“Elegant and dignified military operations in the present age.”  –  The imperfect invisibility of collateral damage in late 19th-century metropolitan illustrated magazines.

Adapted (05/2014) with permission from the chapter of the same title: p. 205-232 of Stephen J. Rockel and Rick Halpern (ed.s) Inventing Collateral damage: Civilian Casualties, War, and Empire Between the Lines Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2009. ISBN 978-1-897071-12-0

This paper discusses some evidence of how overseas imperialism looked to imperialists at home, as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. In the pages of up-market general-interest illustrated weekly magazines in London and Paris, imperialism looked like wholesome, though dangerous, fun.(1) On very rare occasions, however, representations of “collateral damage” are to be found in these prosperous journals that poison the wholesomeness or destabilize the fun. The paper examines some things that these non-standard images can tell us or force us to ask; but first it concentrates on the conventions, and on the huge majority of representations, to which such images are exceptions. The narrative of this paper focuses on English media, and particularly on pictures published in The Illustrated London News, but one can find confirmation in any of the journals surveyed of the fact that these magazines published thousands of pictures of imperial conflicts while very seldom illustrating the impact of imperialist violence on the lives of subject peoples.(2)

Journalistic pictures of the haphazard, unjust, cruel and uncivilised (in short, “barbaric”) dimensions of imperial military activity were very rare for many reasons. The production of such representations would be incompatible with some of the fundamental assumptions that made nineteenth-century French and British imperialism seem like a good idea to the British and French. These indispensable assumptions are, first, that the military is competent. Second, that Imperial military activity brings an increase of happiness to the subjected peoples. Third, that that the peoples incorporated into the Empire have until then been uncivilised. With the idea of civilisation come the satellite concepts “civil” and “civilian”; thus until civilisation had been brought, it was impossible to suppose that any casualties could be civilian, and in the absence of a distinction between civil society and the state, there could to imperial eyes be no identifiable boundary to their opponents’ armies, no clearly distinguishable non-combatants.(3)

As part of a larger project, I have conducted a systematic five-yearly sampling of four of the leading illustrated weekly magazines in England and France in the second half of the nineteenth century: the Illustrated London News, L’Illustration, the Graphic and Le Monde illustré, and have for this paper done a more focused trawl through some periods that were especially newsworthy in terms of imperial military activity. Although by 1900 the heyday of magazines such as those I have examined was perhaps over, they continued to have a particular cultural authority. One of their crucial representational functions was that of establishing the specifically metropolitan dimension of the events and personalities they reported. Partly for this reason, since a metropolis cannot be a metropolis without its coloniae, these magazines figured colonial and imperial powers and adventures very fully among their subjects, and took considerable care to inscribe a colonial/ imperial readership within their covers. Thus colonial wars were a favourite subject matter; they had held this place of honour since the genre emerged in the early 1840s, first in London and then in Paris and in Leipzig, and then in many other cultural capitals.

The visual resources for representation of the work of war had largely become standardised by the end of the century, both in terms of the genres that were mobilised, and in terms of the repertoire of topics and tropes deployed in representing the cycle of a campaign. This is not to say that the meanings of such representations had become entirely conventional: in at least one of the pictures I show here (of the execution, figure 4, below) there seems to be some anxiety about the legitimacy of the action represented, and some possibility of an identification other than with the firing-squad, given the over-large mounted officer set over-high in the composition so as to give imperious authority to the executioners.

The serial set, loosely exemplified, from various British campaigns, in figures 1 to 6, would start with pictures of the outrages, or the locations of the outrages, or the perpetrators of the outrages, or the victims of the outrages, that made military intervention a ‘necessity’. Then there would be pictures of the generals appointed to lead the expeditionary force, and, when relevant, pictures of the expeditionary troops embarking from a French or British port. “Library pictures” of the port of arrival, of the principal topographical features of the area to be invaded or terrorised, and of the villainous ruler or insurrectionist to be brought low, might also feature. Then, at an interval dictated by the speed of the troopships, the speed of the march ‘up-country’ and the speed to picture- transmission back to the metropolis, there would be a combination of further officers’ portraits, genre images of camp life, pictures of battles and skirmishes in the hills, savannah or jungle.

Figure 1. Illustrated London News 22 February 1879 p.141 “The Zulu war in South Africa: Cetewayo, the Zulu King. Drawn from Life in June 1877, by the late Mr. Edward Tilt, during his visit to Zulu-land.” (268 x 215 mm). Wood engraving. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Figure 2. Illustrated London News 11 January 1879 p. 36. “The War in Afghanistan / Lieutenant- General Donald Martin Stewart, C. B., commanding the expedition to Candahar.” (200 x 174 mm) “Fort of Kapiyanga, entrance to Khoorum pass.” (126 x 213 mm). Wood engravings. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Next there might sometimes appear genre images of hospitalized or convalescent soldiers, often attended by trim-looking nurses. On punitive expeditions, texts might refer to the work of burning and demolition, but after 1880 images seldom encompassed such actions or effects, and neither the haphazard impact of military violence nor its miserable aftermath had any place in this conventionalised suite of imagery.

Figure 3. Illustrated London News 25 September 1897 p. 405. “The Indian frontier rising: Gurkhas descending a pass in the upper Mohmand country under fire.” [signed R. Caton Woodville] (300 x 224 mm). Photomechanical halftone screen from wash drawing. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Figure 4. Illustrated London News ILN 8 February 1879 p. 117 “The Afghan war: execution of a Ghazi, or Mohammedan fanatic, at the Peshawur gate, Jellalabad. From a sketch by our Special Artist.” [worked up by W. H. Overend] (265 x 215 mm). Wood engraving. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Figure 5. Illustrated London News 6 November 1897 p. 638 “The Indian Frontier Rising. From Sketches by Lieut- Colonel C. Pulley, Gurkha Rifles [1] With the Tirah Field Force (162 x 234mm) [2] The “Khan Sahib” has his haircut with the clippers.” (166 x 235 mm). Photomechanical half-tone screen from wash drawings. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

The ideological functions of such a flow of images are various. Some are obvious: representations of power, domination, glory, heroism and magnanimity glamorize imperial adventurism, bring its epic allure into metropolitan libraries and drawing-rooms. Some are not so obvious. Much of the imagery represents the balance of forces in the clash of battle as roughly equal; plucky Brits or Frenchmen battle zealous Pathans or Berbers: manliness is fairly distributed, even if cleanliness and orderliness are not.

