Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

While images are a very popular part of this collecting field, most wartime views on offer are understandably for the world wars or after.

War photography, as we understand it today, was in its infancy up to the Great War, despite the most famous first examples on a large scale being taken as far back as those by photographers such as Roger Fenton in the Crimean War (1853-56) and Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady in the American Civil War (1861-65).

With cameras and associated kit still cumbersome, ‘combat photography’ was not an option until cameras became small enough to be carried more easily by one person. However, views from the overall theatre of war – including casualties - were certainly possible, as a group of rare images coming up at auction on July 24 demonstrates.

They cover the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and were found in what auction house Hansons has described as “a soldier’s time capsule of memorabilia in a Derbyshire home”.

That soldier was Robert Oliver of the South African Constabulary, from Derbyshire, and the photos in an unpublished album include pictures of slain Boers, a funeral of a British serviceman, an observation balloon at Ladysmith, General Buller and a 'Boer War dog'.

Oliver was awarded the Queen’s Medal for South Africa after fighting in Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and South Africa in 1901 and 1902.

Along with the photos and other medals, the collection contains two pairs of original kid gloves, spurs, an ammunition bandolier, caps and hats, a glazed portrait of Oliver, a powder flask, cap badges, an original South African feathered headdress, a cartridge belt and other items.

WEB Boer timecapsule.jpg

The Robert Oliver Second Boer War archive to be offered by Hansons on July 25 estimated at £400-600.

Charles Hanson, managing director of the Etwall saleroom, says: “It really is quite an archive. We know from the family that Oliver was quite a rogue in his youth. At the age of 16, he ran away, ending up on a ship to Canada where he found work as a lumberjack. He later joined Staffordshire Police and our client’s memory of him was that he was funny but firm and strict.

“Later in life he became a landlord, owning the Devonshire pub in Hartington.”

The photos are fuzzy and faded but provide a fascinating snapshot of a conflict which is often forgotten given the scale of the world war which began 12 years after it ended, despite leaving around 22,000 British, 25,000 Afrikaner and 12,000 African dead.

The Hansons lot includes 80 loose photos and more than 100 photos in a separate album. A few of the images have been seen before - photos of the dead after the Battle of Spion Kop, albeit without the white lettering as captions seen in the other copies – but Hansons say that most are in fact original, adding: “We understand that all those contained in the album are original images.”

The collection is estimated at £400-600.

WEB Boer photo 2.jpg

British dead from Spion Kop. Second Boer War photograph from an archive to be offered at auction by Hansons on July 25.

Rifle Brigade images

In August last year the Bellmans saleroom in West Sussex offered a photo album containing about 150 Second Boer War images, covering the First Battalion, Rifle Brigade. It sold for a hammer price of £1400 (estimate £400-600).