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Title: Memoir of William Watts McNair
Author: Howard, J. E.
Language: English
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Memoir of
_Late of "Connaught House" Mussooree,
Of the_
The First European Explorer of Kafiristan.




William Watts McNair, who was born on the 13th September, 1849, joined
the great Indian Survey Department in September, 1867, when he was
only eighteen years old, and served the Government of Her Majesty the
Queen and Empress of India faithfully unto the day of his death, on
the 13th of August, 1889. In the official proceedings or notes of the
Surveyor-General of India, for August, 1889, will be found the
following more than merely formal notice of the services of the
deceased officer of a great but scarcely sufficiently recognised
scientific department of the magnificent Indian Empire of Her Majesty
the Queen-Empress. "The Surveyor-General deeply regrets to announce
the death of Mr. W.W. McNair, Surveyor, 3rd grade, from fever
contracted at Quetta while attached to the Baluchistan Survey Party.
He was granted leave to proceed to Mussooree, where he died on 13th
August. Mr. McNair joined the department on the 1st September, 1867,
and was posted to the Rajputana Topographical Party. The first twelve
years of his service were passed on topographical duty with this party
under Major G. Strahan, R.E., and in the Mysore Party under Majors G.
Strahan and H.R. Thuillier, R.E. From the very first he showed special
aptitude as a plane-tabler, and was soon recognised in the department
as an accomplished surveyor. In the autumn of 1879 he was selected to
accompany the Khyber Column of the Afghan Field Force, and was present
with that force during the severe fighting that occurred before Kabul
in the winter of 1879-80, and the subsequent defence of Sharpur.
Whilst in Afghanistan he mapped a very large portion of hitherto
unknown country, including the Lughman Valley and approaches to
Kafiristan, and the Logar and Wardak Valleys to the south of Kabul. He
explored the Adrak-Badrak Pass with a native escort, and made himself
acquainted with the route from Kabul to Jalalabad, _viâ_ Lughman,
which was explored by no other European officer. At the close of the
war he was attached to the Kohat Survey, under Major Holdich, R.E.,
and was specially employed in the risky work of mapping the frontier
line from Kohat to Bannu, including a wide strip of trans-frontier
country, and much of the hitherto unmapped Tochi Valley. On the
break-up of the Kohat Survey he was temporarily employed on geodetic
work in one of the Astronomical parties, but was re-transferred to the
frontier when the Baluchistan parties were formed. His chief work in
connection with Baluchistan has been carrying a first-class series of
triangles from the Indus, at Dehra Grhazi Khan to Quetta, which
occupied him to the close of his career. His ability as an observer,
his readiness of resource under unusual difficulties, and his power of
attaching the frontier people to him personally, have been just as
conspicuous throughout this duty as were his energy and success as a
geographical topographer. Apart from his departmental career, he has
won a lasting name as an explorer by his adventurous journey to
Kafiristan in 1883, when on leave. It may be fairly claimed for him
that he was the first European officer who set foot in that
impracticable country, and he is still the best authority on many of
the routes leading to it. His services to geographical science were
recognised by the Royal Geographical Society, who awarded him the
Murchison grant, and there can be little doubt that a distinguished
career was still before him when he was suddenly cut off in the prime
of his life."

To those who know what an Indian Department means, such language of
eulogy, no less truthful than graceful, from so respected a functionary
as the Surveyor-General of India, who knew Mr. McNair personally, will
carry a weight far beyond the official recognition of that deceased
officer's worth to his department. The comparative neglect of a great
scientific department of State, such as the Indian Survey Department
undoubtedly is, as a mere ornamental section of the huge and complicated
machinery of that gigantic Empire called India, is but too often repeated
by a department and its official heads in regarding the merits of the
living and the dead who sacrifice their lives to its achievements; but
in this one instance, at least, it cannot be said that the head of a
department fell beneath his opportunities for doing himself and his
subordinate due honour. It is not always from official neglect, or human
pride and indifference, that this want of sympathy for human labour and
human devotion arises, but rather from the infinite preoccupations and
monotonous overwork of the faculties of all public servants of any
position of importance in that vast continent of swarming bees intent on
their day's labour and nothing else. It is a good token for the future
that men shall feel their labour is appreciated, although a desire for
official recognition may be no incentive to the devotion itself. It is
certain that William McNair always valued the appreciation of his
official superiors, and that nothing could have given him greater
pleasure or more comfort, in his review of his own brief labours, than to
have known he would be thus remembered by the head of his own department.
To natures that regard the daily associations of an arduous career as
giving a sanctification all their own, the testimony of colleagues--and,
most of all, of the responsible mouthpiece of those colleagues--is
specially and naturally dear. Within this period of twenty-two years'
faithful service to the State occurred the remarkable exploit, the
account of which, as read in a paper before the Royal Geographical
Society of London, on the 10th December, 1883, I transcribe into this
memoir direct from the proceedings of that society, published in the
number for January, 1884, in the following words, giving the substance
of what was said by the President of the society, who introduced the
lecturer, and the several speakers who raised a discussion on the subject
of the paper after it had been read.


 _A Visit to Kafiristan_. By W.W. MCNAIR.

(Read at the Evening Meeting, December 10th, 1883.)

[1] In order to let the reader see how perfect was the disguise of
McNair during his Kafiristan expedition, I have prefixed to this Memoir
a portrait of McNair, taken a year or two before his death, and to the
paper read before the Royal Geographical Society, the group attired as
on their journey, with McNair in the centre, and his Mahommedan friends
around him.

In introducing Mr. McNair to the meeting, the President (Lord Aberdare)
said that the paper he was about to read was an account of a visit he
had recently made to Kafiristan. Mr. McNair had resided in India for a
long time previous to his adventurous journey, and whilst in the
service of the Topographical Department in the North-west of India, had
been employed in surveys beyond the frontier of Afghanistan. His
attention was thus directed to the interesting country which the paper
would describe. Kafiristan was a country of very peculiar interest. The
name Kafiristan, or the "country of infidels," was a nick-name given by
the surrounding Mahommedans, and was not that by which it was called by
the natives. It had long been a reproach to English geographers that
the only accounts of Kafiristan had been obtained through Orientals
themselves, whose statements had never been tested by the actual visit
of Europeans to the country. The consequence was that a sort of mystery
surrounded Kafiristan,--so much so that Colonel Yule, when discussing
an interesting paper by Colonel Tanner, on a visit he made to the
borders of the Kafir country three years ago, said that when Kafiristan
was visited and explored the Royal Geographical Society might close the
doors, because there would be no more new work to be done. The veil had
at last been drawn aside. It might be asked why the country had been so
long held inaccessible. The explanation was that the inhabitants were
always at war with their Mahommedan neighbours, by whom they were
surrounded on all sides, and who had been extremely jealous of their
communication with European travellers. Mr. McNair had penetrated
Kafiristan in disguise. He (the President) had had an opportunity of
seeing the paper, and he found that Mr. McNair had not dwelt upon the
historical geography of Kafiristan, and therefore he would say a few
words on that subject. As long ago as 1809, Kafiristan attracted the
attention of one of the ablest public servants that England ever sent
out to India--Mountstuart Elphinstone--who was anxious to add to his
"History of Kabul" something about the people of Kafiristan; and
knowing that it was inaccessible to Europeans, he employed an Indian, a
man of learning and intelligence, to travel there and obtain all the
information he could. It was curious to notice how faithful the report
of his emissary was. The people of the country were described in the
following words: "The Kafirs were celebrated for their beauty and their
European complexions. They worshipped idols, drank wine in silver cups
or vases, used chairs and tables, and spoke a language unknown to their
neighbours." Their religion seems to have been a sort of debased Deism:
they believed in a God; at the same time they worshipped a great number
of idols, which they said represented the great men that had passed
from among them; and he described a scene at which he had been present,
when a goat or a cow was sacrificed, and the following prayer, pithy
and comprehensive, although not remarkable for charity, was offered up:
"Ward off fever from us. Increase our stores. Kill the Mussulmans.
After death admit us to Paradise." Killing the Mussulman was a
religious duty which the Kafirs performed with the greatest fidelity
and diligence. In fact, no young man was allowed to marry until he had
killed a Mussulman. They attached the same importance to the killing of
a Mussulman as the Red Indians did to taking the scalp of an enemy.
Their number did not appear to exceed 250,000. They inhabited three
valleys, and small as their number was they were constantly at war with
each other, and seized upon the members of kindred tribes in order to
sell them as slaves. The women were remarkable for their beauty; and
Sir Henry Rawlinson once said at one of their meetings that the most
beautiful Oriental woman he ever saw was a Kafir, and that she had,
besides other charms, a great mass of golden hair, which, let loose and
shaken, covered her completely from head to foot like a veil. In order
to show what was the state of our knowledge of the country down to
1879, he would read part of a paper by Mr. Markham on "The Upper Basin
of the Kabul River." "This unknown portion of the southern watershed of
the Hindu Kush is inhabited by an indomitable race of unconquered
hill-men, called by their Muslim neighbours the Siah-posh
(black-clothed) Kafirs. Their country consists of the long valleys
extending from the Hindu Kush to the Kunar river, with many secluded
glens descending to them, and intervening hills affording pasturage for
their sheep and cattle. The peaks in Kafiristan reach to heights of
from 11,000 to 16,000 feet. The valleys yield crops of wheat and
barley, and the Emperor Baber mentions the strong and heady wine made
by the Kafirs, which he got when he extended his dominion to
Chigar-serai in 1514. The Kafirs are described as strong athletic men
with a language of their own, the features and complexions of
Europeans, and fond of dancing, hunting, and drinking. They also play
at leap-frog, shake hands as Englishmen, and cannot sit cross-legged on
the ground. When a deputation of Kafirs came to Sir William Macnaghten
at Jalalabad, the Afghans exclaimed: 'Here are your relations coming!'
From the days of Alexander the Great the Siah-posh Kafirs have never
been conquered, and they have never embraced Islam. They successfully
resisted the attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni, and the campaign which Timur
undertook against them in 1398 was equally unsuccessful. But the Muslim
rulers of Kabul continued to make inroads into the Siah-posh country
down to the time of Baber and afterwards. Our only knowledge of this
interesting people is from the reports of Mahommedans, and from an
account of two native missionaries who penetrated into Kafiristan in
1865. Elphinstone obtained much information respecting the Kafirs from
one Mullah Najib in 1809; and Lumsden from a Kafir slave named
Feramory, who was a general in the Afghan service in 1857. Further
particulars will be found in the writings of Burnes, Wood, Masson,
Raverty, Griffith, and Mohun Lal." In recent years, Major Biddulph
entered from Kashmir, through Gilgit, and made his way to Chitral, and
Colonel Tanner advanced from Jalalabad a short distance into
Kafiristan, among a portion of the people who had been converted to
Mahommedanism, but who still retained many of the peculiarities of the
Kafir race. Dr. Leitner had also taken great pains to obtain
information about this ancient and unconquered people but Mr. McNair
was the first European who had ever penetrated into Kafiristan.

Mr. McNair then read as follows:--

In the September number of this Society's "Proceedings," p. 553, under
the heading "An Expedition to Chitral," allusion is made to my being
accompanied by a native explorer known "in the profession" as the
Saiad; it is to this gentleman that I am indebted for the partial
success that attended our undertaking. I say partial advisedly,
inasmuch as the original programme we had marked out, of penetrating
into the heart of Kafiristan, fell through, for reasons that will
appear as I proceed with the narrative.

