Courtyard of Wali Sher Ali Khan's Zenana, by Sir Benjamin Simpson


This photograph of the ornately decorated courtyard of a palace in Kandahar is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The photograph most likely was taken during the British occupation of Kandahar, which lasted from September 1880 to April 1881. It shows the exterior of the zenana, the women’s quarters of the palace of Sher Ali Khan, who was amir of Afghanistan for most of the period 1863–79. Sher Ali Khan was the son of Dōst Moḥammad Khān, founder of the Barakzai Dynasty in Afghanistan. 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