G. J. Younghusband

George John Younghusband (1859-1944) was born at Dharmasala, in the hills of the Punjab in India, the second child but eldest son of John William and Clara Shaw Younghusband. His father was a major-general in the British Indian Army who had spent some years in the provincial police of the Himalayan foothills of northern India. His mother’s brother, Robert Shaw, was among the last British Residents at the court of the king of Burma, Thibaw (r. 1878-85), and three of his four brothers also served in the British Indian Army. His brother Francis (1863-1942), who like George was knighted and attained the rank of major-general, was also recruited by Bell for espionage service about the same time (1886), and achieved even more renown as an explorer of Tibet and Mongolia. After education at Clifton and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, G. J. Younghusband began his military service in the 17th Foot (Leicestershire Regiment) in 1878, and served in the Second Afghan War, in the Sudan in the relief of Gordon, with the Americans in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, and in the Boer War in South Africa, before finally being invalided out of military service after being wounded in the First World War (1916). When his physical condition precluded further active duty, he became Keeper of the Jewel House in the Tower of London (1917), which post he retained until his death in 1944.

G. J. Younghusband came from a family with long roots in the Indian army and colonial service tradition. Born in 1859, after school at Clifton and then Sandhurst, the very young lieutenant in 1887 was sent on what was no less than a spying mission, to find out the most accessible route to the disputed Shan State of Keng Tung through Siamese territory. The area was a hotchpotch of intrigue with Britain (occupying Upper Burma since 1886), Siam, Lan Na, the French and of course the Shans vying for position and power.

Younghusband, like his brother Francis, another spy and traveler to Tibet, was knighted and became a major-general in the army. He was seriously wounded in the First World War, after which he was appointed Keeper of the Jewel Tower in the Tower of London in 1917, holding the post until his death in 1944.

(The biography of G. J. Younghusband is written by the noted historian David K. Wyatt).

Location of Keng Tung

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