Photograph

Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9; Addigraht Church

1868-9 (photographed)

Royal Engineers

Height: 18.8 cm (printed image), Length: 23.4 cm (printed image), Height: 27.2 cm (paper mount), Length: 34 cm (paper mount)

71:909 PDP

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

Photograph of a church at Addigraht [Addigerat], Ethiopia, 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 image shows a large high-roofed church at Addigraht, a market town and one of the expedition’s chief depots. While the expedition was presented to the British public as a crusade to rescue European hostages from a barbarous African king and country, photographs taken by the Royal Engineers revealed Ethiopia’s rich Christian heritage. This paradox was often resolved by presenting the churches encountered as unused, ramshackle or derelict.

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

View this object on the V&A website