Leaves from an Afghan Scrapbook, The Experiences of an English Official and his wife in Kabul, with illustrations from photographs and sketches by the authors, and other sources - Ernest and Annie Thornton 1910 - John Murray, London - First Edition ‘The journey out from Peshawar, and through the Kyber Pass, is first described and then follows an appreciation of Afghan character’.

Ernest and Annie Thornton were a British couple at the court of Amir Habbibullah Khan who reigned from 1901-1919. Ernest Thornton a leather-maker from Leeds ‘first went to Kabul to establish a Government tannery on English lines in 1902, but he was so much obstructed by officials that he had to resign. However his assistance was missed and he was induced to return in 1903. The book is bright and amusing.’ - Sydney Morning Herald 1910.

A fascinating, important and personal work, seen through the eyes of two working British expatriates, and therefore from a very different angle to the military memories and reports of the time, it is also illustrated throughout, mostly from photographs.
  Here follows an extract from Britons in Afghanistan across the Centuries: From Victorian Colonials To Moazzem Begg, by Sarah Wajid of the RGS [2006].
‘A hundred years ago another Englishman in Afghanistan, Ernest Thornton observed resistance to education in Leaves from an Afghan Scrapbook. ‘The moolahs, and Sirdar Nasarullah, who are fanatics, hate Amir Habibullah’s (the Amir) new educational scheme very bitterly, since by its working enlightenment must gradually spread, and rob them of their power over people.’ Amir Habibullah is keen to see ‘young men of Kabul taught other things besides the Koran, although he enforces the teaching of that sacred book before all else.’ Thornton applauds the modernising influences but sees Afghanistan as a country ‘shut away as it is from the world by chains of mountains’ where ‘women are kept in a complete obscurity behind the purdah, and regarded as creatures existing for man’s pleasure alone.’

Religious fanaticism thriving in remote mountains, the oppression of women’s rights symbolised by the veil, Islam in conflict with secular education – deeply controversial images and concepts that resonate uncannily today. Although it was disturbing to realise how deeply rooted these very specific constructions of Islam are, this hundred year old journal is so absorbing because it brings alive the long and deep intimacy between the British and Afghani Muslims: a well-established matter of historical fact but a very under-imagined story of Empire.

Reading this vivid personal depiction of everyday life featuring Muslims who take an ‘occasional tipple’, an ex-pat Christmas dinner, friendships between Mullahs and Englishmen, as well as tribal warlords, poverty and injustice, I realised that Forster and Kipling created a ‘cultural backstory’ of India in the British imagination, but there isn’t one for Afghanistan, leaving a blank space in which oversimplified versions are free to take root. The Thorntons saw Kabul as a great work opportunity and their home from home, living there on and off for years, socialising with other ex-pats but not exclusively, deftly negotiating local politics and learning about the culture. Religion is part of the backdrop of their lives in Afghanistan but no more so than the landscape, food, language, climate or pastimes, like football and even fashion.

‘Two days later a letter arrived from the Sirdar (Inyatullah Khan (Amir’s brother)) saying that he was very much pleased with the new ball, but as he had no knowledge of how to play the game of football, would I come and teach him? It is taken for granted out in the East that Englishmen can play any kind of game. Being an old enthusiast at the sport, I was not at all loath to renew my acquaintance with it, so attiring myself correctly, I turned up at the appointed hour ready for my pupil, and showed him how to drop-kick, punt etc.’


Reference: Royal Geographical Society,
From Kabul to Kandahar 1833-1933. Sydney Morning Herald 1910.
pp. xvi 225 [3]
  Condition: Near fine, wear to edges of cloth boards.   Ref: 106766   Price: HK$ 2,000