August 17, 2016

Travels in India

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605‒89) was one of the most renowned travelers of 17th century Europe. The son of a French Protestant who had fled Antwerp to escape religious persecution, Tavernier was a jewel merchant who between 1632 and 1668 made six voyages to the East. The countries he visited (most more than once) included present-day Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. In 1676 he published his two-volume Les six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier (The six voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier). An abridged and very imperfect English translation of the book appeared in 1677. The first modern scholarly edition in English, presented here, was published in 1889, with translation, notes, and a biographical sketch of Tavernier by Dr. Valentine Ball (1843‒95), a British civil servant with the Indian Geological Service. Among the most memorable chapters in the book are those that recount Tavernier’s visits to the diamond mines of India and his inspection of the jewels of the Great Mogul. Tavernier was not a scholar or an educated linguist, and after his initial popularity in the 17th century his authority waned, as historians and others questioned the accuracy of his observations. In the 20th century, however, Tavernier’s reputation rose, as such important historians as Lucien Febvre and Fernand Braudel used the detailed information he recorded about the prices and qualities of goods and about business and commercial practices in their pioneering studies of economic and social history. The book contains several appendices by Ball about famous diamonds (including the historic Koh-i-Noor Diamond now belonging to the British royal family), diamond mines in India and Borneo, ruby mines in Burma, and sapphire washings in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). A fold-out map shows Tavernier’s voyages in India and the mines he visited.

Afghanistan: The Buffer State. Great Britain and Russia in Central Asia

Afghanistan: The Buffer State. Great Britain and Russia in Central Asia is an overview of Anglo-Russian rivalry and the perceived Russian threat to British India, written by a former officer and Russian-language interpreter in the Indian Army. It is intended as a succinct introduction to a complex subject and provides insight into a certain type of British imperial thinking that prevailed right up until World War I. Chapter one discusses the importance of India to the British Empire. British objectives, the book argues, must be to safeguard “all lines of communication connecting India with the Mother Country” and to safeguard India itself. To achieve these objectives, Great Britain “must so direct her policy that Persia, Afghanistan, and Western China, shall remain independent and undivided, and, if possible, more prone to British influence than that of any other power.” Also essential were keeping the Bosporus and Dardanelles “always closed to Russia” and preventing Russia from ever obtaining a port in the Persian Gulf. Chapter two is an overview of past invasions of India, from the time of the ancient Assyrians and Persians to that of Nadir Shah in the 18th century. Chapters three and four deal with the Russian presence and policies in Central Asia. Chapter five covers the “theater of operations” in which an Anglo-Russian conflict might be fought. Chapter six deals with the role of states or principalities that would influence the course of any such conflict, most importantly, Afghanistan but also Baluchistan, Tibet, Kashmir, and China. The concluding chapter discusses the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, which reaffirmed the predominant influence of Great Britain in Afghanistan. Published both in London and Madras (present-day Chennai, India), the book contains two detailed fold-out maps illustrating the Russian “advance” into Central Asia. The book has little to say about Germany, with which, ironically, Britain would be at war (in alliance with Russia) within a few years.

Russia in Asia: A Record and a Study, 1558‒1899

Alexis Sidney Krausse (1859‒1904) was a British journalist and author who wrote for many British periodicals and produced books about a wide range of subjects, including poverty in the city of London, China and the Far East, and the Russian Empire. Russia in Asia: A Record and a Study, 1558-1899 is a history of Russia’s expansion in Asia, beginning in 1558, the year Grigorii Stroganov received a charter from Ivan the Terrible to colonize lands on the Kama River on the western edge of the Ural Mountains. The book covers the absorption of Siberia, Russia’s conquest of the khanates of Khiva and Bukhara, its late-19th century expansion into Turkestan, its annexation of lands previously belonging to Persia and China, railroad construction, and Russian policy toward Afghanistan. In the preface, Krausse writes that his book “does not profess to be more than a history, complete yet concise, of Asiatic Russia. In criticising the rival policies of Russia and England, my endeavour has been to present the clear and impartial deduction that a careful study of these policies yields.” In fact the book is heavily biased against Russia, which is portrayed as inexorably expansionist and the “natural enemy” of Great Britain. Russia in Asia appeared in several editions, in Britain and the United States. Presented here is the first edition, published in London in 1899. It contains 12 maps and three appendices: a chronology of “Landmarks in the History of Asiatic Russia”; a compendium of the most important treaties and conventions between Russia and China, Persia, Afghanistan, and other polities on the southern rim of the Russian Empire; and a bibliography of authorities on Asiatic Russia and neighboring countries.

