Frederick Marshman Bailey

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File:Miru Gyalwa, Mrs Bailey, Major Vance, Colonel Bailey.jpg
Miru Gyalwa, Mrs Bailey, Major Vance, Colonel Bailey, 1927 in Tibet

Frederick Marshman Bailey CIE (3 February 1882, Lahore, India – 17 April 1967, Stiffkey, Norfolk) was a British intelligence officer and one of the last protagonists of The Great Game - the fight for supremacy between the Russians and the British Empire along the Himalayas. His clandestine work gave him many opportunities to pursue his hobbies of photography, butterfly collecting, and trophy hunting in the high Tibetan region. Over 2000 of his bird specimens were presented to The Natural History Museum,[1] although his personal collection is now held in the American Museum of Natural History, New York.[2] His papers and extensive photograph collections are held in the British Library, London.[3]

Early life

Born in Lahore on 3 February 1882, F. H. M. Bailey was the son of an officer in the Royal Engineers of the British Army who was also named Frederick, resulting in the younger Bailey usually being called "Eric". He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Wellington (1895-1899) and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned onto the Unattached List of the Indian Army on 28 July 1900. He was admitted to the Indian Army 26 October 1901 and was attached to the 17th Bengal Lancers. He was promoted to lieutenant on 28 October 1902 and transferred to the 32nd Sikh Pioneers on 1 March 1903.[2] He obtained a transfer to the Foreign & Political Department 24 January 1906. During a mission in Sikhim he began to study Tibetan, and became so proficient that he accompanied Francis Younghusband in his 1904 invasion of Tibet. He then served as the British Trade Agent in Gyantse (Tibet) at intervals between December 1905 and December 1909.

He later travelled in unknown parts of China and Tibet, elected a Fellow of the Geographic Society in October 1906 (seconded by his father Colonel F Bailey who had joined the society in 1880[2]) eventually earning the Gold Explorer's Medal from the Royal Geographical Society for his discoveries. He also contributed notes on big-game to the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. He was promoted Captain 28 July 1908 and served during the operations in the Abor country 1911-12.

Having heard about rumours of a large waterfall, Bailey transferred himself from the Indian Army to the Political Department to get appointments on the Tibetan frontier. In 1911-12 he made an unauthorized exploration to the Tsangpo Gorges with Captain Henry Morshead of the Survey of India. Morshead was later a surveyor for the initial 1921 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition, along with George Mallory. Their adventures led them to the Rong Chu valley a gorge on the upper Tsangpo. It was in this valley that Bailey spotted a tall blue poppy at the margin of the forest and pressed it in his notebook - now called Meconopsis baileyi. They reached Kintup's falls at the monastery of Pemakochung and were greatly disappointed to find the falls to be about thirty feet.

First World War

On 4 September 1914 Bailey was appointed as a Captain with the 6th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry at Dublin. He served on the western front during March to April 1915 with the 34th Sikh Pioneers, where he was shot in the arm. At the time he was serving in the Indian Expeditionary Forces as one of the few Urdu-speaking officers on the front. When his wound continued to worsen, he returned to England, but he later joined the fight again at Gallipoli in September 1915 serving with the 5th Gurkhas, where he was wounded twice more.

He was appointed a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire on 1 January 1915[4] and was transferred to the Supernumerary List on 24 December 1915.

He was sent back to India, where he served as Political Officer on the North West Frontier during the Mohmand Operations January 1916 to March 1917.

In December 1917 he was sent to South Persia where he served until February 1918 as a Political officer, then Chinese & Russian Turkistan 1918-1920

He was appointed a temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, 1 April 1918 until 30 May 1920.

