Article published in Kashmir Pen

I am delighted to announce that Kashmir Pen has just published an article by me about my quest to find the identity of a British hunter, who mounted an extraordinary hunting expedition from Kashmir into Central Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. You can find my article, Solved! The Mystery of the Unknown Hunter and the Kashmiri Shikaris, here. My thanks to Kashmir Pen editor Mushtaq Bala, without whom I would not have been able to solve this fascinating puzzle. Thanks also to Dr Mohd. Amin Malik and Dr Abdul Qayoom Lone for all their assistance during my visit to Kashmir.

A talk at the Globetrotters Club

A great crowd of over 100 people turned out in London yesterday to hear me give a slideshow and talk on my travels in Central Asia in the footsteps of the Atkinsons. The talk was hosted by the Globetrotters Club, which has existed for more than 70 years and specialises in those who are interested in travel that is off the beaten track.

Thanks to everyone who came to what was a very enjoyable event.

Another great shikari

The purpose of my recent trip to Kashmir was to identify a European hunter who mounted a remarkable expedition through Central Asia, as illustrated by a superb set of magic lantern slides that I had purchased a few months back. Fortunately, I had been able to identify one of his Kashmiri guides (shikaris) shown in the photographs and then, through a series of fortuitous connections, make contact with the shikari’s descendants.

Raheem Lone

It turned out that this shikari, Raheem Lone, was widely regarded as one of the greatest of his generation. So much so that the hunter even took him to England at the end of the expedition. Later, the Roosevelt brothers Theodore and Kermit, sons of the American president at the time, took him to China on an expedition. Famed for his eyesight and strong organisational skills – not the mention his mastery of Central Asia languages – Raheem Lone stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries, as the many letters of recommendation still held by his family testify. It was one of these letters that allowed me to identify my anonymous hunter as Captain ‘Willie’ Ronald Read MC, DFC, AFC and bars, a much-decorated 1WW pilot.

But in fact Raheem Lone was not the only shikari of great repute in Kashmir at the beginning of the twentieth century. One of his great friends, also from Bandipore in the north of present-day Kashmir, was a man called Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who died in 1952.

Like Raheem, Hassan Bhat (as he was known) was very familiar with the routes from Kashmir up into the Pamir Mountains and from there onwards to Kashgar and the hunting grounds of the Tien Shan Mountains in present-day Kazakhstan, where many an English army officer took leave in order to shoot ibex, maral deer, Marco Polo sheep and game. At the beginning of the 20th century these areas were still largely unknown and unmapped.

So it was a wonderful surprise to be taken by descendants of Raheem to meet the descendants of Hassan Baht, who today still live in Bandipora. The two families are close. That is how I met 94-year-old Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, Hassan’s son, and his grandsons, Ibraheem and Mohammad. At their wonderful house I was shown yet another folder of letters, this time from Hassan’s clients. As with Raheem, they included some hugely important names.

Ahmed Bhat and his sons Ibraheem Owais and Mohammad Umar

In particular, I noticed the name of William J Morden. Morden was a leader of the 1926 Morden-Clark Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He had been deputed to collect specimens for the museum from Central Asia and the story of the 8,000-mile expedition is told in his book Across Asia’s Snows and Deserts ( G P Puttnam’s, New York, 1927). Incidentally, the book contains three photographs of Hassan Bhat, taken during the expedition.

Hassan, as portrayed in Morden’s book

There is no doubt that Bhat impressed his employers. In a recommendation dated 23 September 1926 Morden says that Hassan Bhat is “an excellent hunter, an excellent caravan leader and a good servant. He is conscientious and the hardest worker I have ever known. He speaks a very useful amount of Turki and the various local dialects of this country, besides English.” In fact, as his descendants told me, he spoke seven languages.

In another letter written directly to Hassan, expedition co-leader and Museum deputy director James L Clark states “Mr Morden and I are to lunch with Mr Kermit Roosevelt next Monday. We always talk about your fine cooking when we get together and all want to come back some day.” He was still writing to him many years after the expedition finished. E A Waters of the Universities of Pennsylvania and Harvard thanked him in 1930 for looking after him and his wife on a trip to Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan. “We feel that all things considered we cannot speak too highly of Hassan Bhat’s services to us and we are already planning a trip to the Tien Shan which we should not think of taking without him.”

Morden’s recommendation for Hassan Bhat.

