle of Kandahar. The album includes portraits of British and Afghan leaders and military personnel, portraits of ordinary Afghan people, and depictions of British military camps and activities, structures, landscapes, and cities and towns. The sites shown are all located within the borders of present-day Afghanistan or Pakistan (a part of British India at the time). About a third of the photographs were taken by John Burke (circa 1843–1900), another third by Sir Benjamin Simpson (1831–1923), and the remainder by several other photographers. Some of the photographs are unattributed. The album possibly was compiled by a member of the British Indian government, but this has not been confirmed. How it came to the Library of Congress is not known.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Certificate given by Cabul Prisioners in 1842 to Babu Khan

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 photographic print in an album : albumen


  1. “Anglo-Afghan Wars: First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–42),” Encyclopædia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/anglo-afghan-wars.
  2. H.M. Stephens, “Elphinstone, William George Keith (1782–1842),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Last updated: September 30, 2016