PART THREE: In the Reign of Queen Victoria


Neither acceptance into nor advancement in military officer ranks were yet based entirely on merit. Whereas Sir John Malcolm, an aggressive commander at the turn of the century was ‘concerned with collecting the raw materials for the analysis of society’ and ‘systematising that information and drawing conclusions from it…’, his successor as Superintendent of the Indian Navy, Sir Robert Oliver, saw no need for such things. The ‘relative sophistication’ of Malcolm’s ‘historicism and his use of numismatics, oriental philology, and non-European historiography (marked) a sharp contrast’ to writers of the previous generation.[clxv] As head of the Indian Navy he had ‘encouraged’ resourceful and energetic officers during lulls to get out and explore. But Oliver, who succeeded him in 1838, was described as ‘an old officer of the old school’. He was a disciplinarian who wanted nothing to do with science or anything beyond the ‘rule of thumb.’ Somewhere around twenty of Malcolm’s surveys were immediately shut down. ‘Instruments’ were withdrawn or not-maintained, and no notice was taken of papers forwarded to government. Any man attempting to do more than the Naval Manual required was treated with contempt and red-hot displeasure.[clxvi]

The gentry-EF still involved interlocking families, but now the easy movement was between commerce and cocktails on the green, and from diplomatic small-talk at race-meetings to the War Office and Cabinet meetings to discuss security. In 1821 a summary ‘of all Monies Expended Touching any proceedings respecting Her Majesty the Queen [Caroline] from the year 1817 to the present’, included 18,100/15/- of ‘secret service money’. When invited to provide evidence against her, by a Secret Committee set up by her husband, George IV from whom she was estranged, Captain Joseph Burton, one of her security detail, refused and was ‘stood down’, effectively sacked, on half-pay. Burton had gone from Wellington’s staff to serve as aide-de-camp in India to Lord Bentinck, off-spring of William III’s spy-master. Well-performed against Napoleon in Sicily and Italy, Burton’s service records provide no detail, the gaps implying clandestine activities. Best man at his wedding in 1820 was Mountstuart Elphinstone, a member of a family soon to have very close links to Queen Victoria, and another diplomat/spy. Among sensitive topics of conversation were ‘the Jewish problem’ and the dilemma of Palestine. That they were discussed we can be sure. David Green, one of ‘Her Majesty’s Gentleman at Arms’, said in an 1846 lodge meeting in England that he had travelled widely in Egypt and Nubia [now in Sudan] and ‘had always found Freemasonry a passport to the best society’ and that it had ‘procured him advantages which he could not possibly have received from any other source.’ [clxvii]

Despite being an initiate of a number of the more explicitly Christian Orders of Masonry, UGLE’s Grand Master Sussex side-lined them for the three decades of his Grand Mastership supposedly because he was keen on EF’s universal, religious tolerance. Consequently, EF scholars have struggled to explain the apparent ‘re-appearance’ of these Orders after his death.[clxviii] What is known show Sussex was a keen scholar but not a deep or radical thinker. He was very conservative, not at all forward-looking and far less concerned with current affairs than his father had been. In the House of Lords he voted against the abolition of slavery. At some point he began thinking his way towards an integration of ‘Freemasonry’ and Christianity, not ‘universal tolerance’ as EF has claimed since. The words used at the time of ‘the Union’, over which he presided, made concessions to the Antients’ negotiating position and gestured towards a universalist approach. Maintenance of the Protestant hegemony however remained the over-riding requirement. To achieve genuine religious ‘universality’, a great deal more would have been required including a canvas of the views of Catholics, Buddhists, Baptists and other non-Anglican faiths.

Just before ‘the Union’ was promulgated, a Swedish envoy met with him to urge that since ‘Freemasonry’ in both countries operated under royal patronage and protection Grand Lodge should not ‘entertain’ possibly disloyal, that is working class, elements. Increased memberships, principally in England/Britain, and often of seamen and other artisanal types moving backwards and forwards across the North Sea, were disturbing the ‘aristocratic’ brethren of ‘the Swedish Rite’ who suspected seditious and radical ideas were flowing their way. The envoy reported back to the Swedish king, that Sussex had said he desired ‘to reform English Freemasonry’. As an example of how ‘false brethren (were) diluting the purity of the order’ the diplomat noted that: ‘(Here, in England) exists a lodge of only Jews. Lately the Duke has disallowed its meetings, and done so on my pointing out the impropriety of their workings. (Prescott, 2014, p.209) ‘Jew/ish’ were virtual synonyms at this time for ‘the poor and the working class’. Sussex followed up the conversation by letter, agreeing that he wished to reform everything ‘in those mysteries which is not immaculate’ but lamented that his favoured changes ‘are not well known in this country and cannot be introduced without proper guidance.’ He emphasised that he had to proceed prudently ‘because of the number of individuals with which I have to deal, and the infinity of extravagant opinions among them.’ Prescott believes Sussex was interested in the Swedish ritual because of the light it might throw on the ‘hidden allegory of religion’. He demonstrated his priority by commissioning a Bro Higgins to seek information that might show that ‘freemasonry preserved the secrets of this ancient religion, of which Christianity was a blasphemous perversion.’ (Prescott, 2012, p.210) In this, Sussex was dabbling in areas similar to those pursued by 18th century EF scholar, Stukely, [clxix] who sought links between Stonehenge and the origins of ‘Freemasonry’.

Of importance is the fact that Louis Loewe, student of oriental languages, became the Duke’s Hebrew lecturer and Oriental linguist in 1839: ‘Undoubtedly (the Duke) was very devout, spending upwards of two hours daily in the study of Holy Writ… (He) read Hebrew with a gentlemen learned in the holy tongue.’ [clxx] By the time of his death, it seems Sussex was a strong believer, not in Christianity and EF as they were, but in what they might be. In 1843, The Christian Observer published an undated letter he had written to the Reverend Adam Clarke about his belief in the divine origin of the Scriptures, ‘which contain matters beyond human understanding.[clxxi] His belief seemed to be that ‘Christianity (was) the greatest gift to mankind’ but that its potential remained unrealised – perhaps he had in mind a reformed form of Anglicanism based on the Old Testament and to which Jews could convert without loss. The closure of a Jewish lodge and the substitution at the Union ‘of Moses and Solomon for the two Saints John as the Two Great Parallels of Masonry’ were indicative of his long interest and he was ‘famous for his friendship with the Jews and his interest in Jewish charitable causes’, [clxxii] but he was also aware how such a long term goal would be opposed. After his death, ‘the Jewish question’ achieved explosive importance.

Sussex refrained from pronouncing on domestic issues – Catholic relief, collapse of the old Tory Party, middle class suffrage, a young and female queen, Irish unrest, imperial ‘interventions’ – EF’s politics were clear and settled. Yet the public were not content, and governments continued to need intelligence on the opposition, foreign or domestic, and to need influence in the media. A protest meeting about the cost and the disbursement of London’s Metropolitan police in 1833 was reported at length in some papers: ‘(One speaker claimed that) the police system was altogether one of ‘spying’ and worthy of the most despotic Continental governments. (Hear, hear) He calculated that the total number of police spies, and in daily operation, was about 400. (Shame, shame) In Lambeth, there were constantly two police spies in plain clothes.’ Colonel Evans denounced the police system at great length,…The system was altogether one of military and political espionage; and it became the people themselves to combine and to get rid of it by every legitimate means…’[clxxiii] [My emphases]

In June, 1842, the Christian Observer reflected on the continuing problem of ‘bribery in elections’: ‘The opprobrious and demoralising practice of Bribery at Parliamentary elections has at length come before the legislature and the nation, in so rampant an attitude that we begin to hope some really efficient effort will at length be made to abolish it…’ In August, it observed of the official enquiry: ‘The disclosures upon the subject of bribery at elections are most painful and disgraceful.’[clxxiv] In 1844, a furore erupted over the letters of Italian nationalist Mazzini being opened in London and the contents reported ‘to a foreign government’, a tumult which led to a House of Lords enquiry into ‘(the) system of espionage in the General Post Office, St Martins Le Grand, (which) is comparatively unknown to the public.’ Newspapers registered outrage and shared some of what they had known for years. When first established in 1657, the Post Office had been empowered to detain, open, read and copy all and any mail items. [clxxv]…During the Secretaryship of Sir Francis Freeling, [from 1797 to 1836 – met with above] the opening of letters posted in London for the Continent, as well as those from the provinces passing through the Foreign Office, was carried on to a great extent, and we know (says a correspondent) to a certainty that there are now in the Post Office more than one individual who, in carrying letters and packets which had been opened and re-sealed in the ‘Espionage office’ to the Inland Offices, have found the wax on violated letters and packets sticking to their hands, from its having had insufficient time to cool.’ [clxxvi]