So there you have it. Both Hassan Bhat and Raheem Lone have between them dozens of testimonials from some of the most prominent hunters and specimen collectors in the world. The animals they shot are still on display at museums in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Without their skills it is doubtful if their clients could have shot a thing or found their way through the difficult terrain up into Central Asia. Their descendants, whilst no longer supporting the kind of extensive hunting trips that happened in the past, are proud of the achievements of their forbearers, who knew some of the world’s most remote places better than almost anyone else.

Mystery hunter identified!

For the last couple of months I have been trying to identify a hunter whose remarkable collection of magic lantern slides, illustrating a ground-breaking journey from Kashmir to Siberia, I recently purchased. Two weeks ago I got on a plane to Kashmir in order to try to solve the problem by speaking to people who may know something of the story. And I am delighted to announce that the outcome was positive!

But first, more about my trip to Kashmir. I particularly wanted to speak to the family of the shikari (hunting guide) whose identity I had confirmed, due to his participation in an expedition organised by the Roosevelt brothers, Theodore and Kermit, to Central Asia in search of specimens for various American natural history museums. This shikari, Raheem Lone, I have since found out, was regarded by many as one of the best of his generation, with a wide knowledge of Central Asia and the languages in the region.

I received a wonderful reception in Srinagar from Dr Mohd. Amin Malik and Dr Abdul Qayoom Lone, both descendants of Raheem. Mr Mushtaq Bala, editor of Kashmir Pen, also gave me tremendous support. It was in his magazine that I first read about Raheem Lone and his involvement with the Roosevelt brothers.

From left: Dr Mohd. Amin Malik, myself, Dr Abdul Qayoom Lone and Mr Mushtaq Bala in Srinagar, Kashmir

Dr Malik had in his possession a large file of letters sent to Raheem by grateful clients that he had taken on shooting expeditions into the mountains. They dated from 1896 until the 1920s and included glowing references from the Roosevelts, as well as many others, most of whom were British Army officers. From these I thought I would have a good chance of identifying my hunter.

The day after meeting the relatives, Dr Malik took me to Bandipora, about 50 miles north of Srinagar, where we visited the house that Raheem built to entertain his guests. Although empty at present, it is a wonderful building. Members of the family, including Dr Umar Qayoom Lone, live nearby and Raheem himself is buried in a grave only a short walk away.

Raheem Lone’s house in Bandipora
Dr Malik in the house of his great-grandfather, Raheem Lone

Later we visited the home of Ghulam Ahmed Baht, whose father Ghulam Hassan Baht, was also a famous shikari and close friend of Raheem Lone. More of Ghulam Hassan in a separate article. Ghulam Ahmed is 94 and still remembers Raheem, who died in the 1950s, very clearly.

On my return to England last Saturday I began to examine the letters that I had copied from Dr Malik. Several were from a person who was a good candidate for my hunter. He wrote of having enjoyed his journey to Central Asia with Raheem, which took place in 1912, and also sent him letters from Egypt and elsewhere asking after him. His name was Captain, later Wing Commander, William Ronald Read (1885-1972) of the Royal Flying Corps/RAF.

Read is a World War I flying ace and war hero, awarded the Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and, almost uniquely, the Air Force Cross (three times!). His family home, Gorse Cliff in Shoreham by Sea, was used as a hospital for Sikh soldiers during WW1. Originally a soldier in the Royal Dragoon Guards, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1914 and later fought in France and Palestine and was several times wounded in action. In September 1930 he was appointed to be Commander of RAF Boscombe Down before retiring the following year. Below are some pictures of Read during his RAF days.

Is that one of his hunting trophies he is wearing?
‘Willy’ Read’s pilot’s license, issued in 1913

As you can see, the resemblance with my anonymous hunter is unmistakeable:

Mystery hunter, now identified as Captain W R Read

One final point. In one of his letters to Raheem, Read mentions that the trophy heads he obtained in Central Asia and which are shown in his magic lantern slides, were still with Rowland Ward, who specialised in mounting such trophies. We should also remember that one of the slides mentions his “record Ovis Littledalei 57 1/2 inches”. Having looked at the Rowland Ward records for the period up to 1914, we find the following:

Second on the all-time list, with a length on the front curve of 58″ is W R Read, our man. I guess his trophy was re-measured on his return to the UK. I should add that Read also mentions that Raheem Lone visited his house in Shoreham, so my thought is that the latter completed the journey with Read from Kashmir all the way to Omsk in southern Siberia, afterwards travelling to England, before returning by sea to Kashmir. (Lone also travelled to China with the Roosevelts, but I will tell that story another time).

