Younghusband, Sir Francis (Edward) (1863-1942)

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Younghusband, Sir Francis (Edward) (1863-1942)

British explorer, soldier, author, and mystic. Born at Murree, India, May 31, 1863, he was educated at Clifton and Sand-hurst, England. He joined the British army in 1882.

From 1886 to 1887 he traveled across central Asia from Peking to Yarkand and on to India, crossing the Karakoram Range by the Muztagh Pass. He discovered the Aghil Mountains and showed that the Great Karakoram was the water divide between India and Turkistan. On later explorations beyond the Karakoram he was able to trace the river Shaksgam to its junction with the Yarkand, and explored the Pamirs. During his period in the 1st Dragoon Guards, Younghusband held the rank of captain.

In 1890 he transferred to the Indian political department and served in northwest frontier stations. He visited South Africa in 1896. He was a special correspondent for The Times news-paper, London, in the Chitral Expedition in 1895 and a political agent in Haraoti and Tonk in 1898. While residing in India, he was the British Commissioner to Tibet (1902-04). He led the British mission to Lhasa, culminating in the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of September 7, 1904. For this he was honored by the decoration of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. He was one of the first modern British explorers to investigate the almost legendary territory of Tibet and enter the mysterious city of Lhasa, long fabled by Theosophists and others as the center of mysterious adepts and Masters. While he discovered no secret occult forces, he did develop a sympathetic consideration of Eastern religions and an appreciation of their spirituality.

In 1905 he returned to England, where he became Rede lecturer at Cambridge University before traveling to Kashmir as Resident. He was honored as Knight Commander of the Star of India in 1917. After his retirement in 1919, he became chairman of the Royal Geographical Society, who had awarded him their gold medal in 1891. He also formed and was chairman of the Mount Everest Committee.

Younghusband typified the best of the old-style British patriots of the British Empire period. He was an excellent and courageous soldier and explorer, yet deeply sympathetic to the aspirations and spiritual ideals of other peoples. He recognized the need for self-government in India. His book Modern Mystics (1935; reissued University Books, 1970) expressed his sympathy with the spirituality of different religions and his belief in an underlying unity. In 1936 he founded the World Congress of Faiths. His books include: But in Our Lives (1926), The Heart of Nature (1921), India and Tibet (1910), Within (1912), The World Congress of Faith (1938), and World Fellowship of Faiths (1935).

He died at Lytchett Minster, near Poole, Britain, on July 31, 1942.


Samuel, Herbert L. Man of the Spirit: Sir Francis Younghus-band. London, 1953.

Seaver, George F. Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic. London, 1952.

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

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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 illmatched 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: Harper Collins, 1994. □

Younghusband, Sir Francis

views updated May 21 2018

Younghusband, Sir Francis (1863–1942). Commissioned into the army, Younghusband transferred to the Indian Political Department in 1890. In its service, he visited Manchuria in 1886 and then made his way back to India in a pioneering journey across the Gobi Desert and the Karakoram Range. Service as a political officer in the Pamirs region included further exploration, as did his work as British commissioner to Tibet in 1902–4. His central Asian and Himalayan explorations led to his election as president of the Royal Geographical Society after his retirement in 1910 and he enthusiastically promoted Everest expeditions. Devout Christianity allied with an interest in Eastern mysticism also led him to promote understanding between different faiths.

Roy C. Bridges

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

views updated May 14 2018

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband


British Army officer who explored western China, Afghanistan, and the mountains of northern India. He was the first European to explore a 1,200-mile (1,931-km) section of the Gobi Desert and in 1904 was the first European to enter Lhasa, Tibet, in more than 50 years. There he met with the Dalai Lama and negotiated a treaty that guaranteed British political and trade interests. He was the youngest person to be elected to the Royal Geographical Society in Britain.

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