Matthew Arnold of Rugby School thought ‘secret societies’ a pagan threat to Christianity, and Prime Minister Disraeli was soon to declare they posed a threat to European governments. According to him, secret societies ‘covered Europe with a network like that of the railways’ [clxxvii] and he later wrote a book, Lothair, to set out his concerns. Thomas de Quincy wrote nostalgically about one society, the Essenes, and enterprising editors published a rag bag of ‘secret snippets’ with a scary cover and made themselves some money. The agent of the threat was invariably ‘foreign’ a place which, in the case of writers from Disraeli to Chesterton and Conrad began at Calais. The ‘mysterious East’ had been forcefully de-mystified by the armies of Albion, now it was the turn of ‘darkest Africa’ to be ‘discovered’, ‘opened up’ and turned into entertainment as ‘The Curse of the Pharos’. Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ and Jules Verne’s ‘Tigers and Traitors’ came later.


Who Killed Stoddart and Conolly?


At least the author of the 1990 book, The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk, was alive to the irony of his book’s title. It is a name originally given to the Central Asian phase of the murderous struggle between espionage networks, mainly Russian and English/British. Participant memoirs have explained that the official cover story was that agents were on vacation ‘hunting wildlife’ and thus the whole spying thing was ‘a game.’ The devil-may-care attitude and a sense of selfless abandon in the name of orders from ‘Higher Up’ allowed a reasonable pride to be manipulated into a rhetoric of bombast. Ure’s 2009 collection summarising agents’ memoirs begins in 1810 with ‘Henry Pottinger – the Make-Believe Holy Man’ and concludes with ‘Percy Sykes – the Daring Bounder’ who traversed Persia in the 1890’s and 1900’s and became a crucial player in the pre-1914 diplomatic manoeuvrings. Their personalities and their fates varied, but all have been publicised as passionate believers in the need to risk everything and to endure anything to achieve the goals they had set. On one occasion, Pottinger travelled from Bombay deep into Persia disguised variously as a Muslim, horse-dealer, Sunni holy man and down-on-his-luck European merchant, in order to assess the likelihood of Napoleon’s armies invading India from the north-west. He wrote later that he and his fellow-traveller quickly realised that they would have to dig more deeply into their disguises: ‘(We) completely metamorphosed ourselves, by having our heads shaved and adopting the entire native costume.’ [clxxviii] Disguises were standard for field ‘agents’, as were means to conceal and, when necessary, to destroy dangerous ‘intelligence’. Buddhist ‘prayer wheels’ were useful in this regard, and for surreptitiously measuring distances. Ure rightly pointed out that ‘it was not just on the frontiers of India’ but ‘wherever the tentacles of the British Empire extended’ that young men were engaged in this work.

Henry Pottinger’s official biography is an example of another kind of cover story. It provides no detail of his activities between arrival in India and his being knighted: ‘(He) had gone to India in 1803 with ‘the Coy’, was created a baronet in 1842, for his work with the Treaty of Nanking, and a Privy Councillor in 1844…was a friend and confidante of Lord Palmerston. He was a political agent in Cutch (1836-40), envoy, plenipotentiary and superintendent of British Trade in India (1841-43), the first Governor of Hong Kong (1843-44), Governor of the Cape of Good Hope (1846) and Madras (1847-54). It was Pottinger who stirred a journalist to write in hyperbolic admiration: ‘For years it has been the custom of the Anglo-Indian Government to employ enterprising young officers as semi-political agents in the different Oriental States. Unprotected by the sacred character of ambassadors, yet raised far above the odious character of spies, they have to trust to the weight of the English name, and their own bravery, self-possession, and address for their protection against the treachery and cruelty of the people of Northern and Eastern Asia and their rulers’ .[clxxix]

Another of these youths, whom we’ve already met, Mountstuart Elphinstone, (1779-1859) had gone from the Duke of Wellington’s staff to travel through Afghanistan disguised as a Muslim but described as a ‘political officer’.[clxxx] It is not known if this Lord Elphinstone, the 4th son of the 12th Lord Elphinstone, was an initiated brother, as many of his male relatives were, but records do have him preparing for initiation. As ‘Resident’ at Pune in 1817, he kept a daily diary of the movements of other spies. He interrogated merchants travelling through the area and he had his own agents following the Maratha ruler wherever he went. (MtE, p.69.) ‘Agent’ Elphinstone then became Governor of Bombay, 1819-27 and a prolific writer and correspondent. During his stint he was asked to produce all government records on a matter. He complied except for ‘two secret despatches, the disclosure of which (might have thrown) light on the channels through which intelligence was received.’ He retired ‘home’ at the age of fifty, co-founded the RGS and became a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Press reports and palace announcements tracked his nephew, John, the 13th Lord Elphinstone, (1807-1860) acknowledged love of Queen Victoria’s early life and ‘banished’ to India twice ‘to protect the monarchy’. An initiated brother, he was appointed by GM Sussex in 1840 to the post of Provincial Grand Master [PGM] of EF lodges in the Madras ‘Presidency’ of which he was also the political and diplomatic ‘chief officer’.[clxxxi] His combining of the two roles, the first time for Madras, was welcomed as ‘the beginning of a new era’ and of obvious benefit to ‘Masonic arrangements which never prosper so well as when they are protected by the sanction of authority.’[clxxxii] Some few years after he had left Madras, the lodges there were said to be ‘in a consumptive state’ and its brethren looking back nostalgically at ‘the palmy days of Lord Elphinstone.’ A third Elphinstone, Howard (1829-1891) also trained as a Royal Engineer and undertook missions as a spy/diplomat. He was then appointed to the Topographical and Survey Department while still in his twenties. Winner of a VC in the Crimea, he was selected as governor of the Queen’s third son, Arthur, and became her aide-de-camp and ‘most trusted confidante’ after the Prince Consort’s death in 1861.[clxxxiii] His position meant he was one of a number of the Queen’s European agents up until his death.

Hopkirk began The Great Game with: ‘On a June morning in 1842, in the Central Asian town of Bokhara, two ragged figures could be seen kneeling in the dust in the great square before the Emir’s palace…’ The figures were British Army officers, Arthur Conolly and Charles Stoddart. What their captors thought of them is clear: ‘Their arms were tied tightly behind their backs and they were in a pitiful condition. Filthy and half-starved, their bodies were covered with sores, their hair, beards and clothes alive with lice…’. Stoddart and Conolly were not conquistadores looking for gold or adventurers trying to sell whisky to ‘the ignorant natives’; they hadn’t been stealing artefacts and they hadn’t been inciting rebellion or threatening invasion, so why were they being humiliated, and then executed where they knelt? The ‘usual’ story, often told, is brief and uncomplicated. Colonel Stoddart in 1838 went to Bokhara to persuade the Emir to free Russian slaves and to sign a treaty of friendship with Britain. This was supposed to weaken Russian pretexts for moving into the area. Inevitably, he was regarded with suspicion and seized. In 1841, Captain Conolly, in attempting to secure Stoddart’s release, was also seized and thrown into the same pit. After months of erratic treatment at the hands of the Emir, and against a background of an English/British military invasion of Afghanistan, they were taken into the public square and asked if they would convert to Islam. When they refused their heads were sliced from their bodies.[clxxxiv]

The rules of engagement between warring parties demanded different responses from captors depending on whether the captives were in uniform, held diplomatic passes, or were ‘secret agents.’ Baden-Powell later wrote of what he could expect if he had been detected conducting espionage: ‘The government promised to give no help whatever to its servants if caught.’ The 1842 government in London seemed to know not long afterwards that the two men had died. But it acted in such a secretive way and appeared so little interested in their fate that newspapers began asking questions and reporting that travelers were claiming to have recently seen them alive. There were people who tried to save Stoddart and Conolly, some even offering to go to Bokhara to rescue them. When asked to assist these attempts ‘the government’ refused. The only known effort it made, actually worsened the situation and made the deaths more likely. One of the men trying desperately to help them was a mysterious ‘Captain Grover.’ Shortly after the publication of a book highly critical of the apparent apathy of government, he died, suddenly.

