Friday, January 27, 2012

Bayonets to Lhasa by Peter Fleming.

Bayonets to Lhasa by Peter Fleming.  Paperback Proof Copy published by Rupert Hart-Davis 1960.

As the title indicates, this book is not about peace loving adventurers seeking enlightenment high in the Himalayas.  The British expedition to Tibet that took place in 1903 and 1904, was led by a gentleman (?) by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband and was a rather sad and sorry affair.  On paper it was intended to be a way of discussing problems the British were having with the Tibetans regarding the Sikkim-Tibet border.  In fact it ended up, or was an excuse for, a blatant invasion of Tibet and quite a few Tibetans were mercilessly slaughtered whilst defending their country (hence the bayonets in the title).  I’m no historian but this whole thing was not one of the highlights of the British Empires rule in this part of the world.  There’s a great biography of Younghusband entitled Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Patrick French) which I read a number of years ago and to be honest, I didn’t end up with a very favourable opinion of Mr Younghusband… but that’s just my opinion. 

Peter Fleming didn’t write Casino Royale, Dr No or any of the other James Bond books.  They were all written by his little brother Ian.  Peter did write a number of books on various subjects including a small amount of fiction and some travel.  There’s a great book of his entitled News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir in which Peter traveled across China with Ella Maillart who wrote Forbidden Journey about the same adventure.  Both of these books are incredibly interesting partially due to the opinions and observation of each of them about the other.  From memory Ella was not overly impressed with Peter and Peter… well he hardly mentioned Ella at all and I can’t remember him having any opinion about her at all.  All of this of course has very little to do with Younghusband except that Peter and Ella did travel on the other side of the Himalayas at a much later date and they did go through Kashmir where Younghusband spent a number of years. 

This book was first published in 1961… hang on a sec… my copy was published in 1960. In other words this book predates the first edition.  What I have here is a Proof Copy as apposed to the first edition.  A Proof Copy is usually printed up as a test for the final print run.  This is intended as a way for the publisher, maybe the author and maybe anyone else involved with the book to pick up any errors and get an idea of how the finished product will look in print.  They are usually printed up cheaply, are often paperback (even if the final product is intended as a hardcover) and they often don’t have the illustrations, photographs etc that will eventually be included in the book, as is the case with this copy.  In other words if you’re a collector then this is something even more special/rare than a first edition as these are only printed up in small numbers.*

A quick look around on the interwebs confirms that this is indeed a rare item.  Unfortunately it does have some wear and various marks etc etc and I have described my copy on line as being in poor condition… as it is in poor condition (see scan above).  But it is rare and perfect for anyone interested in this particular incident in Tibetan history or interested in the “Great Game” … which is one of my interests and one of the reasons I, firstly, picked up this book and secondly, have read the Younghusband biography, the other Peter Fleming book and the Ella Maillart book.  

*For those of you who are aware of what a proof copy is, my apologies.  This blog is intended for a broad audience.

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