Jump to content
deuce

Central Asia in the Victorian Era

Recommended Posts

deuce

I've got some projects going and thought this would be a useful thread in general.

 

The European powers (not counting Russia) were just starting to truly penetrate Central Asia/"Inner Asia" during the Victorian era. The Great Game was afoot and many discoveries were being made in the name of science...and espionage and conquest.

 

I define "Central Asia" (I prefer the more evocative "Inner Asia") as anywhere north of Persia, south of the Arctic, east of the Urals and west of China proper (Chinese Turkestan was a Chinese colony, pure and simple). Any of you are free to disagree, it matters not to me.

 

This region possessed picturesque cities like Samarkand and Tashkent, ruins galore and plenty of ethnic groups hostile to foreigners. It also hid dread citadels of mystery like Leng, Yian-Ho and Yahlgan. Adventure and eldritch horror were to be found for anyone crazy enough to make the arduous journey just to get there.

 

I hope others have something to contribute. There are some materials I find difficult to track down. Letters to/from Victorian Brits who worked in the fields of exploration and/or intelligence are eluding me. To get things started, here are two travellers/explorers who bracket the era...

 

James Holman, the "Blind Traveller", nearly crossed Russia from the Baltic to the Pacific:

 

http://greatbritishnutters.blogspot.com/2008/04/james-holman-blind-traveller.html

 

 

Here is the account of a dedicated hunter in Turkestan during the 1890s:

 

https://archive.org/stream/chineseturkesta01churgoog#page/n10/mode/2up

 

A group of investigators would do well to have a man like this along when heading out into the trackless wastes of Inner Asia.

 

glacier_view.jpg?w=750&h=562

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
wombat1

I know this is going to sound silly, but what about the footnotes and back material in Frazer's Flashman novels.  There are some interesting sources listed there, I think; the American ones show a good familiarity with the contemporary histories of the period, and I expect the Central Asian/Indian ones would be much the same.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

Peter Hopkirk's books are BRILLIANT!

 

They are. I highly recommend them. Unfortunately, I don't actually own any of them or have access to copies at the moment. 

 

I've read histories on Central Asia going back to Saka and Tocharian times. Right now, I'm trying to track down letters of explorers/spies from (preferrably) the 1830s and 1840s in order to get a feel  and use them as models. A good online cache would be much appreciated.   :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
DAR

I can also reccomend the The Great Game, and I also suggest Eccentric Explorers by Michael Buckley - otherwise my collection is more Classic Era and later.

 

D.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
jasonw1239

Have a look at the book titled Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer.

In the mid 1890's him and a small expedition crossed the Taklamakan Desert to Chinese Turkestan and then went south through the Mustagh Pass.

The book covers a lot of information about that period, that area, and more specifically, what it was like to enter areas uncharted by Europeans.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
notsogreatoldone

Some interesting stuff about the painter and mystic, Roerich, and his journeys in Tibet; in search of  lost Shambhala.

 

Roerich in Tibet

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chicklewis

Hopkirk's 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' is exactly what you seek, with the exception that those foreign devils tend to be Edwardian rather than Victorian.  

 

Buy a used copy for under $4 including postage and DEVOUR it.  

 

I cannot think of a single western explorer who was loose in inner Asia in the 1830-1840s.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

Hopkirk's 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' is exactly what you seek, with the exception that those foreign devils tend to be Edwardian rather than Victorian.  

 

Buy a used copy for under $4 including postage and DEVOUR it.  

 

I cannot think of a single western explorer who was loose in inner Asia in the 1830-1840s.  

 

I've read everything Hopkirk has published. I was thinking of Arthur "Khan Ali" Conolly:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Conolly

 

He was beheaded in Bokhara. Interestingly, his brother was assassinated just a few months later.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

No mention of Nikolai Przhevalsky yet, I'm surprised.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolay_Przhevalsky

 

If you aren't interested in Turkestan proper, I think "Transcaspia" was the name for the region in books of the time.