Figure 6. Graphic 23 April 1898 p. 500 “ The advance in the Soudan (126 x 229 mm) / Making dum-dum bullets at Damarli, near Berber, drawn by Wal Paget from a photograph by Major C. W. Cockburn. (153 x 230 mm). Photomechanical half-tone screen from wash drawings. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

I have seen thousands of such pictures, and among this profusion there are perhaps only a couple of dozen that involve any representation of the fact that the British or the French military cause the death of non-combatants and blight the lives of the families of the lands they conquer or punish: and there are fewer than a dozen images that make such episodes in any sense their subject. As it happens, most of these images are from London’s journals, rather than from Paris. But the set is too small to draw any general conclusions about the relative slaughter-blindness of the French or the British bourgeoisie; in any case the evidence is overwhelmingly that in neither country were civilian casualties welcome at the imperial feast.

Before discussing my handful of exceptional images, it is worth considering the process of origination, filtering and mediation that was completed when they were printed on the pages of the Illustrated London News [ILN] or the Graphic.(4) Newspapers would send artists as well as warcorrespondents to accompany imperial expeditions in the South African veldt, the Sudan, the Northwest frontier, Madagascar or Indo-China. These men would sketch what interested them, and then try to get their sketches back to London or Paris so they could be turned into newspaper pictures; alongside this picture-supply, the magazines were also sent sketches and photos by serving soldiers and sailors, by colonial administrators and missionaries, and by freelance journalists.

The delays between event and illustration for this sort of material were long. Pictures could not be sent by telegram: real pieces of paper or real photographs had to be transported from encampment or fleet to the metropolis, arriving weeks or months after the telegraphic announcement of the mere events to be represented had first been made. After the sketch had arrived, it still had to be turned into a magazine picture. In 1880 that meant in the great majority of cases that it had to be redrawn by a artist, who worked it up into something much more like a finished watercolour or drawing than a notational sketch. This “art-work” had then to be transferred onto a block of wood, either by re-drawing or, more likely in1880, by using an end-grain woodblock as the support for a photographic print.(5) Then came the wood-engraving, the process by which the picture on the block was carved by hand into a relief printing surface.

By 1900 very few sketches or photographs were being turned into wood engravings, which was now largely supplanted by the photomechanical half-tone. However, the tradition of editorial reinterpretation of the reportorial images provided by correspondents to the magazine was still strong.(6) Many, if not most, photographs would be translated into wash drawings, being given firmer tonal variation clearer outlines, and easier-to-follow compositions in the process, but still showing clearly their derivation from a photograph, before being turned into a half-tone printing block. Many correspondents’ sketches were simply reinterpreted, either as new drawings or, more likely, as wash drawings, by a London- or Paris-based artist, whose signature could well be more prominent than that of the far-flung sketch provider. Sometimes, more often in England than in France, the war artist’s original sketch would be photographed and presented as “the original sketch”; but in general the rule of multiple mediations between the work of the artist and the picture in the magazine held sway right through the period of the Boer War.

The question of the relationship between texts and images in these magazines is a complex one. During the period under discussion the English media, in particular, were developing a practice of giving, as well as a brief title for each picture, an extended discursive caption that might give the circumstances of the picture’s making, explain what was represented, or connect the picture to some on-going debate or story. As well as such captions, the magazines also carried extended blocks of text, still vestigially subject to a convention that had been very powerful until the middle of the 1880s, that texts and images should be presented in separate openings of the journal; offered as distinct and separate modes of representation with distinct conventions and satisfactions to offer. Both the discursive captions and the relevant editorial texts tended to reduce the “novelty” of news stories. The discursive captions were supplementary to the picture concerned, rather than to any particular story, and tended to embroider the picture’s anecdotal context rather than stressing its journalistic impact. It was in the interest of the magazines to reduce, in their editorial texts, the urgency and the glamour of the “news” aspect of their news coverage, both texts and images, since they could not compete with the daily press on urgency and immediacy. Pictures in general interest weekly illustrated magazines, that is to say, could not be promoted primarily as hot news, as part of the primary stream of information about the conflict in question.(7) As the end-products of a process of filtration, organisation and construction, they had to be given the status of summative, representative, representations, aiming to achieve a different sort of truth effect from that available in the daily press. They rendered vivid, clear and memorable reported events that had a few days, or in the case of imperial conflicts a few weeks, earlier seemed disjointed and confusing; as such they are always implicitly monumental.

The constraints of production, and the enthusiasms, reticences and rhetorics entailed in the wider cultural role of these journals must have tended to ensure that images of collateral damage and of civilian casualties would, if ever contemplated, have been left on the drawing board or, ifcompleted, have been rejected in the editorial office. I have so far left the problem of censorship aside. Where there is military authority, there is censorship. War correspondents had their dispatches read by a military censor, war artists had their sketches vetted, and for sure even where this did not lead to actual refusals to transmit, it must have led to more or less well-internalised selfcensorship. While it was easy to send home pictures of the enemy’s mistakes or brutalities, it was, to say the least, difficult to send home pictures of atrocities or collateral damage inflicted by our own boys. British military censors, French military censors, Boer military censors, Russian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese or United States military censors controlled access and transmission routes, and were happy to use that power.8 But back home in England or France, there was in this period no censorship as such, and no legal inhibitions on the publication of texts or pictures beyond the normal bars on obscenity, blasphemy, libel and treason. Inhibitions that operated at the Front had no legal force in terms of editorial decisions in London or Paris. The stock-in-trade of military genre was so well established that pictures could have been concocted at home from textual reports in the matter of atrocities, as they regularly were for other sorts of news-story, especially where there were plenty of “local colour” pictures on file. Military censorship thus cannot explain the persistent scarcity of pictures of even the generic effects of imperial military activity resulting in displaced populations or destroyed villages.

