Photograph

Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9; Camp at Senafe

1868 (photographed)

Royal Engineers

Height: 18.7 cm (printed image), Length: 73 cm (printed image), Height: 30.8 cm (paper mount), Length: 76.3 cm (paper mount)

71:907 PDP

'Camp at Senafe', Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9, panoramic photograph by the Royal Engineers

Panoramic image of the expedition camp at Senafe, Ethiopia, formed of three landscape photographs pasted together, mounted onto cream paper.

Frustrated by a lack of communication from Queen Victoria’s government, in 1864 the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II (Theodore) took a number of Europeans captive, including the British consul, Captain Cameron. The British response was a military expedition of huge complexity and expense led by General Sir Robert Napier. The expedition marched to Tewodros’s fortress at Maqdala where a brief battle took place. Britain won the conflict, but not before the captives were released and Tewodros himself had committed suicide. The expedition, which involved more than 13,000 men and a journey of some 400 miles, received unprecedented publicity in Britain. Crucially, it was one of Britain’s earliest military operations to be captured via the relatively new science of photography. Two sets of photographic stores and equipment were sent from England by the Royal Engineers’ Establishment and used to record the landscapes, camp scenes and leading individuals associated with the expedition. This panoramic image presents a view of the expedition camp at Senafe. Taken from a raised viewing point, it shows white tents and rows of equipment set out on a stony plain against a background of large rocks. In contemporary written accounts the orderly military camp was contrasted with the ‘mud-built native cottages which form the village of Senafe’, which lay just a quarter of a mile away. This image, however, contains no evidence of indigenous habitation of the landscape.

Location: Prints & Drawings Study Room, room 512M, case MX6, shelf XM, box 88

View this object on the V&A website