The Saiad, whose name I need not mention, had been made over to me more
than a year ago by Major Holdich to instruct. This led to a mutual
friendship, and on his explaining to me that he had a plan of getting
into the Kafir country, which was by accompanying Meahs Hosein Shah and
Sahib Gul (who yearly go to Chitral either through Dir or via the Kunar
Valley) as far as Birkot and then following up the Arnawai stream,
crossing the hills to the westward and returning to Jalalabad either by
the Alingar or Alishang rivers, I suggested accompanying him in the
guise of a Hakim or Tabib, _i.e._, native doctor. He was to be
accompanied by Meah Gul, a Kafir convert. The two Meahs of course had
to be consulted, and after some difficulty I succeeded in getting their
consent, having convinced them that the undertaking was entirely at my
own risk, and that in the event of my detection they would be freed
from all responsibility. I next sent in my papers for a year's furlough
with permission to spend the first half in India. This was granted, and
my leave commenced from March 27th. By April 9th I was at Nowshera, and
by three o'clock on the following morning, with head shaved, a weak
solution of caustic and walnut juice applied to hands and face, and
wearing the dress peculiar to the Meahs or Kaka Khels, and in company
with Hosein Shah, I sallied out as Mir Mahomed or Hakim Sahib.

It may not be out of place if I here mention that the Kaka Khel section
of Pathans, to which the two Meahs belong, are not only very
influential, but are respected throughout both Afghanistan and
Badakshan. The Kafirs also pay them a certain amount of respect, and
will not knowingly attack them, owing to an epidemic of cholera which
once broke out amongst them immediately after they had returned from
murdering a party of Kaka Khels, and which they superstitiously
attributed to their influence. They number in all a few short of 3,500;
this includes menials and followers. Though really considered spiritual
advisers they are virtually traders, and I do not think I am far wrong
in saying that they have the monopoly of the trade from Kabul eastward
to the borders of Kashmir territory. If you say that you are a Meahgan
or Kaka Khel, words signifying one and the same thing, you have not
only access where others are questioned, and a sort of blackmail levied
on them, but you are treated hospitably, and your daily wants supplied
free of cost--as was often the case with us. Of course the Meaghans
have to make some return. It is done in this wise: a fair lasting from
five to seven days is yearly held at Ziarat, a village five miles
south-west of Nowshera, the resting-place of the saint Kaha Sahib; it
is resorted to by thousands from across our north and east frontiers,
and all comers are housed and fed by the Meahs collectively. Offerings,
it is true, are made to the shrine, but I am told the amount collected
is utilised solely for the keeping up of the shrine.

What follows is taken from my diary, which I stealthily managed to keep
up during my journey. It was not till April 13th that we were fairly
across the British frontier. The interval of four days was spent in
getting together all necessaries. The rendezvous was for the 13th at
Ganderi, and true to appointment all were present, our party then
consisting of forty, including muleteers, and fifteen baggage animals.
In the shape of provisions, we had nothing but sugar and tea. The
contents of our loads (I should say goods, only that we got very little
in return) were cloths of English manufacture, musical boxes,
binoculars, time-pieces, a spare revolver or two with a few rounds of
ammunition, salt, glass beads, shells, needles, country-made
looking-glasses, shoes, and lungis, as well as several phials and
galipots of medicines. In addition to these I had secreted a prismatic
and magnetic compass, a boiling point and aneroid thermometer, and a
plane-table which I had constructed for the occasion. The
last-mentioned instrument answered famously the purpose for which it
was intended, and was in use from the beginning to almost the end of my
journey. It answered, in case of a surprise, to pass off for a tabib
book of prescriptions; all that was necessary was to slip off the paper
that was in use inside one of the folds and expose to the gaze of the
inquisitive individual merely a book or rather the outer case of one,
in which I had written several recipes in Urdu. The instruments were
either carried by the Saiad or myself in a _gooda, i.e._, untanned skin
of goat or sheep invariably used by travellers in this region.

The Malakand Pass (elevation 3,575 feet) is well wooded with brushwood
and stunted oak; grass and a goodly supply of water from springs are
procurable all through the year. The ascent is easy, and practicable
for heavy baggage. The descent into the Swat Valley is not nearly so
easy; beasts of burden as well as foot passengers have to pick out
their way, but a company of Bengal or Madras sappers would in a few
hours clear all difficulties sufficiently well to allow a mule battery
to keep up with infantry. When once in the plains this state of things
changes; where previously one had to avoid loose rocks and boulders, we
had now to search for a dry spot on which to alight. Both banks of the
rivers are irrigated; the soil is very rich, and well adapted for rice
cultivation. The valley has the reputation of being very unhealthy,
owing, I have no doubt, to the effluvia arising from the damp soil. A
Swatie is easily recognised by the sallow appearance he presents--a
striking contrast to his nearest neighbours.

The Swat river is about 50 feet wide, from three to four deep, and
flush with its banks. We crossed over in _jalas_ (_i.e._ inflated
skins) opposite the large village of Chakdara; the loads were taken
off, and our animals forded the stream with little or no difficulty.
Almost due north of our crossing, and distant eight miles, lay the
village of Kotigram. The valley, known as the Unch Plain, is somewhat
open, narrowing as we neared the village. Midway, about Uncha, we
passed several topes, or Buddhist remains. These topes are very
numerous, at least twenty were visible at one time, and some of great
size and in a very good state of preservation--more than one quite as
large as the famous tope of Mani Kiyala. A little further up the valley
towards the Katgola Pass, to the left of our route, there were numerous
excavated caves, in the side of the hill, in one of which the traveller
could take shelter during a passing shower. The assent to the Laram
Kotal is easy, and though the south face of this range is somewhat
denuded of both fir and pine, yet the soil is sufficiently rich to
allow of cultivation on its slopes. On this pass, whilst taking some
plane-table observations, I was within an ace of being detected from an
unexpected quarter. Four men armed with matchlocks showed themselves.
Much quicker than it takes me to record it, the rule or sight vane was
run up my long and open sleeve, and I began to pretend to be looking
about for stray roots; the intruders were thrown off the scent, and
after a while assisted the Saiad in looking for odd roots for the
supposed native doctor.

The descent from the pass, which registered 7,310 feet, to Killa Rabat
(3,900 feet) in the Panjkhora Valley, was for the first half of the
distance by a long and densely wooded spur, within an easy slope, but
on nearing the foot we found it very stony. Our party was met at the
entrance by the khan, and later on we were invited to dinner by him.
Long before this I had got quite used to eating with my fingers, but on
this occasion I must admit I found it unpleasant diving the fingers
into a richly made curry floating in grease, and having at the next
mouthful to partake of honey and omelet. The banquet lasted for an hour
or more, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable sitting on the
ground in the one position so peculiar to Eastern nations, when the
hookah came to my rescue, and allowed of a change in position.

We forded the Panjkhora a little above the fort, and by 5 p.m. reached

We found the chief busy with a durbar he was holding under a large
chinar tree, and discussing the plan of attack on Kunater Fort. Our
introduction was somewhat formal, except in the case of Hosein Shah,
who was very cordially received and publicly thanked for having
responded to the chief's request to bring a doctor from India for him.

Rahmatullah Khan, chief of Dir, is an Eusafzai, ruler of a population
exceeding 600,000. In appearance he is anything but prepossessing--small
of stature and very dark in complexion for a Pathan; with not a tooth in
his head, and the skin on his face loose and wrinkled, he presents the
appearance of an aged man, though really not more than fifty-five.

I was at Shahzadgai seven days, and during that time succeeded in
bringing round the chief, who was suffering from an ordinary cold and
cough. I cannot say my stay was a pleasant one, for from early morn
till dusk our hut was surrounded by patients, and inasmuch as the chief
had recovered, it was considered a sufficient guarantee that, no matter
what the ailment or disease might be, if only the tabib would
prescribe, all would come right. Men with withered arms and legs,
others totally blind, were expected to be cured, and no amount of
persuasion would convince those who had brought such unfortunates that
the case was a hopeless one. It was here that I got as a fee the
antique seal which I have brought for exhibition to the meeting. The
man who brought it had found it across the Panjkhora, opposite
Shahzadgai, whilst throwing up some earthworks; it was then encased in
a copper vessel. General Cunningham, to whom I showed the seal at Simla
about three months ago, writes as follows:--"I am sorry to say that I
cannot make out anything about your seal. At first I thought that the
man standing before a burning lamp might be a fire-worshipper, in which
case the seal would be Persian. I _incline_, however, to think that it
may be an Egyptian seal. I believe that each symbol is one of the
common forms on Egyptian monuments; this can be determined by one
versed in Egyptian hieroglyphics." Since my arrival here I have
submitted the seal to Sir Henry Rawlinson. The fact of its having been
dug up in the Panjkhora Valley adds great interest to the relic.

On the 24th we left for Kumbar. Whilst here it got abroad that my
friend Hosein Shah was accompanied by two Europeans in disguise. The
originator of this report was no other than Rahat Shah Meah, a native
in the confidence of our Indian Government, and enjoying the benefits
of a _jagir_ or grant of land in the district of Nowshera, given him
for loyal services, but a sworn enemy of my two friends. He had sent
letters to Asmar, Chitral, Swat, and Bijour, urging on the people to
track out the Kafirs who were in company with the Meagans, and destroy
them, as they could have gone with no other purpose than to spy out the
land. Shao Baba took up the matter, and not until the Dir chief had
written contradicting the statement and certifying that he had asked my
companions to bring from India a hakim, were suspicions allayed.
Unfortunately, in a country like Afghanistan, where fanaticism is so
rampant, once let it be even surmised that outsiders, and these the
detested Kafirs, are about, the bare contradiction does not suffice,
and the original idea only lies dormant, as our future progress showed.

Two marches took us from Kumbar (elevation 4,420 feet) to Dir (5,650
feet). Crossed _en route_ the Barawal range; height of the pass is
8,340 feet, by a very fair road, which can be ridden up. Here our party
was joined by the Dir chief, who having settled his disputes, was
proceeding to his capital.

The fort of Dir is of stone, but in decay; it has an ancient aspect,
but this applies still more to the village of Ariankot, which occupies
the flat top of a low spur detached from the fort by a small stream.
The spurs fall in perpendicular cliffs of some 20 feet in height, and
in these are traces of numerous caves similar to those already spoken
of, and some of which are still used as dwellings by the Balti people,
who come to take service as porters between Dir and Chitral. The
population of the fort and valley exceeds 6,000 souls.

Four more days were wasted by our party at Dir procuring carriers, as
the Lowarai Pass (called Lohari by some) was not sufficiently clear of
snow to admit of our baggage animals crossing it, and from all accounts
brought in would not be so for another month. This decided us on
procuring the services of Baltis, who had come from Daroshp and
Chitral, and who preferred their wages being paid in cloths or salt to
sums of money. I should here add that my companions had in the
meanwhile received letters from the neighbourhood of Asmar, advising
them not to pay a visit to Arnawai just then, as the rumours concerning
us were not very favourable; so, rather than remain where we were, I
suggested visiting Chitral. The idea was adopted, the loads were made
over to the men we had engaged, and the following morning we bade adieu
to Rahmatullah Khan, and started for Mirga, elevation 8,400 feet.
Though the distance from Mirga to Ashreth is not more than ten miles,
yet it took us almost as many hours to accomplish it. From Mirga to the
Lowarai Kotal (elevation 10,450 feet) the route lay over snow. It is
quite true what has formerly been related of the number of cairns on
this pass, marking the burial of Mahommedan travellers who have been
killed by the Kafir banditti, who cross the Kunar river and attack
travellers on the road. Travellers as they pass throw stones upon those
cairns, a method universal among the Pathans in such cases. But many
bodies were still visible in various stages of decay and imperfectly
covered. There is no habitation for about six miles on either side of
the pass, and it is only when information reaches a village that they
send out to cover the remains of the true believer. The only village
between the pass and the Kunar river is Ashreth. The people of this
village pay tribute to Dir as well as Chitral, and this tribute is
rendered in the form of escort to travellers ascending the pass. But
the people themselves are Shias and recently converted Kafirs, and are
known to be in league with the Kafir banditti, giving notice to the
latter of the approach of travellers rather than rendering effective
aid against them. Fortunately the ascent was easy and gradual. The
descent is steeper, and in parts very trying. We had to cross and
recross the frozen stream several times, owing to the sides of the hill
rising almost perpendicularly from its base. To add to our
difficulties, we had to pick our way over deep snow (even in May), not
only over branches, but tolerably large sized trunks of trees that had
been uprooted. I was told that during the winter months a regular
hurricane blows up this valley, carrying everything before it. The Pass
(Kotal) forms the northern boundary of Dir territory.

