Prison Sketches, Comprising Portraits of the Cabul Prisoners, and Other Subjects


Prison Sketches, Comprising Portraits of the Cabul Prisoners, and Other Subjects is a set of lithographs based on drawings made primarily by Lieutenant Vincent Eyre (1811–81) at the time he was held prisoner during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). Appointed commissary of ordnance to the Kabul Field Force that marched into Afghanistan in the fall of 1839, Eyre arrived in Kabul in April 1840, bringing with him a large quantity of ordnance stores. An uprising by the Afghans against the Anglo-Indian force began on November 2, 1841. The occupiers were besieged in their cantonments, and on November 13 Eyre was severely wounded. Under a treaty with the Afghan government, in early 1842 the Anglo-Indian force was given safe passage to evacuate the country. Accompanied by his wife and child, Eyre joined the column heading eastward but, along with the other British soldiers and civilians, he was taken hostage by the amir, Akbar Khan (1816–45, ruled 1842–45). The British hostages spent nearly nine months in captivity and suffered many privations, including severe cold and the effects of an earthquake and its aftershocks. In August 1842, the captives were marched north towards Bamian in the Hindu Kush, under the threat of being sold as slaves to the Uzbeks. They finally were released on September 20, after one of the prisoners, Major Pottinger, succeeded in buying off the Afghan commander of their escort. Prior to his release, Eyre had managed to smuggle the manuscript of his journal in parts to a friend in India, who sent it to England where, with the help of Eyre’s relatives, it was published the following year under the title The Military Operations at Cabul, which Ended in the Retreat and Destruction of the British Army, January 1842. Eyre’s sketches of his fellow prisoners and of several scenes from his captivity also were smuggled out of Afghanistan and made their way to England. Following the success of The Military Operations at Cabul, the Bond Street stationer and lithographic publisher Lowes Dickinson had lithographs made from the sketches, which were published separately. Dickinson supplemented the drawings by Eyre with those by several other artists, with the aim of completing a set of sketches, “which cannot fail to interest those who have read of the disasters of Cabul.” The lithographs were intended to be inserted into and bound with Eyre’s The Military Operations at Cabul, or with another work by a fellow prisoner, Lady Florentia Wynch Sale’s A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan, 1841-2 (1843). This bound collection from the Library of Congress contains 30 of the 32 lithographs that Dickinson had produced.

Last updated: July 27, 2016