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The myth of Chumik Shenko: Charles Allen challenges the accepted account of a tragic massacre that took place in Tibet a century ago this month.

ON THE MORNING of March 31st, 1904, two armies faced each other on the roof of the world. It was a confrontation between the mightiest political power in the world, represented by professional soldiers armed with Maxim, ten-pounders and Lee-Metfords, and one of the weakest: a medieval peasant army made up lately of conscripted serfs carrying swords spears and the crudest of matchlocks.

Fifteen weeks earlier a mission under the political leadership of Colonel Francis Younghusband of the Indian Political Service, together with a military escort commanded by Brigadier General James Macdonald, had crossed the Himalayan passes into southern Tibet. The invasion had been sanctioned by a British government worn down by months of lobbying by the Vicegory on India, Lord Curzon, who was obsessed by what he saw as Russia's inexorable advance into Asia and determined to 'frustrate their little game'. Curzon had selected Younghusband to negotiate with the Tibetans--and Younghusband, while protesting at the Tibetans' refusal to negotiate, had done his best to provoke them. In late October 1903 a trivial border incident was declared by Curzon to be an 'overt act of hostility', and the Cabinet gave permission for Younghusband to advance to the Tibetan fortress-town of Gyantse to obtain reparation and then make an immediate withdrawal.

What no one in the British or Indian governments look into account was the Lhasa factor. Over the previous half-century more than a score of explorers--including

Younghusband himself--had tried and failed to reach Tibet's holy city. The ambition to be the first to gaze, as one of their number put it, 'with awe upon the temples and palaces of the long-sealed Forbidden City, the shrines of the mystery which had so long haunted our dreams', clouded the judgement not only of Younghusband but of those who most admired him. These included two of the three special correspondents 'embedded' with the mission--the odd man out, socially as well as politically, being Henry Newman of Reuters. Early in December 1903 the mission and escort crossed the Jelep Pass into Tibet's Chumbi Valley. Overriding Macdonald's advice to wait until spring, Younghusband pushed forward to establish himself and a small escort in the remote settlement of Tuna at an altitude of 15,000 feet, where he sat out two months in appalling conditions until Macdonald had built up sufficient supplies to enable the advance to continue. Had the Tibetans made a night attack on his camp at Tuna, the escort would have been overwhelmed, since the cold froze the oil on the rifle-bolts and jammed the two Maxim guns. However, the senior Tibetan depon or commander, Depth Lhading--known to the British as the Lhasa General--was under orders to halt Younghusband's advance but not to offer any violence. Instead of attacking, he divided his army and took up positions on either side of the lake of Bam Tso, blocking the British advance.

On March 30th, 1904, Macdonald brought the main bulk of his forces up to Tuna. At 8am the following morning, his army paraded in six inches of crisp snow, then moved out towards the western shores of Bam Tso. According to Henry Newman, it was 'a clear, bright sun and no wind at all. Everybody marched proudly and full of elation, hoping that there would be a good fight'. Every man in the force was certain he was marching into action.

The Tibetans had chosen to make their stand at Chumik Shenko, 'the Waters of the Crystal Eye', a hot spring that issued from the foot of a spur. The spring was said to have magical properties that caused all enemy to disperse but, perhaps more importantly, this was Tibet's Thermopylae: the battleground upon which earlier invasions had been halted. In the past, however, the waters of the lake had extended almost up to the spur, creating an easily defensible bottle-neck, Now its geography was very different, for a rapid dessication of the Tibetan plateau had caused the waters of the lake to retreat by almost a mile. Thus Chumik Shenko in 1904 was in many respects a perfect killing field for a modern army. The only thing defensible about it was a newly erected wall, between five and six feet high and approximately a hundred yards in length, running out from the toot of the spur as far as a single, roofless stone hut.