Bokhara, on the ancient line of trade known as the Silk Road, is part of Uzbechistan today, but was once ‘the intellectual centre of the Islamic world’. In 1842 it was in a buffer zone between Russia and India, but, as Hopkirk has said, the two died ‘4,000 miles from home, at a spot where today foreign tourists step down from their Russian buses…’ While Stoddart had been initiated into EF, Conolly apparently had not, though he was a graduate of Addiscombe.

Colonel Stoddart
Captain Conolly

Conolly had sailed to India as a typically impressionable, sixteen year old ‘Company’ cadet. On board, he had heard the newly appointed Bishop of Calcutta evangelizing, and thereafter he dreamed of winning Muslims over to a “kindlier” view of Christians, the first step, in his view, of propagating the Gospels to them. In 1839, he wrote to Sir Henry Rawlinson: ‘If the British Government would only play the grand game … Inshallah! The expediency, nay the necessity of them will be seen, and we shall play the noble part that the first Christian nation of the world ought to fill.’ From late 1829 to January 1831, in disguise as ‘Ali Khan’, he had returned from leave by way of Moscow through the Caucasus and Central Asia to India. In 1834 an account of this trip established his reputation with the RGS as a ‘traveler and writer’. His secret report concluded with his warning that if Russia ever gained control of Herat, an invasion of India would be possible from Persia. He argued that the best defensive bulwark for India was ‘an independent, united Afghanistan.’ His uncle, Sir William Macnaghten, Secretary of the BEIC’s Political and Secret Department, was one of the brains trust which subsequently produced the idea of an invasion of Afghanistan with the intention of replacing the then emir with a more compliant one.

Stoddart, beside being in the army, was a very enthusiastic RGS member. He had written to the Secretary, Captain Washington, in 1837 that he was doing everything he could to promote the Society and urging others to ‘note every matter likely to be valued by our society.’ He wrote that the Shah of Tehran was delighted with what, in hindsight, was a cartographic version of a Trojan Horse: ‘(The) Shah takes an unusual interest in geography and invariably is pleased at any of the officers here going about the country to lay down routes. He went over all the maps one after the other, read the names in the English letters, gave us all he knew about the countries…One of my students translated and copied Arrowsmith’s Central Asia (that part of it under the domain of the Shah) into Persian very neatly…’ [clxxxv] Reportedly ‘a staunch and forthright officer’, Stoddart was known for his aggressive piety and an ‘abrasive temper always being at flash point’. In his army uniform, he had carried a ‘cease and desist’ message to a local Shah then beseiging Herat, threatening the loss of the British Government’s ‘friendship’. This had apparently worked. The siege of the town had immediately been lifted adding, no doubt, to his confidence and sense of power. Major Eldred Pottinger his superior at Herat then sent him to Bokhara with instructions from Lord Palmerston at the Foreign Office to ‘urge the Emir to cease his slave raids and to free those already in captivity’. Other chiefs were being paid ‘compensation’ for loss of plunder derived from their raids and for otherwise showing ‘better behaviour.’ The chief at Bokhara was, however, his own man, something ‘intelligence’ was not yet sufficiently sophisticated about to take into account. Nor was it able to predict the fissionable effects of contact with Stoddart. Added to these errors of judgement, the letter of introduction he carried to Bokhara was addressed to a Minister no longer in the post. It went with its carrier into the infested pit.

As designated envoy to the intended royal court at Kabul, McNaghten included himself in the cavalcade which rode into Afghanistan ostensibly to celebrate successful diplomacy. Chief among his ‘political staff’ was Alexander Burnes, newly knighted like Macnaghten, and anticipating being installed as Political Resident at Kabul, salary GBP3000 pa. While garrisoned at Kabul, Macnaghten heard of Stoddart’s incarceration and proposed to Palmerston in London, a scheme whereby Stoddart might be retrieved. Palmerston, said to be ‘playing a long game’, was not moved to agree to the ‘naïve proposal’ which would have seen a force sent against the Emir at Bokhara. At this point, Conolly took it upon himself to intervene. A vilified ‘adventurer’, Josiah Harlan, was on hand. Not a believer, he watched the Kabul negotiations break down and wrote an account which was published before the tragedy had played itself out: ‘Sir William Macnaghten was a self-conceited gentleman, who marched into Afghanistan with the air of Bombastes Furioso, advocating to the governor-general a system of policy which has wrought the reward that cruelty, false faith and criminal duplicity will ever receive.’ [clxxxvi] The talks might have succeeded, he went on, ‘if officers had been diplomatically astute and conciliatory, but the political affairs of the English had again fallen into the hands of still less competent agents: a young lieutenant of the Bombay Artillery, [Burnes] who is remarkable for obstinacy and stupidity; and an old invalid of high character and imbecilic mind.’ Exposed by their Afghani opponents as ill-informed and unprepared, Macnaghten, Burnes, Charles and Arthur Conolly, and Stoddart, all subsequently died horrible, unnecessary and futile deaths in this one campaign which ended in retreat and humiliation. Eldred Pottinger died of a fever shortly after. The ‘imbecilic’ Commander-in-Chief, yet another Elphinstone, died in captivity, while another of the brains trust, Lord Auckland, Governor-General of India had a heart attack when informed of the outcome.

Burnes was an enthusiastic EF in a family of enthusiastic Masons. In the Indian Army at 16, he was fluent in Hindi and Persian by the time he was 21, and his promotion had been swift. A letter to The Times, after his death claimed that his friends included ‘Lord Ellenborough, Lord Munster and the late Governor of Bombay Sir James Carnac.’ He and his brother, Charles, also an initiated EF, were among the first overrun at Kabul, in 1841 when the locals threw off the emir the British had imposed on them. Another brother, James, was Provincial Grand Master for the Western Provinces of India in 1842. Five brothers in all had followed their father into EF.[clxxxvii] Succeeding Lord Auckland, Ellenborough’s first action in office was to welcome back the ‘Army of Retribution’ which had ruthlessly and immediately followed up the debacle in December, 1842. He ordered ‘a great junketing’ as ‘a massive manifestation of British power, both civil and military[clxxxviii]

Back in London, the first rumours that Stoddart and Conolly had been executed appeared in the press at the end of January, 1843. These were followed by a very detailed ‘leak’ which appeared in some papers on 14 February, 1843. Questions were asked in parliament in late-August to which the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel replied that he believed the two were dead and that no cause would be served by further inquiry. Yet another shadowy figure, Captain Justin Shiel, was here described as ‘Her Majesty’s representative in Bokhara’, an odd position to hold in the circumstances, and one which has proved impossible to substantiate. Attempted intervention by agents other than Conolly appear to have been considerable, thus it would seem that the apparent lethargy of government was a screen to cover them. One, James Abbott, had also been tasked with convincing the khans to release Russian slaves held in the area. After 1842 his name, like that of Shiel, was rarely mentioned, as he had been sent on to observe Russian posts further west. He is one of the many ‘field agents’ recorded in studio portraits done of them in ‘native’ disguise at the time.

In July, 1843, the Reverend Joseph Wolff offered his services to ‘military officers’ via a letter to a newspaper. He asked only that his travel expenses to and from Bokhara be paid.[clxxxix] The mysterious ‘Captain Grover’ responded. They met and talked.