There is much more to this story, which I will tell over the coming days. But for now, I can announce without any doubt that our mystery hunter is WW1 war hero Captain ‘Willie’ Ronald Read MC, DFC, AFM and bars. What a story!

Mystery hunter – nearly there…

Little-by-little we are getting closer to identifying the mystery hunter mentioned in previous posts. Already we have been able to identify his shikari (guide) as Rahima Lone, well-known for guiding the Roosevelt brothers and other prominent personalities in the early years of the 20th century. I have been reading the accounts of hunters and travellers who crossed the Pamirs during this period. Many have already been ruled out, due to their routes or intentions. However, today I made another little discovery that may help find our elusive trophy-hunter.

In 1941 a 19-year-old Norwegian apprentice called Wilfred Skrede decided he would make his way from Oslo to the training camp for the Norwegian Air Force at Little Norway in Toronto, Canada. His route was unusual, in that he went across Russia and Siberia before heading south through Xinjiang, across the Taklamakan Desert, then across the Karakorums and Himalayas to Kashmir, and thence from Mumbai via a ship to Singapore and then New York.

Some years after the war, in 1954, he published an account of his journey in English, called Across the Roof of the World (Staples Press, London, 1954). Looking through the book today I was struck by one photograph in particular entitled ‘Kazaks on the way to Kuldsha‘. Here is its:

Photo from Skrede’s book

As soon as I checked with my collection of 87 slides from the hunter’s journey I realised it was identical to one of them, as you can see below:

One of the hunter’s slides, identical to that used by Skrede

The Skrede photo is credited to the Royal Geographical Society in London. The hunter’s slide has a different caption, ‘A yurt on the Pamirs‘, but is otherwise identical. My guess is that this caption is more accurate that that of the Skrede photo. The ‘Kuldsha’ (actually Kuldja and now known as Yining) he mentions is a long way to the north in the Ili Valley and it would have been out of sequence amongst other slides of Hunza and Kashgar. Skrede used none of his own photographs in his book, but used several from the RGS and others by Sir CP Skrine and Col R Meinertzhagen. Presumably the RGS gave him permission to use a slide already in their collection. So the next job is to find out if the RGS can identify the slide and then, presumably, the identity of the photographer. Watch this space…

Mystery Hunter – a breakthrough!

The search for the identity of the mystery hunter mentioned in previous posts continues. However, I think I have made a small breakthrough, in that I have been able to identify one of the shikaris (local hunting guides) that he used. Having drawn a blank on identifying the hunter himself – it does not appear to be Ellsworth Huntington, Percy Church, Captain HHP Deasy, Col. Charles Spurling Cumberland, Ralph Cobbold, Major RL Kennion, Capt. JNP Wood or any of the other well-known authors of books on hunting in the Pamirs and Central Asia – I set out to see if I could identify the shikaris he used. On the slides, one is named as Ramzana and the other as Rahima.

In the East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1926), a book written by brothers Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt about a specimen-collecting expedition they organised to the Pamirs in 1925 to collect mountain sheep for the American Museum of Natural History, they mention that one of their shikaris was called Rahima Loon. This immediately rang a bell, as the fourth magic lantern slide in the mystery hunter’s set of 87 is titled Rahima, my Shikari. This is it:

Mystery hunter’s slide ‘Rahima – my shikari’

Theodore Roosevelt, whose father was US President from 1901-1909, included as the frontispiece for his book a picture showing himself and his brother Kermit (in the middle of the photo), together with two shikaris. Inside the book there are further pictures of the shikaris, one of whom is named as Rahima Loon. Rahima Loon is on the right, with his brother Khalil on the left. There are further pictures of him in the book.

As you can see, there is a strong likeness between the two Rahimas, right down to the detail of the jacket they are wearing, which appears to be the same in each picture. Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt is effusive in his praise for Rahima. Referring to the quality of shikaris he says: “The best of these was Rahima Loon, our head shikarry. He had the dignity that is peculiar to the best type of Oriental. He was tall and slight, with a black beard and hawk nose. He knew game and its habits thoroughly. He also had courage…”etc.

Roosevelt also mentions something else: “Thus, with Rahima and his brother Khalil, native hunters whom I had secured through Douglas Burden, the important members in our party were assembled. These last two had been Burden’s shikaries during a most successful hunting trip which he made a few years ago. He cabled them from New York and they were awaiting us in Srinagar…”. William Douglas Burden was a well-known collector for the American Natural History Museum and first brought Komodo Dragons to the USA. He also hunted at Abadabur in the Astor valley above the Burzil Pass for ibex and markhor specimens in 1923. My first thought was that perhaps Burden was our hunter. Below is a picture of him from the AMNH archive.

