The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922

By Wendy Palace | Go to book overview

3

Beyond the frontier

The British Administration in Tibet, 1904-1908

[N]ot withstanding all you say about the Man on the Spot, I humbly reply that this is just what the Government of India is not.

Lord Morley, January 1908

While others tried to rectify by diplomatic means what they perceived to be the damage caused by the Younghusband invasion and the Lhasa Convention that followed, the men on the spot, who worked as trade agents inside Tibet, were left to cope with the daily business of administration in the face of mounting political and psychological pressure, and in the growing awareness that the British Foreign Office were prepared to give little in the way of positive support.

Between the signing of the Lhasa Convention and the evacuation of Chumbi in February 1908 a kind of British administration struggled to survive at the trade marts in Yatung and Gyantse. The men selected to become trade agents at these marts had been handpicked by Curzon and had been key members of the Younghusband expedition. A post at Chumbi, mainly set up to help with the administration at Yatung, boosted the British presence in the Chumbi valley, while at the older established mart at Gartok it was considered wiser to employ an agent who was related to the local tribal leader and who might therefore be better placed to understand the special conditions in this less-contentious area. Observing them all from a safe distance was the overworked British political officer in Sikkim who, as well as monitoring Tibet, also had responsibility for Sikkim and Bhutan. 1

The men appointed to the trade marts at Yatung and Gyantse and the post at Chumbi came from the prestigious Indian Political Department and were widely referred to as the 'Politicals'. These men enjoyed a freedom and status denied to others because they came under the direct jurisdiction of the viceroy himself. A posting with the Politicals offered a fascinating alternative to a boringly predictable career in other departments of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) for the adventurous youth willing to take a career gamble. The lucky few appointed served as political agents

-36-

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The British Empire & Tibet 1900 - 1922
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - The Younghusband Invasion, 1900-1904 1
  • 2 - Masterly Inactivity 15
  • 3 - Beyond the Frontier 36
  • 4 - Delicate Work 53
  • 5 - Revolution, Invasion and Independence 73
  • 6 - The Simla Conference and the Bipartite Settlement, 1912-1914 92
  • 7 - The China Service and East Tibet, 1914-1918 106
  • 8 - Lhasa Unveiled 126
  • Conclusion 143
  • Notes 150
  • Select Bibliography 180
  • Index 188
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