Self-censorship takes many forms. The war artist who does not draw a certain sort of picture because he knows that the military censor would never pass it, and might cease to bestow favours, is self-censoring. But self-censorship also takes place in relation to what the magazine’s editors think that their reader/viewers are prepared to look at. Sometimes, in special circumstances, these magazines may articulate their concern for their reader/viewers’ sensibilities. More often, one is left to infer the existence of a reticence, a reluctance, a protectiveness of the delicacy of their bourgeois family public.

This reticence was always contextual and conditional, and was not determined by the abstract terribleness of the thing to be shown; nor were these artist and their editors unprepared to show the horrible in such a way as it would maximize its impact. I have found a handful of pictures in which civilian deaths, in civilian accidents, are shown in “full frontal” detail, and a handful of pictures of the aftermath of battle which focus on the dead. (9)

Figure 7. Le Monde illustré 31 March 1900 p. 209 “La guerre au Transvaal. — Champ de bataille de Spionkop. — Une tranchée de cadavres anglais. — (Photographie Van Holpen) [worked up and engraved by H. Dochy] (295 x 245 mm). Wood engraving. British Library, photo from printout of digital scan, author.

Among them is a grimly exultant French picture of British deaths in battle in the Transvaal in 1900 (Figure 7). Since this essay will conclude with a discussion of the representation of collateral damage in the Anglo-Boer War, it is perhaps worth a specific comment here. The picture represents a trench full of dead British soldiers, killed in a battle between Britain’s imperial army and the army of another “white” nation state.

Late in January 1900, the British, attempting to relieve the siege of Ladysmith, lost a bloody battle at Spion Kop. Heroic retreats, grace under fire and desperate courage figured in London illustrated magazines’ pictures of the battle, but the central facts of reckless leadership, slaughter and defeat were largely absent. Not so in France. LA GUERRE AU TRANSVAAL – Champ de bataille de Spionkop. Une tranchée de cadavres anglais (photographie Van Hoepen) is the frontpage picture from Le Monde illustré nine weeks after the battle, on 31 March 1900. The French wished the British no luck at all in the Boer war; so as well as a primary impact in terms of an universalizing human sympathy, the image has a secondary force as schadenfreude. Since universalizing human sympathy was so rarely deployed in relation to the effects of military violence, we may suppose that it was licensed in this case by its political dimension, given that the French might be pleased to see a trench full of dead Brits.

There are other images in which casualties are represented, of our wounded boys, or of our dead heroes as a way of signifying the courage and honour of those who survive, as well as images of the enemy’s dead fighters as a sign of the cost of war and the folly of resistance. From time to time such pictures exceed this conventional set of representational tasks and let one imagine the deadness of the dead, or understand their sheer numbers as a slaughter; but such pictures, like the Spion Kop front page, do not raise the question of collateral damage. They represent war’s product in an unusually direct way, but they do not mention its by-product.


Figure 8. Illustrated London News 12 July 1879 p. 44 & 45. “The Zulu War. Isandhlwana revisited — fetching away the wagons, May 21. From a sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior. See page 37” [worked up by W. H. Overend] (315 x 480 mm). Wood engraving. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

This part of the paper, which discusses images of the British army blowing up or burning down what one normally takes to be non-military targets, comes in three sections. The first deals with some remarkable pictures of actions taken by Imperialists against cultures and populations clearly excluded from “us”; the second with pictures of the military actions not against populations but against holy places; and the third, visual representations of the conduct of British Imperial forces towards civilian populations in the long terminal phase of the Boer War, focusing on one particular image, in which the invisibility of the damage I have so far called “collateral” is imperfect.

To start, I want to discuss a handful of images of British actions against “native” villages, both in South Africa (1879) and, later, in Kashmir. In late 1878 the British Government felt it necessary to invade independent Zululand, to punish its King, Cetewayo, for actions he had taken to protect his acknowledged treaty rights against the Boers in the Transvaal.10 The expedition was arrogantly mismanaged, and a force of British and “native contingent” troops, around one thousand men in all was surrounded and killed at Isandlwana. Through most of the rest of 1879 the British pursued their revenge, Cetewayo and his army. They burned Zulu settlements (generically “kraals”) and fought with Cetewayo’s impis, finally burning his largest settlement, Ulundi, and capturing the King. (11)

The debacle at Isandlwana made sensational news. Thus, when the British forces returned to the battlefield to collect the wagons left there, the ILN gave the scene its centrefold, to memorialize this half-year-old calamity (Figure 8). The picture is strikingly composed as a grand-manner landscape. In the middle ground groups of soldiers pick their way through skeletons of oxen and soldiers and the detritus of a sacked encampment, to retrieve the wagons; behind this scene rears a Kop, a south African mesa, which gives an authentic topography to this scene. However, in the context of this paper, God is in the details. In the foreground the ILN’s reader/viewers are shown representative figures viewing both the middle-ground and the detritus on the earth at their feet: a jumbled still-life with skulls and the possessions of the soldiers who had lost their lives in the defeat. One may notice in particular the long-handled hairbrush and an album of carte de visite photographs, locating the loss of life within a particular class-culture (that of the ILN’’s target readers) and inscribing in the scene the link between metropolitan material and visual culture and the imperial experience which the image itself produces and reproduces.

The wagons being fetched away had belonged to the military force that had been overwhelmed; as this contingent of troops, irregulars and native scouts contemplates the work of repossession, one of the justifying strands of this encounter between civilisation and savagery seems to be that the Zulus have no use for the wagons, any more than for the portmanteaus, the photographs or the hair-brushes. They have not looted. They have no use either for our material or for our symbolic culture, and this fact normalises our extirpation of theirs.

