Photograph

Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9; Magdala, Abyssinia: Church

1868-9 (photographed)

Royal Engineers

Height: 16.5 cm (printed image), Length: 21.8 cm (printed image), Height: 27 cm (paper mount), Length: 33.2 cm (paper mount)

723-1927 PDP

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

Photograph of a church at Magdala, Ethiopia with three European soldiers outside. Photograph mounted on cream card.

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 church at Magdala, near where the final conflict took place. The church appears to have been abandoned in a hurry as water vessels and tools lie scattered around. Three European soldiers flank the entrance and have made a tripod of their bayonets in front of the building. The image appears to suggest the complete conquest of the ‘heart’ of Ethiopian culture.

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

View this object on the V&A website