Henry Lansdell

Missionary and Explorer

The Reverend Henry Lansdell(1841–1919) was born in Tenterden, Kent. As an Anglican priest he was a missionary, distributing bibles and religious writings abroad. His initially short trips grew into such groundbreaking and arduous journeys that his experiences became the basis of British academic study of Siberia, Russian Central Asia, China and beyond.

Biography

Early years

Henry Lansdell was born in Tenterden, Kent, on 10 January 1841. His father was a schoolmaster and he was educated at home before attending St John’s College, Highbury. In 1860 he became a total abstainer from alcohol. From 1865 he studied at the London College of Divinity. He was ordained a Deacon in 1867, then Priest in 1868 and became a Curate in Greenwich, on the southeast side of the Thames. His abilities as a preacher led to his becoming Metropolitan Association Secretary of the Society of Irish Church Missions in 1869. He set up the Clergyman’s Magazine in 1875 and edited it until 1883. In 1882 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Divinity (DD) by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Travels and publications

Lansdell’s minor positions in the church left him plenty of time for travel. In 1870 he visited Normandy and Belgium, in 1871 Holland and the Rhine, as well as battlefields from the recent Franco-Prussian war. In 1872 he went to the Scottish lakes but in 1873 returned to Europe, visiting Prussia, Saxony, Bohemia, Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland.

The following year he embarked on a 4,000-mile journey to distribute religious tracts in foreign languages to northern and eastern Europe and beyond, especially to prisons and hospitals. Travels in 1874 took him through Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and back through Poland and Prussia. In 1876 he crossed Norway and Sweden to the Arctic and went round the Gulf of Bothnia. Hungary and Transylvania, location of the Russo-Turkish war, were the focus of his travels in 1877 and Russia in 1878. In 1879 he journeyed across Asia, including Russia, and went via Japan to San Francisco. The next year he visited Mount Ararat in Armenia, traditionally believed to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark.

It was in 1882 that Lansdell undertook a journey through Central Asia that he recorded in his first book, Through Siberia (1882). This was followed by Russian Central Asia (1885) and Chinese Central Asia (1893). All the books were reprinted several times and in translation. An abridged version of the first two was published as Through Central Asia (1887). They described and illustrated places that were rarely visited and little known in the West. Through Siberia includes accounts of visits to prisons and to mines, where prisoners worked; he was probably the first foreigner to be given access to these places. Lansdell was accused by Russian dissidents in Britain of having too favourable an attitude to Russia and not describing true conditions in prisons. He had official support both from British envoys, who wanted to develop better public opinion of Russia, and from Russian officials. Count Tolstoi, Russian Minister of the Interior, Grand Duke Michael and the Governor General of Turkistan all supplied Lansdell with letters of introduction for his 1885 travels.

The two-volume account his 1885 journey was lavishly illustrated. Lansdell described the flora and fauna of Russian Turkistan, as well as peoples and customs that were exotic and new to British and Western European readers. He included photographs of himself wearing Kokand armour of chain mail coat and helmet, with saddlecloth and battleaxe, presented to him by the Emir of Bukhara, neighbouring Kokand. The axe reflects the ‘Church militant’ aspect of Lansdell’s missionary zeal. In this photograph Lansdell wears the embroidered Afghan trousers he bought in Tashkent, which are a central feature of the showcase devoted to him at the Beaney.

The book’s review in The Times (27 May 1885) gives a telling insight to how Lansdell operated: ‘Perhaps … the most interesting part of the narrative relates to Dr Lansdell’s experiences in Bokhara [Bukhara]. He was received with all ceremony on the frontier as the Emir’s guest, and conducted to Kitab, where the Emir was spending the summer…For his audience with the Emir, Dr Lansdell thought it necessary to make himself as imposing as possible, and so arrayed himself in an astonishing costume partly clerical, partly Masonic, and partly Servian [Serbian]. He succeeded, however, as usual, in getting all his wishes granted.’

Lansdell’s last major journey was to Tibet. He set off in 1888 with a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Dalai Lama, hoping this would give him access to the closed city of Lhasa. But despite trying to reach Lhasa from India, then China, he was unable to obtain permission and had to be content with buying items from a trader who had visited Tibet.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1876 and became a life member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1880, serving on their committee. He was also a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Lansdell died on 4 October 1919 at home in Blackheath, London, and asked to be buried at St Mary’s Church, Greenwich.

Collection

Lansdell collected many items on his travels. Some were given to the British Museum, London, but a large group of items was given to Canterbury Museum by his wife, Mary, in 1922. She wrote:

“The collection was made by my late husband the Rev Dr Lansdell during his travels between 1870 & 1890 through Russia, Asia, Turhistan, Bokhara, Little Tibet, China, India &c, and they are illustrative of the political and religious life of the Countries … I should be willing to present the greater part of the Collection to the Canterbury Museum as a Memorial to my late husband.”

References

1. Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Lansdell, Henry (1841-1919)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edition, January 2006

2. The Graphic, 1 November 1884

Items on display

Kazakh girdle

Kazakh girdle, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Tashkent

Leather

 

Kazakhs live in Turkestan, southern Asia, which was annexed by Russia in 1864.

