A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan, 1841–2


Lady Florentia Wynch Sale (1790–1853) was the wife of Sir Robert Henry Sale (1782–1845), a British army officer who served in India and Burma and participated in the ill-fated Anglo-Indian invasion of Afghanistan that triggered the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). The objective of the invasion was to overthrow the amir of Afghanistan, Dost Muhammad Khan, and replace him with Shah Shujaʻ, a former ruler thought to be more pro-British. The Anglo-Indian force that entered the country quickly overcame resistance and occupied Kabul and other major cities. Lulled into believing that the Afghans had been pacified, Sale, like other British officers and civilian officials, sent for his wife to join him, first in Jalalabad and then in Kabul. Following a violent uprising that began on November 2, 1841, the British and Afghan governments concluded a treaty under which the occupying Anglo-Indian force agreed to evacuate the country and was assured safe passage on its return to British India. The new amir, Akbar Khan (1816–45, ruled 1842–45), the son of Dost Muhammad, disregarded the terms of the treaty, and in January 1842 Lady Sale and her daughter, Alexandrina, were taken hostage, along with British officers and soldiers and other women and children. A total of 63 hostages were held, several of whom died in captivity. The prisoners finally were released after nine months of captivity, when they offered to pay a large bribe to their Afghan jailer. Lady Sale, who was wounded in the initial fighting and had a bullet in her wrist, managed to keep the diary that she had begun in Kabul in September 1841, making frequent entries right up to her release in September of the following year. Along with Lieutenant Vincent Eyre’s The Military Operations at Cabul, which Ended in the Retreat and Destruction of the British Army, January 1842, Lady Sale’s A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan, 1841‒2 is one of two first-hand accounts of the ordeal of the British hostages. Both books were published in London in 1843. The author recounts the hardships endured by the prisoners, encounters with Afghans both friendly and hostile, battles that she witnessed, and the negotiations for release of the prisoners. The book contains a glossary of “Persian, Hindostani [Hindi] and other Oriental Words” used in the text and a fold-out plan of the cantonments around Kabul. The appendix contains the text of the treaty between the British and Afghan authorities concluded on December 11, 1841, regarding evacuation and safe passage. Following publication of her journal, Lady Sale was widely hailed as a heroine in Britain.

Last updated: July 27, 2016