As the invading army came in sight of the stone wall and the tents of the Tibetan camp beyond, a deputation rode out to meet it, with Depon Lhading at its head. The troops halted as Macdonald, Younghusband and Captain O'Connor, political assistant and interpreter, went forward to parley with the Tibetans. A carpet was produced and spread on the ground for the Tibetans and two overcoats for the Britons, on which the leading protagonists from both sides sat with their legs crossed, O'Connor kneeling in between. Onlookers from both sides crowded round, including all three special correspondents. According to Younghusband, he made a final effort to reason with the Tibetans:
   I reiterated the same old statement--that
   we had no wish or intention of
   fighting if we were not opposed, but
   that we must advance on Gyantse. If
   they did not obstruct our progress or
   did not attack us, we would not attack
   them. But advance we must ... They
   replied with the request--or, indeed,
   almost order--that we must go back
   to Yatung, and they would negotiate
   there. They said these were their
   instructions from Lhasa. They also
   did not wish to fight, but they had
   orders to send us back to Yatung.

Faced with this intransigence, Younghusband informed the Tibetans that he would give them
   a quarter of an hour after their return
   to their lines within which to make up
   their minds. After that interval General
   Macdonald would advance, and if
   the Tibetans had not already left their
   positions blocking our line of advance,
   he would expel them by force.

This was not what Henry Newman, the Reuters man, heard or saw. He observed Younghusband's initial poise give way to irritation as the Tibetans reiterated their demands that he retire. He then heard Younghusband declare angrily that, 'although his instructions were to avoid bloodshed, bloodshed could not be avoided if the Tibetan troops did not move out of the way.' He then saw Younghusband move his hand in a gesture 'implying "so be it"', which brought proceedings to a close.

When the fifteen minutes were up Macdonald gave the order to resume the advance. The three companies of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and the two companies of the 8th Gurkhas now wheeled into extended line, flanked by the two companies of Mounted Infantry under Captains Peterson and Ottley. Macdonald and Younghusband followed in the centre, their two Union flags fluttering in a light breeze. Behind them in reserve came the men of the 32nd Sikh Pioneers, with the two ten-pounders of the British mountain battery, two antique seven-pounder guns of the Gurkhas, the medical officers, medical orderlies and stretcher bearers, the engineers and ancillaries.

Virtually every version of what followed refers to the order not to fire until fired upon. Younghusband explained:
   I wished still to give them just one last
   chance, in the hope that at the
   eleventh hour, and in the fifty-ninth
   minute of the eleventh hour, they
   might change their minds. I therefore
   asked General Macdonald to order
   his men not to fire upon the Tibetans
   until the Tibetans first fired on them.

Much was made of this quixotic order and the risks that Macdonald's troops took in obeying it. Advancing at marching pace, their Lee-Metfords loaded with a round 'up the spout' and bayonets fixed, the Sikhs and Gurkhas came on in extended line until they were within a stone's throw--fully within matchlock range--of the Tibetans crowded along the wall and on the spur to their left. 'On we went,' wrote Captain Ottley, 'getting closer and closer and wondering when the Tibetans would fire the first shot and take advantage of the splendid opportunity we gave them.'

Gallant as this advance was, it was not the risk that it was presented to be, for Macdonald had ordered the 23rd Sikh Pioneers to thin out at the centre where they were most in danger of being fired upon, but where the wall made it impossible for the Tibetans to make a sudden rush. Indeed, so thin did this front line of Sikhs become that Henry Newman got the impression that Macdonald and Younghusband and their staffs were advancing 'without any troops in front of them'. Long before closing on the wall the Pioneers and Gurkhas had begun to extend to right and left, to thin out at the centre and to outflank the Tibetan position on both sides.

On the extreme right Captain Ottley's men moved round between the end of the wall and the lake, while on the left Captain Peterson led the Pathans of the 2nd Mounted Infantry up onto the spur. Here the Tibetans had erected a series of stone embrasures, known to the Indian Army as sangars, now occupied in strength. On the heels of the Pathans came the two companies of Gurkhas, who clambered up past them and along the spur until they were extended right across the high ground overlooking the rear of the main Tibetan position behind the wall. Arthur Hadow and his squad of Maxim gunners had also shifted positions, doubling behind Ottley's men on the right of the Tibetan position until they were some 700 yards beyond the stone wall and facing the rear slope of the spur. Hadow wrote afterwards,
   I decided to get round the enemy's
   left flank & catch them when they
   bolted ... I moved round by the plain
   and got on the flank & in rear of the
   enemy's position until I was within
   200 yards of a sangar in which was a
   large number of Tibetans at the foot
   of the spur.