In the background can be seen four sources of flame and smoke. The text that accompanies this piece does not mention them specifically, but other texts linked to pictures on the same theme do: these are Zulu kraals, and they have been burned by the advancing Imperial army. Material goods are being looted, livestock butchered, and the houses burned out, everywhere across the veldt, as far as the eye can see. In actions such as these the damage to houses, livestock and family lives was not collateral, it was just a different tactical application of force along exactly the same axis of force. Thus in images such as these the burning of homesteads is not represented as collateral damage: the photo-album and the hairbrushes tell us that this is a struggle between incompatible cultures, and since culture is a totalizing concept, collaterality is inconceivable: we have to think of the destruction as coaxial, rather than as collateral. This unambiguous but manylayered image, and the dozen other images that show kraal-burning or looting during the campaign of 1879, get themselves a remarkable sequel.

Figure 9. Illustrated London News 18 October 1879. p. 386 “Our Special Artist’s adventures in Zululand. — see p. 366” (215 x 312 mm). Wood engraving. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

This (Figure 9) is a facsimile-style wood-engraving combining four sketches by the ILN’s special artist Melton Prior. The collaging will almost certainly have been done by an anonymous staff artist, charged with redrawing a range of sketching styles and finishes to standardize them to conform to the ILN’s house-style conventions. At the top Melton prior depicts himself, twice, being thrown from his horse: the first time in a landscape in which smoke from burning kraals can be seen, by now almost as much of a topographical cliché as the flat-top hills. In the centre-left picture he is disturbed by an over-anxious “native” scout while attempting to sketch a skirmish, and in the largest image, he and another journalist set fire to a kraal, while Africans look on: some of them are clearly “native scouts”, but some of them appear to be locals watching the destruction of their homes, incensed but powerless. Like the other three sketches, this image has a title inscribed at its foot: “special artists setting fire to a kraal”, and the page-title refers to reader to a text on page 366. The text runs thus: “the performance of an incendiary act, doubtless by order of the general in command, at one of the enemy’s kraals or villages, might perhaps have been left to the hands of soldiers; but it was thought expedient, in this instance, that the Europeans present should set an example to the native troops. African warfare is not very nice; and there is a saying we have heard among officers who have served at the cape, that ‘a kaffir war is the snob of all wars’. However needful it may be, the burning of huts and the driving away of cattle to inflict distress on a hostile population cannot be regarded as the most elegant and dignified of military operations in the present age.”  (12)

This comment throws into question the authority under which the burnings were carried out, carrying the implication that the higher the authority the more problematic. It is a remark full of contradictions, succeeding in being both humanitarian and racist. It communicates a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this form of “pacification”, as well as the feeling that such action is beneath the dignity of the British Army. Neither of these attitudes was often voiced; neither of them seems to have inflected many visual representations of the actions of European armies or the experiences of local populations. That the ILN printed Melton Prior’s remarks suggests that to some extent his distaste at this sort of action was shared: so does the fact that it chose make this sketch the largest in the collaged image: its emphatic inclusion indicates clearly that the decision to publish both text and image was a collective and a deliberate one. It shows that the processes of filtering and consensus that are entailed in the making and publishing of a magazine illustration such as this can sometimes leave a trace of controversy, rather than of consensus. In this case, there is evidently a specific debate about whether war against the Zulu armies should be accompanied by war against Zulu settlements. But there is also, perhaps, another struggle, over the representational role of the illustrated magazine in relation to the imperial project. In this image and its understated text, we see a trace of the failure of consensus that for a moment disrupted the measured and controlled surface of the magazine, giving its reader/viewers a glimpse of the fact that every monument to civilisation is also a monument to barbarism. (13)

That the campaign of 1879 induced a crisis in representation, and a change of policy in this section of the British press is suggested by the fact that though pictures of torched kraals are recurrent motif in the 1879 imagery, even occurring on blank-on-the-back, pull-out-and-keep pictures, such scenes almost never figure in representations of imperial military actions from the 1880s onwards, though for certain these were not the last dwellings that Tommy Atkins torched. (14)

Figure 10. Illustrated London News 8 January 1898 p. 52 & 53 “The Indian frontier rising: the burning of a native village outside the British camp at Bagh. From a sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior” [worked up by H. Seppings Wright]. (312 x 450 mm). Photomechanical halftone screen from wash drawing. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Almost never. We meet pictures of a burning village again, after a twenty-year gap, in a curious episode on the north-west frontier of India. The episode occurred in the course of a punitive expedition, given the name of the Malakand Field Force.15 It was pictured in a double-page spread in the ILN (Figure 10), a very similar episode and scene featured in the Graphic on February 5 1897. (16)

In late 1897, a British army was sent to extinguish unrest on the then ill-defined border between Indian Empire and Afghanistan, on the so-called North-west frontier, in what is now Pakistan. While encamped outside Bagh, this force came under night attack from opportunist snipers. The local authorities in the surrounding villages were warned that if the firing continued, their villages would be burned; this at the onset of winter in the Himalayan foothills. The sniping continued. The villages were burned. There was, in the early morning after the fires had been set, a temperature inversion in the valley were the action had been taken. This meant that the smoke rising from the burning buildings was trapped at the level of the valley rim, which provided a spectacle exotic and interesting enough to overcome the ILN’’s (and the Graphic’s) tendency not to report the results of pacification actions against the general population.