 

 

Przhevalsky is definitely interesting. I first read of him in high school because of the horses named after him. I've never read a bio of him. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Aurel Stein.  

 

As I've said, I've studied the period from one end to the other. I'm just needing online access to personal papers or intelligence reports from Brits concerning Central Asia. The earlier in the 1800s, the better. It might not be possible, but that's what I'm looking for.

 

However, I always intended for this to be a general purpose thread, so carry on.  :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chicklewis

Sorry I misinterpreted your original question, Deuce.  You clearly know a lot about inner Asia.  Conolly sounds like an interesting character.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

Sorry I misinterpreted your original question, Deuce.  You clearly know a lot about inner Asia.  Coolly sounds like an interesting character.  

 

No biggie. I lost most of my library in a flood 4yrs ago, plus, I don't have easy access to a university library anymore. I would love to find some really good stuff from Conolly online, but I may just have to make do.

 

However, for a much later Victorian explorer/agent/scholar who spent time in Tibet, I give you Laurence Waddell:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Waddell

 

https://archive.org/details/buddhismoftibeto00wadd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

Somehow, I'd failed to mention "Bukhara Burnes":
 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Burnes
 
Just found these massive PDFs:
 
https://archive.org/details/travelsintobokh04burngoog
 
https://dl.wdl.org/14409/service/14409.pdf
 
I still yearn to find digitally archived dispatches/letters from "Khan Ali" Conolly, but this should tide me over if not.
 
400px-Ire_Sir_Alexander_Burnes_Daniel_Ma
 

I know this is going to sound silly, but what about the footnotes and back material in Frazer's Flashman novels. There are some interesting sources listed there, I think; the American ones show a good familiarity with the contemporary histories of the period, and I expect the Central Asian/Indian ones would be much the same.

 
I just remembered, Wombat, that Burnes was in the first Flashman novel. I lost my entire set in the Flood of '12.
 
142458.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
wombat1

Yep, Flashman at the Charge deals a bit with Central Asia too, if I recall rightly--the interesting point is that Fraser researched and footnoted those, and one can raid his scholarly work for your purposes (for that matter, if one is doing up a campaign or scenario, one can have the investigators run into the characters out of Flashman.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
chicklewis

Those PDFs are a wonderful find !    I aim to read them.  THANKS ! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

A good article on Afghanistan (the Gateway to Central Asia) in the Victorian Age:
 
http://surrey-shore.freeservers.com/VicAfghan.htm
 
The India Office Records at the British Library should be helpful:
 
http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelpregion/asia/india/indiaofficerecords/indiaofficehub.html
 

Those PDFs are a wonderful find ! I aim to read them. THANKS !

 
You should enjoy Conolly's two-volume Journey to the North of India as well:
 
https://www.wdl.org/en/item/17791/
 
Tournament of Shadows is an excellent book that concentrates on the explorers and spies who were the principal players on the ground during the decades-long "Great Game". Breathtaking daring and suffering fill its pages:
 
https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/01/09/reviews/000109.09goodwit.html
 
51vGMruIt8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
deuce

 

As I've said, I've studied the period from one end to the other. I'm just needing online access to personal papers or intelligence reports from Brits concerning Central Asia. The earlier in the 1800s, the better. It might not be possible, but that's what I'm looking for.

 

 

I found what I needed here:

 

https://archive.org/details/livesindianoffi01kayegoog

 

https://archive.org/details/livesofindianoff02kayeiala

 

Sir John William Kaye was so highly respected that he was given access to diaries, private letters &c... The first volume covers the Georgian India hands like Metcalfe and Malcolm. Volume 2 is paydirt with extensive bios on Conolly, Burnes and Todd, complete with excerpts from letters, diaries, what-have-you. A treasure-trove for my purposes.  :D

 

5454_1_Image_20.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.