Elephant and Mule Battery ("Dignity & Impudence")


This photograph of an elephant and mule battery is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The mule team on the left side of the photograph would have hauled supplies or towed the small field gun, while the elephants towed the larger gun. The men in the photograph are a mix of British soldiers and Indian sepoys. The group kneeling around the smaller, muzzle-loaded field gun is preparing to fire after the soldier at front left has used the ramrod he is holding to jam the charge down into the gun. The humorous caption invokes common stereotypes about elephants (“dignity”) and mules (“impudence”). 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.

Last updated: September 30, 2016