Ashreth to Chitral (5,151 feet) was done by us in three marches. It is
at the head of the Shushai Valley that the village of Madalash lies,
the inhabitants of which are alluded to by Major Biddulph, in his
"Tribes of the Hindu Kush," as being a clan speaking amongst themselves
the Persian tongue. They keep entirely to themselves, and enjoy certain
privileges denied to their surrounding neighbours, and from what I
learnt are credited as having come, over a couple of hundred years ago,
from across the Hindu Kush, _viâ_ the Dura Pass.

Between Daroshp and Chitral the passage by the river contracts to a
narrow gorge, over which a wall was built more than two centuries ago
to resist an attempted invasion by the troops of Jehangir. Up to this
point the Mogul force are said to have brought their elephants, but
finding it here impracticable to pass they turned back: this force came
over the Lowarai Pass. The ascent from Jalalabad is impracticable,
because the river runs in various places between Asmar and Chigar Serai
in almost impassable gorges.

It was late in the evening when we arrived at Chitral, but as the
Badshah was not feeling very well, beyond the usual salutations
exchanged with Hosein Shah and Sahib Gul, all introductions were
deferred till the following morning.

The following morning, before presenting ourselves to Aman ul Mulk, we
sent him the following presents, viz., a Waziri horse, two revolvers, a
pair of binoculars, several pieces of chintz and linen, twenty pounds
of tea, sugar, salt, and several pairs of shoes of Peshawar
manufacture, as well as trinkets for his zenana. After the preliminary
and formal inquiries as to our health, the Mehter Sahib, or Badshah,
alluded to the rumours regarding me, and wound up by saying that as he
was a friend to the British, and his country at their disposal, I was
at liberty to go about and do as I pleased, provided none of my
followers accompanied me. Fortunately, our Indian Government think
differently, and judge his character more correctly. This was not
exactly what we had expected, but rather than be thwarted in the one
object I had come for, a consent was given to his proposal; but before
we had fairly got back to our quarters, a message was sent us, saying
that the passes into Kafiristan were not open just then; our reply was
that in that case we should return immediately to India. He then sent
for Sahib Gul, and eventually it was decided that I should defer my
visit to the Kafirs till some of their leading men should arrive, and
_ad interim_ I might pay a visit to the Dura Pass. No European had
hitherto been along this route, and thinking some information might be
collected, and notes on the geography of the route taken, I agreed,
though affecting disgust, and started on the 13th of May for Shali.

Andarthi was our next halting place; the fort commands the entrance
into the Arkari Valley; at the head of the valley are the three passes,
Agzam, Khartiza, and Nuksan, over the Hindu Kush, leading into
Badakshan, and a little below the Ozur Valley, which takes its rise
from the Tirach Mir Mountain, whose elevation is deduced
trigonometrically by Colonel Tanner to be 25,426 feet, presenting a
magnificent view.

The dorsal ridge of the Hindu Kush has here a mean elevation of some
16,000 feet, and this great mountain of Tirach Mir stands on a
southward spur from the main range from which it towers up thus 9,000
feet above the latter. The head of the Dura Pass, which leads to Zebak
and Ishkashim, is a little over 14,000 feet, the ascent being very
gradual and quite feasible for laden animals; but owing to the people
of Munjan and the Kafirs in the Bogosta Valley, traders prefer the
route _viâ_ the Nuksan Pass, which, as its name denotes, is much more
difficult. Neither pass is open for more than three months in the year.

In this valley between Daroshp and Gobor, I noticed several detached
oval ponds, evidently artificial, which I was told were constructed for
catching wild geese and ducks during their annual flight to India just
before the winter sets in, _i.e._, about the middle of October. The
plan adopted, though rude, is unique in its way, and is this:--By the
aid of narrow dug trenches, water from the running stream is let into
the ponds and turned off when full; the pond is surrounded by a stone
wall high enough to allow a man, when crouching, to be unobserved; over
and across one-half or less of this pond a rough trellis-work of thin
willow branches is put up: the birds on alighting are gradually driven
under this canopy, and a sudden rush is made by those on the watch.
Hundreds in this manner are daily caught during the season. The flesh
is eaten, and from the down on their breasts coarse overcoats and
gloves are made, known as _margaloon_. This method of trapping is
borrowed from the Kafirs.

A short distance beyond the village of Daroshp are some mineral springs
that are visited by invalids from Badakshan.

Having satisfied myself on my return from the Kotal by a visit up the
Bogosta Valley that the descent into the Arnawai was not practicable
for some weeks to come, I returned to Chitral on the 22nd of May. Some
Kafirs had come in, and amongst them one who had just a year ago taken
in to Kamdesh a Pathan Christian evangelist, who had unfortunately
given out that he was sent by the Indian Government, and that his
masters would, if he gave a favourable report of them, come to terms
with the Kafirs, so as to secure them in future against Mahommedan
inroads. My visit occurred inopportunely with regard to this statement
of the evangelist, and although I stated that his utterances were
false, the Kafir would have it that I had come on behalf of the
Government, and that the Chief of Chitral had persuaded me into giving
him the arms and sums of money I had brought for them. This Kafir next
wanted me to pledge myself to aid their sect against Asmar, and on my
refusing left my quarters in a pet, but returned after a couple of
hours, saying that I might accompany him as doctor, and attend an aged
relative of his.

Kafirstan embraces an area of 5,000 square miles, bounded on the north
by the Hindu Kush Mountains, on the south by the Kunar range; for its
western limit it has the Alishang with its tributary the Alingar; its
eastern boundary is not nearly so well defined, but taken roughly, may
be expressed as the Kunar river from its junction with the Kabul to
where the former receives the waters of the Kalashgum at the village of
Ain; thence following up this last tributary to its source, a line
drawn from that point to the Dura Pass is well within the mark. I may
also include a small section occupying a tract north-west of the
above-named pass, and subject to Munjan. There are three main tribes,
viz., Ramgals, Vaigals, and Bashgals, corresponding with the three
principal valleys in their tract of country; the last-named occupy the
Arnawai Darra, and are divided into five clans, Kamdesh, Keshtoz,
Mungals, Weranis, and Ludhechis. The Keshtoz, Mungals, and Weranis pay
a nominal tribute in kind to the ruler of Chitral, but not so the other
two clans. The Vaigal tribe are reckoned the most powerful; this
probably is due to their occupying the largest valley. Each of the
three principal tribes has a dialect different from the other two, but
have several words in common, and as a rule have very little to do with
those inhabiting the other valleys. The entire population is estimated
at over 200,000 souls. Their country is picturesque, densely wooded,
and wild in the extreme; the men of fine appearance, with sharp Aryan
features and keen, penetrating eyes; blue eyes are not common but do
occur, but brown eyes and light hair, even to a golden hue, in
combination are not at all uncommon. The general complexion varies to
two extremes, that of extreme fairness--pink rather than blonde, and
the other of bronze, quite as dark as the ordinary Panjabi. The cast of
features seems common to both these complexions, but the fairer men if
asked will indicate the dark men as having come from the south, and
that they themselves have come from the north and east. They are, as is
always the case with hill tribes, short of stature, daring to a fault,
but lazy, leaving all the agricultural work to their womenkind, and
spending their days, when not at war, principally in hunting. They are
passionately fond of dancing, in which both sexes join, scarcely
letting an evening pass without indulging in it around a blasing fire.

The dancing, which I on several occasions witnessed, was invariably begun
by a single female performer appearing on the scene, and after going
through a few graceful movements, a shrill whistle (caused by inserting
two fingers into the month) given by one of the men is the signal for
a change. Several performers then come forward, advancing and retiring
on either side of a huge bonfire, at one end of which were the
musicians--their instruments, a large drum, two kettle-drums, and a
couple of flutes. To this music, more particularly to the beating of the
drums, good time is kept. The whistle sounds again, when immediately the
performers set to partners, if I may use the expression; after a while
they disengage, and begin circling round the fire singly--men and women
alternately. The tamasha ended by again setting to partners; each couple,
holding a stick between them, their feet firmly planted on the ground and
close together, spin round at a great pace, first from right to left and
then from left to right. None objected to my taking part in this
performance, but, for the indulgence, I had to pay as forfeit several
strings of beads and shells, a few looking-glasses, and some needles,
which I presented to those of the fairer sex only.

The houses are generally built on the slopes of the hills; the lower
story is of stone, from 12 to 15 feet high, but is not used for cattle
even, which are kept apart in stone byres. Timber is stored in these
lower stories, as also the ordure of cattle, which is used as fuel,
especially for smoking their cheeses. This cheese is made daily, and is
of the nature of cream cheese, and when fresh is not bad. On the roof of
this lower story, leaving a space all round to walk, rises the actual
habitation, which is of wood entirely, and contains only one or two
rooms; these are neat enough, but very dark. The door and door-frames are
roughly carved with figures and scrolls. There is little furniture, but
all use low wooden chairs or wicker stools to sit upon. The food, either
bread, which is ordinarily of very thick cakes, but when guests are
entertained of very thin broad cakes, like Indian chapatties, or meat
boiled in a large iron cauldron, is served in large deep circular wooden
vessels, hollowed from a trunk or thick branch of a tree, without any
table, though tables were seen occasionally on which drinking vessels
were set. The bread cakes were served to guests, with slices of cheese
between two such cakes, imbedded in hot butter. Their beds are very rude
fixtures, consisting of poles, one end of which rests in the walls and
the other on two legs: it is remarkable that they call them _kat_. The
object of the lower story seems chiefly to raise the house above the snow
in winter; it is ascended by a ladder outside, which can be drawn up.
Sometimes there is a third story, which is, of course, like the second,
of timber, but is also surrounded by a platform. The roof of flat stones,
laid on beams and covered with mud.

The temples are square chambers of timber, with doorways carved and
coloured; inside there are set several stones, apparently boulders from
the river bed, but no images were seen, except those connected with
funeral rites, which were temporarily set up in the temples. The use
of these temples seemed to be chiefly in connection with funeral rites.
The coffins were carried there and sacrifice performed before the bodies
were carried off to the place of eventual deposit.

The men shave the whole of the head, except a circular patch on the
crown, where the hair is allowed to grow, seldom, if ever, cutting
it--never wearing a covering. Almost all the men I saw wore the Indian
manufactured cotton clothes, similar to the Afghans, and on their feet
had strips of hide tied with strings of hide. The dress of the women is
merely a single garment, not unlike a very loose dressing or morning
gown, gathered up at the waist. The hair, which as a rule is very long,
is worn plaited and covered over with a broad cap with lappets, and
just over the crown stick up two tufts (some have one only) which from
a distance appear like horns. A sample of this head-dress as well as of
three or four other articles of interest I have brought for exhibition
to the meeting.

