The Grand Dervish of England

After my recent trip to Samarkand, I’m continuing my posts on nineteenth-century Uzbekistan exploits. I found the following in my Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan.


“Few characters in Uzbekistan’s history are more colourful than Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), a Cambridge oriental scholar and Jewish-Christian missionary born in Weilersbach, Germany, who wound his way to central Asia in the mid 19th century.

“Wolff began his wanderings in Egypt and the Holy Land in the 1820s, working as a Christian missionary. He returned to England in 1826 and became obsessed with the idea of finding the Lost Tribes of Israel, a journey which took him through Turkey and the Causasus, to Afghanistan and then on to India. Subsequent travels took him [to] Africa and the Americas (where he was ordained as a deacon), and back again to the Middle East.

“Wolff set out for Uzbekistan in the 1840s wondering if the Jews of Bukhara were one of the Lost Tribes. He arrived at the court of Nasrullah Khan dressed in full canonical garb, much to the surprise of everyone around him: they had never seen anything quite like it. Having heard of the incarceration of Conolly and Stoddart (who by this time, unbeknown to Wolff, had already been executed) […] he attempted to negotiate their release; he escaped with his life only because the emir was so entertained (and, no doubt, bemused) by Wolff’s appearance.

“Wolff wrote and published two volumes of Narrative of a mission to Bokhara, in the years 1843-1845, to ascertain the fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly in 1845 and despite its lengthy title, the book was [a] huge success, running to no fewer than seven editions in as many years. When nearly 100 years later diplomat and writer Fitzroy Maclean visited central Asia, he retraced Wolff’s journey and wrote about him in his own memoir, Eastern Approaches” (208).

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Stoddart and Conolly

After my recent trip to Samarkand, I’m continuing my posts on nineteenth-century Uzbekistan exploits. I found the following in my Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan.

“In 1838, as Britain was embarking on its first ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stoddart was sent as an envoy to Nasrullah Khan, the Emir of Bukhara. The British authorities wished to assure Bukhara’s ruler that they had no intentions of marching beyond Afghan territory, and also to suggest measures, such as the abolition of slavery, which would make the Russians less likely to attack Bukhara.

“Stoddart was admired as an army officer, but possessed no diplomatic training. Unaware of the niceties of central Asian royal protocol, he caused offence as soon as he arrived by failing to dismount before the emir outside the arg, or palace. On entering an official audience shortly afterwards, he compounded his offence by failing to make a symbolic gesture of respect. When a courtier tried to correct the mistake, Stoddart thought the official was attacking him and knocked him down. The emir, who had a volatile temper, was outraged and ordered Stoddart to be thrown in a dungeon beneath the palace.

“The dungeon was notorious as one of the worst punishments in Bukhara. It was dark, 6m deep and crawling with rats. Stoddart’s first fellow inmates […] were to thieves and a murderer. He was on occasion allowed out and kept under house arrest, but thrown back into the dungeon without any reason or notice.

“The British government sent notes of protest to Nasrullah, but he failed to respond. Even the Russians attempted to free Stoddart, but Nasrullah ignored them too. The Russians had just failed in an attempt to capture the city of Khiva, and were not in a strong bargaining position. The British were reluctant to mount an expedition to save their countryman as they were bogged down in Afghanistan and could not extend themselves any further.

“When Stoddart’s imprisonment had continued to the autumn of 1841, a fellow army officer, Captain Arthur Conolly, decided to stage a desperate attempt to rescue him. He was outraged not only by the British government’s failure to act, but, as a devout Christian, by a report that Stoddart had been forced to convert to Islam. A failure in love, it seems, also drove him to this act of reckless courage. Conolly arrived at Bukhara in November 1841. He possessed rather greater diplomatic talents than his brother officer, and he negotiated for Stoddart, who was by then badly malnourished and ill from fever, to stay with him in better lodgings above ground.

“Yet, this happier situation did not last for long. At the beginning of 1842, when news came that the British garrison in Kabul had been annihilated, Nasrullah felt emboldened to defy Britain. Stoddart and Connoly were relegated to the dungeon, and then executed around the middle of June. They were forced to dig their own graves, and murdered by having their heads cut off.

“Their murders marked a lull in the Great Game, both Britain and Russia suffered serious setbacks in their central Asian engagements, and drew back from serious endeavours in the region until the 1860s” (218).

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Sir Alexander “Bukhara” Burnes

After my recent trip to Samarkand, I’m continuing my posts on nineteenth-century Uzbekistan exploits. I found the following in my Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan.

“The dashing captain, Sir Alexander Burnes, FRS (1805-41), cousin of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, joined the East India Company’s army at the tender age of 16 and set off to make his fortune. He learned Hindustani and Persian fluently while in service in India, and in 1831 he travelled up the Indus River to Lahore to deliver a gift of horses from King William IV to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab.

“Burnes got a taste for adventure and decided to continue north into virtually uncharted territories, arriving in Bukhara in 1832 disguised as an Afghan trader. His command of Persian must have served him well. Burnes hoped to meet with Emir Nasrullah Khan in person but, probably fortunately for Burnes, he never got further than the Grand Vizier. Burnes collected as much information as he could about the city (particularly things of strategic importance ) and left, his neck intact, a month later.

