Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara, in the Years 1843-1845, to Ascertain the Fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly


In December 1838 Colonel Charles Stoddart arrived in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan), where he had been sent on a mission by the British East India Company to try to arrange an alliance with the khanate against the Russian Empire, whose expansion into Central Asia was of concern to the British. The ruler of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan (reigned 1827‒60), had Stoddart imprisoned in a vermin-infested dungeon under the Ark Fortress for failing to bow before him, bring gifts, and to show signs of respect that the emir regarded as his due. In November 1841, Captain Arthur Conolly, a fellow officer who is best remembered as the coiner of the phrase “the Great Game” (the competition between Great Britain and Russia for influence in Central Asia) arrived in Bukhara to try to secure Stoddart’s release. He was also imprisoned by the emir and on June 17, 1842, both men were executed. Word of the executions did not reach Britain, and in 1843 Dr. Joseph Wolff (1795‒1862) undertook a mission to Bukhara to try to ascertain the fates of the two men. Wolff, who had extensive experience in the Middle East and Central Asia, volunteered his services to a committee that had been formed in London to try to help the captives. Wolff was brilliant, courageous, and eccentric. He was born in Germany into the family of a rabbi but had converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism at a young age. He studied theology and Near Eastern languages in Austria and Germany and then went to Rome intending to become a missionary. After falling out with the church over theological issues, he became an Anglican. In 1821 he began his career as a missionary to the Jews of the Middle East and Central Asia, and in that capacity spent many years working in the region as far east as Afghanistan. Wolff was himself nearly executed in Bukhara, but he managed with the help of the Persian government to return to England and to bring word of the fate of Stoddart and Conolly. Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara is Wolff’s account of his mission. It contains much information about the countries through which he traveled (present-day Turkey, Iran, and Uzbekistan), particularly concerning the religious beliefs and practices of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians he encountered. Wolff denounces Nasrullah Khan as a “cruel miscreant” guilty of the “foul atrocity” of the officers’ murder. The book, which ran to seven editions in its first seven years after publication, contains line drawings of notable and common people.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Harper & Brothers, New York


Title in Original Language

Narrative of a mission to Bokhara, in the years 1843-1845, to ascertain the fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly

Type of Item

Physical Description

384 pages : plates, portraits ; 23 centimeters


  1. E.I. Carlyle, revised by Todd M. Endelman, “Wolff, Joseph (1795‒1862)” (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  2. Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Last updated: September 30, 2016