The publication of both these pictures of action against imperfectly-military targets is accompanied by two specific justifications, one military and the other spectacular; the work had to be done, and the visual result was amazing. Both reports have the smoke in the back-ground, the positions held by the Imperialists in the foreground. The two-page spread in the ILN puts two British officers, one of them with field-glasses, the other in an ‘Afghan’ sheepskin coat, in the foreground: the middle-ground is taken up by a neat and regular military encampment, evidently occupied by native troops, with the occasional officer visible. The picture’s formal disposition carries a clear political implication: the population of the Empire faces two alternatives: supervision by the occupying power, or ruthless and extensive destruction. That this message is not directly aimed at the subject populations of the Empire, but at their metropolitan overlords and ladies, makes it no less significant.

The punitive arson of 1897, though troublesome for the fantasy of elegant and dignified military operations, is not represented as collateral damage. In both the Zulu and the Malakand instances non-combatant casualties are implied, though not specified in these visual reports. We are certainly permitted to imagine the consequences, in terms of cold and hunger, for those Kashmiris whose homes and resources have been destroyed. Although it may have been harder to imagine the half-clothed African savages actually needing an elaborated material culture (as suggested by their failure to loot) it is indicated that their lives will be poorer and more uncomfortable for the kraaltorchings. However, in both cases such consequences are intended, are indeed the whole point. The overarching assumption governing such actions is that the warriors and the general population are indistinguishable, that the population as a whole is at war. In the case of the Malakand Field Force, this assumption was in conflict with another about the influence of the village leaders, an influence which implied that a civil authority was recognised, as also that its power over local snipers might be effective: in as much as such power was exercised, it turned out not to be effective. (17) Just as the Zulus’ inability to loot like civilised people had cast them as savages and made them available for coaxial reprisals, so the inability of the local headmen to control the military could trigger the gestalt switch that erased the distinction, in the minds of soldiers and of the illustrated magazines’ readers alike, between military casualties and civilian ones. In the circumstances, the discourse that categorises the Pathans as “tribesmen”, rather than as “subjects” triumphs, and a desert is made to produce peace. (18)

Figure 11. Illustrated London News 14 March 1896 p. 333 “The Ashanti Expedition: the fall of a fetish. Drawn by our Special Artist Mr. H. C. Seppings Wright” (316 x 230 mm). Photomechanical half-tone screen from wash drawing. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

As I have indicated, such images of the direct impact of military action on civilian populations were rare, and became rarer as late nineteenth-century imperialism got into its stride. But the fact that Imperialism is a struggle to extinguish not merely armies, but cultures, remained a central theme of the way these journals represent Empire. For the most part, these culture-extinction representations take the form of pictures of the monuments and achievements of civilisation. However, from time to time the veil is twitched aside, and the fact of imperial civilisation’s resort to barbarism is laid bare, in representations of imperial actions not against defenceless populations or the material culture of subject populations, but in violence against the material supports of the
symbolic resources of the peoples to be subjected or punished. Such images are very rare indeed. I have found only two absolutely clear and frontal visual representations of such “civilizing” iconoclasm (more precisely, hieronoclasm).

Both of them are contrived pictures that clarify and distil the events they represent. The first comes from another British punitive expedition, this time against Ashanti populations in what is now Ghana, in 1895 (Figure 11). As the 1895 British expedition against the Ashanti progressed, it came upon a local shrine, in which skeletal human remains, principally skulls, were arranged round the feet of the trees in a sacred grove. As part of its punitive progress, the British force used high explosive to demolish the trees and their votive calvaries. The text that accompanies this shocking picture, published back in London four months after the event, is highly technocratic in its rhetoric: “An incident in the destruction of one of the sacred groves of Ashanti is here depicted. The trees in the grove were blown down by the engineers in the following fashion. Five holes were bored into a tree and were charged with guncotton. The bugles then sounded the alarm, and the men having withdrawn to a safe distance, the charges were exploded by means of electricity. The great tree then fell, cut through as cleanly as though by a knife.” (19)

Together with the lack of living humans in the image, the impersonal verbs and the combination of historical and technical language act to represent the violence as surgical rather than as barbaric. Modern technology (nitro-cellulose and electricity) triumphs both over nature and over old and cruel superstitions. Because this African glade is a place of sacrifice and of skulls, reference to Golgotha and the story of the crucifixion would have been inescapable; thus this display of technological power could be mapped directly onto the process of bringing Christianity to a heathen world, and a scientific supernatural evoked. In terms of the preoccupations of this paper, the precision, method and modernity of the processes of destruction neutralize the vandalism of the action, focussing the imputation of barbarity on that which is destroyed. There are no civilians here, no “merely” religious beliefs. Sacred groves with “primitive” “fetishes” are the enemy, electrodetonated dynamite is the weapon, Christianity, and its transcendence of Golgotha, is the victory.

Figure 12. Illustrated London News 1 December 1900 p. 812-813. “With the allied forces in China. / Getting at the root of the evil: the destruction of a Chinese temple on the bank of the Pei-Ho. from a sketch by Mr. John Schönberg, our Special Artist in China.” [worked up by Forestier] (316 x 462 mm) half-tone screen from wash drawing. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

We may also observe the logic that legitimised such actions at the time at work in circumstances less easy to parse in terms of us and them, modern and primitive. A picture published in the ILN on 1 December 1900 offers such an instance (Figure 12). This is a double-page spread: the sort of picture that is available to cut out and keep (though, with regular pagination and text printed on the verso, the magazine does not present the image as being specifically intended for pinning up), and which is certainly offered as bearing the admiration and enthusiasm of the magazine’s editors.

It is impossible to know its what first reader/viewers would have made of this image, or of the image of the dynamiting of the sacred Ashanti grove. But it is at least possible that the Chinese report was more problematic, if not more disturbing, than the African. In the Chinese case the destruction is not of something frightful and unfamiliar, of something easy to categorize as savage and benighted. In this case it is more difficult to imagine the destruction as a cleansing. By 1900 the British had long regarded Chinese architecture as being beautiful, and both Chinese sculpture and Chinese landscape painting, of which the branches and trunks of pine-trees are a constitutive motif, as having exquisite qualities. It had also been normal to accept Chinese religious practices as embodying ancient and legitimate traditions holding real stores of wisdom, even though their eclipse by Christianity would in the long term be both inevitable and desirable.