Joseph Wolff

Born in Bavaria in 1795 and described as ‘unprepossessing, small of stature, with a flat homely face’ Wolff had married into the Walpole family and was thus well-connected. He was also cross-eyed, with a reputation for argumentative quirkiness, yet on one trip to Washington his reputation was so broadly known and admired he was called upon to address the US Congress. He had met with Conolly in India where his missionary work from Gibraltar, Malta and Jerusalem to Georgia, Bokhara and Thibet was apparently thought of positively.[cxc] ‘Captain Grover – Unattached’, is shown on publications as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Institute of Great Britain, and of the Congress of Italian Science. A family friend, he believed that he would not survive if he went as a civilian and asked for official permission to travel to Bokhara wearing his army uniform. He was rebuffed. He wrote and published a pamphlet in 1843 critical the government. He recounted his sessions with Foreign Office officials and described the documents he had been shown, one of which was the only acknowledged step taken by government to have the men released. It was a letter from Lord Ellenborough to the Emir in which the pair were described as ‘innocent travellers’. Grover was horrified at this term, believing it would have convinced the Emir that the two were spies and hastened their deaths. He clearly had some idea how these matters worked. Grover and Wolff then called a meeting at his house where it was agreed to go public. The Bokhara Committee was established in September to raise funds for an expedition by Wolff whose integrity and bravery were considered proven and vital to a successful outcome. The Committee included high ranking military men, such as Major-General Sir James Bryant, Captain Downes, FRAS and the Royal Navy, and Admiral Sir Edward Codrington (1770-1851).[cxci] Whether these men were critics of government, men with time on their hands, or had been delegated by their superiors to keep an eye on developments is unclear. Grover’s connections with them were left unexplained. Others on the committee were James Silk Buckingham, travel writer, journalist and critic of the BEIC who had been expelled from India in 1823, Lewis Tonna, an evangelical advocate of Jewish causes and Acting-Director of the United Services Institute, Captain William Moorsom, military engineer and rail-line surveyor, and Sir Joseph Copley, 4th baronet of the family which funded the Copley Medal awarded by the Royal Society.

At this first meeting, Grover accused the government of ‘most culpable negligence’ and expressed the hope that it might be shamed into an official inquiry. A Lieutenant-Colonel Humfrey, seconding the motion, ‘strongly (condemned) the indifference betrayed [sic] by Her Majesty’s ministers.’ In the meeting hall were between 80 and 100 gentlemen, including the President of the Society of Civil Engineers, the brother of Sir Alexander Burnes, ‘and several military and civil officers of the East India Company.’ Wolff knew that great risks were involved, and stated his intention, when he met the Emir, to wear ‘his robes as a Protestant clergyman and his doctor’s hood.’ Later he claimed that this ploy saved his life. On his expedition, he wrote to the Committee and its Secretary, Grover, made his letters available to the newspapers, the PM and cabinet ministers. In late-1843 while Wolff was still making his way inland, the editor of the West Kent Guardian rallied behind what had already become a sacred ‘mission’: ‘,,,(The) mind clings with fondness to the most distant hope of rescuing our two enterprising fellow-countrymen from bondage, if they still be in existence. And if Wolff will really undertake a journey to Bokhara on so hallowed a mission we should think it a duty to further his object by all the means in our power’. [cxcii] [My emphases]

In Bokhara, Wolff weathered the Emir’s incredulity, and wrote in the Emir’s presence and largely at his direction, that Stoddart had been executed because of his repeated disrespectful attitudes, his converting to Islam and then re-converting to Christianity, and his saying that letters would come from England acknowledging him as an official ambassador, something which hadn’t happened after 14 months. Conolly had been executed on the same day because he’d been encouraging the Khans of Khiva and Khokan to make war against Bokhara. By April 1845, Wolff was back in London and recovered from ‘a dangerous illness’ and was able to give a public meeting a full account of his exertions. He thought that beside Stoddart and Conolly, six other British officers and one Italian had been executed in the recent past, either by the Emir at Bokhara or by his neighbouring khans. In the book of his rescue mission, Wolff, without further explanation, described a meeting with ‘Soleiman Khan [Governor of Khoy], who is a freemason, though a Muhammedan‘. Wolff was not a Mason at the time, so why would he present this information? Describing another encounter, Wolff told how ‘Hakim Beyk, the Goosh-Bekee of Bokhara…pressed me to his heart, kissed (me) for about ten minutes, pinched my hands and fingers, as I suppose, (for I am no Freemason) the Freemasons do.’[cxciii] As far as I know, kissing and touching is not part of EF. English Masonic signs of recognition are not used willy-nilly, and again as far as I know, are not of that sort. If the two Moslems were just making their usual greeting to him Wolff should have known that, having travelled extensively in the area before. But if he didn’t know the signs, why mention ‘the Freemasons’? Did the two Moslems assume he was ‘a Freemason’ because he was European? Or was there a ‘Freemasonry’ in Asia which was entirely indigenous with its own signs. In earlier books he had remarked on similar meetings with ‘oriental’ Masons – in Shiraz in 1824, and Azerbaijan in 1831.[cxciv] He joined EF in 1846, not long after his return from Bokhara. In 1848 he was honoured by a Chapter of ‘English Royal Arch Freemasons’ (which is different to the Craft though connected to it – see below). An official statement thanked him: ‘…In delivering Dr Wolff his diploma [Royal Arch membership] the First Principal said the companions felt proud of having it in their power to testify the high respect and honour they consider due to him for his courage and philanthropy in the great cause of humanity evinced in his journey to Bokhara in the years 1843-5, to ascertain the fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly which feeling, he believed, universally prevailed in the masonic world.’ [cxcv]

A report in the London Standard not long after Stoddart’s death accepted as true the rumours that he had adopted Islam at some point in his captivity, effectively undermining assertions of his stoicism. In summarising his career, it revealed an earlier clandestine operation: ‘He was indefatigable in the pursuit of general and professional knowledge, and was present within the French lines at the siege of Antwerp…’ The writer emphasised his piety: ‘…(His) talent, character and enterprise (are) mourned…as a sincere Christian and a soldier devoted to his Sovereign and country…Deeply devout in his principles and conduct, unshaken under his severe trials, and even acknowledging in them a spiritual blessing…[cxcvi] A year later, another report asserted that he could have escaped ‘if he had had the will’ but that he refused, saying ‘that he had scruples about escaping without an order from the English Government, being a man of exceedingly strict notions of duty.’ The Army source, a Lieutenant Eyre, said that he accepted this intelligence, ‘having seen authentic documents.’ [cxcvii] An 1860 correspondent to the RGS wrote that another Italian, Giovanni Orlando, had been executed in 1849 having been held for seven years as ‘watchmaker and astronomer’ at the Emir’s court.[cxcviii]

It seems reasonable to conclude that Stoddart’s ‘Englishness’ was the determining factor in his death, and by extension, in that of Conolly’s. It is unlikely that as the sword fell either was thinking of green sporting fields of great Public Schools where boys became leaders, duty-bound to uphold the honour of ‘the Empire’. But their religious stoicism, their sense of superiority and their involvement in the blood and iron of the Empire were from a single template. The ‘Army of Retribution’, immediately assembled and sent to Kabul to wreak violent havoc and mayhem, could not restore the shattered idea of feringhee invincibility in the region, [cxcix] but back home a counter-narrative was brought to bear. One periodical provided this ‘spin’ on the debacle: ‘…The unwarlike hesitation of the troops at Jellalabad having been misinterpreted by some of the Afghan chiefs in the neighbourhood…it became necessary that General Pollock should chastise the most refractory. Detachments were therefore sent out, which soon brought these worthies to their senses, and obliged them to pay the sums due to the revenue…’ [cc] The editor of The Era was not alone in regarding the Afghanis as naughty children in need of severe ‘chastisement’ but not all advocates of ‘England & Britishness to the World’ had the army in mind.


Dr Oliver and the Reverend Crucefix


Dr George Oliver (1782-1867) – Anglican cleric, EF and prolific author – saw a two-pronged threat in ‘modernism’, to his faith and to ‘his Freemasonry’. He determined to deal with it by bringing them together. He recalled, towards the end of his life: ‘I had formed a plan in my own mind, which was intended to demonstrate the capabilities of Freemasonry as a literary institution…to convince the reading public that Freemasonry…actually contained the rudiments of all worldly science and spiritual edification…’ In his mind there was only one way: ‘…The first step was to show the Antiquity of the Order; for this was the only basis on which all subsequent reasoning could be safely founded…I therefore published a work on the Early History and Antiquities of Masonry from the Creation to the building of Solomon’s Temple.’ [cci] In effect, he was claiming to merge Masonry’s ‘scientific’ and ‘spiritual’ faces into one entity which was ‘Christianity’. He reported a conversation he had had with a fellow-Mason who thought that ‘an adherence to Christianity would reduce (Freemasonry) to a narrow-minded and sectarian institution which every good Mason ought to discountenance and abjure’. Oliver’s response was absolute: ‘Sectarian!…Christianity alone is universal. Before its powerful and unbounded influence all created things must ultimately succumb. Nations will be weighed in the balances; societies will be dissolved; institutions rent asunder…nothing will run parallel with Christianity but that one great Christian and Masonic virtue charity or brotherly love.’