The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir John Malcolm

Sir John Malcolm (1769–1833) was a British soldier, colonial administrator, diplomat, linguist, and historian. He was born in Scotland, left school at age 12, and, through an uncle, secured a position in the East India Company. While stationed in various parts of India as an officer in the company’s military forces, he became interested in foreign languages, which he studied diligently. He became fluent in Persian and, over the years, served as an interpreter and British envoy to Persia in various capacities. Malcolm wrote a number of books while living in Persia and during several extended stays in England, including Sketch of the Political History of India (1811), Observations on the Disturbances in the Madras Army in 1809 (1812), Sketch of the Sikhs (1812), and his most famous work, The History of Persia: From the Most Early Period to the Present Time, published in 1815. His last official post was as governor of Bombay in 1827‒30. He returned to England in 1831, and completed two other works, Government of India (1833), and Life of Clive (posthumously published in 1836). The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir John Malcolm is a two-volume biography, written by Sir John William Kaye (1814–76), a onetime officer in the army of the East India Company who resigned in 1841 to devote himself full time to the writing of military history. Kaye’s other works include the two-volume History of the War in Afghanistan (1851) and the three-volume The History of the Sepoy War in India, 1857–8 (1864–76).

The Heart of a Continent: A Narrative of Travels in Manchuria, across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral, 1884-1894

Francis Younghusband was an explorer and soldier best known for leading the controversial British military mission to Lhasa, Tibet in 1903‒4. In 1886 Younghusband was granted leave from his military post in British India to accompany the explorer H.E.M. James on a seven-month journey around Manchuria. After completing this expedition, Younghusband received permission in March 1887 to undertake an overland journey from Peking (Beijing) to India. Traveling alone with just hired guides, Younghusband crossed the Gobi Desert to reach Hami (China), and proceeded from there over the Himalayan Mountains via Kashgar (present-day Kashi, China) and the Muztagh Pass to Kashmir. He reached Srinagar on November 2 and his post at Rawalpindi on November 4, exactly seven months after his departure from Beijing. Younghusand recorded this journey in the first eight chapters of his The Heart of a Continent. In 1890‒91 Younghusband undertook further travels to the Pamir Mountains (chiefly in present-day Tajikistan, with parts in Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan) and the Karakoram Range, the unclaimed corridor between Afghanistan and China. He and his superiors in the Indian government suspected that the Russians might be looking for an invasion route to India through these mountains, and one object of his travels was to search for signs of Russian activity. Younghusband recounted these expeditions in the remaining chapters of the book. The book provides descriptions of spectacular scenery and of the peoples – Chinese, Kalmak (Kalmyk), Kirghiz (Kyrgyz), Tajik, Hunza, and others – that he meets. It also recounts several meetings with Russian reconnoitering parties, including one in the Pamir Mountains in August 1891 with a Russian detachment of more than 30 Cossack soldiers that resulted in a diplomatic clash between Britain and Russia. After an initial friendly meeting, the Russian staff officer in command of the party, Colonel Yonoff, declared that Younghusband was on territory claimed by Russia and that he was under orders to escort the British intruder across the border to China. This encounter led to the lodging of a diplomatic protest by the British embassy in Saint Petersburg and a subsequent apology by the Russian government and an acknowledgement that Yonoff had been operating outside the Russian sphere of influence. The book contains illustrations and several maps, including a large foldout “Map of the Northern Frontier of India.” Widely praised for his explorations, Younghusband was elected the youngest fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1890 and named Companion of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1891.