Lansdell is wearing this girdle in the photograph of himself in Kokand armour and Afghan embroidered trousers.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.13

Kazakh purse

Kazakh purse, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Tashkent

Leather

 

Kazakhs live in Turkestan, southern Asia, which was annexed by Russia in 1864.

Lansdell is wearing this purse in the photograph of himself in Kokand armour and Afghan embroidered trousers.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.14

Jewish scroll

Jewish scroll, on display at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Bukhara, 1888

Paper and wood

 

Hebrew text from the Book of Esther, sold to Lansdell by a Rabbi.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.39

Ewer

Ewer, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; made in Kokand, acquired in Bukhara

Brass

 

Container for water or wine, a gift from the Emir of Bukhara.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.41.1

Ewer

Ewer, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; made in Kokand, bought in Bukhara

Brass

 

Container for water or wine, bought by Lansdell at a bazaar in Bukhara.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.41.2

Afghan embroidered trousers

Afghan embroidered trousers

19th century; made in Afghanistan, bought in Tashkent

Cotton

Described by Lansdell as from ‘Chambar’, a place in Afghanistan. The colourful embroidery is typical of Afghan work. Lansdell bought them at a bazaar in Tashkent, a Russian trading city north of the Afghan border. He thought they would ‘be warm and both useful, when tied at the bottoms’ during his journeys on horseback across the continent.

Lansdell had his photograph taken wearing these trousers.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922, and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.15

Chinese boots

Chinese boots, on display in the Lansdell Collection, at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Yining, China

Cotton

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922, and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.19.1-2

Man's comb

Man's comb, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Khotan, China, 1888

Wood

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56

Chinese balance

Chinese balance, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Yining (Kuldja), China, 1888

Metal and wood

 

Comprising two needles and thread with a storage tube and weight.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.22.1-4 & 21

Chinese balance

Chinese balance, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Yining (Kuldja), China, 1888

Metal and wood

A miniature balance.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.20

Russian ‘kokoshnik’ head-dress

Russian

19th century; collected in Russia

Textile

 

Given by a young Cossak schoolmistress when Lansdell ‘fell in love with it’ and asked to buy it.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922, and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.93

Decorated spoons

decorated spoon, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Russia

Painted wood

 

There is a Russian Orthodox image inside the bowl and a rose underneath.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.1.1-2

Carved religious bookmark

Carved religious bookmark, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Russia

Wood

 

Decorated with a Russian Orthodox image of priests blessing a man.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.1-2

Carved religious bookmark

Carved religious bookmark, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Russia

Wood

 

Decorated with a Russian Orthodox image of Christ with incense-burner at a deathbed.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.1-2

Chowrie or Fly brush

Chowrie or Fly brush, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in Yining (Kuldja), China, 1888

Wood and animal hair

For keeping away flies and carried as a mark of rank.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.18

Chinese fan

Chinese fan, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; acquired in China, 1888

Wood and paper

 

Presented to Lansdell by a Chinese dignitary, possibly the Tchyan of General Chang, on 19 June 1888.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.17

Seated bull ornament

Seated bull ornament, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Khotan, China, 1888

Jade

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.29

Standing bull ornament

Standing bull ornament, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Khotan, China, 1888

Jade

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.30

Veil cords

Veil cords, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Khotan, China, 1888

Silk

 

Tagged, like most of Lansdell’s collection, with labels describing where and when acquired.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922, and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.31.1-3

Carved boot

Carved boot, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Russia

Wood

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.31.1-3

Tea saucers

Tea saucers, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought at Maimatchin, Mongolian frontier

Metal

“We bought some embroidered purses of native workmanship, and cups and saucers. The saucers are of a lozenge-shape, and of metal, with an indentation fitted to receive the bottom of the cup, which has no handle. Hence, in drinking the tea, it was not necessary to finger the cup, but merely to hold the saucer and drink from the cup resting therein.” (Henry Lansdell, Through Siberia, 1882)

Maimatchin was a male-only Russo-Chinese trading town on the Mongolian.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.1-2

Sturgeon, antidote to disease

Sturgeon, antidote to disease, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Tyr, Russian Far East

Wood

 

“The Gilyaks believe in wooden idols or charms as antidotes to disease,” wrote Lansdell. Plague had been raging across Russia in 1879.

The Gilyaks lived near the border with China. At Tyr, on the rivers Amur and Amaun, Lansdell “wished to buy some of the little amulets belonging to the head of the household” of a Gilyak family, including “those of his baby, one of them a doll in a sitting posture”. But the man was unwilling to sell until offered “a silver piece”. Then he “sent after me a fish rudely cut in wood, and meant for a sturgeon [the fish famous for its roe, known as caviar], with a little god seated on his back. This had been used, apparently, not long before, on a fishing expedition.”

Lansdell had his photograph taken wearing Gilyak clothing and holding the sturgeon god.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.12

Doll, antidote to disease

Doll, antidote to disease, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Tyr, Russian Far East

Wood

 

“The Gilyaks believe in wooden idols or charms as antidotes to disease,” wrote Lansdell. Plague had been raging across Russia in 1879.