It is purely due to no blood-feuds existing among themselves that they
have succeeded in holding their own against the Mahommedans by whom they
are hemmed in on all sides. They have nothing in common with them, and,
in fact, are incessantly engaged in petty warfare with the Mahommedans.
They are exceedingly well disposed towards the British: I may venture
further and state that they would not hesitate to place their services,
should occasion require, at our disposal, and steps might be taken to
secure this. Slavery exists to a certain extent amongst them; this
nefarious trade, however, would fall through if slaves did not command
so ready a sale at Jalalabad, Kunar, Asmar, and Chitral. Polygamy is
the exception and not the rule; for infidelity on the part of a wife,
mild corporal punishment is inflicted, and a fine of half-a-dozen or
more heads of cattle imposed, according to the wealth of the male
offender. The dead are not buried, but put into coffins and deposited
either in an unfrequented spot on a hill-side, or carried to a sort of
cemetery and there left, the coffins being in neither case interred.
I visited one of these cemeteries, and saw over a hundred coffins in
different stages of decay; resting against the heads of some of these
I noticed carved wooden figures of both sexes, and was told that this
was an honour conferred only on persons of rank and note. As regards
their religion, one Supreme Being (Imbra) is universally acknowledged.
Priests preside at their temples, in which stones are set up, but
to neither priests nor idols is undue reverence paid. Unforeseen
occurrences are attributed to evil spirits, in whose existence they
firmly believe, giving no credit to a spirit for good.

I have noticed that several mention the Kafirs as being great
wine-bibbers. The beverage brought to me on several occasions nothing
more nor less than the pure grape-juice, neither fermented nor
distilled, but in its simple form. During the season, the fruit, which
grows in great abundance, is gathered, the juice pressed out, and put
into jars either of wood or earthenware, and placed underground for
future use. I obtained some, which I put into a bottle for the purpose
of bringing away, but after it had been exposed to the air a short time
it turned into a sort of vinegar. To the Kafir chief who took me in I
offered some whisky, and poured about half a wine-glass into a small
Peshawar cup, but before I had time to add water to it, the chief had
swallowed the pure spirit. I shall never forget the expression depicted
on his countenance. After a while all he could give utterance to was,
"We have nothing so strong."

Their arms consist merely of bows and arrows and daggers; a few
matchlocks of Kabul manufacture have found their way into the country,
but no attempts have been made to imitate them. At a distance of about
50 yards, with their bows and arrows they seldom fail to hit an object
smaller than a man. The string of the bow is made of gut. Their wealth
is reckoned by the number of heads of cattle (goats, sheep, and cows)
they possess. There are eighteen chiefs in all; selection is made for
deeds of bravery, some allowance also being made for hereditary
descent. Wheat is their staple food, and with the juice of the grape
they make a kind of bread, which is eaten toasted, and is not then
unlike a Christmas plum-pudding.

To resume the narrative: once again, unaccompanied by my two friends, I
left Chitral on the morning of May 23rd, and struck off from Urguch,
spending the first night at Balankaru, in the Rumbur Valley. The people
are the Kalash section of the Kafirs, inferior in appearance, manner,
and disposition to their neighbours situated westwards; they pay a small
tribute in kind to Chitral, and are allowed to retain their own manners
and customs. To Daras Karu, in the Bamburath Vale, famed for its pears,
I next proceeded; here also are Kalash Kafirs, and some Bashgali
settlers. The valley is very narrow, and the cultivation restricted
principally to terraced fields on the hill-slopes. Kakar was the next
march; beyond it no trace of habitation. After a short stay we proceeded
up the valley till dusk, and spent the first part of the night under
some rocks. All beyond was snow, interminable snow. Starting at midnight
for the head of the pass (the difference in elevation between our
night's encampment and the crest was 7,000 feet) it took us an hour to
do every thousand perpendicular feet. The view on the Kotal as the sun
was rising was a sight never to be forgotten; near and around us the
hills clad in white with different tinges of red showing, and clouds
rising in fantastic shapes, and disclosing to view the blue and purple
of the distant and lower ranges. I was very fortunate in having a clear
morning, as it enabled me to bring my plane-table into great use. As the
descent was very tedious, owing to the upper crust of the snow having
melted under the rays of the morning sun, we decided on adopting a
sort of "tobogging" system by sitting ourselves on the snow, raising
the feet, at the same time giving the body a reclining position; a
jerk, and then we were off, following in each other's wake, bringing
ourselves up every now and again by embedding our feet in the snow.
By this means we got down almost to the base of the hill in a very
short time, and on arriving at the Ludhe villages were well received.

Going out was abandoned, but whilst thus inactive so far as going
about went, my time was spent in examining closely into their manners
and customs, when an urgent message was brought from the Aman ul
Mulk, desiring me to return immediately, owing to some unfavourable
news that was abroad. Thinking of my two friends, whom I had left at
Chitral, being involved in some difficulties, I hurried back, only to
learn that the chief had sent for me on the paltry excuse of having
heard that the chief of Asmar and the Kafirs had begun their annual
quarrels. So once again was another opportunity of penetrating further
frustrated. During my absence on this trip that arch-fiend Rahat Shah
had arrived at Chitral from India. As he has quite the ear of the
ruler, all further chances of our getting on in the may of exploring
were at an end, and so we decided on returning to India _viâ_ Kashmir.
In return for the presents we had given Aman ul Mulk when we first
arrived at Chitral, he gave us others, and immediately threw every
obstacle in his power to prevent our getting away, and it was only on
refusing to accept his presents that we were supplied with carriers.

Starting on the 5th of June, on the fourth day we arrived at Drasan
(6,637 feet). The fort of Drasan commands the entrance to the Turikho
and Tirach valleys, whose waters meet a few miles north-west of the
fort. Both these valleys are very fertile; in the latter one, and just
before its junction with the former, are several yellow arsenic mines,
but the working of these is not encouraged by the present ruler. Gold
also, I was told, is to be found in the streams about Chitral; this
statement proved correct, as I was able to work up some with the aid of
mercury, and on having the ore tested by a goldsmith's firm in India,
it was pronounced by them to be 21 carat; but this washing is seldom
permitted, the reason assigned by the chief being that if once it were
known that Chitral produced gold, his country would be lost to him.

Mastuj (elevation 7,289 feet) is on the main or Chitral stream, and
commands the entrance to the Laspur Valley, which leads more directly
to Gilgit _viâ_ Gupis and Gakuch, and was the route traversed by Major
Biddulph. On reaching Gazan, we left the main route and followed up the
smaller one along a stream taking its rise at the Tui Pass (14,812
feet). The ascent to it is easy, but the descent exceedingly difficult,
a nasty piece of glacier having to be traversed, over which we were
unfortunate enough to lose two horses, and had several of our followers
severely frost-bitten about the feet. Two marches further and Gilgit
was reached, and from there in eleven double marches we arrived at
Srinagar, where my disguise was thrown off. To dwell on these last
stages of our journey would be merely repeating what has been so ably
handled by such authorities as Drew, Tanner, and Biddulph.

In conclusion, I would here record that whatever success has attended
this undertaking is due in a great measure to my faithful companions
and allies, Hosein Shah, Sahib Gul, and the Saiad.

The following discussion ensued on the reading of the above paper:--

Colonel Yule said he had for thirty or forty years looked with intense
interest at the dark spot of Kafiristan on the map of Asia, and had
therefore listened with great pleasure to Mr. McNair's modest account of
one of the most adventurous journeys that had ever been described before
the Society. Twenty or twenty-four years ago we had nothing but the
vaguest knowledge of Kafiristan, but the country had been gradually
opened out by General Walker and Colonel Montgomery's pundits in
disguise. Foreign geographers had sometimes cast it in the teeth of
Englishmen that their discoveries beyond the frontiers of India had been
made vicariously, but in this case it was an Englishman who had performed
the journey. He believed he was right in saying that no Englishman before
Mr. McNair had ever visited the Swat Valley. It was now inhabited by a
most inhospitable race, who had become Afghanised, but rumours had often
been heard about the Buddhist there. Eighteen or twenty centuries ago it
was one of the most sacred spots of Buddhism, filled with Buddhist
monasteries and temples, but, as far as he knew, no European except Mr.
McNair had ever seen those remains. If further explorations were carried
out there probably most interesting discoveries would result. Passing on
to the Panjkhora river and to Dir, there was very little doubt that those
valleys were the scene of some of Alexander's exploits on his way to
India. Many scholars supposed that Dir was one of the fortresses which
Alexander took, and incidentally the place was mentioned by Marco Polo as
the route of a Mongol horde from Badakshan into Kashmir. He believed that
the earliest distinct notice of the Kafirs was the account of the country
being invaded by Timour on his march to India. When he arrived at Andaráb
he received complaints by the Mussulman villagers of the manner in which
they were harassed by the infidels, and a description was given of how
the great Ameer himself was slid down snow slopes in a sort of toboggin
of wickerwork. He captured some of the Kafir forts, but could not
penetrate into the country. After that very little mention was made of
them in history, till Major Rennell referred to them in his great memoir
on the map of Hindostan, and Mountstuart Elphinstone, who, the Afghans
used to say, could see on the other side of a hill. He always seemed able
to collect items of knowledge which further research proved to be
correct. He (Colonel Yule) rejoiced that had lived to see Kafiristan
partially revealed by an Englishman and not by a Russian.

