Russian Central Asia


Henry Lansdell (1841–1919) was a Church of England clergyman who in 1879 and 1882 undertook two long and arduous journeys through what was then called Asiatic Russia, one to Siberia, and another to Russian Central Asia. His purpose was to distribute religious tracts and Bibles in the places he visited, especially in prisons, and to gather information of interest both to specialists and the general public. Russian Central Asia recounts Lansdell’s second journey, which took place over a 179-day period between June and December of 1882. By his own account, he covered a total of 12,145 miles (19,545 kilometers), traveling by rail, water, mounted on horse or camel, or on wheeled conveyances, and visiting Semipalatinsk (in present-day Kazakhstan); Kuldja (China); Tashkent, Khokand, Samarkand, Qarshi, Bukhara, and Khiva (in present-day Uzbekistan), Merv (in present-day Turkmenistan), and other locations. Landsell supplemented his own observations with detailed research and consultation with experts. Another of Landsell’s interests was the Bible, and the book contains numerous references to the ways in which, in his view, customs and traditions seen in Central Asia reflected those described in the Bible, the Old Testament in particular. His two-volume account was praised by critics for its detailed descriptions and analyses of places not well known at that time in the English-speaking world, but he was widely criticized for offering a rose-colored view of the prisons of Russian Central Asia and for excusing Russia’s expansionist foreign policy and, in particular, its recent annexation of Merv. The book contains a foldout map and illustrations. The end of volume two consists of three long appendices: listings of the fauna and flora of Russian Central Asia and a bibliography of 702 authoritative works, in English, French, German, and Russian, on the region.

Last updated: September 30, 2016