This tradition of respect for Chinese culture was placed in abeyance at the very end of the nineteenth century by the fact that some Chinese factions, some of them with specific religious affiliations, had recently offered western businessmen, missionaries and diplomatic legations xenophobic violence, including the violence of an armed siege of the westerners’ diplomatic compounds in Beijing.

The temple-burning was a response to that siege. It was easy to represent the siege of the Legations as a violation of all the normal rules governing warfare and the relation between States, and by doing so license retaliatory actions beyond the military actions of defence and local offense around he besieged buildings. (20)  Despite this “back-story”, the ILN’s representation of the military’s spoliation of symbolic cultural resources has to be justified, legitimated, with a specific textual “spin” on the image. The caption refers to Chinese religious practices as “the Evil”, and encourages the fantasy that destroying the temple will destroy the tradition and the practice. The more plausible motives for this incendiarism: revenge, punishment, cultural humiliation, are suppressed, and that most insistently polarising of rhetorics, the battle between good and evil, is invoked. However, since the ILN is not a religious tract, but a general interest weekly magazine, this apocalyptic tone has to be domesticated, anchored.

In the Ashanti case, the clash of cultural principles had been normalised by emptying the human dimension from the image, representing it as a clash between atavism and science. In contrast to the picture of the Ashanti sacred grove, the picture of the burning of the Chinese temple is very well staffed: seven British soldiers, including an officer (nearest to us) and one Chinese man, watch the blaze, while another Tommy finds a place from which to spectate, and a solitary soldier scavenges a sculptured head, like a hot potato, from the ruin. These idlers evoke a bonfire scene, and thus reassure the viewer by domesticating the destructive savagery; the means are different, but the end, the normalisation of violent cultural intolerance, is the same as that achieved by the technical and historicizing rhetorics in the dynamiting of the Ashanti shrine.

In all the images discussed so far, the depicted violence produced, or was understood to have produced, intended effects. In these representations, the issue of whether the targets of the violence have been “civilian” or otherwise has largely been irrelevant; none of the damage inflicted has been represented as collateral. The images and their associated texts may raise in their reader/viewers’ minds the idea that there could be more than one way of fighting a war or extirpating a troublesome culture, that military action might discriminate both more accurately and more ethically. Such images may have that effect on some viewers; but nothing in them shows any of the violence or its impacts as being off-target, or beyond sanctioned intentions. Damage to targets less than obviously military has been represented as coaxial, not collateral.


The final section of this paper deals with actions where these two mechanisms: the denial of the caesura between civil and military, and the masking of collateral by coaxial, functioned much less effectively, but were nevertheless necessary ingredients both in the conduct of the war and in the processes of its representation for metropolitan consumption.

The Boers were a “white” group, whose aspirations to develop a Nation State in southern Africa independent of the British Cape Colony had been irritating but not intolerable before the discovery of gold and diamonds in large quantities in the emergent republics. However, in 1899 British interference in the internal affairs of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State was followed by ultimatums and by the outbreak of hostilities. The war went very badly at first for the Imperial forces, and even after various sieges had been lifted and the Boers’ field armies been dispersed, the British found it very difficult to keep control of the countryside. The war mutated in and after the first quarter of 1900. What had been anticipated as a conflict fought between armies in the field turned into one in which civilian populations became directly involved, first as the Boers laid siege to Ladysmith and Mafeking, and then as the British developed a strategy for defeating the Boer irregular forces, working in small bands called Kommandos, by depopulating the countryside in which the Kommandos operated. The Boer population was driven from its farms and concentrated in large camps away from the fighting. On the argument that the abandoned farmsteads might be used as shelter or strongpoints by the Boer guerrillas, they were often dynamited when the Boer families were moved away.

This policy of concentrating the Boer population in barb-wire internment camps was a military success, but a human, political and public-relations disaster. The camps were not adequately prepared or serviced, and tens of thousands of Boer women and children died during the later months of 1900 and 1901. International opinion focused on the concentration camps as a clearly atrocious policy, and a strong coalition emerged in the UK during 1900, bringing together pacifists, humanitarians, internationalists, anti-imperialists and feminists.

The Imperial military in South Africa had decided to win the war against the Boer by turning it from a war between armies into a war between an army and a population. Given that the Boers were a white protestant Indo-European-speaking nation-forming political and ethnic community, the decision to project the technologies that work when civilisation meets barbarism onto them took a certain amount of ideological, as well as military, work. In the ILN and the Graphic, as elsewhere, the Kommandos and their families were represented as cunning but stupid, backward, treacherous, dishonourable: that is, representation worked to move them out of the category of “us”, where in the early months of the war they had resided, into the category of “them”.

This work, however, did not perfectly succeed. Though none of the few pictures of the concentration camps present them as anything other than well-organised, well run and wellmeaning, both The ILN and the Graphic carried a regular trickle of representations of farms being sacked by the Imperial military, families evicted, and farmsteads burned or dynamited. The representations began as early as May 1900, when the “scorched earth” policy of the Imperial generals, faced with the Boers’ adoption of a war of movement and dispersal, was already being developed, though the bureaucratisation of the concentration camp system had not yet been put into place. Usually the captions of such pictures asserted that the Imperial forces had been fired on under a flag of truce from the farmhouse under demolition. But also, such pictures usually made perfectly legible the fact that the Imperial troops looted the properties, and that “civilians” (women, children) bore the brunt of the violence against their homes. There is a steady stream of images of Tommy Atkins as a looter; all of them amused, tolerant, “boys-will-be-boys”-ish, though from time to time there is an implied reproof in that troops carrying sewing machines and euphoniums will not find it easy to march far or fast enough.

