Kabul Uprising

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Retreat from Kabul to Gandamak
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This was an event during the 1st Afghan War


After a winter in Jalalabad, Shah Shuja, restored as Amir of Afghanistan, returned to Kabul in the spring of 1841 with Sir William Macnaghten the British Envoy and Minister at the Afghan Court. A reduced force of British and Indian troops moved out of the Bala Hissar fortress into a cantonment where their families joined them. The cantonment at Sherpur was poorly located and difficult to defend.[1] Sir Willoughby Cotton was replaced as military commander by William Elphinstone. Described as an elderly invalid,[2] though in fact barely 60 years old, Elphinstone was unfitted to cope with the increasingly grave situation.

In October 1841 Sir Robert Sale took his brigade out of Kabul (see General Sale's March from Kabul to Jalalabad) and a general uprising began on 2 November. Sir Alexander Burnes the senior political agent, his brother Lieut Charles Burnes and his assistant Major William Broadfoot were murdered. Elphinstone took no decisive action. The British were besieged in the cantonment and were unable to get supplies for men or animals. They were therefore forced to negotiate terms with the Afghan chiefs. Attacks and reprisals continued until on 23 December Sir William Macnaghten was lured to a meeting with Mohammad Akbar Khan on the promise of a new treaty. He and Captain Trevor were murdered and their heads paraded through the city.

Major Pottinger, not yet recovered from the wounds he received at the Siege of Charikar, took Macnaghten's place as political agent. On 27 December the Council of War (Elphinstone, Shelton, Anquetil, Chambers and Pottinger) acceded to the Afghan demands. In exchange for safe passage to Peshawar and the return of Capts Lawrence and Mackenzie they were to provide six hostages and hand over 1.45 million rupees and all artillery except six guns. In addition some 700 sick were left behind. The Ghazi warriors continued to harass the British as they prepared for departure on the fatal Retreat from Kabul to Gandamak on 6 January 1842. Shah Shuja remained shut up in the Bala Hissar palace until 5 April 1842 when he was murdered on the orders of Akbar Khan.

Related articles

For further details of events during this period see the following articles

Loss of the Commissariat Fort 4 November 1841
Siege of Charikar 4-13 November 1841
Storming of the Rika-bashi Fort 10 November 1841
Battle of Bemaru 23 November 1841


Entries in the Dictionary of Indian Biography 1906:
Mahommed Akbar Khan (1813?-1849)
Thomas Anquetil (1781-1842)
Alexander Burnes (1805-1841)
Willoughby Cotton (1783-1860)
William Elphinstone (1782-1842)
William Macnaghten (1793-1841)
John Shelton (?-1845)
Shah Shuja (1780?-1842)
Robert Sale (1782-1845)

Recommended Reading

  • Lady Sale’s Afghanistan – An Indomitable Victorian Lady’s Account of the Retreat from Kabul during the First Afghan War by Florentia Sale. (See similar title by Lady Sale in Historical Book links below)
  • "Lady Sale" by P MacRory 1958 ISBN 0208008306
  • "W. Bryden's Account" by P MacRory 1969

External Links

1st Afghan War Wikipedia
History of the War in Afghanistan Google Books
Afghan Uprising Wikipedia
The Battle of Kabul and the Retreat to Gandamak BritishBattles.com
The Battle of Kabul 1842 BritishBattles.com
Occupation and Revolt, Kabul, 1839-1841 www.jmhare.com
Map of Kabul Cantonment www.history.navy.mil
Photograph of Bala Hissar www.afghanistan-photos.com

Historical Books on-line

The Kabul Insurrection of 1841-42 by Maj-Gen Sir Vincent Eyre 1879 (archive.org)
Memorials of Affghanistan: being state papers, official documents by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler 1843
Appendix 7 - Narrative of the Events in Cabul between the 2nd of November 1841, and the middle of September 1842
Appendix 14 - Capt Lawrence's account of the murder of Sir William Macnaghten] (Google Books)
A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan 1841-2 by Lady Florentia Sale 1843 (archive.org)
Lady Sale and her fellow hostages in Afganistan Chapter from book entitled Some Eminent Women of our Times by Mrs Henry Fawcett. (archive.org).


  1. The Kabul Insurrection of 1841-42 Eyre's description p 94
  2. ibid p 88