Friday, 1 October 2010

Death on the Frontier - The End of Our Man in Bokhara.

I'm moving on next to contemporary accounts of what became of the British Army of the Indus in the Kabul uprising of 1841, and the events that followed. What with already being dead and everything, our hero, Alexander Burnes, unfortunately, wasn't able to offer us any insights into the forces that the British invasion had unleashed. Or indeed to illuminate the ghastly sequence of events that had led him and so many others to their joint and several demise. So, for succeeding posts, we will have to turn elsewhere.

So, later on, we'll be hearing from two other Murray authors, Lady Florentia Sale and George Gleig, both eyewitnesses, about what happened next, as well as digging a little deeper into the causes of the disaster.

In the meantime, here are Burnes last written words, from his journal on the night of 31st October 1841: "What will this day bring forth? It will make or mar me, I suppose. Before the sun sets I shall know whether I go to Europe or succeed McNaghten. I grow very tired of praise and I suppose I shall get tired of censure in time."

McNaghten, by the way, was his chief, who he hoped to succeed as Envoy of Her Majesty. For the sake of promotion, Burnes had downplayed the danger they were facing...his chief would only leave,(and Burnes succeed him) only if all were Burnes had to make himself believe that all was quiet...

On the morning of 2nd November,Alexander Burnes, traveller, spy and celebrity author, along with his young brother Charles was cut to pieces in the garden of his house in Kabul, within sight of the garrison cantonments. They had been led into the garden by a mysterious Kashmiri who helped them into disguises, but when he had them among the mob, cried out:

"See, friends, here is Sikundar Burnes!"

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