Under construction by this influential propagandist was the idea that England’s moral superiority and English Freemasonry’s pre-eminence were in line with both the natural and the scientific order in their modern form.[ccii] His continuing popularity in EF, despite the un-worldliness of some of his writings, show he was articulating a strengthening trend, one which allowed a selective spinning of ‘the Enlightenment’ in the Order’s favour or a side-stepping of it altogether. EF would subsequently claim adherence to scientific principles, and that EF must be true because it was ‘the word of God’, a contradiction which rendered real-time Masonic history, ie context, unnecessary, but which allowed discussion of current politics because they were neither political nor religious. This development of Stukely’s views replaced his vague statements about the ‘ancient, natural religion’ with assertions that Christianity was that religion and Protestantism its realisation, ‘the true religion’. An 1870’s lodge address by the District Grand Warden of British Burmah began: ‘‘Brethren – Our constitutions wisely prohibit the discussion of all political and religious topics within our lodges…To (prove the two topics are actually analogous) is now my object, and I trust, speaking to a Lodge of Christian Masons, you will not only see yourselves, but impress on future additions to our order, that one of the great designs of Masonry is true religion…’ [cciii] This speaker was not attempting to undermine the dual prohibitions but to justify them by breaking them, ie, arguing that Masons would not be breaking any ban if they claimed a ‘truth’ which was unchanging, somehow immutable. The ‘true religion’ of course, required close attention to only one text, the (Protestant) Bible: ‘…Therein are you taught the duty you owe to God, your neighbour and yourself…It survives all changes, itself unchanged; it sees all things decay, itself incorruptible …the word of the Lord endureth for ever; and that’s the Book Freemasonry urges you to believe, to study and to accept.’

Oliver’s beliefs married the idea of generous exchanges of socially-aware and open-ended information with fundamentalist certainty that there was only one possible conclusion to such exchange. With the Order divinely-sourced, he believed himself empowered to claim for ‘Freemasonry’ any event he liked, for example: ‘It is also worthy of remark, that in the book of Leviticus…it will be clearly observed that Moses uses the expression, ‘We must assist our brethren”…from which it might be concluded that Moses was also initiated in Masonic rites…’ [cciv] His biblical fundamentalism helped the conclusion to emerge that any example of ‘brotherly love’, wherever located, could be cited as evidence for Masonry’s universalism. An article in the 1845 Freemasonry’s Quarterly Review, was headed ‘FREEMASONRY IN CHINA’, even though it began with a denial that ‘the Triad Society’, the subject of the piece, was ‘a Masonic Fraternity.’[ccv] In the 1880’s some Masons seriously entertained the idea that Australia’s stone-age inhabitants knew and communicated Masonic signs.[ccvi]

One of his first writings to be published, Scopwickiana, was an intimate description in 1838 of ‘his’ village done in response to a suggestion in Blackwood’s Magazine that ‘priests might write about their parishes for the enjoyment of their readers and the benefit of posterity’. Oliver stressed the need for a parish priest to study the “manner, habits, propensities and amusements of his flock”’ so that ‘knowing their wants, weaknesses and infirmities, he may so shape his course as to lead them by easy steps to the systematic practice of piety and virtue in this world, which will contribute to their everlasting happiness in the world to come.’ [ccvii] Scopwickiana was probably the work which brought him to the attention of Dr Crucefix, energetic Grand Lodge officer (of UGLE) and publisher from 1833 of the Freemason’s Quarterly Review [FQR] which was intended to: ‘provide freemasons under the English Constitution throughout the world with information about the Craft, both as to background and current affairs.’ [ccviii] [My emphasis] Oliver strongly supported the FQR ‘whose aims accorded so closely with his own view’, including, presumably, its reports of parliamentary.[ccix] Sussex and others at UGLE did not share his views. Oliver was dismissed from his position as DPGM of Leicestershire in 1842 and Crucefix was being threatened with expulsion from Masonry altogether when Sussex became ill. [ccx](On) balance the final verdict must…be that though he [Crucefix] served Freemasonry well, the methods he used provoked a long-lasting reaction against the very kind of openness about the Craft which he, Oliver and others were striving to achieve…’ [ccxi] It is a non-sequitur to blame these two men for the general lack of openness within EF, and a larger error not to take into account the context. Sandbach blamed the tensions within EF on Crucefix’s advocacy of a hospice for old and frail brethren. The evidence argues that the source of Sussex’s ire was that he was being observed and commented upon, something Crucefix introduced with his first issue. While stating his allegiance to the prohibitions on discussions of politics and religion, Crucefix disregarded them in commentaries. He used the GM’s own speeches to make debating points and after his 1843 death, he, Crucefix, quoted from Sussex obituaries.

The commitment to ‘openness’ Oliver shared with Crucefix was not to open-ended Enlightenment-style learning.[ccxii] An 1837 editorial of his regretting the death of William IV but celebrating the ascent to the throne of Queen Victoria began: ‘The British Empire is rejoicing in the advent of a new reign, and the nations of the world behold with admiration a Maiden-Queen, surrounded with all the chivalry of her triple kingdom, enfencing her diadem with a panoply of wisdom, strength and beauty. [ccxiii] To his own rhetorical question ‘Is a Mason unconcerned (about this event in the ‘profane’ world)?’ Crucefix answered: ‘No, he is proud that ‘the Lady of England’ is a Mason’s daughter, and encourages the fond hope that his youthful Queen will deign to become the patroness of the Order.’ This was part of a report of a Special Grand Lodge meeting called by GM Sussex to read a remonstrance he intended to send to his royal relative. An hyperbole-ridden statement of a GM to his relatives, it is, if newspapers of the day are to be believed, remarkably mendacious. Because of his unsanctioned wedding in 1793, Sussex had been discriminated against by his father who annulled the marriage, and then disregarded by his brothers and forced to carry out his various duties on a much-reduced stipend. In his message to Victoria, Sussex eulogised her, but also all his brothers and his uncle’s wife, the Queen Dowager, as paragons of all the virtues, well beyond any requirements of etiquette or politeness. He referred to the Order: ‘In the meek, humble and honest confidence that, as Freemasons, we have not degenerated from our ancient purity…’ On another occasion, Crucefix lectured Masons in Bengal about their lodge practice and, using partisan, political terms, argued the need for a Provincial GM: ‘…Bonaparte directed his strongest efforts against India and was by the aid of our valiant army and navy, under the direction of Providence signally defeated. Subtle and crafty was the (Russian) design, stealthy the pace, and wary the way of the executor..’.[ccxiv] A number of prominent EFs in India recorded their thanks and their warm regard for Crucefix in response. The rupture point with Sussex was an clearly hypocritical accusation made by Crucefix that the GM had broken the prohibition on political discussion. Crucefix repeated the charge after Sussex’s death: ‘As Freemasons, we are inhibited from entering into political observations; for what we re-publish from authentic sources, as we deserve no praise, so we incur no responsibility…On the 19th March, [1840] the Grand Master of Masons, in a vast assembly, where perhaps not twenty Masons were present, very coolly and deliberately pledged the whole Craft to certain views of a religious and political nature…’ [ccxv] He was referring to a meeting of the Religious Freedom Society in Freemasons’ Hall called to oppose a parliamentary bill which would extend Church establishment, ie increase State funds to the established church. Sussex had pledged his and EF’s total agreement with the meeting’s sentiments, whereupon Crucefix argued: ‘(This) declaration of the Grand Master was totally at variance with his obligation, and the deliverance of such sentiments by him was likely to subvert the existence of the Order itself…’ He asked rhetorically: ‘Have any measures been taken to bring such conduct before the Grand Lodge? No! it appears he may do wrong with impunity…(etc)’. Responses in ‘the public press’ from Masons and non-Masons for weeks afterwards supported his interpretation.

