The George Bogle’s Mission


Dr. Bipin Adhikari

Source: New Spotlight Newsmagazine
Vol 07, No 5, August 2013

Clements R. Markham, Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet, and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa (London: Trubner & Co., 1876)

Clements R. Markham, the then president of the Royal Geographical Society of Britain, did a marvelous job when he started editing the largely unpublished accounts of the first British voyages to Tibet of George Bogle (1747–1781) and scholar Thomas Manning (1772–1840), who followed him.

In the preface to the book Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet, and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa (London: Trubner & Co., 1876), Markham clarifies: “In the long period that has intervened, since the first Governor-General [Warren Hastings] retired, no greater advances have been made towards the establishment of friendly commercial intercourse between [British] India and the countries on the northern side of the Himalaya than in the time of your Lordship [Northbrook]'s administration.” Markham decided to work on the book, because till that time, “no full account of this important mission [of George Bogle had] been given to the world.” This is what happened with the remarkable journey of Thomas Manning also. “These two gaps in the history of intercourse between [British] India and Tibet have now been filled up.” The book that Markham edited is based on these newly discovered information and knowledge.

George Bogle, a Scottish national, visited Tibet in 1774 as the leader of the first British diplomatic mission to Tibet, the country previously being generally unknown to the British. The objective of the visit was to establish friendly relations with Tibet and open trade links between the two countries. However, Thomas Manning, an adventurous traveler, who visited Tibet long after Bogle, was the first English national who ever entered the city of Lhasa. Manning also spoke with the then Dalai Lama in 1811. But it was Bogle who spent six months in Tibet, going around several places learning about Tibet, its culture, and politics. Bogle also established relation with Teshu [Panchen] Lama in Shigatse who was the ruler of Tibet at that time. This became a point of departure for the start of official relations between the Governments of British India and Tibet.

The Bogle’s mission was appointed by Governor Lord Warren Hastings following an appeal for help from the then king of Cooch Behar (the state on the north of West Bengal) whose territory had been invaded by Zhidar the Druk Desi of Bhutan in 1773. He agreed to help the Cooch king on the condition that Cooch Behar recognize British sovereignty in return. The king agreed and with the help of British troops, they pushed the Bhutanese out of the Duars and into the foothills in 1773. The British became more interested in the region following this incident. Consequently, the mission that Hastings constituted on the leadership of George Bogle was to undertake a diplomatic and fact-finding assignment to chart the unknown territory beyond the northern borders of Bengal and Cooch Behar. The main objective was to explore the prospect of commerce for the British and opening up of Tibet, and subsequently China’s Qing Empire. The mission was viewed as a success.

As an introduction to the book, Clements R. Markham provides a general account of the region including a more recent history of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, with a view to put this region in perspective. Coupled with his introduction, Bogle’s comments on Nepal make the book interesting for Nepalese readers. Apart from the Himalayan system, as far as Nepal is concerned, the 558-page book deals with the Gorkha conquest of Nepal, the Chinese invasion, the Kirkpatrick’s mission to Kathmandu, and the present state of Nepalese affairs. There are also descriptions on river system of Nepal, Nepal’s tribes and international trade. This book has some references on Nepal’s Vakils (consular officials) based in Tibet. There are some points of reference to Edward Garden, Brian H. Hodgson, and Herbert Maddock – the three consecutive British residents in Kathmandu. There is very clear emphasis in the book on the importance of removing trade barriers in Nepal. The book also produces the available maps of Nepal at that time. In general, the book carries on what has been described as Brian H. Hodgson’s effort at making Nepal - “a concealed and dangerous enemy” - into a friend.       

In its overall make up, the contents in the book do not present the Gorkha King Prithi Narayan, who conquered most of the Nepal Himalayas and its southern slopes, positively in any context. The formidable presence of the Gorkhas in the Himalayas was not something that was an appreciable fact for the emerging British establishment in Calcutta. Prithi has been described as the ruler who circumscribed the trade between the plains of India and Tibet and also between the countries in this Himalayan region, in the post unification context. Going beyond Prithi Narayan, “in the time of the regency [of Prince Bahadur Shah], the Gorkhas conquered the whole of Nepal, and so persecuted the merchants by their enormous tolls and other exactions, that the once flourishing trade between Tibet and [British] India, by the Nepal passes, was almost annihilated. The misconduct of the Gorkha Rajah was a constant subject of complaint in the conversations of the Teshu [Panchen] Lama [of Shigatse] with Mr. Bogle.” The Lama also thought “Deb Judhur [the Bhutanese Chief] strove to form a coalition against the English, and the Rajahs of Nepal, Assam, and Sylhet promised to join him, and would certainly have done so if any success had attended his arms.”

The book mentions about the Sino-Nepal War, which Nepalese refer to as the second invasion. It states that the Nepali government suddenly decided to invade Tibet, tempted by stories of the great riches in the Teshu Lama's palace, brought by a refugee Tibetan monk named Sumhur Lama. As the book notes, “the pretext of war was that the Tibetans insisted upon circulating base coin, and refused either to withdraw it or to establish a fair rate of exchange.” But Nepal had a bad performance in the war. The Quing Government of China came forward in defense of Tibet, demanding the restitution of all the plunder taken by the Nepal army at Teshu Lumbo, where the Teshu [Panchen] Lama traditionally lived in his monastery, and the surrender of Sumhur Lama. “The reply was an insolent defiance.” The Chinese fought well. They advanced gradually and made a final stand in a strong position, on the banks of the river Tadi, just above Nayakot, and only 20 miles from Kathmandu.

As the narrative goes, “at this point the two armies faced each other for some time, until the Chinese general, in a fury, turned his own guns on his own men from the rear, and drove them forward in a mass upon the Gorkhas, sweeping great numbers, and still more of the Gorkhas, into the roaring torrent. Thus a decisive victory was gained within one march of the enemy's capital, in September, 1792. The Nepal Regency then sued for peace, which was granted on very humiliating conditions.”

The book emphasizes that despite possibilities of open trade with Bhutan, Nepal, and Lhasa, the jealousy of the nations however “prevents this being obtained on pacific terms, and the natural strength and situation of these countries render it extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to do it by force.” Going further, it maintains that although the wealth of Nepal “furnished the Gorkha King with the means by which he rose, he neglected to cherish the source from whence it flowed.” It was not acting wisely when the new establishment spent most of its riches to make itself formidable in terms of arms and armies.

“The ordinary revenue of countries where a standing army had hitherto been unknown, was unequal to these extraordinary expenses; and the Gorkha Rajah, among other expedients, had recourse to imposing high duties on trade in order to defray them.” The character of the powerful Gorkha king is described in the book as tyrannical and faithless. This was a cause of worry for the business-minded British in India.
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