Mission to Tashkent

One of Bailey's more well-known adventures occurred in 1918, when he traveled to Tashkent in Central Asia on a mission to discover the intentions of the new Bolshevik government, specifically in relation to India. During this mission he also shadowed Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian nationalist who had established the Provisional Government of India in Kabul in 1915. Pratap was at the time liaising with Germany and Bolshevik authorities for a joint Soviet-German assault into India through Afghanistan.[5] It was at this time that the first plans for the Soviet Kalmyk Project was first considered. Bailey eventually had to flee for his life from the city, and only escaped after taking on the guise of an Austrian POW[6] and joining the Cheka, with an assignment to find a rogue British agent - that is, himself. Upon his return to England, he was a national hero. Bailey later recorded his exploits in his book Mission to Tashkent. He was also instrumental in organising support for the Basmachi Revolt.

Later life

File:FM Bailey.jpg
In the Mishmi Hills

In 1921 he married Hon. Irma, daughter of Baron Cozens-Hardy.

He was the Political Officer for Sikkim and Tibet, stationed in Gangtok (Sikkim) from June 1921 - October 1928, during which time he made annual visits to Tibet to inspect the Gyantse Trade Agency and visited Lhasa from 16 July to 16 August 1924 (accompanied by the Medical Officer, Major J. Hislop IMS)

He helped Frank Kingdon-Ward and Lord Cawdor in 1924 when he was a Political Officer in Gangtok, Sikkim. Bailey arranged passports and encouraged them to search the fifty-mile unexplored gap of the river to solve the riddles of the Tsangpo Gorges. Kingdon-Ward wrote a book by the same name documenting that expedition.

He was among the earliest to import the Lhasa Apso breed of dog into Britain.[7] He was in contact with others interested in Central Asia including Richard Meinertzhagen.

He was promoted Lieutenat-Colonel 28 July 1926.

He was the Resident at Baroda, Central India from 1930–32, and was appointed the Resident in Kashmir later in 1932 until 1933.

In February 1935 he was appointed His Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at Kathmandu.[8] He held this appointment until retiring in 1938.

He retired from the Indian Army on 3 February 1937 and in the Second World War served as a King's Messenger to Central and South America between 1942 and 1943.

See also

  • London Gazette
  • Indian Army List (various dates)
  • Wellington College Register
  • The Times


  1. Warr, F. E. 1996. Manuscripts and Drawings in the ornithology and Rothschild libraries of The Natural History Museum at Tring. BOC. (BMNH 1938 7-15)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Anon. (1967) Obituary: Lt.-Col. F. M. Bailey, C. I. E. 1882-1967. The Geographical Journal 133: 427-428.
  3. Papers at Mss Eur F157, photographs at Photo 1083.
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29024. p. 3. 1 January 1915.
  5. Bailey & Hopkirk 2002, pp. 224–227
  6. Bailey, F. M.; A Visit to Bokhara in 1919; The Geographical Journal > Vol. 57, No. 2 (Feb., 1921), pp. 75-87
  7. Bailey, Eric (1937) Dogs from the Roof of the World : Many unusual Breeds Found in Tibet the Strange Land That Lies in the Clouds. American Kennel Gazette 25(3) [1]
  8. The London Gazette: no. 34133. p. 1091. 15 February 1935.

Further reading

  • Anon. Obituary. Ibis 1967:615-616
  • Bailey, F. M. China, Tibet, Assam (London: Cape, 1945)
  • Bailey, F.M; Hopkirk, Peter (2002), Mission to Tashkent, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280387-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.(1946, republished 1992 and 2002).
  • Bailey, F. M. No Passport To Tibet (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957)
  • Brysac, Shareen Blair and Karl E. Meyer. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia. (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press, 1999).
  • Cocker, Mark. Loneliness and time: the story of British travel writing. (London: Secker & Warburg, 1992).
  • Hopkirk, Peter. Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia. (London: Kodansha International, 1984).

McKay, Alex. Tibet and the British Raj: The Frontier Cadre 1904-1947' (Richmond, Curzon Press, 1997)

  • Milton, Giles Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot, Sceptre, 2013. ISBN 978 1 444 73702 8
  • Swinson, Arthur. Beyond the Frontiers. The Biography of Colonel F.M. Bailey Explorer and Special Agent (London: Hutchinson of London, 1971)

External links