The Gilyaks lived near the border with China. At Tyr, on the rivers Amur and Amaun, Lansdell “wished to buy some of the little amulets belonging to the head of the household” of a Gilyak family, including “those of his baby, one of them a doll in a sitting posture”. But the man was unwilling to sell until offered “a silver piece”. Then he “sent after me a fish rudely cut in wood, and meant for a sturgeon [the fish famous for its roe, known as caviar], with a little god seated on his back. This had been used, apparently, not long before, on a fishing expedition.”

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.94

Islamic green shawl

19th century

Embroidered silk

Green relates to paradise and is the traditional colour of Islam.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922, and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.47

Face slapper

face slapper, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; acquired at Kashgar prison, China, 1888

Wood

Described by Lansdell as “for slapping naughty women’s faces”. It was used in one of the prisons he visited.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.26

Chinese waist pocket

Chinese waist pocket

19th century; collected in Yining (Kuldja), China

Cotton, velvet and linen

Decorated with embroidery in traditional patterns.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922,and conserved with grant-aid from the Kathy Callow Trust, 2012.

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.23

Idol wreaths

Idol wreaths, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Bindraban, India

Paper

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.52.1-2

Anklets

Anklets, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Jaipur, India, 1889

Metal

 

Tagged with a green label, like most of Lansdell’s collection, describing where acquired.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.48.1-3

Sikkin dorje or Thunderbolt

Sikkin dorje or Thunderbolt, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Darjeeling, India

Metal

 

Ritual object representing firmness of spirit – combining diamond (which cuts anything but can’t itself be cut) and thunderbolt (irresistible force).

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.56

Hindu shrine

19th century; collected in Varanasi, Utter Pradesh, India

Metal

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.55

Rosary bag

Rosary bag, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Bindrabon, India

Silk

 

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.42

Statuette of Hindu elephant god, Ganesh

Statuette of Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Jaipur, India, 1889

Carved and painted stone

Ganesh is the lord of success and destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride. The god’s pot belly signifies the bounty of nature.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.42b

Statuette of Hindu god

Statuette of Hindu god on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Jaipur, India, 1889

Carved and painted stone

The Hindu idol of a woman was acquired by Lansdell at the same time as that of Ganesh.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.43

Jail stamps

jail stamps, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; collected in Bindraban, India

Iron

 

Lansdell visited a number of prisons on his travels across Asia.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.51.1-3

Models of ‘Kangri’ or portable fire-baskets

Models of

19th century; collected in Kashmir, India

Terracotta and wicker

Fire-baskets were carried inside the Kashmiri Ph’aran or cloak for warmth.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.37.1-2

Goblets

Goblets, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; acquired in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, 1888

Copper

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.38.1-2

Tibetan cup

Tibetan cup, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in China, 1888

Metal

 

Lansdell travelled with a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping to gain entry to the closed city of Lhasa, Tibet.

He was unable to cross from India to Tibet. Travelling to China he was again prevented from crossing: the British ambassador feared upsetting the Chinese. Lansdell had to be content with buying Tibetan items from a merchant, “Baltistan Leh”, who had visited Tibet.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.33a

Tibetan amulet

Tibetan amulet, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in China, 1888

Metal

 

Lansdell travelled with a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping to gain entry to the closed city of Lhasa, Tibet.

He was unable to cross from India to Tibet. Travelling to China he was again prevented from crossing: the British ambassador feared upsetting the Chinese. Lansdell had to be content with buying Tibetan items from a merchant, “Baltistan Leh”, who had visited Tibet.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.35.1-2a

Tibetan whip

Tibetan whip, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in China, 1888

Wood, leather

 

Lansdell travelled with a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping to gain entry to the closed city of Lhasa, Tibet.

He was unable to cross from India to Tibet. Travelling to China he was again prevented from crossing: the British ambassador feared upsetting the Chinese. Lansdell had to be content with buying Tibetan items from a merchant, “Baltistan Leh”, who had visited Tibet.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.32

Tibetan pipe

Tibetan pipe on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in China, 1888

Wood

 

Lansdell travelled with a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping to gain entry to the closed city of Lhasa, Tibet.

He was unable to cross from India to Tibet. Travelling to China he was again prevented from crossing: the British ambassador feared upsetting the Chinese. Lansdell had to be content with buying Tibetan items from a merchant, “Baltistan Leh”, who had visited Tibet.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.36

Tibetan girdle plate

Tibetan girdle plate, on display in the Lansdell Collection at the Beaney Art Museum and Library

19th century; bought in China, 1888

Metal

 

Lansdell travelled with a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping to gain entry to the closed city of Lhasa, Tibet.

He was unable to cross from India to Tibet. Travelling to China he was again prevented from crossing: the British ambassador feared upsetting the Chinese. Lansdell had to be content with buying Tibetan items from a merchant, “Baltistan Leh”, who had visited Tibet.

Presented by Mary Landsdell in memory of her late husband, 1922

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 2006.56.34