Figure 13. Illustrated London News 29 September 1900 p. 445. “A punishment for the abuse of the white flag” (320 x 223 mm). Photomechanical half-tone screen from wash drawing by R. Caton Woodville after a sketch by Lt. R. Hennessy. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

Usually, one can be confident that this “sympathy for the enemy” reading of the iconographical clues is not in the minds of the editors, artists and process-engravers who produced the magazines’ weekly offering of pictures back in London: Lieutenant Hennessy’s sketch of  “A punishment for the abuse of a white flag” (Figure 13), from a sketch by a Gordon Highlanders officer on campaign, worked up by the military artist R. Caton Woodville, with mounted troopers driving cattle from a burning farm, is a case in point. (21)

Figure 14. Illustrated London News 26 May 1900 Supplement p. 4 & 5. “Just retribution: burning the house and confiscating the goods of a Boer who fired upon our troops under the white flag. From a sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior” [worked up by R. Caton Woodville] (312 x 480 mm). Photomechanical half-tone screen from wash drawing. Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, photo author.

The untroubled representation of coaxial damage carried by such images makes an earlier, and superficially rather similar picture (figure 14) all the more striking. This picture has been printed as a double-page spread: the ILN has decided that its reader/viewers should pay maximum attention to the representation. And the caption-writers have done their best to make our encounter with the scene monological, as they did with the scene of farm-burning and cattle-driving: justice is invoked, and the idea that by firing on our boys under a flag of truce, the Boers have put themselves outside the pale of civilisation is suggested; “confiscating” here gives somewhat more legitimacy than “looting” would. But one wonders whether that caption had been in the mind of our old friend Melton Prior when he made the sketch on which Richard Caton Woodville’s picture is based; one wonders, too, whether the editorial team at the ILN were so unanimously supportive of the way the war was being conducted as is the rhetoric of the caption. The most obvious problem with an unequivocal meaning for this picture is in the figure of the young woman shaking her fist at the troops. She is the most still, the most stable element of the picture, with all the conventional signs for innocence and appeal; thus she is both compositionally and semiotically at odds both with her gesture and with her position as “the enemy”; this disjunction forces us to imagine ourselves into her situation, whereas a demonised, dynamic, enraged body would have forced its signifying charge melodramatically upon us. There are other compositional and semiotic problems. The carriage
being hauled away to the right is an object which would call forth the strongest of identifications in the ILN’s reader/viewers: upholstered seat, carriage lamp, folded hood combine to suggest strongly that this is coaxial damage against “us” rather than “them”: the rupture of a recognisably middle class existence. And the confrontation (if it is that) between the woman of the house (a daughter behind her) and a black man over the dressing table adds an absolutely relevant racist dimension to this troubled image: Black is laying hands on the bed-room property of White. This implied conflict is amplified by the mattresses that connect the anecdote in the middle-ground with the confrontation in the foreground: the positioning of the rifle that crosses the mattresses towards the enraged and passive elder daughter of the house is itself suggestive; a suggestion that is reinforced by the unfortunate shape of the saddle the trooper carries on his other arm. These two central figures stare aggressively at one another; this exchange is not, it turns out, a matter of justice, but a personal and furious encounter in which “retribution” is undercut by savage desires and unspeakable deeds. In this picture the binomial operations on which the success of representing “collateral damage” as “coaxial damage”, of denying civilian casualties by denying the existence of civilians, collapse.

But we have seen how they have tended to collapse whenever such representations have been attempted. Refusal to depict was the only effective way of dealing with the problem of how to picture collateral damage, as the aftermath of the representation of the 1879 Zulu war showed. After the repeated representations of kraal-burning had been subverted by Melton Prior’s representation of himself as an arsonist, making the ILN’’s reader/viewers complicit with the action, the visual reporting of collateral damage took a long holiday in such magazines. The self-censoring practice was disturbed only when religion could be called in to justify the violence; or when, as at Bagh, the destruction of culture resulted in a natural spectacle. The Boer war could not be contained in this way. The military effort was too great, the international attention too intense and contestatory, but above all, the enemy was too like us. After the Boer sieges had first done so, international outrage at the calamity of the concentration camps put the problem of collateral damage at centre stage in the representation of the war. Mostly the ILN dealt with the challenge by insisting that the damage was not collateral but coaxial, because the folk in the farmhouse had fraudulently fired first. But increasingly they and the Graphic also did so by a practice of “othering” the Boers; representing them as white trash: violent, ignorant, denatured, incapable of civilisation, thus incapable of being civilians.

Melton Prior’s 1879 picture of the artist burning the kraals had come at the end of a sustained sequence of pictures of such arsons, as subjects or as backgrounds; his 1900 picture comes at the beginning of such another sequence, which, as it develops, finds it easier to cast the Boers as “other”, to deny them civilised/civilian status, and to represent the dynamiting of their farms and the slaughter of their cattle as acceptably coaxial, rather than troublingly collateral, damage.

That is a neatly symmetrical and cyclical juxtaposition, but things were actually by no means so neat. Warfare had changed: already at the sieges of Ladysmith and Mafeking the use of big guns taken from ships and hauled on boilerplate carriages over hundreds of miles of veldt, firing high explosive shells at ranges up to ten kilometres with only approximate accuracy had brought the tactics, and the indiscriminate carnage, of the shore bombardment into continental warfare. Media had changed, and were changing ever faster: the general interest weekly illustrated periodicals had lost their monopolistic dominance as the market fragmented, and illustration became cheap and easy enough for mid- and down-market periodicals, both dailies and weeklies, to use. The moving pictures date from 1896, and the first telegraphically-transmitted photograph from 1904. Perhaps most significantly, the western world was running out of supplies of easily identifiable “others” not yet incorporated within existing Empires or Nation States. Melton Prior was making pictures for a vastly different audience in 1879 from that which he addressed in 1900. The conflict with the Boer republics utterly disrupted the obscene fantasy of elegant and dignified warfare. All of these factors would make the twentieth century a very different environment for collateral damage than the last quarter of the nineteenth had been. Compared to the early twentieth century, with its emerging and inevitable power to inflict collateral damage, to report its infliction, and to connect that infliction directly to geo-political struggles, the last decades of the nineteenth century may seem like a golden age of collateral damage. But it is possible to see, from the pages of the Illustrated London News, that the worm was already in the bud.