The two Maxims now covered the Tibetans' only line of retreat. In absolving Younghusband of all responsibility for what followed, his biographers have relied heavily on two letters written to his father on April 1st and 4th. In the first he wrote:
   Twice Macdonald asked me to be
   allowed to commence firing; but each
   time I refused partly out of sympathy
   for the poor people whom I knew
   would simply be massacred once we
   began firing; & partly because I knew
   how very important it would be to
   Govt to show that up till the very last
   moment--till the Tibetans had
   actually forced us to fight--we had
   refrained from firing.

This and a subsequent reference ('I am glad I twice restrained Macdonald from commencing firing') have been taken to mean that Younghusband twice refused Macdonald at this juncture: that is to say, with the Tibetans to all intents surrounded.

Macdonald had indeed proposed firing on the Tibetans, but the first occasion had been on the previous day, when he had wanted to drive them out of their positions by shelling them. The second had been immediately after the initial parley with the Tibetans had broken up and the fifteen minutes' grace had ended. Macdonald considered himself within his rights to order such an assault, because the two Tibetan armies constituted a 'serious danger' to his troops. In the event, he deferred to Younghusband who withheld his permission to open fire.

Yet Younghusband cannot seriously have imagined that he could march his troops right up to the Tibetan position and force them to disperse without a slant being fired--which raises the possibility that he deliberately exposed himself (along with Macdonald) very obviously behind the thin khaki line at the centre, in the expectation that Tibetan nerves would crack? Only weeks earlier Younghusband had ridden into the Tibetan camp without an escort and, on being admonished afterwards by Lord Curzon lot his foolhardiness, had replied that had Tibetans seized him, 'it would have been the most signal proof Your Excellency's policy of coming to a settlement with them was justified.' Was he now again seeking to provoke the Tibetans into an act of hostility that would clear the way politically for an advance on Lhasa?

What is indisputable is that, in refusing to allow Macdonald to clear the way by conventional military means, Younghusband made the subsequent massacre all but inevitable--for, against all expectations, the Tibetans held their fire. Just before the line of sepoys closed on the wall Depon Lhading and his two fellow depons came through the gap at the end of the stone wall beside the ruined stone house. They reiterated that they had been ordered not to fire, and begged Younghusband to stop advancing. He replied that the advance must continue. The Sikh sepoys then moved round the three Tibetan commanders until they stood with their rifles resting on the wall. General confusion now reigned in the Tibetan camp: some men began to disperse while others came running down from the sangars to take shelter behind the wall. Meanwhile, up on the spur itself the Gurkhas and Pathans moved in to oust the Tibetans from their stone defences and on the right flank opposite Ottley's Mounted Infantry did the same. After disarming a group gathered beside a large rock some 600 yards behind the wall Ottley's men stood talking to them out in the open ground.

The crisis appeared to be all but over. A number of staff officers and the three special correspondents rode forward and dismounted beside the ruined house, where they began taking photographs. According to Younghusband, he too believed the Tibetans were dispersing--until 'a change' came over them, which tie thought the result of a new order being issued, either by the Lhasa General or the lamas present. He and Macdonald conferred and agreed that 'the only thing to do was to disarm them and let them go'.

That was the official version: that Younghusband and his escort commander now decided that the Tibetans must be disarmed. Yet the evidence suggests that what they actually agreed on was one last effort to provoke the Tibetans into opening fire. In a letter written by Younghusband to his father a month after the event, he referred to an 'incident' taking place after the Tibetan troops had been surrounded behind their wall:
   After the Tibetans had been outflanked
   by the guns, maxims,
   mounted infantry and a company of
   Inf. on each side, another company
   was told to charge straight up to the
   wall. They charged with fixed
   bayonets shouting loudly but
   the Tibetans remained stolid behind
   this & our sepoys brought up against
   it as you see in the photo. It was
   [then] that as the Tibetans neither
   got out of the way, nor fought that I
   said they must be disarmed & sent off.

