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6 Oct 2018
updated 16 Nov 2018

Laurence Austine Waddell
(29 May 1854 – 19 Sep 1938)


© National Portrait Gallery, London

To quote the opening paragraph of Wikipedia's article about him:

Lt Col Laurence Austine Waddell, CB, CIE, F.L.S., L.L.D, M.Ch., I.M.S., RAI, F.R.A.S (29 May 1854–1938) was a British explorer, Professor of Tibetan, Professor of Chemistry and Pathology, British army surgeon, collector in Tibet, philologist, amateur archeologist, Doctor of Laws, and author. Waddell was also a linguist, having studied Sumerian and Sanskrit he made various translations of seals and other inscriptions. His reputation as a Sumerologist gained no recognition and his works on the history of civilization have caused controversy.

This summary barely scratches the surface of Waddell's extraordinarily diverse and energetic life, his erudition, accomplishments and distinctions. He was widely respected in his day, though posterity has tended to pour scorn on many of his palaeocultural theories. Of course nothing has a shorter shelf-life than anthropology, except perhaps particle physics and cosmology, and so I think we should continue to admire him for the creative vigour of his ideas.

He was closely contemporary with Sir Francis Younghusband, likewise an explorer, adventurer and geographer, though much given to exotic spiritual fancies in later life; to quote the opening paragraph of Wikipedia's article about him:

Lt Col Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, KCSI, KCIE (31 May 1863 – 31 July 1942) was a British Army officer, explorer, and spiritual writer. He is remembered chiefly for his travels in the Far East and Central Asia; especially the 1904 British invasion of Tibet, which he led, during which a massacre of Tibetans occurred, and for his writings on Asia and foreign policy. Younghusband held positions including British commissioner to Tibet and President of the Royal Geographical Society. Portrait of Francis Edward Younghusband

Waddell was in fact the cultural consultant for the hamfisted 1903-1904 British expeditionary force and was considered alongside Sir Charles Bell as one of the foremost authorities on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. He published a wide variety of titles on this subject, as on many others, still available and purchased to this very day.

For example (Dover edition):

Book cover

And, equally lurid (Dover edition):

Book cover

Lamaism / Buddhism of Tibet

Title page

(original cover design)
Title page

(Please click here)

As always with such online facsimile versions, the maximal screen display can be achieved by using a judicious combination of the options Fullscreen / F11 / Hide Nav Bar / Zoom custom ...%

Lhasa and Its Mysteries

Title page

(original cover design)
Title page

(Please click here)

As always with such online facsimile versions, the maximal screen display can be achieved by using a judicious combination of the options Fullscreen / F11 / Hide Nav Bar / Zoom custom ...%

Unfortunately, none of the photographs from the original have been reproduced in this electronic facsimile, but they are of course available in the hard-copy published facsimile editions, and in another, somewhat imperfectly reproduced, electronic facsimile version, or in a pdf version.

Press reviews of the first edition in 1905 were extremely favourable:

"Rich in information and instinct with literary charm. Every page bears witness to first-hand knowledge of the country ... the author is master of his subject. It is a mine of quaint folk-lore, of philology and natural history, and the descriptions of scenery are delightful ... there is scarcely a page without some droll suggestion." -- Times Literary Supplement, 31 Jan 1905.

"The foremost living authority on his subject. Well illustrated with original photographs, it caters both for the expert and for the ordinary reader." -- Daily Chronicle, 27 Mar 1905.

"Of all the books on Tibet this is the most complete and the most authoritative. His perpetual curiosity, his diligent research, his exceptional knowledge and his vigorous style of writing give to this work both authority and brightness." - Contemporary Review, Jun 1905.

Of particular interest to the general reader are the Preface, revealing something of himself, and the first chapter "Lhasa the Forbidden" which tells of the many intrepid individuals - himself included - whose efforts down the centuries to explore Tibet or even penetrate Lhasa itself, make fascinating reading.

Other Publications

Click here for access to numerous other books he published.

Biographical details

We have only a very narrow window onto LAW, his antecedents and descendents.

His family background in the Waddells of Magiscroft (collaterals of the Waddells of Balquhatstone) is thoroughly documented by Gavin Main Waddell (A History of the Waddells of Scotland, 2013; pp 127-128)

I'm grateful to my infallible cousin Anne Burgess for details of LAW's children, though the extraordinary gap between Laurence and his sister Margaret suggests that there may have been others who failed to survive or are otherwise lost to history. The account given by my equally authoritative cousin Gavin Waddell differs substantially, and I'm in no rush to judgement about matters outwith my own competence.

L A Waddell's son Frank, aged just 17, was amongst the 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the very name of which still makes ones blood run cold, even a century or so later. There was no-one else to carry forward their family line, let alone name – neither LAW's daughter nor his nieces appear to have married.