“Returning to London, Burnes wrote Travels into Bokhara [sic], which overnight became a publishing sensation. The first edition earned him £800 (a significant sum at the time) and a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society.

“With his new-found fame, Burnes was appointed to the court of Sindh and then as political agent to Kabul. He was assassinated in Kabul in 1841, quite possibly the irate husbands of Afghan women he’d slept with, but not before he’d killed six of his assailants and earned, at least as far as the British were concerned, a heroic reputation” (207).

That guy? Really?

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The Exile of the Grand Duke Romanov

I recently spent some time in Uzbekistan on a totally weird and delightful work trip, and I have come back bearing lots of fun nineteenth-century tales! I found the following in my Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan.

Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov

“Cousin of Tsar Nicholas II and grandson of Nicholas I, Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov was born in St Petersburg in February 1850, the first son of Grand Duke Konstantin and Grand Duchess Alexandra. He had a successful military career but was an infamous womaniser and allegedly stole three of his mother’s diamonds to give to his American lover, Fanny Lear. When the theft was discovered, Nikolai was declared insane and banished in perpetuity to Turkestan.”

Fanny Lear

“Nikolai put his time in Tashkent to good use, building two large canals […] to irrigate lands between Tashkent and Dzhizak. He ordered the construction of his own palace in 1890 in part to showcase his vast art collection.

“Nikolai died in 1917, though sources disagree as to whether pneumonia or Bolshevik bullets caused his demise. He was buried in St George’s Cathedral (now demolished) and was survived by his wife, two sons, and at least six illegitimate children” (113).

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BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 5 Years

I’m a month late celebrating my anniversary on this blog–normally it’s on March 21st, but I was abroad at that time and it completely slipped my mind.

As I said on this anniversary a few years ago, this blog “started out a place for me to vent, since I have to be so painfully professional and analytical in my day-to-day work as a PhD student. Sometimes you just need to drop an f-bomb or 75.”

It’s weird to think that this blog is more or less as old as my entire academic career; a lot has happened in this time. I am no longer a PhD student (I’m now a university lecturer in English literature), but the need for this blog remains as strong as ever. I have nowhere near the free time I used to have to write on this blog, but I still very much enjoy it.

If you’d like the 201320142015, or 2016 Years In Review, here they are! Let’s take a look at what happened over the course of 2017. These are, of course, only a few extracts:

1.) We’ve seen some creepyass science happen.

2.) As always, we’ve seen plenty of stories about courtesans.

3.) We’ve watched some terrible films set in the long nineteenth century, including Titanic, Fievel Goes WestLittle Women, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

4.) No entry would be complete without stories about ridiculous aristocrats and their daft habits.

5.) I also did a series on Queen Victoria’s 5 granddaughters who went on to be various queen consorts around Europe, all at the same time: Princess Maud, Princess Sophie, Princess AlickyPrincess Missy, and Princess Ena.

6.) There were some strange myths, urban legends, disappearancesmysteries, and monsters, too.

7.) Weird animals featured prominently, including the whale that inspired Moby Dick, Swinburne’s pet monkey/lover/murder victim, and a lost crocodile.

8.) Badasses are always a staple of this blog, including the French trans spy the Chevalier d’Eon, the hella dramatic Carmen Sylva, the Poetess Queen, the matrilineal warrior queen Yaa Ansantewaa, the fabulous lesbian heiress Winnaretta Singer, indigenous American warrior Pine Leaf/Woman Chief, the Japanese child-diplomat and education reformer Sutematsu Oyama, the champion race car driver Dorothy Levitt,

9.) We had a great round of bad book covers from Tess of the D’UrbervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities.

10.) There was the odd shitshow, like the 1904 Olympics,  celebratory pie baking events that almost killed people, and a riot over the size of a balloon.

During this blog’s first year, I managed to write a post every single day for an entire year. Then I dropped to three times per week for the next few years, and now I’m down to one post per week, because that’s all my schedule really allows for. Thanks for bearing with me as the posts get fewer and fewer. You guys really make it all worthwhile.

I intend to keep things running as they currently are for the next year (and the foreseeable future). Thanks so much for reading!

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Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope

Sorry for the long delay in posting–I was abroad for a while, but I’m back with a whole slew of new stories. I found the following in Barbara Holland’s They Went Whistling (2001).

Holland writes, “Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope was born in Kent in 1776, eldest child of the third Earl Stanhope, who was an excitable and bad-tempered peer. She left home to live with her uncle, statesman William Pitt [the Younger], and serve as his secretary and general manager and mix in society; she was said to be witty and beautiful, but wicked of tongue.

“Pitt left her a nice pension when he died, and in 1810 she wiped the mud of England from her boots forever. She prowled the Middle East in search of the perfect home, and found it on a mountain on the Lebanese coast, among the Druses, many miles from nowhere. Here she set herself up as an absolute ruler over the surrounding districts, where she was revered for her imperious temper and generally believed to be magic, with powers of divination. By all reports, her temper grew worse with age and by the time she died at sixty-three she was a perfect tyrant” (90-91).