This was no 'incident' but a dummy attack. It was seen by Arthur Hadow from his vantage point on the right: 'One company charged their sangars, with fixed bayonets, in the hope that the Tibetans would bolt, but they took no notice.' It is hard to see what the purpose of this aggressive act was if not an effort to provoke the Tibetans into responding.

Once the dummy attack had failed O'Connor went forward to tell Depon Lhading of Macdonald's order to disarm his men. The Lhasa General and his fellow depons were seated in a huddle close to the gap in the wall, not far from the British commander, his staff officers and the news correspondents. Younghusband was not with them. He later assured his wife that he had returned on his pony and was now well clear: 'As a matter of fact I was further off than anybody & was mounted. Your Dodo is a very careful man.'

For a few moments it seemed that the gamble had paid off. Edmund Candler, the Daily Mail correspondent, went over to his pony and rested his notepad on the saddle to scribble a short despatch 'to the effect that the Tibetan position had been taken without a shot being fired'. Then the Sikhs moved in to disarm the Tibetans. As Candler made his way back to the wall he saw scuffles break out between the Sikhs and the guards grouped round the Tibetan commanders. 'It was a ridiculous position', he recorded, 'Sikh and Mongol swaying backwards and forwards as they wrestled for the possession of swords and matchlocks. Perhaps the humour of it made one careless of the underlying danger.'

Perceval Landon of The Times was in no doubt that the man who set off what he termed the 'the slumbering mine' was the Lhasa General, Depon Lhading:
   He shouted hysterically to his men to
   resist. They replied by stoning the
   Sikhs. Even then, though, the whole
   affair hung in a slippery balance, the
   latter held themselves in check. One
   of them advanced to the head of the
   Depon's pony as the Lhasa General
   tried to move up towards the wall. In
   an evil moment for himself and his
   countrymen, the head of the great
   house of Lheding drew his pistol and
   fired, smashing the Sikh's jaw. There
   was an awful pause, that lasted for
   perhaps three seconds.

This firing of the pistol by Depon Lhading was afterwards reported to be the signal for a general attack by the Tibetans. Even Younghusband partially subscribed to this view:
   He threw himself upon a sepoy, drew
   a revolver, and shot the sepoy in the
   jaw. Not, as I think, with any
   deliberate intention, but from sheer
   inanity, the signal had now been
   given. Other Tibetan shots
   immediately followed.

But of all those who wrote about this first shot, only Henry Newman described himself as an eye-witness to the opening moments of the tragedy:
   I saw a Sikh orderly put out his hand
   and push back a man who was
   holding a pony, the very pony that the
   Depon had ridden out upon to meet
   us. This Tibetan had pushed himself
   and his pony forward into a break in
   the Tibetan walls. The Depon was
   standing close by when this incident
   took place, and he was carrying a
   Winchester rifle. When the man
   holding the horse was pushed back,
   the rifle the Depon was holding went
   off. The shot wounded the Sikh in the
   jaw. Now I do not know whether the
   shot went off by accident or whether
   it was a signal, but immediately it did
   go off the mass of Tibetans in front of
   us surged forward ... The people
   standing in front of the break in the
   wall were the General himself [i.e.
   Macdonald], Major Wallace Dunlop
   of the Sikhs, and Candler, and of the
   Tibetans who first came through the
   break in the wall all were swordsmen.

These swordsmen were almost certainly the Depon Lhading's bodyguards. Edmund Candler became their first victim:
   The first man was on me before I had
   time to draw my revolver. He came at
   me with his sword filled in both
   hands over his head. He had a clear
   run of ten yards, and if I had not
   ducked and caught him by the knees
   he must have smashed my skull open.
   I threw him, and he dragged me to
   the ground. Trying to rise, I was
   struck on the temple by a second
   swordsman, and the blade glanced off
   my skull. I received the rest of my
   wounds, save one or two, on my
   hands--as I lay on my face I used
   them to protect my head.

