It must be the season for talks, as last night I was the guest speaker at the Royal Society for Asian Affairs in London where I delivered a talk on Pioneers of Central Asian Exploration: The Travels of Thomas and Lucy Atkinson to 20 or so members of the society.
The RSAA was initially formed in 1901 as the Central Asian Society, its founder members including Dr Cotterell Tupp, Captain Francis Younghusband, Colonel Algernon Durand, and General Sir Thomas Gordon – all names associated with the Great Game era of Anglo-Russian rivalry in the region. Its initial prospectus stated:
“At present there is in London no society or institution which is devoted entirely to the consideration of Central Asian questions from their political as well as from their geographical, commercial or scientific aspect, though Societies such as the Royal Geographical and Royal Asiatic Society discuss these subjects incidentally. It is therefore proposed to establish a society to be called the Central Asian Society, with rooms, where those who either have travelled in Central Asia, or are interested in Central Asian questions, could meet one another.”
Later, the organisation became the Royal Central Asian Society and then, in 1975, it adopted its present name. There can be no more appropriate place to have delivered a talk on the Atkinsons who, more than any other British citizens, before or since, explored Central Asia and wrote about its landscape and people.