Dr. Leitner said it was well that travellers, however naturally
accurate in their observations, should submit their results to the
criticism of learned societies, for, after all it was in such centres
that information from various quarters could be best collected, sifted,
and compared. The task of a pioneer is proverbially ungrateful, but he
is sufficiently rewarded if he collects facts for the examination of
scholars, and if some of these facts stand that test. On the other
hand, it was essential that, as a rule, no one should be sent out on a
geographical, anthropological, or ethnographical mission who was not
something of a linguist or who was not accompanied by a linguist, and
who had not given proof of sympathy with alien races. Hayward fell a
victim as much to his temper as to the greed and treachery of Mir Wali,
whom he had insulted. An Arabic proverb says that "the traveller even
when he sees is blind," and if, in addition to this artificial
blindness, he is practically both deaf and dumb owing to his ignorance
of the language of the people among whom he moves, it is almost certain
that he will make many mistakes, if not insure failure. Now few results
are apt to be more delusive than a mere collection of words, or even of
short sentences. The instances of "a dead policeman" as a Non-aryan
equivalent for the abstract term "death" which the inquirer wanted; of
the rejoinder of "what do you want?" for the repeated outstretching of
the "middle finger," a special term for which was sought, and numerous
other mistakes, are often perfectly avoidable, and it was therefore
desirable that the traveller, armed with an inexhaustible patience,
should not content himself with a collection of words, but also add the
sentences in which they occur, and, if possible, also collect fables,
songs, and legends. The process in dealing with a race whose language
one does not know at all is more difficult, but, even in initial
stages, the procedure of pointing to objects that are required will not
only generally give their native equivalents, but will also elicit the
orders or imperatives for these objects being brought, whilst the use
of these imperatives by the traveller will often elicit the indicative
or future in the assent or dissent of those to whom the imperatives are
addressed, or else an ejaculatory affirmative or negative. The early
training in, at least, two languages will also enable the inquirer to
discriminate between the substance of a fact or thought, if he might
use such a term, and the sound that represents it, for, if he has only
studied his own language early in life, he will never be able to
emancipate himself completely from the confusion which is naturally
engendered between the idea and his special manner of expressing it.
Adaptation, again, even more than translation, is what is required, and
in order that the adaptation, should be practised successfully,
geographical inquiry cannot be altogether dissociated from philology,
nor can philology be dissociated, as it so often is, from ethnography,
history, and anthropology, which throw either a full light or at least
a side-light or half-light on linguistic problems, as has been pointed
out by Dr. Abel. The gestures too of a race are of importance in
eliciting correct information, for it is obvious that where, on rugged
mountain sides, ascent or descent can only be practised by the aid of
the hands as well as of the feet, the terms for "up" and "down" may be
significant of surrounding topography, just as, to reverse the
argument, where many meet only to fight, the putting of the fingers of
both hands together will mean "collision," instead of its being the
more usual sign for "multitude," or the limit of computation which a
savage race may have reached. Finally, in this age of subdivision of
labour on a basis of general knowledge, the present practice of
explorers working separately without the co-operation of colleagues in
the same or kindred branches, and sometimes even without a knowledge of
the material that already exists, should be discouraged. The first step
to be taken is the compilation of travellers' handbooks, dialogues, and
vocabularies for the various districts of the so-called "neutral zone,"
so as to give to these travellers the key of information and to the
sympathy of the people, and our Government of India especially might
with advantage steadily collect both old and new information, not at
the time _when_, but long _before_, an emergency arises, so that it may
be dealt with by a wealth of knowledge when it does arise. Had this
view obtained when the "poor relatives of the European" were seen by
Sale, Macnaghten, Wood, and others, thousands of Kafir men and women
would not have been carried into slavery by the Afghans, hundreds of
Kafir villages would not have been destroyed, and the area of Kafir
traditions would not have been both corrupted and narrowed by the
broadening of the belt of "Nimchas," or converted Kafirs, which so
increases the difficulties of an exhaustive inquiry into at least the
_past_ of an interesting race. Above all should we have had a faithful
ally in our operations against Kabul, for even as it was, the tardy
knowledge of that war by the Kafirs sufficed to bring thousands into
the field ready to be let loose on their hereditary foe, whilst it put
a stop, at any rate temporarily, to the internecine feuds, which, as
much as Muslim encroachments, reduced the number of Kafirs. He hoped
that the visit of Mr. McNair and of the native Christian missionaries
recently in Kafiristan, might be another step towards the future union
and civilisation of a race that, whether in part descended from the
colonies planted by Alexander the Great or not, should no longer be
treated as "poor relatives" by their European brethren, for whom the
interposition of friendly and vigorous tribes of mountaineers, along
with the Dards with whom they have so much in common, between the
British and Russian possessions in Asia, cannot fail to be an advantage
in the interests of peace. As to the various routes to and through
Kafiristan, he would add nothing to-night to what had been so ably
stated, but as regards the languages, he could not forbear mentioning
that there are at least five distinct dialects spoken by the tribes,
which differ as much as Italian does from French, if not from German,
although based on Aryan roots common to them all. Their religious
beliefs and customs also show great divergencies as well as
similarities. The members of various Kafir and kindred tribes, of whom
he submitted a few photographs to the meeting, and whose measurements
have been taken, have supplied an amount of information which may be
laid before the Society in due course, along with, he hoped, a very
full account of a neighbouring race that is anthropologically and
linguistically perhaps even more interesting than the Kafirs, who are
mainly Dards; he meant the people of Hunza (Hun-land?), who language
is, if not a prehistoric remnant, at any rate like no other that has
hitherto been discovered, in which the pronouns form an inseparable
part of numerous substantives and verbs, and in which gutturals are
still in a state of transition to vowels. This people practise a code
of religion and of quaint immorals fortunately confined to themselves,
but which is not without some bearing on the question of the "Mahdi,"
now giving us some trouble in Africa. As some Kafirs call themselves
"Kureishis," wnich favours a Shia notion in opposition to their Sunni
persecutors, he might incidentally observe that the expectation of a
"Mahdi" is a singular importation of a Shia notion, not entirely
without our aid, into the orthodox Sunni Mahommedan world, which has so
long been content with the _de jure_ Khalifa, the Sultan, belonging to
the category of "imperfect" Khalifas, as a chief and representative who
is admittedly a "defender of the faith" only so long as he has power to
enforce his decrees and is accepted by the general _consensus_ of the
faithful, the very essence of Sunni-ism, the "al-sunnat wa jamáat".
This view is in bold contradiction to the _hereditary_ principle,
represented, by the "Mahdi" of the "Imam's" descent from the Kureish
tribe of Arabia, which caused the very separation of the Shia sect from
the Sunnis, which is the very essence of Shia belief, and which has
among other fictions, led to the assumption of the name of "Kureishi"
by some of the Kafirs.

Sir Henry Rawlingson was glad of the opportunity of expressing his high
appreciation of the value of Mr. McNair's exploration. His journey was
not a mere holiday trip, or an every-day reconnaissance survey; on the
contrary, it was a serious undertaking, and opened up what he (Sir
Henry), for twenty years had maintained to be the great natural
highroad from India to Central Asia. The route to the north of the
Kabul river and along the Chitral Valley was by far the most direct and
the easiest line of communication between, the Punjab and the upper
valley of the Oxus; and although native explorers had, as Colonel Yule
had observed, already traversed the route and brought back a good-deal
of general information concerning it, Mr. McNair was the first European
who had ever crossed the Hindu Kush upon this line, or had gained such
an acquaintance with the different ranges as would enable geographers
to map the country scientifically, and delineate its physical features.
The seal which Mr. McNair had exhibited to the meeting was of
Babylonian workmanship, and although relics of the same class were of
no great rarity in Persia and Mesopotamia, it was a curious
circumstance to find one in such a remote locality as the Swat Valley,
and could only be explained by supposing it to have belonged to one of
Alexander's soldiers who brought it from Babylon. Eldred Pottinger had
found a similar relic at Oba on his journey through the mountains from
Herat to Kabul. The tradition in the country had always been that the
Kafirs whom Mr. McNair visited, were descended from Alexander's
soldiers; but there was not in reality the slightest foundation for
such a belief. Neither in language nor religion, nor manners and
customs, was there the least analogy between the Kafirs and Greeks. The
various dialects spoken by the tribes of the Hindu Kush, including the
Kafir tongues, were all of the Perso-Indian branch of the Aryan family,
and showed that the mountains must have been colonised during the
successive migrations of the Aryan tribes from Central Asia to the
southward. It might perhaps be possible some day to affiliate the
various tribes, when the vocabularies had all been collected and
compared by a good philological scholar, but at present there was much
uncertainty on the subject. Colonel Yule had expressed his pride and
satisfaction at Mr. McNair's success, and had congratulated the Society
on the great feat of exploring Kafiristan for the first time having
been accomplished by an English rather than by a Russian geographer. He
(Sir Henry) would furnish a further source of gratulation by remarking
on the fact that on the very day when Mr. McNair had related to the
meeting the incidents of his most remarkable journey, intelligence had
been received from the Indian frontier of another surprising
geographical feat having been achieved by a British officer who was
already well known to the Society, and who was, in fact, the chief of
the department to which Mr. McNair belonged. He alluded to the
successful ascent of the great mountain of Takht-i-Suliman, overlooking
the Indus Valley, by Major Holdich, of the Indian Survey Department.
This mountain, from its inaccessible position beyond our frontier, and
in the midst of lawless Afghan tribes, had long been the despair of
geographers, but Major Holdich with a small survey party had at length
succeeded in ascending it, and was said to have triangulated from its
summit over an area of 50,000 square miles. The Survey Department might
well be proud of holding in its ranks two such adventurous and
accomplished explorers as Major Holdich and Mr. McNair. The President
said that Mr. McNair agreed with Sir Henry Rawlinson that the route he
had described would undoubtedly be the best into Central Asia, but the
account of the journey did not inspire him (the President) with any
confidence as to immediate results in the future. Mr. McNair had to
disguise himself as a Mahommedan who was acceptable to the Kafirs, and
it did not appear that he had in any way facilitated the entrance into
the country of any one who could not conceal his nationality. The
reports, famished by native explorers sent from India, had, however,
been fully established by Mr. McNair, and it would therefore appear
that the best way of solving the problem was to send educated natives
into Kafiristan. He was sure the meeting would heartily join in giving
a vote of thanks to Mr. McNair for his interesting paper.

It will be noticed by those who read the paper closely flow remarkably
absent from it are all allusions to personal experiences, such as
fatigue, weariness, physical discomfort, sense of disappointment, or
other of the necessary incidents of so toilsome an effort and long
sacrifice. As was the character of the man, so is his paper, simple,
direct, without any of the exaggerations of peculiar features in the
exploration or rhetorical artifices of description to enhance the
effect of the discoveries of the traveller, and with an entire
suppression of himself. For all that appears in the paper, he might
have been engaged in the most enjoyable pursuit, free from all personal
risk or daily discomfort.

I desire to testify rather to what I knew of the man himself during a
close friendship of over eighteen years.

In youth he was very ardent and affectionate, but as he advanced in
years the hardships of his life and the long periods of solitude he
passed through seemed to mellow the natural demonstrativeness of his
nature, and he appeared to me to have suffered that chastening which
all men derive as their blessed portion from communion with Nature in
her loving and silent moods; the very ruggedness of mountain solitudes
speaking to the heart of man with a solemnity no tongue can reach. A
subtle writer in the London _Spectator_ of the 14th September last, in
the course of an article on "Clouds," has attempted to describe the
idealising lesson of her works to the spirit of man as "the tranquil
rhythm of this fair Nature, the hurrying throb of the human interests
it measures, there is the eternal poem of human life." In this wise, a
subdued sweetness in William McNair's nature remained, which was a
transfiguration of his ardent, buoyant, somewhat impulsive early

On the cricket-field he was in his heartiest element. Men would make a
scratch team at the sound of his voice, just to be led by him as
captain. No mean field or batsman, he excelled in bowling. His resource
in taking wickets was only equalled by the good temper with which
adversaries walked away from the field with their bats after that
terrible McNair had done for their score, or their hopes of one. I have
seen him demoralise a whole team by the way in which he would take
wicket after wicket, within an hour, by the artful way in which he
adapted the style of his bowling to the character of the man who fenced
him at the wicket. Boys were simply enamoured of him, for, by that
instinct which never fails the young, he won their heartfelt devotion
by his quick discernment of the weaknesses and proclivities of all the
young with whom he ever came in contact. I have seen my youngest son--a
lad of eleven--after years of separation from him, when the boy met him
in London, in 1884, nestle on his knee quite spontaneously, to listen
to some of his Kafiristan exploits not touched on in his paper. His
beaming, manly laugh of amusement and tender compassion over the boy's
simplicity when asked by my ingenuous lad why he did not kill a lot of
those fellows during those days of danger, I fancy I see while I write.
Indeed, this keen participation in the nature and delights of the young
was the secret of his success during the Kafiristan exploration. It was
the touchstone of his sympathy with the various barbaric tribes with
whom he had to come in contact, and whose nature he did not require to
learn, for he had already sounded all that was human in its touching
variety. Love and sympathy for man as man, could alone give this
knowledge and furnish this magic key to hearts in wilds unknown. No
human system of mental training could ever do it. In this connection I
smile somewhat at Dr. Leitner's profound German dialectic in the
discussion on the paper read by McNair over the preliminary preparation
in language and terms required by an explorer to do his work
effectively. Where man is equipped by that instinctive faculty of
accommodating himself to the men of all nations with their physical
attributes and surroundings, I think he may dispense, in a large
measure, with the science of language as an open sesame. Nature has her
own methods.

This being more in the nature of a memoir purely personal in its
details, giving the characteristics of the man who performed an exploit
deemed by the Royal Geographical Society worthy of the Murchison Grant,
I may be pardoned for adding a few private particulars of the events
leading to the death of one so young, and whose career was so full of
promise at its earthly close.

