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Victoria and Albert collected works documenting political and military events


Britain’s global expansion during the nineteenth century was dependent on the growth of international trade. Between 1839-1842, the First Opium War was fought by Britain and the Qing dynasty of China. In 1843, Queen Victoria instructed Henry Collen (1797-1879) to photograph the Chinese counterpart of the Treaty between Great Britain and China, signed at Nanking on 29 August 1842. This is the earliest example of Queen Victoria using photography as a means of creating a permanent historical record.

The Second Opium War followed from 1856-1860 and was fought between Britain with the French Empire against the Qing dynasty. It was fought due to continuing issues relating to the export of opium to China. Ultimately, the conflict resulted in defeat for the Qing dynasty. Photographs from this period include a set of photographs by Corporal Wotherspoon, taken in the aftermath of the Battle of Canton (Guangzhou) in 1858.