THREE PIONEERS: THE SCHLAGINT- WEIT BROTHERS
HERMANN, ADOLPH and Robert Schlagintweit are household names in the world of exploration, both in the Swiss Alps and in India and High Asia, but considering the outstanding achievements of the three brothers very? little is known about them. This narrative is written to give an outline of their distinguished careers.
They were Bavarians, born in Munich between 1826 and 1833, sons of an eminent Eye Specialist who had the distinction of operating on the beautiful Lola Montez, the dancer for whom King Ludwig I of Bavaria gave up his throne. They grew up in a cultured home at a time when Munich was the centre of learning in that part of Europe. It is not surprising that with this background they were not only prominent scientists but also very competent artists, good linguists and distinguished mountaineers.
Their journals make fascinating reading; their first book was published in 1850, Investigations of the physical Geography of the Alps, (Untersuchungen iiber die physikalische Geographie der Alpen), to be followed in 1854 by a second volume Fresh Investigations (Neue Untersuchungen). These were written by Hermann and Adolph when they were both in their early 20s and when they had made the second ascent (22-8-1851) of the Ostspitze of Monte Rosa, one of their guides being 'Old Peter' Taugwalder, one of the three survivors with Whymper of the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. At the age of 18 Adolph crossed the Old Weisstor with one guide only, Johann Josef zum Taugwald, an unusual feat at that time. However, this was only the curtain-raiser; their travels to the East started in September, 1854 at the instigation of the distinguished explorer and geographer, Baron von Humboldt, who was asked by the East India Co. to recommend leaders for an expedition to make a further survey of magnetic and other physical and geographical features of India which Captain Elliot had begun in 1846, but could not complete because of ill-health.
In February 1854, Adolph left Munich for London to meet the directors of the East India Co. and leading members of the Royal Society. In the meantime Hermann and Robert travelled to Berlin to collect the scientific instruments that they would need. In September everything was prepared and on the 20th the three brothers sailed from Southampton. After the strenuous months of preparation they found the two weeks' sea voyage on the steamer Indus a most enjoyable experience. They landed in Alexandria, a town which they described as quite european and modern in character. Cairo, on the other hand, was more 'native', with many bazaars and uninhabited palaces. The travellers had to wait several days in Cairo while mail from Alexandria and Suez was re-sorted. The journey across the desert from Cairo to Suez, which took 16 hours, was an unpleasant ordeal. Luggage went by camel, passengers travelled in two-wheeled covered wagons. Mules and horses were used and there were no roads. Many of the passengers were sick and they were disappointed to find Suez a small and dirty town. On 8 October they left Suez for A-den on board a comfortable paddle-steamer on which champagne was served with other table wines. After one more change of steamer at Aden they arrived in Bombay on 26 October and stayed there for some weeks preparing for their cross-country trek to Madras.
The Indian government gave them an absolutely free hand in selecting their team. The senior and outstanding recruit was Lieutenant Adams from Calcutta. By contrast in origin was Abdul, a Mohammedan from Madras. Added to these were six interpreters and a team of collectors, supervised by Mr Monteiro, an Indo-Portuguese of Calcutta who continued the work after the Schlagintweits had left India. Amongst the interpreters Mohammad Amin was an elderly Turkistani from Yarkand who gave them the most valuable help in Turkistan where he had had considerable experience as a trader.
To quote: 'It is probably owing to his excellent arrangements, carried out under difficulties which seemed at first unsurmountable, that we found it possible to penetrate to the north of the K'un-Lun.' By way of comic relief was one Makshut, who according to the brothers, was 'decidedly wanting in energy'. Considering the energy exerted by the writer of that verdict (the Schlagintweits' whole expedition in three years covered 18,000 miles, much of it unmapped territory), one can perhaps afford Makshut a stay of execution although 'when dangers and difficulties arose, he would try to induce us to return'. On occasions when the three brothers with their respective groups of attendants met at a rendezvous after their journeys, the concourse formed, as Hermann writes 'an ethnographical museum of living specimens'. Because of caste and other conventions each member of the entire group insisted on cooking his own meal. One can imagine the chaos besides which the Tower of Babel must have been a cosy fireside chat.
