Two Forgotten Missions in Central Asia

Gerald Morgan recounts how, towards the mid-nineteenth century, Russian expansion in Central Asia prompted the authorities in India to send British Missions in reply.

For well over half of the nineteenth century there was intense rivalry between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia. Russian expansion caused Britain to fear that she had designs on India; Russia, believing that her destiny lay in Asia, wanted stable frontiers behind which she could expand her trade; and Central Asia was almost her last ‘open frontier’.

Her fear was that Britain would occupy Central Asia. At times there were possibilities of agreement on mutual spheres of influence, but suspicions of each other’s intentions always prevented their exploitation. At other times war seemed imminent; but Lord Palmerston had aptly said in 1835, ‘We are just as we were, snarling at each other, hating each other but neither wishing for war’; and, except for the Crimea, war was always just avoided.

In 1839, with rumours of a Russian expedition against Khiva, Britain made the first active move. The Governor General of India was Lord Auckland. He was a bachelor, indecisive and almost dilettante in character, by no means the pro-consular type and utterly unversed in strategy.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.