Through Persia in Disguise, with Reminiscences of the Indian Mutiny

Through Persia in Disguise, with Reminiscences of the Indian Mutiny consists of diary entries written by Charles Edward Stewart, an officer in the Indian Army and later British consul general at Tabriz and at Odessa, edited and published posthumously by members of his family. Part one of the book recounts Stewart’s role in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (also known as the Sepoy Rebellion), an uprising of sepoys (native soldiers) against the army of the British East India Company. Much of the action described takes place in Peshawar (in present-day Pakistan). Stewart also participated in and describes the Umbeylah (also seen as Ambela and Umbeyla) Campaign of 1863, in which an Anglo-Indian force marched against Pashtun (also seen as Pushtun) tribes opposed to British colonial rule. Part two deals with several missions that Stewart undertook in the early 1880s, in which he traveled across Persia to the Persian-Afghan frontier and into Afghanistan. The purpose of his trips was to gather intelligence for the British government, and for much of the time he traveled disguised as an Armenian horse dealer from Calcutta. In 1884 Stewart was appointed the second assistant commissioner on the Afghan Boundary Commission under Sir Peter Lumsden, and the book has a chapter on the work of the commission in the city of Herat and its environs. The book includes illustrations and a map of the Afghan-Persian border region and four appendices: the text of a paper read at the Royal Geographical Society in June 1887, “The Country of the Tekke Turkomans, and the Tejend and Murghab Rivers,” based on Stewart’s mission of 1880; an article on the use of petroleum as a fuel for locomotives and steamships (based on Stewart’s observation of this new technology as used by the Russians in the region of the Caspian Sea); an article on a possible railway extension to link the Russian Central-Asian Railway and the Indian Railway System; and a short article entitled “Bible Work in Persia” in which Stewart makes a number of observations about different religious groups in Persia, including Shia Muslims, Nestorian and Armenian Christians, and Babis.

Tales of Travel

George Nathaniel Curzon (1859‒1925) was a British politician, traveler, and writer who served as viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905 and foreign secretary from 1919 to 1924. As a young man he traveled extensively and wrote several travel books, or books that drew extensively on his travels, including Russia in Central Asia (1889), Persia and the Persian Question (1892), and Problems of the Far East (1894). Tales of Travel (1923), presented here, is one of his last books. It consists of previously unpublished memoirs and essays based on journeys taken earlier in Curzon’s life. The book reflects the range of Curzon’s travels, his curiosity and powers of observation, and his literary talent. One essay, “The Great Waterfalls of the World,” describes and compares waterfalls in North America, South America, Africa, India, and New Zealand. Another, “The Singing Sands,” deals with the strange singing or rumbling sounds said to be heard in deserts, and discusses this phenomenon as it manifests itself in the deserts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Persia, the Sinai, Arabia, North Africa, and the Americas. Another piece is about sumo wrestling in Japan. One of the most noteworthy essays in the book, “The Amir of Afghanistan,” is an account of Curzon’s meetings in 1894‒95 with ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan (circa 1844–1901), ruler of Afghanistan. Curzon characterizes the amir as brilliant and effective, but also cruel and merciless. “He welded the Afghan tribes into a unity which they had never previously enjoyed, and he paved the way for the complete independence which his successors achieved. He and he alone was the Government of Afghanistan.” The book is illustrated, and contains a large fold-out facsimile of a map of Afghanistan prepared and circulated by ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan.

The Merv Oasis, Travels and Adventures East of the Caspian during the Years 1879-80-81