During the summer of the year 1888, McNair met with a very serious
horse accident, one, indeed, that might with complete natural sequence
have terminated his life on the spot. The vicious horse of a friend he
was riding to tame the brute (for he was a skilful horseman as well as
good at sports), reared and fell over on him. By the display of
personal alacrity he managed to avoid vital injuries, but sufficient of
the animal's body came on his own to render it necessary that he should
be carried home in a "jhampan," or Sedan chair, used in the mountain
sanitaria of India for the conveyance of ladies. A friend's house in
the neighbourhood of the spot where the accident occurred was of great
use in restoring him somewhat from the effects of the accident. The
kind friends who helped him to undertake the journey to his house,
about a mile distant (carried in this way on men's shoulders), did Mr.
McNair one of those services for which India is renowned as a land of
friendly help. The injuries sustained internally nevertheless kept the
patient in bed for a month, and the nursing of a mother and sister
brought him round sufficiently to enable him to do his work as usual to
all appearance. During the ensuing winter he had very hard work, which
involved much exposure, and he suffered exceedingly from the effects of
that accident. Immediately after he felt indisposition of any kind he
complained of a return of the pains due to the accident, and there can
be but little doubt that the inward injuries then sustained had left
their mark, though nominally healed. 1888-9 was a severe winter in the
mountain regions of our frontier, and a letter I had from McNair in
April, 1889 (the last letter I ever received from him), gave some
description of the vicissitudes of temperature he had to undergo. I
give the letter in his own words in the Appendix, as a facsimile of his
handwriting, to show how precise a hand he wrote, and as a memento of
himself which some of his many friends might wish to cherish, for I
believe that in many respects handwriting bears marked characteristics
of the qualities of the individual. Here I will only extract the
following description of the trials my friend had to undergo in the
matter of temperature. In camp, away from Quetta and all means of
procuring supplies on the spot, he writes under date the 2nd of April,
1889: "For the past fortnight I have had a rough time of it with rain,
wind, and haze. Since yesterday there has been a change for the better,
so now I hope to push along with my observations. Just at present I am
in a low valley, and consequently the heat is somewhat trying, but in
another fortnight I expect I shall be complaining of it being a _little
bit_ too cold, at an elevation of 10,000 and odd. I have little or no
news to give, as it is now some time since I saw a pale face, but
somehow or another solitude has its charms for me." The writer of that
letter soon after applied for three months' leave, having experienced
broken health for some time previously, in constant returns of fever,
but owing to the delay that occurs in getting post letters despatched
from the frontier away from posting stations, and the circumlocution
which is a feature in all great departments of State, McNair did not
get his leave sanctioned till sometime in July, 1889, and he was not
able to start from Quetta for his mountain home in Mussooree, a
distance of several days' trying journey, until the early days of
August. The fond hearts of a mother and sister that awaited him there
had no knowledge of the dangerous character of the fever from which he
had been suffering for nearly a fortnight before he started from

Within a very few days after his arrival at Mussooree, the doctors held
a consultation over his case, as the fever could not be subdued by any
treatment tried, and then the truth that it was typhoid had to be
acknowledged. All that medical skill and affectionate nursing of
devoted relatives, friends, and a qualified nurse, could do towards
saving the patient was done, and hopes were entertained of recovery
till almost the last; but three days before the fatal end, hemorrhage
of the intestines set in, and then the medical attendants despaired.
McNair himself spoke soon after his arrival at Mussooree of the hour of
separation having come, and asked for his brother George. The
suddenness of the end gave all his friends a painful shock, for many
had not even heard that he was dangerously ill; and, as to the
relatives, silent consternation for the moment are the only words that
can adequately describe their desolation and sorrow. A fervently
attached younger brother George, a popular member of the well-known
firm of Messrs. Morgan and Company, the solicitors for the East Indian
Railway Company, hurried up from Calcutta, on a telegram to join his
family at Mussooree, but when he left he did not know of his brother's
death. It was only when he reached the foot of the mountains, at a
place called "Rajpore," within two hours' ride of Mussooree, where he
inquired of the hotel manager if any recent news had been received of
his brother's condition, that he got news not only of his brother's
death, but of his burial. The railway journey from Calcutta to
Mussooree is a long one of about a thousand miles; but Indian Railways,
travelling even at express speed, do not exceed twenty-five miles an
hour. The sympathy experienced by the sorrowing family from near and
distant friends was beyond mere conventional words of condolence. I
have it, from the members of the family themselves, that they were
comforted in a very real and essential manner by the tender and
extremely touching devotion of their friends, the depth of whose regard
was then for the first time in many cases discovered. Rising above and
beyond this general sympathy, two proofs came with a binding and
enduring force that mark them out for special mention. They typify the
two extremes of human life and the complexity of human relations. On
the one hand there was the perfect knowledge of every detail of daily
life and sacrifice, and the loyalty and enthusiasm that made such a
life possible, which _sharing_ a life to the full means. On the other,
there was the tender reverence bred of looking up to something that
seemed better and higher than the common lot of men. The two extremes I
refer to were centered in the man who had most scientific knowledge of
William McNair's worth, and the closest sympathy with his life, namely,
Colonel Holdich, of the Royal Engineers, under whom McNair served, and
for whom I know McNair had the highest admiration and the warmest
personal regard, and native subordinates McNair had under him, who
loved as only Asiatics can love Europeans whom they revere. An intrepid
explorer himself, _vide_ the announcement made regarding Colonel
Holdich by Sir Henry Rawlinson at the close of the discussion on the
paper read by McNair, Colonel Holdich has added year by year to his
many signal scientific services rendered to the Indian Government; and
recently he has added to his many accomplishments the rarer merit among
men of that love of worth in others, which culminates in human
brotherhood. His words of appropriate Oriental metaphor, in writing to
the family, that his sense of personal loss in the man with whom he had
for years, in the wildest solitudes and the most prolonged hardships,
eaten "bread and salt" together, made it difficult for him to say all
he felt, were emphasised by the human grief he could not repress at the
funeral; where, owing to the suddenness with which everything had
happened, he was indeed the "chief mourner"--in touching emotion that
bore witness to the depth and susceptibility of the man's noble nature.
The other testimony, which kindled great comfort in the desolate
household, came from the scene of McNair's latest exploit, far away, at
and near Quetta, when his native companions and friends heard of his
death. The grief felt was so profound, that it seemed irreparable to
the men who mourned their beloved friend, as the leader who was also
their constant companion, and always cheerful with them under every
adversity. The Oriental may be unappreciated by the Saxon till the
latter knows the sentimental side of every Asiatic character, but then
the floodgates of human sympathy are opened, and the very counterpart
of characteristics and qualities exhibited by Saxon and Asiatic,
conduce and contribute to a closer and more romantic union between
them. It is on the principle which Bagehot so profoundly illustrated
when he said that no age is just to the age immediately preceding it,
because of their similarity and proximity. The appreciation of Colonel
Holdich for his valued coadjutor and the executant of many of his plans
was based on the contrary principle acutely observed on by George Henry
Lewes, when he remarked that surprise, like appreciation, can only have
for foundation of any worth, a background of close observation and
exact perception.

I state the simple truth when I record that the testimonies, received
in this way from the two extremes of highest knowledge and most diverse
social and national conditions, remain the most grateful and enduring
memorials of a life's work to those who must ever cherish the memory of
what this memoir is precluded from touching on, namely, the more sacred
domestic endearments of the life-long devotion to family ties of a son
and a brother. This much I may be permitted to reveal without any
intrusion on the hallowed reserves of the family circle. A more united
or more tenderly-knit family, of strong religious feeling, I have never
known. I had the privilege twenty-one years ago, of knowing a younger
brother of the deceased, named John, who in less than three years
attained to an honoured position in the Finance Department of the
Indian Government. He was preternaturally grave and philanthrophic, and
died at the age of a youth in England (I think he was not 23 years old)
of small-pox contracted at Lahore, in the Punjab, where he was
stationed at the time. He had for some time, although but a lad in
years, spent his leisure hours in attending the hospital, and reading
to sick soldiers, where it is believed he contracted the disease. Of
the living, conventional usage forbids all mention, but I have deemed
it right to reproduce as appendices to this skeleton and imperfect
memoir the notices that appeared in the principal Indian papers of
William McNair's death, as also the obituary notices taken from the
proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society for October and November,

The extract reprinted from the _Pioneer_ editorial gives the most
complete and faithful description of Mr. McNair's achievements during a
too brief day of usefulness. Portions of that editorial need a passing
word so far as the subject of this memoir is concerned. With regard to
the disapproval of the Indian Government of McNair's venture in
entering Kafiristan without the permission of his Government, I never
heard a word from his lips by way of complaint, although no doubt the
paper accurately describes the facts.

Nor did I ever hear a syllable from the brave, unselfish man of
disappointment at the way in which his worldly prospects were never
advanced in the slightest by the nobly adventurous work he had done. By
nature he was too bent on doing the work in hand to theorise about
anything. By character he was too loftily absorbed in loyalty and
reverence for the law of obedience as a root-principle of his life, to
deplore any want of appreciation of his worth on the part of the
Government which he had so loyally served. It is true, as the "Pioneer"
points out, that on the Russian side such a man would have had honours
and distinctions showered upon him. He would have been dragged out of
his retirement and made to feel he was the favourite of the monarch,
for the risk to life he had undertaken in spontaneous devotion to the
State. Not only is such warmth and enthusiasm not the English method,
but the Indian Government is a huge machine which goes grinding on in
its mechanical way, and is besides, a bureaucracy which has a good deal
of pride in regarding any new departure as a dangerous token of
disrespect to its old and consecrated tradition of simple obedience to
written orders and codified instructions. The highest originality is
smothered in a secretariat as its fitting cabinet. McNair knew these
attributes of the Indian Government, and never troubled his head about
preferment or official promotion. It is said he was on the eve of it,
and the State is believed to somewhat deplore the loss of an
opportunity for rewarding a servant it prized, doubtless, in its own
dull, routine sort of way. But he is now beyond earthly rewards or
distinctions, and neither the praise nor the blame of men can touch
him. In life he was very sensitive to kindness or coldness, but he was
of too masculine a fibre to allow the natural sweetness and contentment
of his disposition to be alloyed or marred by any such influence from
without. He loved his work for its own sake. It became his sole
occupation and serious aim in life. He deplores the weather in his very
last letter to me, most characteristically, because it interfered with
his "observations," which, with "the change" he hoped for and partly
realized, he would "_push_ along."

The epithet describes the simple, practical side of his character. His
later love of solitude was the natural outcome of that closer contact
with nature which made to him a living daily reality the command, "Thou
shalt have no other gods but Me." His last hours were ministered to
faithfully by a chaplain of the English Church in Mussooree. The
religious life of the family resigned itself speedily to that sovereign
will of heaven which means to all who have tasted of its majesty and
glory, and have seen glimpses of the wisdom and foresight that put
man's desires to shame, the submission of heart and mind in all their
integrity. Nay, more, as one from that inner circle very beautifully
put it in a letter to the writer of this memoir, "It was 'infinite
love' alone that permitted his return to us to die, surrounded by our
love," and in a lovely mountain region where for many years he spent
his annual summer and autumn "recess," working out the results of the
observations made during the rough winter's campaign, he lies buried
near the home of his loved ones. There the eternal stars give a more
brilliant light to the pure air surrounding his last resting place, and
the solemn pines and firs pointing heavenwards with their venerable age
and sighing their constant hymn give an everlasting pathos to the story
of man's day on earth. The hill sides, terraced into beds of
flowers--many wild and more cultivated, especially dahlias, which grow
in great luxuriance and richness of colour in the hills of India--form
the beautiful ground-work of an Indian cemetery in a sanitarium like
Mussooree. On that spot, as it lies, the visitor will behold on one
side, to the south, the dark shadow of a mountain elevation, called the
"Camel's Back," by reason of its shape and sheer projection upwards,
typifying the wall of human sense at sight of death; and on the other
he will look out upon the ever-changing, though distant line of
perpetual snow. The snow view in India, on mountain regions, is beyond
description. No word-painting could give an idea of it; and few artists
have been able to reproduce the magical effects of sunrise and sunset
on the snows during the varying seasons of the year. The roseate tints
of dawn blush on their peaks till they become a flame, and pale into
iciest marble; and the evening splendours of purple and violet and
death-like blue are the phantasmagoria which no human hand has ever
made a living picture. Like the human life, it grows into beauty,
coruscates, and then passes into darkness.

