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MASSON, Charles.

Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab;

[together with;] Narrative of a Journey to Kalat.

Published: London: Richard Bentley, 1842-3

Stock code: 107519

Price: £5,750

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First editions. Considered “to be the most enigmatic among the European explorers” of the north-west frontier, Masson (1800-53), was born John Lewis in London, and in 1821 enlisted as a private in the East India Company’s infantry, later transferring to the Bengal European Artillery. He was present at the siege of Bharatpur in 1826 but deserted in early July 1827 in Agra and changed his name. He travelled to Afghanistan and embarked on over a decade of “pioneering travel and antiquarian investigation. During this period he collected well over 80,000 ancient coins and other objects which first provided a chronology of the dynasties of central Asia in the unknown centuries after the death of Alexander the Great. From 1834 Masson published news of his discoveries in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The following year he was recruited by the East India Company as news writer in Afghanistan, in return for a free pardon for his desertion and a small allowance” (ODNB). He also offered “the first hint of the historical importance of Harappa” (Robinson, The Indus, p.28), one of the major sites of the ancient Indus Valley culture. In the years immediately before the First Afghan War, Masson was strongly critical of the Forward Policy, using his narrative to comment adversely on the conduct of Alexander Burnes and Sir William Macnaughten . He left Afghanistan in 1838 and during the ensuing British invasion remained in Sind, compiling the first-named work. “In attempting to return to Afghanistan in 1840, he became accidentally embroiled in the Baluchistan revolt and was imprisoned by the British authorities without either charge or good reason” events which he describes in the pendant volume. He returned to Britain in 1842, a typically embittered and disputatious ex-HEIC employee, failing “in his efforts to obtain financial compensation, to publish an illustrated magnum opus about his Afghan years, to return to Afghanistan, and to complete a half-finished novel”. Although Masson lacked any formal training, “as an accurate observer of, and extensive traveller in, a virtually unknown land he was unrivalled”, and the present narrative “has been judged to be a record which is unsurpassed … for the width of its scope of inquiry into political, social, economic and scientific matters and the general accuracy of its conclusion” (Chopra). Ownership initials of Lieut.-Col. John Archibald Ballard, dated 1857 to the front free endpaper of volume I. Ballard was educated at Addiscombe, and commissioned in the Bengal Engineers in 1850. He earned a considerable reputation for his “cool bravery in action” (Buckland) during his services attached to the Turkish forces in the Crimea, commanding a brigade in Omar Pasha’s campaign in Mingrelia. “Ballard returned to India in 1856 [&] served as assistant quartermaster-general in the Persian campaign, and afterwards in the Indian mutiny with the Rajputana field force, taking part in the pursuit and rout of Tantia Topi’s forces. His promotion was singularly rapid, advancing in 1858 from lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel. He was subsequently mint-master at Bombay. Having attained the rank of lieutenant-general, he retired in 1879” (ODNB). An attractive set of this important memoir of turbulent times on the frontier.

4 volumes octavo. Original matching purple combed cloth, title gilt to the spines, panelling in blind to the boards, pale cream surface-paper endpapers. Single-tint lithographic frontispiece and one other similar plate to each volume of the first-named, together with numerous wood-cut illustrations to the text; large folding map to the pendant volume. All spines a little sunned, and crumpled head and tail with some minor splits and chips, overall a little rubbed, and bumped at the extremities, light browning to the text-blocks, and some foxing particularly to the plates; the pendant volume neatly rebacked with the original spine laid down, end papers renewed, folding map with two closed tears, no loss; a very good set.

Bibliography: Chopra, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Times, pp. 43-4; Riddick 148 & 149; Yakushi M108a, for the first-named.

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