Asia

Rare Tibet photos and artefacts are auctioned in the UK

Photo from Colonel Francis Younghusband's 1904 expedition into Tibet
Image caption The photos of the 1904 expedition offer a rare glimpse into life inside early 20th Century Tibet

Rare photographs from a British military expedition into Tibet in 1904 have been auctioned in Britain.

The 140 photos were sold by a descendant of the expedition, which was led by Colonel Francis Younghusband.

The images sold for more than £12,000 ($18,000).

Historians says that the expedition was in effect a temporary invasion of Tibet by British-Indian forces to counter Russia's perceived ambitions in the area and protect British India.

The photos, described by Wiltshire-based auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son as "hauntingly depicting the beauty of the secluded country [of Tibet] for the first time in the West" include military and civilian scenes.

Image caption This Sino-Tibetan deity sold for £45,000 ($70,000) at Tuesday's auction
Image caption Nearly all the images had never before been seen in public prior to the sale
Image caption The 1904 expedition to Tibet was provoked primarily by rumours in British India that the Chinese government was intending to give the province to the Russians
Image caption The expedition was intended to counter Russia's perceived ambitions in the east and was initiated by Lord Curzon, the head of the British India government
Image caption The expedition will long be remembered for the 1904 massacre of Chumik Shenko, in which scores of Tibetans were killed by British Maxim guns

The auction included a small number of religious icons brought back to Britain from the expedition, including a Sino-Tibetan deity surrounded by turquoise jewels and measuring only 5in (12.7cm) in height. It sold for £45,000 ($70,000)

Another slightly taller Sino-Tibetan deity - embellished with small turquoise, pink and blue stones mounted on a lotus stand - sold for £77,000 ($120,000) to a buyer in the auction room against competition from phone bidders in China, Hong-Kong and the US.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge told the BBC that Col Younghusband's expedition proved to be a "highly controversial colonial venture".

"Thousands of Tibetans armed with antiquated muzzle-loaders and swords were reportedly killed by British troops armed with more up-to-date rifles and Maxim machine guns at what has become known as the massacre of Chumik Shenko," Mr Aldridge said.

One officer at the time wrote about getting so sick of the slaughter that he ceased firing, even though the order was "to make as big a bag as possible".

"I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away," wrote Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, commander of the Maxim guns detachment.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites