Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab, and Kalât


Charles Masson (alias of James Lewis) was a traveler and explorer who was the first European to appreciate the archeological heritage of Afghanistan. Not much is known about his early life. He was born in London in 1800 and by all accounts received a good education that included Latin, Greek, and French. After a quarrel with his father, in 1821 he enlisted as an infantryman in the army of the East India Company. He sailed for Bengal in early 1822. In July 1827, he deserted his regiment, changed his name, and traveled westward to escape British jurisdiction. After wandering through Rajasthan and the independent Sikh territory, he crossed into Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass. Over the course of the next decade he traveled extensively throughout Afghanistan. He also spent time in Persia (present-day Iran) and Sind (present-day Pakistan). He began his archeological explorations in 1832 with a survey of the Buddhist caves at Bamyan. In 1833 he discovered the ruins of the ancient city of Alexandria ad Caucasum, founded by Alexander the Great. He collected more than 80,000 silver, gold, and bronze coins and made a particular contribution to science by recognizing the importance of bilingual bronze coins, whose Greek inscriptions could be used to decode unknown scripts that appeared on the reverse side. Masson’s real identity was discovered by the British authorities, but he received a pardon in recognition of his archeological work and the valuable intelligence about Afghanistan he provided. He left Afghanistan in October 1838. Living in Karachi, he wrote an account of his archeological investigations and completed his three-volume Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Panjab, which was published in London in 1842. With the first Anglo-Afghan War (1839‒42) underway, in early 1840 he attempted to return to Kabul, but was caught up in the siege and insurrection in the Khanate of Kalat (in present-day Pakistan) and for a time was imprisoned as a spy. Following his release in January 1841, Masson wrote Narrative of a Journey to Kalât, which was published in London in 1843. In 1844 his publisher reissued Narrative of Various Journeys, with Narrative of a Journey to Kalât added as a fourth volume to the original edition. Volume four opens with a large fold-out map showing Masson’s journeys. Presented here is the complete 1844 edition.

Last updated: September 30, 2016