Both Crucefix and Sussex breached the prohibition in these exchanges, if the prohibition is applicable outside a lodge meeting. There are many Masons who believe it is. More important than the brouhaha about what was ‘political statement’ and what was not, was a section of the document of June, 1840, also repeated in 1843, which set out what Crucefix thought ‘Masonic openness’ was: ‘We aver, then, that there is too much of pretence in the assumed immunity of our order from the general examination of the ‘profane world’ as if, forsooth, the polity of Masons were not as amenable to public censure or approval as that of other bodies…It is the province of society to see that we perform our self-imposed trust with faithfulness, and it is the duty of a Masonic journalist to obtain the purification of the order by the exercise of public opinion, whenever violence is done to Masonic principles.’ In this, Crucefix appeared to be representing ‘modernity’ banging on the door of UGLE’s temple. Those inside were being given the chance to come out and engage him in sensible conversation, or to remain cloistered. The known evidence shows that UGLE remained behind closed doors, while energetically-established colonial lodges in the antipodes withered from lack of meaningful support. The ‘usual’ conclusion has been that Sussex and Grand Secretary White were simply not interested in affairs outside London, whereas, perhaps they were dealing with more critical issues, issues which directly related to the Sussex view of religion.


Back in Asia


English/British military heroics did not suddenly become a ‘selling point’ for editors in the late 19th century. Neither was Imperial glory something invented for the special purpose of defeating the Zulus. When the rallying cry of ‘the honourable Britisher’ and his ‘bull-dog spirit’ were high-lighted in late-Victorian ‘culture’ it was a manifestation of media manipulation changing in response to altered circumstances. The First Opium War and the First Afghan War, both concluded in 1842, had had very different outcomes. Seen from Whitehall, the one was at least militarily successful, the second was a complete disaster. Chinese barriers to English/British opium sellers who wanted gold, tea and other local product were overrun by stratagem, gun boats and deceit. Somewhat south of Bokhara, four and a half thousand retreating British and Indian soldiers, plus 12,000 of their camp followers, were overrun or died from starvation and cold, in abject disarray and harassed by desert tribesmen. The three-year campaign was summed up in an 1843 memoir from Chaplain G.R. Gleig as: ‘a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.’ [ccxvi] The need for public reassurance stirred popular concern for the morality of Empire but also noticeably quickened and exaggerated the impulse to hero-worship as justification. Stoddart and Conolly have a claim to consideration as the tragic originals behind the ‘boys’ own tales’ so popular throughout the 19th-20th centuries. Their executions were the first to become ‘home’ media sensations. The reading public was being encouraged to enthuse over the not-entirely new genre of political polemic as travel book which grew quickly as ‘agents’ realised the commercial potential. Public celebrations, imperial awards and ceremonial acknowledgements proliferated. By the last quarter of the 19th century, mere claims of success in Africa produced near-hysteria among hero-worshippers. Dr Livingstone, medical missionary and explorer, was ‘revered as a near-saint, epitomising every moral virtue – a myth in his own life’ even while records existed showing that though possessed of undeniable bravery, endurance and self-sacrifice, he failed as a missionary, as an explorer and as a husband and father. As one biographer has said, ‘to have questioned (Livingstone’s) greatness in 1874’, which is when he died and was given a State funeral, ‘would have seemed sheer perversity.’

The Pollock Medal presented to the outstanding Addiscombe student after 1842 carried an inscription which began: ‘To commemorate eminent services, Cabul 1842 Treachery avenged – British honour vindicated…’ The editor of The Christian Observer was torn. On the one hand: ‘(From) the first we could not but regard our late hostile enterprises in Central Asia as unjust, and not even recommended by the most short-sighted expediency.’ [ccxvii] But on the other, conquest warmed the patriotic heart, proved that ‘we’ were the righteous, and made conversions possible on a massive scale. In a summary, ‘View of Public Affairs’ for 1842, he acknowledged his dilemma: ‘…(The) pacification of the East, by the splendid successes of Her Majesty’s arms in China and Afghanistan, we mourn while we rejoice, for in neither instance had we a righteous quarrel. We were the wrongdoers in both cases…Who but must hope, and confidently believe, that these pacific inlets to the vast empire of China will be the means of facilitating the introduction (of)…the arts and the commerce of the most enlightened nations; and with them…the Holy Scriptures and the instructions of Christian teachers…for we know that the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever King of kings and Lord of lords; Hallelujah, Amen.’ [My emphasis] [ccxviii] The ‘arts and commerce’ were, of course, already being introduced. An editorial in the Leeds Times lamented: ‘(We) are paying a very dear price to secure a market for the East India Company’s opium. The legislators who force opium into China at the sword’s point, and exclude corn from Great Britain by the same means, should say very little about ‘gospel light’ or religion, except they mean to earn the character of vile hypocrite.’[ccxix]

According to a long-held doctrine ‘the restoration of the Jews’, the fulfilment of the prophecies about the Last Day was indivisibly linked to the return of the Jews to the land of their fathers, to which they had an inalienable right. Their physical and religious “restoration”­ that is, the end of their diaspora, their gathering in Palestine, and their acceptance of the Christian gospel – was conceived of as an essential component of the divine plan for human redemption and as a prerequisite for the advent of the Kingdom of Christ. When Napoleon landed in Egypt in 1799 and marched his army toward Palestine it appeared to some he had been chosen to carry out God’s will. But with his defeat, many Britons ‘saw’ that the onus was now on England. Could ‘the English/British’ be the chosen ones? “Gentile Zionists” broke into English politics in 1840 when Palmerston, as Foreign Secretary, perhaps influenced by Lord Shaftesbury, tried to win the Ottoman Sultan over to the idea of a “return” of the Jews, arguing that they should be allowed to settle in Palestine. Since 1838 a British consulate operated in Jerusalem, the first diplomatic appointment to Palestine. In 1839, the Church of Scotland sent a mission to report on the condition of Jews, at that time a minority, in Palestine. During the 1840s many British journalists, clerics, politicians, colonial officials and military officers demanded Jewish colonies or even a Jewish state under British protection, and protection for British strategic and commercial interests in the region. In May, 1842, The Christian Observer celebrated what it believed was a recent, major change of mind in ‘its’ church: ‘We rejoice at…all…symptoms of increased zeal and vigour in our beloved national Zion and her offspring in other lands. They are proofs, we would trust, that the Lord of hosts is with us; that he God of Jacob is our refuge.’ The editor lamented the time when the Church of England was taunted for its inertness, ‘the Romanist especially urged that we could not be a true branch of Christ’s Church because we lacked a missionary spirit,’ but, pointing to a recent leader in the Morning Chronicle, rejoiced again: ‘A great change has come over the hierarchy of England. Instead of standing aloof from Bible and Missionary schemes…they are now moving forward with zeal and activity unknown since the Reformation.’ [ccxx] In government and military circles strategic concerns were being debated with suitably-coloured religio/ethical imperatives.

By mid-century, more visitors were crowding the streets of Jerusalem during holiday seasons than there were residents. Religious and biblical-archaeological interest in the ‘Holy Land’ was supported by national associations that had confessional, scientific, and political orientations and, sometimes, their own publishing houses. Each “Eastern crisis” triggered a wave of sermons, pamphlets, books, projects and political demands. “Britons rejoice!” said a pamphlet during the Crimean War: ‘It will fall to you to lead the long dispersed members of the neglected race of Judah back to their beautiful land and, by planting in their homeland a colony (whose bond to its protector cannot be doubted) put another obstacle in the path of the menacing intruder[i.e., Russia].’ Advocacy of restoration was not necessarily based on regard for the welfare of the Jewish people. A wide variety of beliefs, from an abstracted reverence for the area to hopes of extending the Empire, were involved. The truth of the Bible was paramount, the creation of a Jewish State and the identity of ‘God’s Chosen People’ were more contentious. Concern for Russian Jews, beset by poverty and by pogroms, did not result in ‘the west’ opening its doors to them. ‘Restoration’ was a way to provide assistance without locating ‘them’ next door.