They engaged a camel proprietor with 20 camels, 11 drivers and 6 porters for transport of tents, luggage, collections and delicate instruments which were carried on long bamboo poles. At that time two camels cost 33 rupees (£3.6.0d.) per month.
Their route took them to the Western Ghats through the Dekhan and Maissur to Madras, and on by sea to Calcutta arriving on March 5th, 1855.
At that time there were few hotels in Calcutta and the Schlagintweits received hospitality from their countrymen Dr von Liebig and Consul Schiller. Here, as in Bombay, there were unavoidable delays in obtaining necessary letters and legal documents which were vital to their travels and investigations, but they were able to make good use of the time, preparing their scientific work.
There was no station for astronomical or magnetic observations in Calcutta (unlike Bombay and Madras). However, they received every assistance in installing equipment for meteorological observations including geothermal measurements at a depth of '2£j metres, with instruments which they had brought with difficulty from Europe to India by overland post. The Great Trigonometrical Survey was of prime importance to them and they were fortunate in meeting Sir George Everest, who was at that time the Director of the Survey.
Eventually everything was ready for their many treks in the Himalaya. They did not always travel together. Adolph and Robert left Calcutta on 24 March and travelled by rail as far as Patna and then on by palki dak (a sort of sedan chair carried by bearers, previously posted at different stations along the route), to Nainital. Hermann set off for Sikkim on 5 April. His researches there were made along the Singalila Ridge. He wrote 'the hostile disposition of the Sikkim Government utterly frustrated all attempts to obtain permission to travel in the lower parts of Sikkim.... I soon found that my coolies and workmen of whom I had a great number for clearing paths and making tree sections for the collections, gradually disappeared . . . but in spite of all this and all other difficulties, I succeeded partially at least, in effecting my purpose. ...' He went from Sikkim by boat through the Jhils to the foot of the Khassia Hills. The climate at this season was very humid and unpleasant. 'The greatest danger proceeds from the malarious gases which affect us severely.' (This shows the lack of medical knowledge at that; time.) Hermann and Lieutenant Adams suffered from 'brain fever' which lasted for two weeks. Before returning to Calcutta, having been away for 10 months, he travelled to Silhet, Gohatti and on to Tezpur and by river steamer as far as Dibrughar, (by canoe part of the way as the steamer stuck fast in the mud!).
From Nainital Adolph crossed the famous Traill's Pass (according to Kenneth Mason, Adolph's was possibly the second crossing). The height exceeds 17,000 ft and it is impossible for horses. The deep snow made the going slow and difficult. Only one man knew the route, the others could be induced to follow only by promise of the sacrifice of three goats at the top of the Pass to pacify the gods. Robert took the trade route to Milam where they met and from there they started on one of their most exacting treks. They crossed into Tibet in disguise, hoping to evade the Chinese authorities. Unfortunately, they were recognized as Europeans and escorted back. They managed to escape one dark night and crossed the Sakh Pass, then with the use of liberal bribes and the help of the Bara Mani (a descendant of one who accompanied Moorcroft and Hearsey into Tibet in 1812), they reached Gartok, an important trading station in Central Tibet, the first Europeans to have travelled this route since the Moorcroft party.
'On this journey, in our ascent of the Abi Gamin, we attained an elevation of 22,260 ft, the greatest height as far as we know, that has yet been reached on any mountain.' This extract appears in their book Results of a Scientific Mission to India and High Asia, text 1, p. 18. In a letter to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, they described this ascent: 'We camped at a height of 19,326 ft on the moraine of the glacier. The night was bitterly cold and stormy, but next day was clear, so we attempted an ascent on the Eastern Peak. Eight bearers accompanied us, the others were too exhausted. The ascent on frozen snow was very steep. At 2 p.m. we realized we could go no further: one of our bearers had a bad haemorrhage and we ourselves were utterly exhausted. According to our calculations we had reached a height of 22,259 ft and although there was considerable cloud we had some fine glimpses of the Abi Gamin peaks. Our sick bearer was immediately taken down by some of the party, who lost him on the way. After intensive searches he was assumed dead. It was a most joyful surprise to find him in Badrinath, having been picked up by some Bhotias on the road to Mana. He had been wandering alone for three days without food.'