The second man to go down was Major Dunlop of the 23rd Pioneers, similarly hacked to the ground. James Macdonald was the next in line. 'The General would have fallen next,' recorded Newman,
   but for the fact that his orderly thrust
   into his hand a shotgun which the
   General fired from his hip. That
   killed the leading Tibetan and I think
   wounded others. A Sikh soldier was
   the next man to fall. But by that time
   both the Gurkhas on the left and the
   Sikhs on the right had realised what
   had happened and were firing into
   the mass of Tibetans.

Within seconds fire was being brought to bear from three sides on the Tibetans crowded behind the wall. 'Under cover of the wall,' wrote Dr Waddell, the mission's principal medical officer:
   they poured a withering fire into the
   enemy, which, with the quick firing
   Maxims, mowed down the Tibetans in
   a few minutes with terrific slaughter.
   Those who had rushed out were soon
   all killed; and the remainder were so
   huddled together that they could
   neither use their swords nor guns.
   This mob in a few seconds, unable to
   stand against the concentrated hot
   fire of our men, surged to the rear,
   and throwing away their arms, broke
   and ran, as fast as they could, which
   in such an altitude was not swiftly.
   Most of them as they fled through
   this zone of fire sank quietly down,
   riddled by the hail of our bullets and
   shattered by the shrapnel of the
   mountain batteries bursting over
   them, and perished almost to a man ...
   It was all over in about ten minutes.

On the right Captain Hadow soon had an opportunity to put his two Maxim guns to work. His orders were unequivocal: he was to 'make as big a bag as possible'. Afterwards he wrote of his guns not working well, 'all sorts of failure occurring'. But the true explanation can be found in a letter to his father after the battle:
   As soon as my front was clear I
   opened fire with both guns, one of
   which I fired myself. The Tibetans
   broke out of the enclosure & moved
   at a fast walk along the foot of the
   hills straight across my front. As soon
   as my guns got to work the slaughter
   was terrible, as the Tibetans fell in
   heaps where the maxims struck them.
   I got so sick of the slaughter I ceased

This walking rather than running away horrified all who saw it. Even the severely injured Edmund Candler was unable to tear his eyes away:
   As my wounds were being dressed I
   peered over the mound at the rout.
   They were walking away! Why, in the
   name of all the Bodhisats and Munis,
   did they not run? There was cover
   behind a bend in the hill a few
   hundred yards distant, and they were
   exposed to a devastating hail of
   bullets from the Maxims and rifles,
   that seemed to mow down every third
   or fourth man. Yet they walked! It was
   the most extraordinary procession I
   have ever seen.

Among the Tibetans gathered behind the wall was a dingpon or 'middlemaster', the Tibetan equivalent to a lieutenant, named Tseten Wangchuk. He later set down the only Tibetan eye-witness account of what took place:
   A hail of bullets came down on us
   from the surrounding hills. We had
   no time in which to draw our swords.
   I lay down beside a dead body and
   pretended I had been killed. The
   sound of firing continued for the
   time it would take for six successive
   cups of hot tea to cool. When the
   firing ceased, the British troops came
   into the camp to examine the dead
   and wounded. They prodded me with
   a bayonet, but I remained quiet and
   held my breath ... Though afraid, I lay
   in the company of the dead until it
   grew dark, and then, at night, I ran to

Two other accounts of the battle from the Tibetan perspective, both second-hand, have been published in recent years. Both claim that the British troops opened fire without warning and one suggests the Tibetans were tricked into extinguishing the fuses for their matchlocks as a gesture of good faith. There is no supporting evidence for this, while there is considerable testimony to show that fuses were burning and matchlocks were fired. The extraordinary fact that not a single British, Sikh, Pathan or Gurkha soldier was killed had nothing to do with extinguished fuses and everything to do with confusion in the Tibetan camp and the fact that the troops closest to the Tibetans were protected by a high wall.