Looked at from the purely materialistic side, doubtless, the lives of
men are mere seaweed thrown up by the mighty ocean of Creation on the
shores of Time. But from the Christian's higher standpoint, the broken
arc is made a magic circle on the side we cannot see.

_There_, let us trust, all lives which seem to us to have snapped
asunder here, in imperfect fruition of bright promise, may find their
perfect fulfilment of desire. As Faber poetically says:--"Death, after
all, is a darkening and disappearance of those we love, and we must be
content to take it so. It is only a question of more or less, where the
darkness shall begin, and what it shall eclipse first. To the others
who have loved the dying, and have gone before him, it is not a
darkening, but a dawning. Perhaps to them it is the brightest dawn when
it has been the most opaque and colourless sunset on the side of the
earth." Or as Keble, with divine humility of richest spiritual
imaginativeness, expresses it--

"Ever the richest tenderest glow
  Sets round the autumnal sun--
But there sight fails: no heart may know
  The bliss when life is done."


20, Earl's Court Square, South Kensington, London,
October 20th, 1889.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Extract from_ "THE DELHI GAZETTE," _August 19th_, 1889.

A LIFE OF PROMISE ABRUPTLY ENDED.--It was with feelings of deep sorrow
that we read in _The Pioneer_ of Friday last the death notice of Mr.
William McNair, the Kafiristan explorer. A man singularly frank and
genial, he was 33 years of age when he undertook the venture that won
for him the medal and fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society
which were conferred in 1884. In that year he had the satisfaction of
lecturing before British audiences on the results of his travels, and
as it was the first time he had visited the land of his fathers the
pleasure of seeing the old country under circumstances so honourable to
himself was doubly keen.

The story of his adventures may be briefly told. Every one knows that
the Government of India issued strict injunctions against allowing any
European to cross the Afghan frontier. Nevertheless that restless
spirit Sir Charles McGregor, Quartermaster-General, was naturally
anxious to know something of the debateable land that lies north of the
Kabul river and south of the Hindoo Koosh, and which tradition alleges
to have been colonised by the soldiers of the Great Alexander himself.
We have no doubt, that McGregor prompted the enterprise, though McNair
never distinctly said that he had been urged by so high an officer to
break the orders of his official superiors. The affair was arranged in
this way. McNair took furlough, and ceased for the moment to be a
servant of Government. He disappeared across the frontier and was not
heard of again till his safe return was assured. Of course he had
confederates; one in particular, a tribal chief whose friendship he had
secured in the Afghan campaigns of 1878-79. His disguise was, however,
pretty complete, walnut juice being, we believe, the material that
converted a florid complexion into the tan so natural to Afghan
mountaineers. He had the wisdom to confine his words to a language he
understood as well as English, viz., Urdu, and posed as a _Hukeem_ from
India impelled by a spirit of benevolence to visit unknown lands for
the sake of caring the ailments of his fellew creatures. Had he
attempted to talk Pushtoo, his foreign intonation would have been
detected, while his knowledge of that tongue enabled him to detect the
drift of any conversation that was carried on in his presence. Once, we
believe, he was in imminent danger, a proposal having been set on foot
to put an end to the wanderings of the _Hukeem_, as an English spy. A
rapid change of quarters averted the danger, and he afterwards fell in
with the people he came to see, viz., the Kafirs, who whether,
descending from Alexander's Greeks or not, received him kindly. We
believe the _Hukeem_ was aided in his researches by a big book supposed
to contain medical receipts, but which was in reality a box of
surveying instruments, its outside covered with cabalistic signs
bearing a family resemblance to a plane-table! The _Hukeem_ was much
given to solitary meditation, and generally sought mountain peaks for
that purpose. On such occasions the plane-table afforded him invaluable

But we have said almost enough of poor McNair's adventure. On his
return he was ordered to Simla and officially reprimanded by the
Viceroy, Lord Ripon, for disobedience of orders! He was consoled,
however, by being told by the same nobleman at a private interview that
his pluck was admired, while his fast friend, Sir Charles McGregor,
received him with open arms. Such was the bright opening of a career
that was so soon to be cut short at Mussooree by typhoid fever.

McNair was a favourite with both sexes. By the men he was adored on the
cricket-field, where his bowling was most effective, while the girls,
who always possess second sight in the way of detecting a good fellow
when they see him, loved him _en masse_. It may be some consolation to
the widowed mother now robbed of her darling boy, to know that there
are heavy hearts in other homes besides her own--the purest tribute
that can be laid on the grave of one who was a good son as well as a
gallant explorer.

We note that the fever of which he died was contracted at Quetta.

_Extract from_ "The Pioneer," _August 20th,_ 1889.

THE LATE MR. McNAIR.--The lives of some men are so intimately connected
with certain phases in the general development of knowledge that their
biographies afford short but useful pages in the history of progress
which may well be read in connection with more stirring national
records. Thus it was with the life of a man who quietly passed from the
subordinate branch of the Survey Department into the land of shadows on
the 13th of this month at Mussoorie. At the commencement of the year of
grace 1879, a little over ten years ago, we were groping our way across
the borderland which separates India from Turkistan, in unhappy
ignorance of all but two or three partially illustrated lines of
advance which might land us either at Kabul or Kandahar. Considering
the vital importance that it always has been to India that at least a
creditable knowledge of the countries separating her from Russia should
exist, the geographical mist which enveloped the highlands of
Afghanistan and the deserts of Baluchistan in 1879 was certainly
remarkable. It is true that the war of 1839-43 had brought to the front
one or two notable geographers, amongst whom North, Broadfoot, and
Durand were conspicuous, but it had also developed a host of inferior
artists, whose hazy outlines and indefinite sketches tended most
seriously to obscure the really trustworthy work of better men. More, a
good deal, was known about Kandahar and Kabul than of our present
frontier opposite Dera Ismail, or of the passes leading from Bannu
across the border only a few miles distant. Indeed, so far as that
frontier was concerned, from Peshawar to Sind, no military knowledge of
it existed whatever. It is with the gradual evolution of light over
these dark places that McNair's name is so closely associated. For many
years previous to the Afghan war he had been making himself thoroughly
acquainted with modern survey instruments of precision, which are to
the scientific weapons of our forefathers of fifty years ago what the
Gatling and Henry-Martini are to the old Brown Bess. He was one of the
first to grasp the true principles of using the plane-table when rapid
action is necessary, and right well he turned his knowledge to account.
It was the advance on Kabul in 1879 that first introduced him to the
notice of military authorities, and in the course of that year's
campaign he had added more to our map information than all the
geographers of the "old" Afghan war put together.

Some of his exploits were remarkable, as for instance when he explored
the Adrak Badrak pass leading from the Lughman valley to Jugdalak with
no military escort whatever, trusting only to the tender mercies of an
"aboriginal" guard. He thus made himself acquainted with every detail
of the direct road from Kabul, _viâ_ the Kabul river, to Jalalabad; and
with him our practical acquaintance with that important route has
passed away. No sooner had he left Afghanistan than he was attached to
the frontier party then working in the Kohat district; there he was
Major Holdich's right-hand man. If there was a specially hard frontier
nut to be cracked, McNair's powers of assimilating himself to Pathan
manners, and of winning the confidence of all classes of natives, which
had already carried him through many a perilous undertaking, were most
fully utilised for the purpose of cracking it. From Kohat to Dera
Ismail he was incessantly engaged in quiet little unobtrusive
excursions (with full political sanction _bien entendu_) which resulted
in a very complete map of the border, a map which it will be hard to
supersede. There is one particularly awkward corner of our
frontier--awkward from a military as well as geographical point of
view--which thrusts itself forward over the general line into British
territory, and which can never fail to attract the attention of the
frontier traveller. This is the rocky fastness of Kafir Koh. From red
salt hills south of Bahadur Khel the three-headed peak of Kafir Koh is
seen standing up like a monument in the southern distance: nor is it
less a conspicuous feature when viewed to the north from the Bannu
road. At the back of it, to the west, is the direct road connecting the
upper Meranzai valley with the Bannu district, of which the existence
was known, but not the nature, when McNair took it in hand. Up the
sheer face of that square-cut peak, composed chiefly of shifting sand
and pebbles, which overtops the rest, McNair did his best to climb. He
did not succeed for the reason that no living thing without wings has
probably ever succeeded in surmounting it, although there is a legend
to the effect that a specially active Waziri robber did once contrive
to reach the top--and there remained to starve; but the English
explorer at least got far up enough to obtain the clear view he
required, and he came back richer in wisdom to the extent of many
square miles of most remarkable mapping. His name soon became well
known on the border, especially amongst the Waziris, and so much did
they appreciate his own appreciation of themselves, that there is a
story current that one well-known Mahsud chieftain stopped a Punjab
Cavalry detachment near the border line and demanded a passport order
from McNair. Perhaps his best achievement about this part of his career
was the mapping of all the approaches to, and the general features of
the lower Tochi valley.

In 1883 he conceived the bold scheme of taking leave and exploring
Kaffiristan in disguise, trusting to the good fellowship of certain
Pathan friends, amongst whom two members of the Kakur Khel were chief.
It was a bold scheme for many reasons. The physical difficulties of the
project were many. The impossibility of keeping up a continuous
disguise was well known to him, and last, but not least, "What would
Government say?" For fear of involving others in any venture of his
own, he resolved to cut himself adrift from his department for the time
being and take his chance. In order to appreciate properly the spirit
of enterprise which animated the man, critics of his actions should put
themselves in his place. He was well aware that the information which
he could obtain would be of the highest value; further, he knew that
probably there was not another man in India who could obtain it as
successfully as himself, and he judged that some slight exception might
be made in his favour if he took on himself the responsibility of
accepting a most favourable opportunity of doing most valuable work at
the expense of infringing certain rules about crossing the border.
These rules were, to say the least, vague and indefinite, and had never
been officially promulgated. Reward or recognition of service he
rightly never expected. It must fairly be conceded that the conditions
under which such a spirit of enterprise was shown made that spirit
especially honourable--for the Government of India has never been in a
position to encourage any such ventures. On the contrary, the possible
gain in information has always been held to be more than
counterbalanced by the chance of "complications." Lord Lytton, ever
ready to bewail the decadence of a soldierly spirit of enterprise
amongst our officers, was yet never quite able to see his way to making
such enterprise possible to a man who valued his commission. Lord
Ripon, under whose rule indeed more geographical work was completed
than under any previous Viceroy, was apt to regard the line of frontier
peaks and passes much as a careful gardener regards a row of
beehives--as subjects of tender treatment and watchful care: whilst
Lord Dufferin has lately with one wide sweep removed the great
incentment to all exploration enterprise by making the results thereof
"strictly confidential." These are cloudy conditions under which to
grow a true spirit of enterprise, and where it here and there crops up
and flourishes in spite of circumstances it is surely all the more to
be commended.

