Photograph

Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9; Addigraht Tower

1868 (photographed)

Royal Engineers

Height: 17.8 cm (printed image), Length: 23.8 cm (printed image), Height: 27.4 cm (paper mount), Length: 34.3 cm (paper mount)

71:908 PDP

'Addigraht Tower', Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9, photograph by the Royal Engineers

Photographic print of a half-ruined two-storey castle or fortress at Addigraht, one of the expedition's chief depots.

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 image shows a half-ruined two-storey castle or fortress at Addigraht, one of the expedition’s chief depots. Expedition reports describe a busy and productive market town – ‘The valley is fertile, and ploughs drawn by oxen were at work in the fields. The population of the town, and of all neighbouring villages and hamlets together, may be six or eight thousand’ – yet evidence of human activity has been removed from this image, which presents a ruined building in a desolate landscape.

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

View this object on the V&A website