A colourful eye-witness account, written and published while the conflict was still continuing, of the early phase of the British-Afghan war of 1839-42. The author, James Atkinson, was a surgeon with the army of the Indus, and took part in Britain’s ill-considered march into the interior of Afghanistan to restore, after a lapse of 30 years, Shah Shoojah in place of a rival ruler. Dost Mahomed Khan, who was thought by the British to favour the Russians in the ‘Great Game’ for control of the northern approaches to India. After preliminary descriptions of Shoojah and Dost and the political background, Atkindon’s account opens with him joining the army of the Indus after a journey beset by robbers and disease. The army marches through harsh terrain and hostile tribes to Kandahar, before storming the fortress of Ghizni, the loss of which disheartened Dost’s supporters and led to the fall of the capital Kabul., and eventually to his own surrender. At this point Atkinson’s account concludes – mercifully before he learned of the flight and massacre of most of the British army in Kabul in 1842. Then, as now, the dilemma of the foreign occupiers of a country the author describes as ‘semi-barbarous’ is summed up in Atkinson’s own eloquent words:‘Like Sisyphus, we have rolled up the huge stone to the top of the mountain, and if we do not keep it there, our labour will be lost’. A topical and fascinating account for all those interested in Victorian colonial wars, the Indian sub-continent, or the unchanging nature of conflict in Afghanistan.
Jamea Atkinson, Superintending Surgeon of the Army of the Indus
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2004 N & M Press reprint of 1842 original Edition. SB. xx + 428pp
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