1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > Royal Geographical Society. 19th Century Exploration of Asia, Himalayan Peaks and Central Asia.

(Part 44)

Royal Geographical Society. 19th Century Exploration of Asia, Himalayan Peaks and Central Asia.

The Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830, and forms a landmark in the history of discovery. The men who initiated the idea and gave it shape were Sir John Barrow, Sir John Cam Hobhouse, Sir Roderick Murchison, Mr Robert Brown (Princeps Botanicorum), and Mr Bartle Frere. They formed the Foundation Committee. The first president was Lord Goderich, and the vice-presidents Sir John Barrow, Colonel Leake, Sir John Franklin, and Mr Greenough. Through this organization explorers and students were encouraged and assisted, information was systematically collected and arranged, and the work of discovery was advanced. A similar society in Paris preceded that of London in point of time, and now every civilized country has established a Geographical Society.

Our rapid review of the progress of discovery since the foundation of the Geographical Society will commence with the continent of Asia, where there were and still are vast and most interesting unexplored regions.

In British India the Trigonometrical Survey has been proceeded with, and in now approaching completion. During its progress the Himálayan peaks were measured, and in 1848 Sir Andrew Waugh fixed the height of the loftiest, which he named Mount Everest, at 29,002 feet above the sea.

In 1831 Humboldt published his Asie Centrale, which, with the Erdkunde von Asien of Carl Ritter, gave new and clearer ideas of the remoter parts of the Himálayan chain; while, in 1848, Dr Hooker in Sikkim, and Dr Thomson in Ladak, reached the summits of the passes leading to Tibet and Yarkand.

Our relations with Afghanistan led to further exploration. In 1840 Lieutenants Abbott, Conolly, and Shakespear visited Khiva, and in 1841 Colonels Stoddart and Conolly were murdered at Bokhara, while Eldred Pottinger gallantly defended Herat. Sir Alexander Burnes had previously made his remarkable journey from Cabul [Kabul] to Bokhara and back through Persia, and in 1838 Lieutenant Wood of the Indian Navy discovered the source of the Oxus. Butakoff and other Russian officers, in 1848 and subsequent years, surveyed the sea of Aral, and Middendorf made extensive explorations and discoveries in Siberia.

After the Afghan war it was long before any progress was made in the exploration of Central Asia, but through the opening of the treaty ports in China and the navigation of the Yangtsze a considerable increase was made in our knowledge of the Celestial empire. In 1869 Mr R.B. Shaw and Mr Haywood reached the cities of Yarkand and Kashgar, and Mr Shaw published a most graphic account of the physical aspects of Eastern Turkestan.

In the previous year Mr Ney Elias surveyed the Yellow River of China, and afterwards made a journey through a previously unknown portion of western Mongolia; and during 1866-68 the distinguished French geographer Lieutenant Garnier surveyed the course of the great Cambodian river.

The Russians, meanwhile, in their advance into Central Asia, had enabled scientific travelers like Fedchenko and others to explore Khokand and the northern part of the Pamir, and the more adventurous Prjewalski made important journeys through Mongolia and to the frontiers of Tibet.

Colonels Walker and Montgomerie, of the great Trigonometrical Survey of India, organized a system of training native explorers, who made journeys across the Pamir and to the upper waters of the Oxus, as well as through the previously unknown parts of Tibet. In the last mission of Sir Douglas Forsyth to Kashgar, Captain Trotter of the Trigonometrical Survey of India formed one of the staff. He did much valuable exploring work on the Pamir tableland, and verified the work of Lieutenant Wood at the source of the Oxus.

In 1845 MM. Huc and Gabet traveled through Tibet; and in western China the French missionaries have since done useful geographical work.

English diplomatic officers have found their way from the south-western provinces of China into Burmah [Burma], and Baron Richthofen has made very extensive exploring journeys through the Chinese empire.

The most important journey across Arabia in the present century was made by Mr W. Gifford Palgrave in 1863.

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