Edmund O’Donovan (1844–83) was a British war correspondent who covered conflicts and uprisings in France, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Central Asia. Born in Dublin, he wrote for the Irish Times and other Dublin papers and later for the British paper, the Daily News. In 1879 he traveled to Merv (in present-day Turkmenistan), where he was arrested by the Turcomans, or Turkmen, on suspicion of being a Russian spy. He was released after several months’ captivity, and remained for a total of nearly three years in the region. The Merv Oasis is O’Donovan’s account of his adventures and observations. Volume one covers his voyage from Trebizon (Trabzon), in Turkey, across Georgia and the Caucasus to Baku (in present-day Azerbaijan), his crossing of the Caspian Sea, and his travels in the regions east of the Caspian, in Turkmenistan and Iran. Volume two is almost exclusively devoted to a detailed account of Merv, where he spent five months. The book covers the geography, history, rulers and system of government, religious practices, economy, and food and customs of the oasis. O’Donovan describes the Russian military campaign in the region and the fall of the fortress at Geok-Tepe in early 1881, but his focus is on the peoples and cultures of the region. The appendix includes a collection of documents relevant to the narrative, with translations from Persian and Russian, and facsimiles of several of the Persian and Russian documents. The cover reproduces his Russian passport (laissez-passer), issued in the name of Tsar Alexander II, granting O’Donovan permission to travel from Tiflis (Tbilisi, in Georgia) to Baku.

The First Russian Naval Voyage, Taken for the Resolution of the Geographical Question: Are Asia and America Connected? Completed in 1727, '28 and '29 under the Leadership of Navy Captain of the First Rank, Vitus Bering. Includes Short Biographies of Captain Bering and the Officers Accompanying Him

In the summer of 1728, Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681‒1741) sailed in his first Pacific voyage along the Russian coast from Kamchatka to the Arctic Ocean through the waterway that subsequently became known as the Bering Strait. In his last major official act as tsar, in 1725 Peter the Great had commissioned this journey to determine if Asia and North America were connected by land. This book, the title of which includes the tsar’s basic question about a land bridge, summarized the history and results of this expedition. The journey was onerous, as Bering first had to cross overland through Siberia and then build and provision his ship, the Saint Gabriel, in Kamchatka. The endeavor thus became known as the First Kamchatka Expedition (1725‒30). This volume provides the records of daily weather reports from the expedition, as well as readings of latitude and longitude and the recording of geographical location as the Saint Gabriel sailed north. Bering’s findings were inconclusive, as ice and bad weather prevented him from proving the presence or absence of a land connection between Asia and America. To Bering’s chagrin, Peter’s tsarist successors insisted that he return for a second voyage more than ten years later with an expanded mission. On this Second Kamchatka Expedition, part of the Great Northern Expedition (1733‒43), Bering finally sighted Mount Saint Elias in southern Alaska in July 1741. Bering claimed the entire region for Russia from this location, far to the south and east of the Bering Strait. The expedition also finally resulted in confirmation that Siberia and Alaska were indeed separated by water. Bering became famous in both Russia and throughout the world for these two voyages. Perhaps as a result, this book also contains brief biographical sketches of Bering and his senior officers from the first voyage. Bering was a Lutheran captain from Denmark who spent nearly his entire career in service to the Russian state and reached high rank in the Imperial Russian Navy.

Chronological History of the Discovery of the Aleutian Islands, or the Achievements of Russian Merchants. Includes a Historical Overview on the Fur Trade

Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681‒1741) sailed from Kamchatka to Alaska in the summer of 1741, thereby commanding the first European ship to explore the northwestern coast of North America. The crews of Bering and his assistant, Aleksei Chirikov (1703‒48), returned to Russia with valuable sea otter pelts. The quest for fur soon overtook the initial interest of the state in mapping and acquiring geographic knowledge of the North Pacific. Beginning in 1743, a succession of Russian promyshlenniki (frontiersmen) followed in the wake of Bering by sailing along the Aleutian Islands in search of sea otter furs. This book chronicles the many voyages that began over a century of Russian colonization in Alaska. The book includes data on the number of fur pelts taken per merchant each year and their value in rubles. The author also highlights the history of the fur trade in the ongoing exploration of the Alaskan coast, and notes that the driving force behind voyages to the region was the high pelt quality and abundance of sea otter and other fur-bearing animals. The monograph is thus a compendium of the achievements of key Russian fur traders, beginning with Emilian Basov in 1743. These merchants ultimately succeeded in establishing a quasi-governmental presence for the tsars throughout coastal Alaska, culminating with the noted merchant Grigorii Ivanovich Shelikhov, who in 1784 founded a company on Kodiak Island that later became the Russian-American Company.