George Scott Robertson

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Sir George Scott Robertson KCSI (22 October 1852 – 1 January 1916) was a British soldier, author, and administrator who was best known for his arduous journey to the remote and rugged region of Kafiristan in what is now northeastern Afghanistan. He chronicled his Kafiristan experience in the book The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush. Some have suggested that Robertson's year-long expedition and subsequent book (originally published in 1896) provided background and inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Man Who Would Be King". However, Kipling's work was originally published in 1888, predating Robertson's travels to the region.

Travels to Kafiristan[edit]

Robertson was born in London, England, and received his education at the Westminster Hospital Medical School (now Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London). In 1878 he entered the Indian Medical Service and served throughout the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80. In 1888, he was attached to the Indian Foreign Office and assigned as agency surgeon in Gilgit, in northern Pakistan. According to his book, it was around this time that Robertson, having encountered several interesting Kafirs (people from Kafiristan) during the war and while in Gilgit, he became curious about their land and way of life. He asked the Government of India for permission to attempt the journey, and by October 1889 was on his way, departing from Chitral in northwest Pakistan in the company of several Kafir headmen of the Kam tribe. His journey lasted just over a year, ending in 1891, and providing Robertson with first-hand experience of the strange customs and colorful people of Kafiristan.

He was made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India in 1892.[1]

The Siege of Chitral[edit]

In 1893, after his travels in Kafiristan, Surgeon Major Robertson was assigned to the then-independent State of Chitral once again, this time as a political agent. In 1895 he brought a force of around 400 soldiers, under the direct command of Captain Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, from Gilgit to oversee the transfer of power in Chitral following the murder of its ruler. After his arrival, Robertson engaged in a series of complex political and military maneuvers, including an unsuccessful sortie on 3 March 1895, from his base in Chitral Castle. The British forces took heavy losses during this sortie and retreated to the castle, where they endured a month-long siege from hostile factions. The siege was raised on 19 April when a relief force, under Colonel Kelly, arrived and dispersed the hostile tribesmen. For his service during the famous "Siege of Chitral" Robertson was made a Knight Commander in the Order of the Star of India (K.C.S.I.)[2] and appointed British agent in Gilgit.

Later years[edit]

Robertson continued in the Indian Service until his retirement in 1899. He then returned to England where he made an unsuccessful bid for political office as a Liberal party candidate in Stirlingshire at the 1900 general election,[3] but later was elected in Central Bradford in 1906.[4] He held his seat in the House of Commons until his death on New Year's Day, 1916.[5]

The Book The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush[edit]

This detailed account of Robertson's tour throughout Kafiristan was originally published in London in 1896 by Lawrence & Bullen, LTD. Although its descriptions of the kafirs of the Hindukush are written in an outdated and colonial (and, from the perspective of modern sensibilities, discriminatory) style, it also contains some of the only accounts of the region from that time period. The book is accompanied by illustrations by A.D. McCormic and was dedicated to Robertson's wife.

This book exists in reprint edition (28 Feb 1999) from Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (ISBN 8121508843/ ISBN 978-81-215-0884-1). Online scanned versions are available at the Internet Archives and Google Books.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 26291. p. 3138. 25 May 1892. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26644. p. 4021. 16 July 1895. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  3. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1974]. British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 561. ISBN 0-900178-27-2. 
  4. ^ Craig, op. cit., page 79
  5. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "B" (part 4)[self-published source][better source needed]

Sources[edit]

  • Robertson, George Scott (1896) The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush. Lawrence & Bullen, LTD., London.
  • Mohammad Afzal Khan Chitral and Kafirstan, a personal study. Peshawar, Pakistan. ISBN 4871875210
  • 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (11th Edition): Sir George Scott Robertson

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Leslie Wanklyn
Member of Parliament for Bradford Central
19061916
Succeeded by
James Hill