(1) This essay does not seek to make a contribution to the debate over the causes or the impact of nineteenth-century European imperialism, or to bring evidence which could help to identify the (many) interests served by imperialist policies and practices. Recent work in English on the French case includes Alice Conklin, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea Of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930 Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997, and Tony Chafer and Amanda Sackur (ed.s) Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2002. In the case of British imperialism the historiography is dense and the controversies tense. Core theses of P. Cain and A. Hopkins’ agenda-setting synthesis British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 1688-1914, London and New York, Longman, 1993 are, first, that British imperialism is to be explained in large part by reference to the interests and actions of “gentlemanly capitalism” whose political base was situated in the established elites residing for the most part in south east England; and second that imperialism was a crucial tool for nationbuilding within the British isles. Both of these ideas seem to me to offer a more-than-illustrational significance for the up-market illustrated papers’ treatment of imperialism, given their ‘gentlemanly’ tone and clientele; and their endlessly re-enacted insistence on the cultural and anecdotal links between colony and metropolis, and of the metropolis as metonym for the nation.

(2) An important discussion of the rhetoric of imperialism in the ILN is Peter Sinnema Dynamics of the Pictured Page: Representing the Nation in the Illustrated London News, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1998, though it concentrates on textual rhetorics. Other relevant works include Paul Hogarth The Artist as Reporter London, Studio Vista, 1967; Pat Hodgson The War Illustrators London, Osprey 1977; Peter Johnson Front Line Artists London, Cassell 1978.

(3) Catherine Hall Civilising Subjects: Colony and Metropole in the English Imagination 1830-1867 Chicago, Chicago University Press 2002

(4) The surveys at note 2 are useful. See also Philip Beam, Winslow Homer’s Magazine Engravings.New York, Harper & Row, 1979; Melton Prior, Campaigns of a War Correspondent London,? Edward Arnold 1912; Jane Carruthers Melton Prior: War Artist in Southern Africa 1895 to 1900. Houghton, South Africa, Brenthurst Press 1987; Richard Caton Woodville, Random Recollections, London, Eveleigh Nash, 1914.

(5) By 1880 magazines in London and Paris were already using the photomechanical process know?as the line-block to turn line or chalk drawings into printing surfaces, but for several years after?1880, in both capitals, wood engraving continued to have high prestige and an evident ‘truth effect’.

(6) Tom Gretton “Signs for Labour value in printed pictures after the photomechanical revolution: mainstream changes and extreme cases around 1900” Oxford Art Journal vol. 28, 3, 2005, p. 371 – 390, esp. p. 376.

(7) The titles of Leonard de Vries’s two uncritical compilations History as Hot News 1842-1865: The World of the Early Victorians As Seen through the Eyes of ‘The Illustrated London News’. London; John Murray, 1967, and History as Hot News, 1865-1897:The Late Nineteenth-century World as Seen Through the Eyes of ‘The ‘Illustrated London News’ and ‘The Graphic’ London, John Murray 1973 notwithstanding.

(8) Jacqueline Beaumont, “The British press and censorship during the South African war 1899-1902.” South African Historical Journal 2000 (41): p. 267-289.

(9) For example: the Graphic, 15 March 1897, supplement [p. 3] “The Site of the Bazaar Immediately After the Disaster. From a Photograph by Benque, Paris”; L’Illustration 21 November 1900 p. 328 “Les cadavres transportés à la gare de Dax”. One striking picture of enemy casualties in an imperial war is “The advance in the Soudan. After the battle of the Atbara: in the enemy’s position from a photograph by R. X. Webster” in the Graphic, 28 May 1898, p. 661.

(10) The King’s name is now more usually given as Cetshwayo. The spelling I use was common, in the ILN and elsewhere, at the time.

(11) Zulu military units were called impis, now often rendered as “iMpi”. They were raised through?something like conscription and in this context an impi probably had a complement of around 1,000 men.

(12) ILN October 18, 1879, 366. ‘Snob’ then meant roughly ‘over-eager but under-qualified acolyte’.

(13) Here, I quote Walter Benjamin in his 1937 essay on Eduard Fuchs: “There is no monument of civilisation that is not at the same time a monument of barbarism”.

(14) Such pin-up representations include ILN 23 August 1879 p. 184 & 185, “The Zulu war: the burning of Ulundi. From a sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior.”

(15)  Disciplinary campaigns such as this were called by this name, both by the military and by thepress, clearly distinguishing them from expeditions of conquest or counter-insurgency. In the high period of imperialism, it seems, such punishment was more easily imagined than pictured.

(16) There is a contemporary account of this punitive expedition from the pen of a young journalist?embedded with the Force: The Story of the Malakand Field Force: an Episode of Frontier War, London, Longmans, 1898, by Winston Churchill.

(17) The recourse to authorities on the level of the authorities shows that in this area neither the remit?of the British Raj nor that of the State of Afghanistan was effective: the power of cities, of ‘civilisation’ could not reach so far.

(18) In the Agricola, The roman historian Tacitus put the words “they [the Romans] make a desert, and call it peace” into the mouth of Calgacus, a leader in the British resistance to the Roman conquest in the first century CE.

(19) ILN 14 March 1896, 333

(20) The punitive action by the international powers in the aftermath of the siege was described by a contemporary in The Nation February 15, 1906 as “a carnival of loot”, but it also included, inevitably, burning, molestation, rape and murder.

(21) Hennessy is an Irish name, the Gordon Highlanders a regiment from the area ‘cleared’ by the English conquerors/pacifiers of the eighteenth century: thus one may at least wonder whether the sketch’s originator may have had less untroubled feelings.

© Tom Gretton, UCL

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