‘… some damned odd fellows in the earlies.’: Three examples VIII

There is more between “Gurdana Khan” and “Jassa”, neither of whom are what they seem, but it is not needed for my post. It will suffice to say that Flashman, who now discovers he  has a “newly-revealed Afghan American orderly”, who “turns out be the greatest villain since Dick Turpin.” One more word… By the morning, Flashman’s attitude towards Jassa has gone a marked change.

~~… Oddly enough, after the character Gardner had given him, I felt inclined to take him at face value. You see, I’m a knave myself, and know that we wrong ‘uns ain’t always bent on mischief; it seemed to me that Jassa, the professional soldier of fortune, was quite likely just marking time in Broadfoot’s employ, as he’d claimed, until something better turned up. The queerest fish swam into the political mill, with not too many questions asked, and I felt I could accept if not trust him….

It was comforting, too, to have one of my own kind alongside me – and one who knew the Punjab and its politics inside out. “Though how you hope to pass unrecognised, I don’t see,” says I. “If you were so high under Runjeet, half the country must know you surely?”

“That was six years ago, behind a full set o’ beard an’ whiskers,” says he. “Clean-shaven, I reckoned to get by – ‘cept with Alick, but I planned to keep out o’ his way. But it doesn’t matter,” he added coolly, “there are no reward notices out for Joe Harlan, here or anywhere else.”

Lets now take a look at the real Josiah Harlan….

~~ It is quite possible that Rudyard Kipling based Daniel Dravot, the hero of The Man Who Would Be King, on Dr Harlan. He would have surely heard of the American, and there is a strong echo, in Dravot’s fictional Kafiristan adventure (published in 1895), of Harlan’s aspirations first to the throne of Afghanistan, and later successfully to the kingship of Ghor, as described in Gardner’s Memoirs (published in 1890); whether Harlan’s story was true is besides the point. Like many passages in his astonishing career, it lacks corroboration; on the other hand it was accepted, along with the rest, by such authorities such as Major Pearse, who was Gardner’s editor, and the celebrated Dr Wolff.

Josiah Harlan (1799-1871) was born in Newlin Township, Pennsylvania, the son of a merchant whose family came from County Durham. He studied medicine, sailed as a supercargo to China, and after being jilted by his American fiancee, returned to the East, serving as surgeon with the British Army in Burma. He then wandered to Afghanistan, where he embarked on that career as diplomat, spy, mercenary soldier, and double (sometimes treble) agent which so enraged Colonel Gardner. The details are confused, but it seems that Harlan, after trying to take Dost Mohammad’s throne, and capturing a fortress, fell into the hands of Runjeet Singh. The Sikh maharaja, recognising a rascal of genius when he saw one, sent him as envoy to Dost Mohammad, Harlan, travelling as a dervish, was also working to subvert Dost’s throne on behalf of Shah Shujah, the exiled Afghan king; not content with this, he ingratiated himself with Dost and became his agent in the Punjab – in effect, serving three masters against each other. Although, as one contemporary remarks with masterly understatement, Harlan’s life was now somewhat complicated, he satisfied at least two his employers: Shah Shujah made him a Companion of the Imperial Stirrup, and Runjeet gave him the government of three provinces which he administered until, it is said, the maharaja discovered that he was running a coining plant on the pretence of studying chemistry. Even then, Runjeet continued to use him as an agent, and it was Harlan who successfully suborned the Governor of Peshawar to betray the province to the Sikhs. He then took service with Dost Mohammad (whom he had just betrayed), and was sent with an expedition against the Prince of Kunduz; it was in this campaign that the patriotic doctor “surmounted the Indian Caucasus, and unfurled my country’s banner to the breeze under a salute of 26 guns… the star-spangled banner waved gracefully among the icy peaks.” What this accomplished is unclear, but soon afterwards Harlan managed to obtain the throne of Ghor from its hereditary prince. This was in 1838; a year later…..

To be continued….


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