The convergence of church and military power brokers with academics and ‘field scientists’ in pursuit of shared geo-political goals has often been over-looked: ‘(Understanding) the value and application of maps and geographical information, scientific knowledge, and inter-connecting memberships of learned societies (to the Empire is vital)…[ccxxi] Like many of London’s ‘learned societies’, the Royal Geographic Society [RGS] started as a dining club, where select, (males only) members held informal debates on current scientific issues and ideas. Originally the Geographical Society of London, from 1830 it aimed to promote the ‘advancement of geographical science’, later absorbing the older African Association, which had been founded by Sir Joseph Banks in 1788, the Raleigh Club and the Palestine Association. Founding members included Sir John Barrow, Sir John Franklin and Sir Francis Beaufort and was under the initial patronage of King William IV. From 1830 to 1840 it met in the rooms of the Horticultural Society which helps to explain its little-known involvement in the theft of the tea technology from China. The Indian tea industry, source of huge profits for favoured merchants and of enhanced strength for ‘the Empire’, was made possible by planned but secret co-operation of elements of the military, governmental and, in its case, horticultural networks. A brief description by the author of a popular account included: ‘Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter – and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China – territory forbidden to foreigners – to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea…’ [ccxxii] The Society was directly involved with, and its members profited hugely from, what Victorian attitudes now insisted could not be named ‘espionage’. In the words of Sir Richard Burton, Captain Joseph Burton’s son: ‘In May, 1849, the late Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm, formerly Superintendent of Indian Navy, in conjunction with Mr William John Hamilton, the President of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, solicited the permission of the Court of Directors of the Honorable East India Company to ascertain the productive resources of the unknown Somali Country in East Africa.’ [ccxxiii] In 1859, the year the RGS was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, the Freemasons Monthly &Masonic Mirror [FM&MM] noted Lord John Elphinstone’s recommendation of ‘Lieutenant JD Kennelly of the Indian Navy, and Secretary of the Bombay Geographical Society, for employment as explorer in North-Eastern Africa in the regions just visited by Captains Burton and Speke’. The Poona Observer described ‘Mr Kennelly’ as ‘a fine, athletic, active man, in the prime of his life. He was ‘familiar with … astronomical and meteorological instruments and goes most liberally supplied therewith.’ A draughtsman and naturalist, Dr Sylvester was to accompany him.[ccxxiv] Thus, this Society, and its ‘sub-branches’, worked covertly with ‘the government’ to their member’s personal benefit and for Imperial advance. The alliance invested in the work of better-known names – Burton, Darwin, Livingstone, Scott, Speke and Stanley – and a host of unknowns as well. Richard Burton has named numerous young naval officers who were ‘permitted’ by Malcom in the decade 1828-38, ‘to undertake the task of geographical discovery, retaining their rank, pay, and batta’ whilst the expenses of their journeys, including the vessels used, ‘were defrayed by contingent bills’, ie, by the tax payer as costs of government. ‘All papers and reports submitted to the local government were favourably received, and the successful travellers looked forward to distinction and advancement.’ The Maldives, the Red Sea, shipping hazards and potential ports from the Bosphorus to the Moluccas, were examined during time of comparative peace with commerce and strategy equally in mind. The RGS, in effect, was: ‘one of the principal information agencies for the British Government as it sought to involve private capital in the expansion and consolidation of the Empire.’ Without any ritual as far as is known, the RGS did what English Freemasonry’s first research lodge would later attempt to do, namely it: ‘held meetings at which papers were delivered, and a journal was published regularly. Membership doubled every decade, and in 1876, there were 3,000 members.’ [ccxxv]

General Charles Napier conquered the Indian province of Sindh in 1843: ‘Precise information about Intelligence operations by British officers under Napier is limited. It is known that he used ‘native agents’ as infiltrators, but the little Richard [Burton] revealed about his personal activities in disguise is so similar to the published accounts of Conolly, Burnes, Pottinger, et al that it is impossible to conclude anything other than that, precisely because of his linguistic abilities, Richard was recruited specifically to provide similar information.’ [ccxxvi] Staff officers were still expected to keep the ranking officer ‘informed of every move the enemy have made in the shortest possible time’,[ccxxvii] other tasks required other skills. Burton and his life-long friend, Captain Walter Scott, aka the ‘Bombay Engineer’, were sent by Napier ‘on an elaborate tour of the Sind’ before the military campaign began: ‘Dressed in native costume, to keep off the barking dogs, but not really in disguise, they checked on all the old Ameer forts, and listened for signs of rebellion.’ (Brodie, 1971, p.74.) Burton was an Empire loyalist and skilled at gathering knowledge but he was not always a tactful diplomat. As he grew older, he seemed more brusque, impetuous, a ‘gunboat colonial’. As a spy he seemed to have been a constant worry to his superiors and colleagues. His Army training to gather what the PEF (see below) would call ‘detailed drawings’ of ‘churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and tombs, etc’ grew to be an obsession. He is credited with knowing 29 distinct languages many of them Central Asian. He was amazingly adept at taking on the dress, the accent and the mannerisms of the people with whom he mingled. He underwent adult circumcision specifically to ensure he could not be exposed as a fraud in Islamic holy places. When bored, his way of impressing government was to bombard them with intelligence based on surveillance – voluminous reports, drawings and memos – with ‘requests’ to be re-employed in the Survey Department of the India Office.

Perhaps frustration and anxiety resulted from his knowing even more than his seemingly ‘frank’ stories disclosed. With regard to his famous, supposedly self-indulgent sojourn to Mecca, the Blue Book on Turkey, referring to 1877 and to ‘Mahommedan Secret Societies’ has: ‘…Meetings are accordingly held at Mecca at the time of the pilgrimages…In no case do the Governments venture openly to oppose these societies. The usual plan is to watch them carefully; and for this purpose a whole staff of well-selected and well-paid Mussulman agents are kept up, to act as a sort of detective police exercising a close surveillance over each society…’ [ccxxviii] In the 2001 printing of ‘The Arabian Nights’ the publishers continued to label Burton as ‘explorer, linguist and writer’. The reluctance to give espionage its due and to analyse it as seriously as any of his other accomplishments has been explained: ‘It is because it is venal, and invariably underrated by those who employ it, that the Intelligence Service is always a thankless job.’ [ccxxix] In one place in his diary Burton says that ‘When the day shall come to publish details concerning disbursement of secret service money in India, the public will learn strange things.’[ccxxx] In another place, describing a villainous Mullah, he says that this gent ‘will bear with him one of those state secrets which in this country are never committed to paper.’ [ccxxxi] Lovell has the quote: (p.85): ‘(Freemasonry) was an organisation to which most of his brother officers and, for a time, Richard himself, belonged.’ He closely studied Sufism and concluded that it was ‘the Eastern parent of Freemasonry’. Lovell’s text has the further, astonishing remark that ‘the dreaded and feared Sheikh Mohammed ebn Dhuki’ of the Wuld Ali tribe, in other words, a desert dwelling Bedouin tribal leader, whom the Burtons visited early in 1871 ‘was a Freemason.’ No further information is provided except that after the Burtons stayed calm in the face of a frontal charge by howling tribesmen on horseback, they were both welcomed by the riders who dismounted and kissed their hands. (p.545) This, no doubt, is the explanation of Wolff’s Arabic greeting, above.