Adolph then travelled to Central Southern India and the Nilgiris, and Robert trekked to Allahabad via Jabalpur, and in April 1856 they all three met in Simla.
Hermann and Robert then travelled by different routes to Leh. On each of the routes from* Simla to the interior of Western Tibet, the road for eight or ten days led through high uninhabited country where they met shepherds and occasionally salt traders who employed sheep for the transport of their goods. Passes exceeding 17,000 ft increased the difficulties of the road. Hermann's route was chosen chiefly with a view to visiting as many of the salt lakes as possible, of which he made exquisite water- colour sketches. They did their historic trek from Leh to Bushia: 'We were fortunate enough to have been the first Europeans that ever crossed the chains of the Karakorum and the 'K'un-Lun. Dr Thomson had proceeded as far as the Karakorum Pass but the K'un-Lung, erroneously considered as the watershed between Central Asia and India, had hitherto remained a perfectly unknown and unvisited territory. Marco Polo in the 13th century only penetrated in these parts as far south: as Kashgar.' Elaborate precautions had to be taken to keep their journey secret. Their invaluable head guide, Mohammed Amin, therefore persuaded them to take a route apart altogether from the caravan trail; they had to travel as they described it, 'without any trace of a road to follow'. Cold and other privations were intense. Passes at 18,000 ft, no wood for fires, little water or fodder for the pack animals all added to the severity of the journey. On 2l 1/2 August crossing the Elchi Pass there was a violent snowstorm during that night two of the horses lying close to them succumbed to the cold. Of the 19 horses with which they started, 7 were lost in this and other ways. They had been forced to unload their horses crossing one of the high glaciers and had left tent, bedding, trunk with instruments and money, to be picked up on the way back. They could only take a little food and two leather saddles for trading. When they reached Bushia on 25 August the shepherds had fled in terror, thinking the telescope the travellers carried was a gun, but when Mohammad Amin walked towards them unarmed, they returned, spread out their felt rugs and invited the party to eat rice and drink tea. They were very polite and generous, supplying them with horses, yaks, wheat and barley at moderate prices for the return journey, and with only a promise of payment. Three Khotanis accompanied them as far as Sumgal where debts were paid in Indian rupees. The Khotains were surprised to see the picture of a lady on the coins Queen Victoria.
The last meeting of the three brothers was in October 1856 in Srinagar where they stayed as guests in a large house built by the late Rajah Gulab Singh. Hermann and Robert then travelled extensively visiting the Punjab, Nepal, and going as far south as Ceylon before returning to Europe in May 1957.
Adolph travelled to Lahore via Peshawar into Tibet via Chang- chenmo, avoiding Leh for security reasons. He crossed the Karakorum chain by a new and entirely unfrequented road. On 20 July he crossed the K'un-Lun near Karangolak and arrived in Kashgar towards the end of August. On 27 August he was brutally murdered. 'According to some reports, he perished through taking up the cause of some captive Bhot Rajput British subjects, and from using his influence to save them from being put to death or sold as slaves.' (Results of a Scientific Mission, text 1, p. 44). A monument in his honour was erected there 31 years later by the Russian Geographical Society in conjunction with the Chinese and German governments.
On their return to Bavaria, the two brothers were rewarded by high honours, the Tsar of Russia giving them the name 'Sakunlunski' (conqueror of the K'un-Lun).
During their stay in India and High Asia (October, 1855-Mayr
1857), they had not limited themselves to the original magnetic, physical-geographic and geological observations. They collected plants and seeds, zoological specimens, human skeletons and skulls, over 1,400 ethnological specimens, Tibetan and Indian manuscripts, 106 folio volumes with their personal observations and samples of native woven cloth. Added to these were the superb paintings by Hermann and Adolph. Many of their books are housed in the India Office Library in London : these include four volumes (3'x2') containing prints of their paintings and maps.
Robert was appointed Professor at the University of Giessen and travelled widely in America. Hermann eventually settled in Jagersburg near Bamberg and devoted himself to writing.
Both brothers remained unmarried and died young, Hermann in 1882 and Robert in 1885.
Three Schlagintweit brothers From left: Robert, Hermann and Adolph.