Henry Lansdell and the elusive Emir of Bokhara

For some time I have been interested in the remarkable travels of Dr Henry Lansdell, a Victorian-era priest who travelled for thousands of miles throughout Siberia and Central Asia in the late nineteenth century. Travelling alone, he made a pledge to visit every hospital and prison in these regions and to leave religious tracts behind him, usually in the local language. Lansdell wrote three double-volume books on his travels which to this day remain some of the best of their kind, stuffed full of interesting details and photogravure illustrations based on the many photographs he took along the way.

I have already written a substantial article for Asian Textiles (subscription required) about Lansdell and the many wonderful objects he brought back from his travels and donated to various museums across the country. I will no doubt write more about him in the future. But for now I want to solve one mystery: where are the many hundreds of photographs that Lansdell took during his journeys? Although technology at the time (1880s) did not allow them to be reproduced directly, his photos were used in his books through the medium of photogravure ie engraving the details of the photo onto a copper sheet which was then used for printing.

Recently I have found out that Lansdell often gave magic lantern slideshows and talks in England during the times between his extensive travels. I have even found some of his slides, such as those below. But I have yet to find a full set of his slides – or, indeed any of the original glass plate negatives that surely must still exist somewhere. Here are some examples of his work:

A Kazakh woman
Interior of a Kazakh yurt

I have now found more than 40 of Lansdell’s slides, as used during his magic lantern shows. But just to give you an idea of what is still out there, here is as example of one of the photogravure’s from his book Russian Central Asia, a portrait of the Emir of Bokhara, Muzaffar al-Din bin Nasr-Allah (who was Emir from 1860-86):

The Emir of Bokhara, Muzafferadin bin Nasr-Allah

The Emir clearly took a shine to Lansdell and presented him with some amazing armour and robes of honour, some of which are now in the British Museum and the Beany Museum in Canterbury, Kent. This, as far as I know, is the only known portrait of Muzafferadin bin Nasr-Allah. But where is the original photograph? An online search revealed one image only, which is clearly the original Lansdell photograph:

Lansdell’s original photo

From the facial expression and the clothing it is clearly the same image as the photogravure. I found this image on a Dutch website interested in the trim on the coat the Emir is wearing. Exactly the same image can be found on a few other sites. In all cases, the photo is the same low-res image as seen above. So it was mostly certainly copied from Lansdell’s original photo. Can anyone help me find it? And the many other remarkable photos taken by Lansdell, who was one of the first photographers to take pictures in Central Asia. As with this particular picture, some are undoubtedly of historical signficance. I will keep you up-to-date with my search for this image and the remaining lost photographs of Henry Lansdell. And just to finish, here is one of him wearing a suit of armour given to him by the Emir:

Henry Lansdell wearing armour given to him by the Emir of Bokhara

What a guy!

6 thoughts on “Henry Lansdell and the elusive Emir of Bokhara

  1. Please let me know if you find the Lansdell slides, they will be fascinating. I remember several years ago, at a bic-a-brac market, I came across a box of slide of early Malaya and Japan. I could only afford a few and selected some from Malaya, where I have a family connection.
    Let us hope Lansdell’s complete collection is sitting somewhere in the world. Have you checked the genealogy sites like Ancestry to find out if any ancestors are alive and contact them?
    Good luck with the search.
    Ps Im hoping you are going to do a book on Lansdell.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many thanks Jennifer. I think there is a reasonably good chance of the slides turning up somewhere in the next few months. And yes, a book on Lansdell is a distinct possibility!


  3. Mr. Nick Fielding, thank you for your interest in the work of Lansdell. His level of scholarship and depth on the topic of tithing is impressive and remains one of the best resources on the topic. Add to this his fascinating travels and experiences abroad and his impressive mustache and this guy seems like a really amazing dude! I really hope you or other will be able to find more Lansdell memorabilia. Doubtless there must be stuff out there stored in away on some old shelf or box and hopefully it will be found, recognized, appreciated and shared. Thank you. Andrew


    1. Thanks Andrew,
      I know that Lansdell wrote thousands of pages of diary entries and took hundreds of photographs, and yet cannot find a trace of them. As you say, they must be out there somewhere and no doubt they will turn up. Lansdell was an extraordinary character and his excellent work deserves a much wider audience.


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