The story of McNair's journey to Kaffiristan need not be told here. It
was not made strictly confidential in those days, and it will be found
in the chronicles of the Royal Geographical Society. For this
performance he obtained the Murchison grant of the Society, and on the
strength of it he may be said to have taken his place amongst the first
geographers of the day. His frontier work did not end here. For the
last two years he was engaged on the most trying work of carrying a
"first class" triangulation series from the Indus at Dera Ghazi Khan,
across the intervening mountain masses, to Quetta, thence to be
extended to the Khojak, a work which involved continuous strain of
mountain climbing, of residence with insufficient cover in intensely
cold and high elevated spots, and the unending worry of keeping up the
necessary supplies both of food and water for his party. No doubt it
tried his constitution severely, and a hot weather at Quetta is,
unfortunately, not calculated to restore an impaired constitution.
Although very ill he determined to leave Quetta when his leave became
due, and he made his way with difficulty to Mussoorie to die amongst
his own people.

McNair belonged to a department which is not great in distinctions and
decorations, and is connected with no celestial brotherhood. Indeed, it
has no dealings with stars but such as are of God's own making--and he
belonged to what by grace of official courtesy is called the
"subordinate" branch. Out of it he never rose, though had he lived on
the Russian side of the border his career might well have brought him
high military rank and decorations in strings across his uniform. They
say that decorations are "cheap" there. Yet it should be remembered
that zeal, industry, enterprise, and patriotism are "cheap," too, if
they are to be won by them. Perhaps we manage better. The good old
copybook maxim, "Virtue is its own reward," must be McNair's epitaph,
whilst we cannot help feeling that India could have better spared many
a "bigger" man.

_Extract from_ "THE STATESMAN," _August 27th_, 1889.

By the death of Mr. McNair, of the Survey Department, a most valuable
officer has been lost to the Government of India, and a contributor to
our geographical knowledge of Afghanistan. It is difficult to estimate
the value of his services, as they have never been brought prominently
into notice like those of others who have lived in the sunshine of
official favour. We believe that, as in many similar cases, the public
record of his work was nothing to what he really did in the service of
geography, without any official publicity or recognition of the fact
whatever. From what we know of his life's work, we can gather
information that is amply sufficient to entitle Mr. McNair to being
placed in the front rank of geographers, in respect, as a contemporary
remarks, of that "borderland which separates India from Turkestan," It
is said of Mr. McNair, that in the course of the Afghan campaign in
1879, he added more to the sum of our knowledge of Afghanistan than all
the geographers of the "old" Afghan war put together, while some of his
exploits in surmounting what appeared to be absolutely insuperable
difficulties, make him take rank with the great geographers of his day.
His work in the Kohat district was especially valuable, although it
never, we believe, received the official recognition it deserved.
Thanks to his excursions and observations, we have, as the _Pioneer_
justly observes, a complete map of the border, a map which it will be
hard to supersede. His journey to Kaffirstan resulted in some valuable
contributions to our knowledge of that region, but the conditions of
Government service unfortunately prevented his receiving the reward,
which he would have secured as a matter of course, had he been the
servant of a power more quick and more liberal in its recognition of
merit. As the _Pioneer_ happily remarks, "Mr. McNair belonged to a
department which is not great in distinctions and decorations, and is
connected with no celestial brotherhood. Indeed, it has no dealings
with stars, but such as are of God's own making--and he belonged to
what by grace of official courtesy is called the 'subordinate' branch.
Out of it he never rose, though had he lived on the Russian side of the
border, his career might well have brought him high military rank, and
decorations in strings across his uniform." By his death, India loses a
valuable public servant, and that loss, we venture to say, will be more
deeply felt should complications arise on the frontier, when the
knowledge, experience, and ability of men like Mr. McNair will be the
primary condition of success in any operations in that quarter. We do
not know whether we should regret of any man that he did hot receive
the full meed of the success achieved by him in his life career amongst
his fellows. Certain it is that it is but deferred to the general audit
of every man's claims, for the hard and thorough work he has done to
the generation from which he has passed away, but to which and to its
successors he has left an example for them to emulate, and if they

_Extract from_ "THE TIMES," _10th September_, 1889.

The Indian mail brings intelligence of the death of Mr. William Watts
McNair, of the Indian Survey. In 1883 Mr. McNair, disguised as a
Mahomedan doctor, succeeded in reaching the outlying valleys of
Kafiristan, travelling by way of the Swat Valley and Chitral. For this
adventurous journey, in the course of which he obtained much valuable
information regarding the passes of the Hindoo Khoosh and about the
manners and customs of the Sirjah Push Kafirs, the Royal Geographical
Society awarded the Murchison Grant. Mr. M'Nair, in whom the Indian
Government has lost an able and zealous servant, died at Mussoorie on
August 13 of fever contracted at Quetta.

_Extract from_ "UNITED SERVICES GAZETTE," _19th October, 1889._

Mr. W.W. McNair.--The death is announced of Mr. McNair, a distinguished
member of the Indian Survey, who expired at Mussoree of typhoid fever.
He had been twenty-two years in the Survey Department, and had rendered
signal service, especially during the Afghan War of 1878-79. In the
disguise of a native doctor he made a journey into Kafiristan in 1883,
and this achievement gained for him the Murchison Grant of the Royal
Geographical Society. This expedition was, up to the time,
unparalleled. Mr. McNair ascended to the Dora Pass over the Hindoo
Khoosh Mountains, which he found to be over 14,000 feet high, but with
an easy ascent, quite practicable for laden animals.

_Extract from Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society for
October, 1889._


W.W. McNAIR.--We are sorry to have to record the death of this
distinguished member of the Indian Survey, who has died at Mussooree of
typhoid fever. He had been twenty-two years in the Survey Department,
and had done good service, particularly during the Afghan war of
1878-79, when his work lay along the valley of the Kabul river, and
during the last two years, in which he has been extending a series of
triangles from the British frontier at Dera, Ghazi Khan, by the direct
route across the Suliman Mountains to Quetta and the Khojak Amran. But
his most conspicuous piece of work was his journey (in the disguise of
a native doctor) into Kafiristan in 1883, an achievement which gained
for him the Murchison Grant of the Royal Geographical Society, and
which stands quite alone, as unless Russian explorers have recently
succeeded in entering the country, there is no record of any other
European ever having done so. Major Biddulph had visited Chitral, but
Mr. McNair had not only reached that town by way of the Swat river and
Dir, but crossed the mountains to the west, which divide the valley of
the Kashkar or Chitral river from that of the Arnawai. He reported that
he was kindly received by the villagers of the Lut-dih district, who
belong to the Bashgal tribe of Kafirs. The valley is important, for
along it there runs a direct and comparatively easy route from
Badakshan to Jelalabad. No doubt he would have explored the country
more fully, but owing to the conduct of a native, who maliciously
spread about the report of his being a British spy, Mr. McNair was
forced to abandon further attempts. He ascended, however, to the Dora
Pass over the Hindu Kush Mountains, which he found to be a little over
14,000 feet in height, with an easy ascent, quite practicable for laden
animals. This pass had been previously explored by the "Havildar" on
his return journey to India in 1870-71. Mr. McNair returned by way of
Mastuj, Yasin, Gilghit, and Srinagar. The account of his adventurous
and important journey was read by him before the Royal Geographical
Seciety on the 10th December, 1883, but official permission to publish
the map could not be obtained.

_From the "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society," November,_


The late Mr. W.W. McNair.--Colonel T. H. Holdich, R.E., sends us from
India the following additional details regarding the career of Mr.
McNair, briefly noticed in our last issue:--Amongst the many practical
geographers who have passed away during the year 1889 is Mr. W. McNair,
of the Indian Survey Department. His career was very closely connected
with a new phase of military exploration carried out on the frontier of
India, which had gradually superseded the older forms of
reconnaissance, and was rendered possible by late improvements in the
smaller classes of instruments, and a wider knowledge of the use of the
plane-table. For about ten years previous to the Afghan War of 1879,
McNair was attached to the topographical branch of the Indian Survey,
and he had always shown a special aptitude for that class of work,
which consists in acquiring a comprehensive grasp of a wide field of
geographical detail in the shortest possible space of time. When war
broke out, Afghanistan no longer afforded a field for such simple
geographical exploration as had already been accomplished during the
campaign of 1839-43. A completer military survey of all important
districts was required, which would furnish detailed information of
routes and passes which were far removed from the beaten tracks of
previous armies. At the same time the conditions under which such a
survey was to be made were exactly the same as those under which the
rough reconnaissances of the former campaign were obtained. The
surveyor was under the same urgent restrictions, both as to time and as
to the limits of his own movements off the direct line of march.
McNair, with one or two others, was selected for this topographical
duty with the Afghan field force, and right good use he made of his
opportunities. He was present during the fighting which took place
before Kabul in the winter of 1879-80, and was shut up with the
garrison of Sherpur during the fortnight's siege. His energy and
determination carried him through the campaign with more than
credit--he was able to illustrate modern methods of field topography in
a manner which threw new light on what was then but a tentative and
undeveloped system. He was one of the first to prove the full value of
the plane-table in such work as this, for it must be remembered that he
was working in a country peculiarly favourable to the application of a
system of graphic triangulation, and very different to the densely
forest-clad mountains of the eastern frontier into which the
plane-table had been carried before, with advancing brigades. At the
close of the war, which brought no recognition of his exceptional
services, he was appointed to the Kohát survey party, which was
primarily raised for the mapping of the Kohát district, but which
afforded occasional opportunities for extending topography across the
border. When this party was first raised our frontier maps were of the
most elementary character; there was many a wide blank in the
topography of the lower borderland, and geographical darkness shrouded
nearly the whole line of frontier mountains. The hostility of the
border people had always been such that it was a matter of considerable
risk to approach them, but the temper of the tribes was then rapidly
changing with the times, and McNair rapidly succeeded in establishing
himself on a friendly footing with frontier robber chiefs, whose
assistance was invaluable in arranging short excursions across the
line, by means of which he was able to complete a fairly accurate map
of most of the border country. No work that ever he accomplished has
been of more value to the Government of India than this unobtrusive
frontier mapping. It was whilst he was thus occupied between Peshawur
and Dera Ismail Khan that he made the acquaintance of certain
influential men of the Kaken Khel, who offered to see him safely
through the dangerous districts outlying Kaffirstan, and give him the
opportunity of being the first European to set his foot in that land of
romance. The snow-capped summits of some of the more southerly peaks of
Kaffirstan had been seen and fixed by McNair during the progress of the
Afghan campaign, and it had ever been a dream with him to reach those
mighty spurs, and torn those peaks to account by using them as the
basis of a topographical map of the country. He did reach them, as the
records of the R.G.S. sufficiently show, and he may fairly claim to be
the first Englishman to lift even a corner of the veil of mystery which
has ever shrouded that inaccessible country so far as its topographical
conformation is concerned. This excursion won for him the Murchison
Grant of the Society, and established his position as a leading
practical geographer. For the last few years of his life he has been
almost incessantly occupied in the rough work of frontier surveying,
which his knowledge of frontier people and power of winning their
confidence and help especially fitted him to undertake. At the time of
his death he was employed in the Baluchistan Survey party in the
completion of a triangulation series which should carry the great
Indian system to the Kojak range, and furnish a scientific and highly
accurate base for future extension into Afghanistan. This was a duty
which severely taxed even his vigorous constitution. It involved
incessant labour in examining lofty mountain peaks in order to select
suitable sites for stations, and subsequently days and nights of
anxious watching during the progress of the observations, whilst food
and water (when snow was not lying on the ground) were scarce, and
mists and clouds hung round the mountains. No doubt it tried him hard,
and when typhoid attacked him at Quetta he seemed unable to make a good
fight for his life. He was able, however, to reach Mussoorie, where he
died on the 13th August, leaving a gap in the Department which he
served so well which it will be exceedingly hard to fill.

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