Talk to the hand …

Posting dispatches - Afghanistan

Posting dispatches – Afghanistan

“No Afghan ruler will henceforth, unless he is prepared for an immediate rupture, either admit a Russian envoy into his capital, or repel an English Mission.”  The brave words of the Saturday Review, 1879.   

The bold statement was reprinted in the The Graphic, a magazine from London which that week, June 7, 1879, printed its first article referring to the ‘late Afghan War’.  The two pieces that follow, the second on troopship bath-times,  are as produced in the original edition of The Graphic.


We trust that we may safely speak of the Afghan War in the past tense and that Yakoob Khan has sufficient influence over the majority of his countrymen to receive their support in the stipulations into which he has entered with our Government.  “The terms of the Afghan War,” observes the Saturday Review, “are equitable, moderate and satisfactory.  The predatory tribes are still likely to be troublesome, but they will be more easily controlled since the Indian Government has aquired the right of dealing with them independently and directly.  The covenant by which the Ameer binds himself to accept English guidance in his foreign policy, though it may not be uniformly observed, will be useful in preventing diplomatic complications.  No Afghan ruler will henceforth, unless he is prepared for an immediate rupture, either admit a Russian envoy into his capital, or repel an English Mission.”




These sketches have a special interest now that our troopships are more than usually busy conveying soldiers to South Africa and elsewhere.  The first shows the morning bath, to which all have to submit no matter what the state of the thermometer may be.  At daybreak (4 A.M.) the sail-cloth tank is got out and filled with sea-water, and in obedience to the signal the men leave their snug hammocks below, and come shivering on deck to take the disagreeable plunge.  There are but few “malingerers,” for all who report themselves “sick” have their beer stopped for the day, an alternative by no means agreeable to the tastes of the average British soldier.  Next we have an illustration of the punishment awarded by the naval code for certain trivial offences.  During smoking hours the culprits have to stand at “attention” facing the bulwarks, which are too high for them to see over, so that the punishment is very like that in vogue in the nursery when a naughty child is made to confine its attention to the pattern of the wall paper whilst its companions who have been good are enjoying themselves. – “Serving Out Hammocks” is a subject which explains itself.  This, like everything else on board, is done in a methodical fashion.  The men are called on deck, where they stand in files, motionless and silent as statues, whilst the orderlies told off for the duty select and distribute the hammocks until each man is served, when all are marched off below. – Our engravings are from sketches taken on board H.M.S. Orontes by Colour-Sergeant Norman Latham, 35th Regiment.


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