Sir Francis Edward Younghusband


Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was an English soldier, explorer, leader of an expedition to Lhasa, and the founder of the World Fellowship of Faiths. Born into a family with strong military and Indian connections, Francis Younghusband duly entered the army and was posted to India in 1882. The lure of exploration in mountainous frontiers of strategic importance took him, on leave in 1886, across central Asia from Manchuria through Inner Mongolia and Sinkiang—regions where Russian interest was evident—to Kashmir, which he entered by the exacting Mustagh Pass. Accepted into the Foreign Service of the Indian government, he reconnoitered Russian activities in Hunza, where he crossed the extremely difficult, unexplored Saltoro Pass.

In 1891 Younghusband again encountered the Russians in the Pamir, and he was arrested and deported from territory claimed by them. On leave in 1895, he covered for the London Times the relief, from attack by local tribesmen, of the northwestern outpost of Chitral. When stationed there earlier, Younghusband had met George Curzon, traveling privately in Asia.

In 1903 Curzon, then viceroy of India, chose Younghusband to lead a mission to negotiate with the Tibetans, who were encouraging Russian overtures while contumeliously rejecting neighborly relations with India. Progress was inhibited by disagreement between the clear-sighted viceroy and the vacillating Balfour ministry in London; but, after prolonged Tibetan obstruction on the chilly Himalayan border, approval was given for a military expedition through unmapped mountain tracks and eventually to Lhasa itself.

In difficulty and danger Younghusband was a self-possessed, resolute, and fearless leader, but his humane nature was saddened by the losses inflicted on the ill-matched Tibetans before they were overcome in two sharp engagements. Reaching Lhasa in August 1904, he was urged to conclude a treaty speedily and withdraw before winter. Slow communications with London precluded an exchange of views, and the favorable response of the Tibetans to Younghusband’s generous integrity led him to include in the final terms two conditions advantageous to India but which went beyond his brief. They were reversed by London; and, through the animosity of the secretary of state for India, St. John Brodrick, who suspected he had flouted orders at Curzon’s instigation, Younghusband though awarded a knighthood was also officially reprimanded. That injustice to a remarkable achievement was only redressed 17 years later by a subsequent administration. Meanwhile, showing no bitterness, Younghusband enjoyed four years as the Resident in Kashmir before retiring at the age of 47.

Thereafter, as president of the Royal Geographical Society, Younghusband, characteristically, promoted expeditions to Mt. Everest. But the dominant interest in the remaining years of his long life was a mystical idealism, present at all times, that inspired him to lead with vigorous but benign enthusiasm a crusade for worldwide religious unity. Younghusband was married and had one son and one daughter.

Further Reading Younghusband’s life and character are sensitively depicted in George Seaver, Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic (1952). Peter Fleming, Bayonets to Lhasa (1961), gives a brilliant account of the Tibetan expedition. Both books contain lists of Younghusband’s own published works. Additional Sources French, Patrick, Younghusband: the last great imperial adventurer, London: HarperCollins, 1994.


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