Viewing Images of British Colonial Violence
My paper will explore a range of photographs taken in the aftermath of the Battle of Omdurman, the final and decisive battle of the Anglo-Egyptian reconquest of the Sudan on 2 September 1898. This campaign was particularly controversial for the methods that were used against the Mahdia and which included the massacring of the enemy wounded and those trying to surrender, looting of the dead and the homes of local inhabitants, starvation tactics against the enemy and the wider population and the use of dum-dum bullets. The photographs under examination speak to the ensuing controversies of the campaign in which Kitchener was obliged to write directly to Queen Victoria to explain his actions, notably in relation to the bombing of the Mahdi’s tomb and the treatment of his remains. As historians have previously noted, the events in Omdurman constituted a massacre rather than a battle and areas of dispute include whether Emirs were specifically targeted for destruction in the campaign and the photographs contribute to this debate. Other debates include the extent to which extreme violence was perpetrated at the behest of Horatio Herbert Kitchener. I have previously explored the campaign in a comparative context and have noted the genocidal potential of this campaign, which may be understood within a wider framework of British colonial violence. I will consider the purpose of these photographs as originally intended and their potential use as ‘proof’ of British colonial violence. My paper will address the photographs in the wider context of violence throughout the British Empire and in the context of other images of British violence. That such photographs are not commonly viewed and discussed speaks to the wider issues regarding popular perceptions of the ‘benevolent’ British Empire particularly in comparison to its European counterparts.