English-language scholars researching Masonry in the Middle East have assumed any references to the Order must mean ‘it’ was European in origin and though that version was a feared, secret society, any conspiratorial intent came from non-Europeans. Allegedly conducted in full European form but in secret, it was the eastern brethren’s motives which made it conspiratorial, and because EF could not be impugned, they have aligned the conspiring ‘natives’ with Continental Masonry, usually French: ‘At its most basic level, Freemasonry offered a world-view based on progressive humanism. In its founding constitution, the Grand Orient de France, the French Masonic order with arguably the greatest international impact, firmly rooted itself in such an outlook:…(There) was a natural sympathy between Freemasonry and French revolutionary ideals, and it is no wonder that generations of nineteenth century reformers found themselves closely allied with Freemasonry ideals.’ [ccxxxii] Malkum, son of Mirza Abdul Khan who was met earlier, had followed his father’s career pathways and, as he recollected later, in a Persian ambassadorial trip to Paris ‘to regulate the consequences of the brief Anglo-Iranian [Anglo-Persian] War of 1856’ he was included in a mass initiation into Lodge Sincere Amitie. The Grand Orient of France [GOF], whose lodge this was, was supposedly kept under close control by Napoleon III, ‘almost as an organ of the state,’ to the extent that the Emperor had secured the position of GM for his cousin, Lucien Marat.[ccxxxiii] Quite reasonably, the GOF was suspected of viewing local lodge ceremonies ‘as an ideal means for the dissemination of French culture and civilisation.’ (Algar, 1970, p.280) Malkum wrote in his memoirs that he had studied ‘the religious, social and political systems’ of Europe, including ‘the various sects of Christendom’ and ‘secret societies and freemasonries’ [my emphasis – NB the plural] and ‘conceived a plan (incorporating) the political wisdom of Europe with the religious wisdom of Asia.’ [ccxxxiv]

A different chronology was published in 1989 by Karim Wissa who began his account of ‘Freemasonry’ in Egypt with Lodge Isis established in Alexandria in 1800 by Napoleon’s General Kleber.[ccxxxv] Kleber was assassinated soon after, the lodge had collapsed by 1804, three years after the French army had withdrawn. Further, Wissa has found that in the 1840’s a group of scholarship students were despatched to Europe to study the various sciences, languages and letters. A resulting ‘Lodge of the Pyramides’, established in Cairo in 1845 by GOF, proved popular among elite Egyptians, including religious leaders, and led to other lodges being established and a ‘District Grand Lodge’ in Alexandria in 1856. His reference to ulamas being Masons is at odds with references elsewhere to that group’s vociferous opposition but all imply that the lodge was neither secret nor overly concerned with ritual. An allegedly secretive lodge attributed to Malkum Khan in Tehran from 1858 was held at the home of a Persian scholar opposed to Arabs and Islam, and perhaps for this reason was closed down in 1861 when serious unrest broke out. Christians were targeted by locals and local police staged a crackdown. Emir Abd-el-Kadir later claimed to have saved Christians from other Mussulmen [Moslems] during these ‘troubles’ and to have been consequently admitted into the ‘Lodge of the Pyramids’. [ccxxxvi]

A third alternative downplayed the importance of all Europeans. An on-the-spot cotton merchant, John Ninet, wrote in 1883 that ‘as early as Said Pasha’s reign [from 1854] I was invited to join a lodge of Oriental Freemasons at Alexandria, and the movement has since become very general.’ He explained further: ‘This lodge had nothing to do with the European lodge of Egypt called ‘the Pyramids’, nor did its members recognise any European Orient in their organisation.’…Ever since I have known Egypt I have known of secret societies there. Their origin may, I believe, be traced to the visits of Indian Mahometans to Azhar [Cairo] University where they were always cordially received, and where they developed those ideas of freemasonry so common throughout Asia.’ [ccxxxvii] It may be that Ninet has attached the term ‘freemasonry’ to non-Masonic fraternities, as was occurring with Chinese triads, while the Indian thread has not been researched as far I know. In any event, the 1850 references expose the spy/diplomat struggles among the Powers and their continuing use of ‘Freemasonry’ for clandestine purposes. Whatever Malkum Khan thought he was doing, the Powers were bent on conquest and trade and were working through proxies using whatever inducement seemed to work – bribes, blackmail or flattery.

While Hopkirk has concluded that ‘there was no shortage of intrepid young officers‘ eager to risk their lives beyond the frontier ‘filling in the blanks on the map’, [ccxxxviii] certain areas were considered too dangerous after 1842 even for the most fool-hardy of Europeans. No accounts are known of this policy adaptation being applied anywhere other than on the sub-continent but there are probably a great number of undiscovered intelligence-gathering efforts secreted in an archive’s bottom drawer. One has to wonder when a published, relatively bland account of Russian/British exchanges casually informs the reader that the narrator, Captain Burnaby, arriving at a township in Central Asia, Petro-Alexandrovsk, found a telegram waiting for him from his Commander-in-Chief, HRH the Duke of Cambridge, instructing him to stop what he was doing and go immediately to a rendezvous in European Russia.[ccxxxix] Such a meeting of a telegraphic message from ‘head office’ and its intended recipient in a very remote location argues a level of organisation and of technology not normally associated with field operatives. Burnaby was, among other things, part of the little-known Corp of Guides which carried out missions on the Indian-Afghan border regions. It appear to have been set up and led for all its operational years by one officer, Harry Lumsden who was, of course, an enthusiastic EF.[ccxl] The Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) was the seventh son of George III and a career soldier who became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1856. His four decades in that job and his innate conservatism have been blamed for the lack of preparedness the army showed in its end-of-century conflict with the Boers. (see below)

To overcome the unacceptable level of danger felt to be inherent for Europeans operating: ‘hillmen of exceptional intelligence and resource, specially trained in clandestine surveying techniques…(were) dispatched across the frontier disguised as Muslim holy men or Buddhist pilgrims…For their part, the Russians used Mongolian Buddhists…’. These ‘pundits’ were allegedly hand-picked and, like the fictional ‘Kim’, were rigorously trained to secretly note, and sketch where appropriate, landscapes, edible flora and fauna, locations of tribes, their leaders and numbers of fighting men. Honestly described as ‘spies’ or ‘secret agents’ in their closed files, they were to assess the defensive capabilities of fortifications, and possible routes for attack or withdrawal. Captain, later Sir, T G Montgomerie, senior officer in the Survey Department and Lumsden’s boss, planned their activities, and was perhaps the model for Kipling’s ‘Colonel Creighton’, Kim’s spy-master. Montgomerie wanted his work and that of his ‘native surveyors’ to be recognised publically and would not accept the FO view that security was an issue. There is evidence that at least one was murdered as a result of Montgomerie’s eagerness to be published in RSG reports.[ccxli]

Abandoned by his parents when he was six, Kipling was initiated into Lodge Hope and Perseverance at Lahore in 1885, aged just 19. His stories provide the evidence that he regarded the Craft as a fitting vehicle for his enthusiastic, imperial myth-making. At the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 he became ‘the first poet to command a mass audience.’ He loved cricket, supported women’s right to equality and later, as the ‘Poet Laureate of the Empire’, flirted with fascism in a love-hate relationship with Germany. In his hands, the cultural diversity of colonial EF became the source of ‘the White Man’s Burden.’ Inevitably, he loathed post-Gladstonian Liberalism but thought the Scouts ‘the best thing outside boarding schools that [had] ever been invented.’ His father had been curator of a real museum and appeared as a fictionalised character in Kim, and was a probable source for surveillance information as Kipling was growing up. It is not far-fetched to suggest that Kipling, senior, was a ‘field agent’ and that this secret was too big for Kipling, junior, to keep to himself, and thus the book.

Published in 1901, Kim is still advertised as showing how ‘a young Irish orphan…is picked up by the British and groomed for service in the British Secret Service’. In it, the bastard son of an Irish Freemason and therefore someone eligible for the benefits available through the local Masonic Orphanage system, ‘Kim’ initially prefers to continue his ‘street Arab’ life in which he is depicted as resourceful, cunning and observant. These qualities convince a British Army officer, a ‘Colonel Creighton’, that he is worth the risks of training in British field intelligence methods. Kim’s intuitive aptitude in disguises, coded messages, and with drugs and poisons are enhanced by formal training in mathematics. At graduation, his spymaster provides him with a revolver to use in self – defence and he is given to understand that few if any questions will be asked should he use it against ‘his’ enemies, who turn out to be Russian surveyors of the north-western mountain passes. Rather than an author’s imaginings, this is a story by an author reporting what he knew. At a time when Britain supposedly had no stomach for ‘underhand methods’ and no official surveillance networks, Kipling was exposing what he’d learnt as a journalist on the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and The Pioneer in Allahabad. In the story, Kipling has all the costs of Kim’s training donated by ‘a holy man’ who supposedly wished to return Kim’s kindness to him. This is obviously another cover-story. Kim’s formal education and his subsequent, relative affluence are predicated on the notion that ‘the Anglesi sahibs’ routinely used these intelligence-gathering methods and routinely recruited locals, including some quite young and vulnerable, for use as professional spies. The real-life model for Kim’s older friend, ‘Lurgan Sahib’, came to light when, in his obituary, ‘Jacob of Simla’, was described as having been ‘a most valuable helper of the political secret service.’ [ccxlii]