Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9; The Devil's Stair Case (Between Middle and Upper Sooro)

1868 (photographed)

Royal Engineers

Height: 26 cm (printed image), Width: 21 cm (printed image), Height: 34.3 cm (paper mount), Width: 27.4 cm (paper mount)

71:910 PDP

'The Devil's Stair Case (Between Middle and Upper Sooro)', Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9, panoramic photograph by the Royal Engineers

Photograph of the Devil's Staircase (Sooroo Pass), Ethiopia, mounted on 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 up the Sooroo Pass, or ‘Devil’s Staircase’ as Lieutenant Jopp, the Assistant Field Engineer charged with forging a path through it, is said to have called it. Like many of the photographs of the expedition produced by the Royal Engineers this image is intended to reflect the hostile territory encountered by British forces in Abyssinia. It took four companies three months to construct a ten-foot-wide cart road up the pass.

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

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