William Douglas Burden

Unknown hunter

However, as you can see, there is not a close resemblance to our hunter. I have also checked out Burden’s book, Look to the Wilderness (1956), in which he is profuse in his praise of Rahima, who, he says, was “one of the foremost travellers of Central Asia, whose diffident ways and steadfast persistence brought the rewards we were after.” Burden also mentions that he recommended him to the Roosevelts. Below is his photo of Rahima Loon, which matches the photos of our hunter and the Roosevelts – note the jacket.

Rahima Loon in a photo from Douglas Burden’s book Look to the Wilderness. Note the jacket.

Either way, the fact that we now know that the shikari Rahima Loon was used by both the Roosevelts and Burden places our timeframe more clearly into the early-mid 1920s, rather than earlier as I first thought. That he was highly thought of by American hunters may mean there were others who used him. Is there an association of shikari in Kashmir who may have records that go back to the 1920s? I wouldn’t be suprised. Anyone who can suggest further avenues to explore that would enable us to identify the hunter is welcome to get in touch.

Lucy Atkinson’s family and ‘Waltzing Matilda’

Marianne Simpson writes:

The Atkinson family has had more than its fair share of meetings with the great and good. Thomas Witlam Atkinson certainly met both Tsar Nicholas 1 and also Queen Victoria – a double that few others can match. His and Lucy’s acquaintances also included the Russian foreign minister Karl Nesselrode, Nikolai Muravyev-Amursky, the governor of Siberia, as well as his cousin General Michael Muravyev-Vilensky, the chairman of the Russian Geographical Society, and many senior members of the Russian aristocracy. Lucy Atkinson, we know, mixed with many celebrities in England, including the great geographer Sir Roderick Murchison and various literary luminaries, including the author, George Meredith. Their son Alatau Atkinson met with US President William McKinley whilst his son Jack was a close companion of the Prince of Wales (and future Edward VIII), who he taught to surf during a visit to Hawaii.

However, it has only recently come to light that Lucy’s siblings, seven of who emigrated to Australia during the mid-19th century, had a close relationship to Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941), to this day Australia’s most celebrated poet and the composer of Waltzing Matilda, Australia’s unofficial national anthem.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Several of Lucy’s siblings settled in central western New South Wales, including Lucy’s oldest brother, Matthew Smith Finley (1811-61) who arrived in Sydney in 1833. In 1840 he and another close relative obtained a de-pasturing licence that allowed him to graze stock on Crown lands. At this point he was living at Buckinbah, near Wellington in the Lachlan District.

Those familiar with Banjo Paterson will immediately recognise the name Buckinbah as the station where the poet spent the first seven years of his life. Later he wrote that “This place was held on lease from the Crown at a few pence per acre, and was worth no more. It was dingo infested, unfenced country, where the sheep had to be shepherded, and the cattle, as the black boys [sic] said, could go ‘longa bush’ and wander afield until they got into somebody else’s meat cask, or could be mustered and driven away by enterprising people who adopted this cheap method of stocking up.”

Despite the hardships, this was the place that Paterson’s love for the Australian bush – to be expressed so compellingly in his ballads – was born. As his son Hugh was later to record, “You could sense it the whole time – that he loved Australia, and he loved the bush of Australia…”.

When Banjo was ten years old, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Sydney from where he made the daily trip across the harbour to Sydney Grammar School. After school, he served the customary articles of clerkship and was admitted as a solicitor in 1886. He had begun writing verses as a law student and his first poem was published in 1885. In 1889, sitting in his city solicitor’s office and yearning for the bush, he penned one of his most famous poems, Clancy of the Overflow, which includes the lines:


I had written him a letter, which I had, for want of better

Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,

He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,

Just ‘on spec’, addressed, as follows, ‘Clancy, of The Overflow’.


And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,

(And I think the same was written with a thumb nail dipped in tar)

‘Twas his shearing mate, who wrote it, and verbatim, I will quote it:

‘Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.’


In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy.

Gone a-droving ‘down the Cooper’ where the Western drovers go;

As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,

For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.


And the bush have friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him.

In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

And at night, the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,

Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,

While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal –

But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of ‘The Overflow’.