When it became apparent that their own side bad suffered no serious injuries Dr Waddell and the five other doctors present turned their attentions to the Tibetans left alive on the battlefield. 'The dead and dying lay in heaps one over the other amidst their weapons,' recorded Waddell, 'while a long trail of piles of bodies marked the line of retreat for half a mile or more; and cringing under every rock lay gory, wounded men, who had dragged themselves there to hide.' The dying were given water or brandy and had their pain eased by morphia, the Indian sepoys using their own field-dressings on the Tibetans' wounds. 'It was especially pathetic,' noted Dr Waddell, 'to see the wounded Tibetans expecting us to kill them outright, as they frankly said they would have done to us, kowtowing with out-thrust tongues, holding up their thumbs in mute appeal for mercy, and grovelling in the dust to the humblest of our coolies.' Nearly 200 were carried either in dhoolies or ambulance litters, or on the backs of the prisoners, back to Tuna where a field hospital had been set up.

Lieutenant Gurdon of the 32nd Pioneers was detailed to count the Tibetan casualties. He found 'in the immediate vicinity of Hot Springs 340 killed, 150 wounded'. Excluded from this body count were those Tibetans who died or were wounded in the subsequent pursuit, which continued for a distance of twelve miles. Tibetan records state that over 500 Tibetans died at Chumik Shenko, which is probably as accurate a figure as any.

It was still only eleven o'clock in the morning when Henry Newman realised that, with Candler hors de combat, he had every chance of beating Landon of The Times to a scoop. He rode back to Tuna, wrote a short account of the battle and handed it in at the telegraph office. 'The telegraphists were as keen as everybody else on the news,' wrote Newman:
   They wanted to know what had
   happened. They received the message
   eagerly, and a signaller said that the
   line had been specially kept clear to
   allow news to get through quickly and
   mine was the first news that had
   come. With the hastily written sheets
   in his hand he said: 'This will be in
   London quicker than you can
   imagine.' And so it happened. The
   newsboys in the Strand were
   bellowing through the fog with news
   of 'orrible slaughter' long before
   Whitehall had heard of it.

Macdonald's telegram to the Adjutant General in Calcutta, sent late in the evening, was the first to give details of how the firing had begun: 'Pioneers began to disarm Tibetan troops ... At this point without any previous warning the Tibetans behind the wall opened a hot fire point blank on our men 15 or 20 yards off which they maintained for some minutes, several men also rushing out with swords.' This became the official version of events, one palpably at odds with the casualty figures, for Macdonald's despatch also gave the first details of the losses on both sides:
   Our casualties are--Major Wallace
   Dunlop slightly wounded; Mr
   Candler, 'Daily Mail' correspondent,
   severely wounded, and seven sepoys
   wounded. The enemy's loss is nearly
   500 killed and wounded, and 200
   prisoners ... Among the Tibetans
   killed was the chief Lhasa Depon and
   the Lama representative of the
   Ganden monastery; also one Shigatse
   Depon, whilst the Phari Depon was
   captured, severely wounded.

Macdonald's despatch also listed Tibetan weaponry seized on the battlefield: 'Two gingalls [long-barrelled light cannons] and a large number of matchlocks and swords, together with a few breechloaders, two of which were of Russian make.' The issue of Russian rifles was a crucial one, for if significant numbers had been found at Chumik Shenko it would have gone a long way towards justifying Lord Curzon's intervention. The official figure for Russian rifles captured was later put at three.

The last to get back to camp that day were the two companies of Mounted Infantry. Henry Newman recalled how the men remained awake for most of the night, talking excitedly. 'Sometimes their voices rose so high I wondered whether they were not on the point of coming to blows,' he wrote later. Breakfast next morning was marred by 'furious arguments developing among the officers and among the members of the mission. Disputes arose as to the exact sequence of the events which had taken place the day before and even about their nature'. Although Newman failed to set down why exactly the officers argued so furiously, the central issue was clear: 'The disputes which were taking place in the camp at Tuna were, later on, I was told, revived in military circles all over the world ... What they did not explain was how so many Tibetans had been killed with such a slight loss on our part.'