What Holland doesn’t get into in her very brief portrait of Stanhope is that she was also a famous archaeologist. Archaeology was a fairly new discipline in those days and, according to Wikipedia, “Her archaeological expedition to Ashkelon in 1815 is considered the first modern excavation in the history of Holy Land archeology. Her use of a medieval Italian document is described as ‘one of the earliest uses of textual sources by field archaeologists‘”, which is pretty cool.

Her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, was unmarried and protocol dictated that he–in his role as Prime Minister–needed a female relative in lieu of a wife to oversee his household and play a society hostess. Stanhope reportedly did very well and learned the intricacies of fine conversation. Her reputation was so high that when she sailed to Greece, Lord Byron jumped straight into the sea and swam to her ship to greet her. Then again, Byron might have just felt a bit like grandstanding that day.

She was 27 at the time that she moved into her uncle’s household. At age 34, she left England, and there was some rumor that this trip was the result of an unhappy courtship. She took with her on her trip her physician (who would later become her biographer), her lady’s maid, and a man named Michael Bruce who later became her lover.

After greeting Byron in Greece, she and her entourage barely survived a shipwreck at Rhodes; they lost all of their possessions and were forced to borrow Turkish clothing. Stanhope refused to wear a veil, so she decided to wear a Turkish man’s outfit, instead, complete with saber. It turns out that beggars can, in fact, be choosers. She even wore this outfit to greet the Pasha.

Over the next two years she traveled to an impressive number of countries in the Middle East and Mediterranean. On the way, she had her fortune told and was informed that she was going to be the bride of a new messiah. Apparently, she believed this new messiah was destined to be Ibn Saud, chief of the Wahhabis Arabs (later leader of the First Saudi State): she pursued him romantically but, alas, no takers.

When she visited Palmyra, she decided to travel through a very dangerous desert pass which reputedly had hostile Bedouins. To solve this problem, she dressed as Bedouin herself, although she required 22 camels to carry all of her baggage. That’s right: stealth. It was this sort of outrageous and imperious behavior that earned her the nickname “Queen Hester”.

I’m going to copy and paste a section from Wikipedia here:

“According to Charles Meryon, she came into possession of a medieval Italian manuscript copied from the records of a monastery somewhere in Syria. According to this document, a great treasure was hidden under the ruins of a mosque at the port city of Ashkelon which had been lying in ruins for 600 years. In 1815, on the strength of this map, she traveled to the the ruins of Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast north of Gaza, and persuaded the Ottoman authorities to allow her to excavate the site [….] This resulted in the first archaeological excavation in Palestine.


“While she did not find the hoard of three million gold coins reportedly buried there, the excavators unearthed a seven-foot headless marble statue. For political reasons, she ordered the statue to be smashed into “a thousand pieces” and thrown into the sea. She destroyed the statue to prove to the Sultan and the Ottomans that she undertook the dig to give them the treasure; not to steal relics to ship back to Europe as bragging rights as so many of her countrymen were doing“.

Hey guys, not going to steal your priceless stuff–just going to destroy it entirely.

She eventually settled in a remote monastery in what is now Lebanon and, as Holland reports, she quickly set herself up as an authority over the locals. So much so that it “was enough to cause Ibrahim Pasha, when about to invade Syria in 1832, to seek her neutrality“.

She eventually became a recluse; although she maintained a correspondence with a great many important international people, and was actively sought out by important travelers in the area, she eventually stopped receiving all visitors except after dark; and even then she only allowed them to see her hands and her face.

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Regency Slang – Sections J and K

We haven’t had much regency slang lately, so I’ll continue my series! As always, I found this list of on The Regency Assembly Press, here. I’m only picking a few excerpts, so visit their site for the full list.

Jack in a Box–A child in the mother’s womb.

Jack Nasty Face–A sea term, signifying a common sailor.

Jack Whore–A large masculine overgrown wench.

Jason’s Fleece–A citizen cheated of his gold.

Jerrycummumble–To shake, towzle, or tumble about.

Jilted–Rejected by a woman who has encouraged one’s advances.

Jingle Brains–A wild, thoughtless, rattling fellow.

Jolly Dog–A merry facetious fellow; a Bon Vivant, who never flinches from his glass, nor cries to go home to bed.


Jumblegut Lane–A rough road or lane.

Keeping Cully–One who keeps a mistress, as he supposes, for his own use, but really for that of the public.

Kettledrums–Cupid’s kettle drums; a woman’s breasts, called by sailors chest and bedding.

King’s Bad Bargain–A soldier who shirks his duty.

King’s Pictures–Coin, money.

Kitchen Physic–Food, good meat roasted or boiled–A little kitchen physic will set him up; he has more need of a cook than a doctor.

Knight of the Rainbow–A footman: from the variety of colours in the liveries and trimming of gentlemen of that cloth.

Knight of the Sheers–A tailor.

Knight of the Thimble, or Needle–A taylor or stay-maker.

Knight of the Whip–A coachman.

Knight of the Trencher–A great eater.

Knowledge Box–The head.

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