By 1895, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ and other ballads were so popular that they were published in a collection, entitled, ‘The Man from Snowy River, and Other Verses’. The first edition sold out in the week of publication and 7000 copies in a few months. It established the bushman in the national consciousness as a romantic and archetypal figure. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography Banjo Paterson “made balladry of the scattered lives of back-country Australians and immortalised them. He left a legacy for future generations in his…appreciation of the outback: that great hinterland stretching down from the Queensland border through the western plains of New South Wales to the Snowy Mountains – so vast a country that the lonely rider was seen as ‘a speck upon a waste of plain’.”

One of Banjo Paterson’s popular ballad books

The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses’ made Banjo Paterson a national celebrity overnight. His writing was praised as much in England as in Australia, with The Times comparing him with Rudyard Kipling, who wasted no time in writing from America to congratulate the publishers.

And what of the connection to the Atkinsons? Banjo’s rise to fame would have been of special interest to another of Lucy’s siblings, her youngest sister, Mary Ann (1831-1897) who in 1857 had married the pastoralist, Francis Smith. This marriage produced seven children, including the first daughter, Lucy Jane (clearly named Lucy after her aunt), who in 1884 married Arthur Sterling Barton. It will be remembered that Banjo Paterson’s full name was Andrew Barton Paterson – the Barton came from his mother Rose Isabella Barton who was an older sister of Arthur Barton. So, although Arthur Barton was only eight years older than Banjo, his marriage to Lucy Jane Smith made Lucy Jane an aunt to Banjo Paterson and the children of their marriage (Lucy Atkinson’s great nieces and nephews) Banjo’s first cousins. 

Banjo’s writing skills were to take another direction with the outbreak of the South African War. He was commissioned by The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age as their war correspondent and, in March 1900, was to be the first correspondent to ride into Bloemfontein. Here he finally met Kipling who in December 1901 entertained him as his guest in his Sussex home. The quality of Banjo’s reporting in South Africa attracted attention beyond Australian shores and led to him being recruited as a Reuters correspondent. On returning to Australia, he abandoned his legal practice and, with the interruption of the First World War, in which he commanded the Australian Remount Squadron (he was a superb horseman), he was to remain active in journalism until 1930.

Alatau Atkinson’s pamphlet on the exploration of the Pacific

It is always a pleasure to discover some new piece of work or article by someone you write about. So it was when I recently came across a pamphlet on the history of the exploration of the Pacific Ocean. Although there is no name on the cover, the pamphlet, Early Voyagers of the Pacific Ocean, as published by the Hawaiian Historical Society in 1893, is actually written by Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson – and catalogued as such by the University of Hawaii.

This little pamphlet, only 16 pages in length, is written in a lively and entertaining style in the first person. It tells the remarkable story Alvaro Mendana de Neira (1542-1595), one of the earliest Pacific explorers, whose two voyages led to the discovery of the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands and the Marquesas amongst other places. He sailed from Peru westwards, which gave the Spanish valuable information about traversing the huge Pacific Ocean. de Neira’s final expedition to the Solomon Islands, where he died of fever after trying to establish a colony, is the subject of the Robert Graves novel, The Islands of Unwisdom.

Alatau’s bright and breezy style makes it clear that he was a natural storyteller. It is wonderful to be able to add this little jewel to his other writings.

Further slides from a hunter’s journey through Central Asia

Regular readers will know that I have been posting copies of magic lantern slides taken by a hunter on a journey through Central Asia in the early 1900s. I have not yet been able to identify the hunter with any certainty, although there are several good candidates. We know he started off from Bandipur in Kashmir before making his way up the Astor Valley, crossing the Burzil Pass to Gilgit and then on to Hunza. From there he travelled to Atabad and across the Killik Pass onto the Pamirs. Then onwards to Kashgar, Maralbashi, Aksu and into the Tekes Valley where he hunted ibex, wapiti and roedeer in Burra Girgalam nullah and Amba nullah.

A yurt on the Pamirs

He then moved on to Koksu nullah, Kuldja, Sairam Nor lake, crossing into the Russian empire at Chuguchak. From there he travelled to Sergiopol (now Ayaguz in Kazakhstan) and Omsk in Siberia, the latter part of this journey in sleighs over deep snow. This was a tough journey by any standards. All that remains is to identify the hunter, who remarks that one of the Ovis Ammon Littledalei he shot was a record specimen at 57.5 inches.

A polo gathering in Hunza. Note the drummers.
A snow leopard shot in the Pamirs

Once again, I urge anyone who can help identify the hunter to get in touch.