Description

    The First Published Account of an English Embassy to Tibet

    Captain Samuel Turner. An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet; Containing a Narrative of a Journey through Bootan, and Part of Tibet. London: G. And W. Nichol, 1800.

    First edition. Quarto. xxviii, 473, [1] pages. With all 13 engraved plates and fold-out map of Tibet at front.

    Contemporary tree calf, expertly rebacked retaining the original spine, smooth spine with gilt rules and devices, original black morocco gilt lettering label. Some foxing to leaves before and after plates (though plates themselves are clean), edge shipping to spine label (still legible), armorial bookplate and contemporary signature of R. Trevlyan. A very clean, handsome copy.

    "Samuel Turner entered history on the coattails of Warren Hastings, the British Governor-General of India, and Hastings' protégé George Bogle, the first English envoy to Tibet. Bogle, originally a clerk in the East India Company, was commissioned in 1774 to open diplomatic relations with the Panchen Lama (whom Turner calls by the alternate title the 'Teshoo' or 'Teshu' Lama).

    "Although Turner did not embrace Tibet as Bogle had done, he was acclaimed a reasonable diplomat. Trade arrangements were made, and a few years after his departure Tibetan, Bhutanese, Indian, and British markets were all able to offer each other's merchandise. Peking remained unmoved, however, and the opportunity for peaceful meetings with China was dropped when the Hastings administration ended in 1786. Before he left, Turner procured a yak for the Governor-General's private menagerie in England.

    "Turner's memoir of his trip was never as popular as the published version of Bogle's diary, but it nonetheless contributed both to the mythologized image of the Land of Snows as an inaccessible Shangri-La and to a truer perception of its position at the intersection of the world's great powers" (NYSL).


    More Information:

    "Samuel Turner entered history on the coattails of Warren Hastings, the British Governor-General of India, and Hastings' protégé George Bogle, the first English envoy to Tibet. Bogle, originally a clerk in the East India Company, was commissioned in 1774 to open diplomatic relations with the Panchen Lama (whom Turner calls by the alternate title the "Teshoo" or "Teshu" Lama).

    Because the Dalai Lama was then in his minority, his capital of Lhasa was run by a regent and representatives from the Qianlong Emperor in Peking, who considered Tibet a Chinese protectorate. The Chinese were disinclined to host the Englishmen whose empire had taken over India, but Hastings hoped that the Panchen Lama's court at Tashilhunpo might be more open to trade agreements and to negotiations about problems with neighboring Bhutan and Nepal. Bogle was also to feel out a possible role for Tibet as a "back door" to trade with China and keep a diary about Tibetan culture and nature.

    Somewhat unexpectedly, Bogle became a close friend of the Panchen Lama, living and traveling with his court, recording numerous details about Buddhist religion and culture, and even marrying a Tibetan noblewoman, according to some sources. Tragically, Bogle and the Lama both died young within four months of each other in 1781, the diplomat by accidental drowning and the Lama of smallpox. The English mission to Tibet appeared to have gone with them.

    However, the following year Hastings received word that the new incarnation of the Panchen Lama had been found and that he would welcome contact with the English. To replace Bogle, Hastings selected his cousin Samuel Turner, a lieutenant with the Company army. Turner joined many of Bogle's original party in the difficult trip across the Himalayas to Tashilhunpo. There he found that the Panchen Lama, in Bogle's day a wise and cultured adult, was now an eighteen-month-old child.

    "I found myself, though visiting an infant, under the necessity of saying something," Turner wrote. Through the regent and interpreters, Turner presented compliments and reiterated Bogle's goals of open trade and possible contact with China. Although he was too young to speak, the little Lama listened courteously. "I must own, that his behaviour, on this occasion, appeared perfectly natural and spontaneous, and not directed by any external action or sign of authority," Turner marveled. "The scene, in which I was here brought to act a part, was too new and extraordinary, however trivial, or perhaps preposterous, it may appear to some, not to claim from me great attention, and consequently minute remark." According to the Tibetan observers, the Englishman was astonished at the child's maturity and instantly converted to a belief in reincarnation.

    Although Turner did not embrace Tibet as Bogle had done, he was acclaimed a reasonable diplomat. Trade arrangements were made, and a few years after his departure Tibetan, Bhutanese, Indian, and British markets were all able to offer each other's merchandise. Peking remained unmoved, however, and the opportunity for peaceful meetings with China was dropped when the Hastings administration ended in 1786. Before he left, Turner procured a yak for the Governor-General's private menagerie in England.

    Turner's memoir of his trip was never as popular as the published version of Bogle's diary, but it nonetheless contributed both to the mythologized image of the Land of Snows as an inaccessible Shangri-La and to a truer perception of its position at the intersection of the world's great powers" (NYSL).



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