The reaction to the massacre in Britain was surprisingly muted. The intervention in Tibet was debated in Parliament on April 13th, but failed to shake the Government. In the press only the Spectator took offence at the notion of a British expedition 'crushing half-armed and very brave men with the irresistible weapons of science,' while Punch declared itself 'sorry to learn that the recent sudden and treacherous attack by the Tibetans on our men at Guru seriously injured the photographs that the officers were taking.'

Francis Younghusband never accepted responsibility for the massacre, blaming by turns Depon Lhading, the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama and, by implication, Brigadier General Macdonald. However, he was deeply shaken by the turn of events. 'I have had an absolutely miserable day,' he wrote to his wife on the night after the massacre. 'It was a horrible sight, but I feel I did every single thing I could to prevent this.' He was more forthcoming in his letters to his father, the first written next morning at Tuna: 'I did what I could to prevent it and the troops behaved splendidly up to the last moment when they had to open fire. But it was a wretched affair--a pure massacre--brought on by the crass stupidity and childishness of the Tibetan general.' In a second letter he expanded on the theme: 'It was all the Tibetans'own fault ... I did give them every chance.'

Convinced that the Tibetans had had the stuffing knocked out of them, Francis Younghusband gave it as his considered opinion that there would be no more opposition. He was quite wrong. Tim Tibetans made a brave stand at the Red Idol gorge and were again shot to pieces. A surprise night attack on Younghusband's mission cost them another 140 dead. So it went on. On July 6th the great rock fortress of Gyantse Dzong was stormed under a barrage of artillery and Maxim gun fire and two weeks later the Gurkhas destroyed the last opposition up in the snows above the Karo Pass. In all the Tibetans suffered at least 2,500 dead. Official casualty figures for Younghusband's force were thirty-four killed, five British officers, one Native officer and twenty-eight Native rank and file.

Younghusband duly reached Lhasa, refusing to negotiate with representatives of the Tibetan government until he was encamped below the walls of the Potala Palace. Although the young 13th Dalai Lama had fled, a treaty was signed in the Potala giving the British Government in India control of Tibet's Chumbi Valley for seventy-five years and the right to have a representative in Lhasa--terms that the British government immediately repudiated. Younghusband returned to England to be feted as a hero but in political disgrace both for disobeying orders and exceeding his instructions.

Historians continue to argue over the consequences of this bizarre intervention that began the opening up of Tibet. One certain consequence was that Britain and Russia agreed on a future policy of non-intervention, thus making it possible for China to reassert its authority.


Charles Allen, Duel in the Snows: The True Story of the Younghusband Mission to Lhasa (John Murray, 2003); Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Pace for Empire in Asia (Little, Brown, 1999); Patrick French. Younghusband: the Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Harper Collins, 1994); Parshotam Mehra, The Younghusband Mission: An Interpretation (1968); Tsepon Shakapba. Tibet: A Political History (1976); Peter Fleming, Bayonets to Lhasa (1961); Henry Newman, A Roving Commission (1937); Frederick O'Connor, On the Frontier and Beyond (1931); Francis Younghusband, India and Tibet (1910), Dr Austine Waddell, Lhasa and Its Mysteries (1906); Perceval Landon, The Opening of Tibet (1905), Lhasa (1906); William Ottley, With Mounted Infantry in Tibet (1905); Edmund Candler, The Unveiling of Lhasa (1905). See also Parliamentary Blue Books. Younghusband Papers at the Oriental and India Office. British Library, and Hadow Papers at the Norfolk Regimental Museum, Norwich.

Charles Allen is a historian of British India and Tibet and the Himalayas. He is the author of The Buddha and the Sahibs: The Men who Discovered India's Lost Religion (John Murray, 2002).
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Date:Apr 1, 2004
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