IndividualSpouse / PartnerFamily
William Waddell

Margaret Young Thomas Clement Waddell
(3 Feb 1813 – 12 Mar 1880)
Dr Thomas Clement Waddell
(3 Feb 1813 – 12 Mar 1880)

DD University of Glasgow
Ordained as Minister of Larkhall 1841, but later resigned and taught at the university.

born & died Cumbernauld
Jean Chapman

youngest daughter of John Chapman, of Banton, Stirlingshire
Laurence Au(gu)stine Waddell
(29 May 1854 – 19 Sep 1938)

Margaret Burns Elphinstone Waddell
(17 Feb 1872 – 1944)
Laurence Au(gu)stine Waddell
(29 May 1854 – 19 Sep 1938)

more distinctions than you could shake a stick at
Amy Louise Reeves
(m 13 Feb 1895)
Gladys May Waddell
(13 Mar 1897 Calcutta – 1949 Sussex)

Frank Austine Waddell
(18 Aug 1898 Calcutta – KIA 1 July 1916,
Battle of the Somme)
Margaret Burns Elphinstone Waddell
(17 Feb 1872 – 1944)
Rev Charles Freskin Fleming
(d 1952)
Charlotte May Fleming
(b 1894)

Dr Amy Margaret Fleming
(b 1897)

Elphinstone is quite a distance from Cumbernauld and Larkhall, and so it's an odd name for LAW's parents to have chosen for his sister Margaret – the other possible connection is with the appallingly unfortunate leader of the retreat from Kabul some 30 years earlier. As Wikipedia1,  2 tells us:

Elphinstone was promoted to major-general in 1837, and, in 1841, during the First Anglo-Afghan War, placed in command of the British garrison in Kabul, Afghanistan, numbering around 4500 troops, of whom 690 were European and the rest Indian. The garrison also included 12,000 civilians, including soldiers' families and camp followers. He was elderly, indecisive, weak, and unwell, and proved himself utterly incompetent for the post. His entire command was massacred during the British retreat from Kabul during January 1842.

And Austine itself is a most unusual name, with no particular precedents – there is a reasonable consensus that his baptismal middle name was actually Augustus, and that he contracted it, officially or unofficially, later on in life.

I recently (Oct 2014) made contact with the University of Glasgow Archives Dept, via the University website, to enquire what personal record they might hold about him, and I am most grateful to them for the following fascinating account:

Dear Dr Waddell

Thank you for your email regarding your ancestor Laurence Augustine/Austine Waddell. Hopefully you have also received my email regarding your other ancestor Rev John Waddel.

I can confirm that Laurence Augustine Waddell graduated from the University of Glasgow on 30 July 1878 with the medical degrees of MB CM, and was awarded the Honorary Degree of LLD in 1895:


His matriculation records give the following information:

YearNameAgeBirthplaceFather's nameFather's occupationBranch
1874/75Waddell Lawrence Augustine20Cumbernauld Dunbartonshire ThomasMissionaryMedicine
1875/76Waddell Lawrence Augustine21Cumbernauld DunbartonshireThomasMissionaryMedicine
1876/77Waddell Lawrence Augustine22Cumbernauld DunbartonshireThomasMissionaryMedicine
1877/78Waddell Lawrence Augustine23Cumbernauld DunbartonshireThomasMissionaryMedicine
1878/79Waddell Lawrence Augustine24Cumbernauld DunbartonshireThomasMissionaryMedicine

During the course of his medical degree he took the following classes:

1874/75:Botany, Anatomy, Chemistry
1875/76:Anatomy, Institutes of Medicine
1876/77:Materia Medica, Surgery, Zoology, Physiology
1877/78:Midwifery, Practice of Physic, Clinical Medicine, Forensic Medicine, Pathology
1878/79:Institutes of Medicine, English Literature

(source R9/1/5; R9/2/5; MED5/2/5)

He won a number of prizes during his time at the University, details are as follows:

1874/75:Anatomy, Junior Division, first class certificate (lectures) and first class certificate (practical);
Chemistry, second class certificate
Summer 1875:Chemistry, first class certificate;
Botany, first class certificate (80%)
1875/76:Anatomy, Senior Division, first class certificate (lectures) and first class certificate (practical);
Institutes of Medicine, certificate of merit;
Surgery, junior division, first class certificate;
Clinical Surgery, first class certificate
Summer 1876:Zoology, Medal and first class certificate (85%)
1876/77:Surgery, senior division, medal;
Practice of Medicine, second class certificate and prize for best notes of Dr Gairdner's Clinical Lectures;
Clinical Medicine, second class certificate;
Materia Medica, first class certificate
Summer 1877:Forensic Medicine, first class certificate;
Practical Physiology, first class certificate (87%)
1877/88:Practice of Medicine, the William Cullen Medal;
Midwifery, Class II prize
Summer 1878:Operative Surgery, prize

(Source: R7/3/2; SEN10/17-21)

Please note that in the above records he is mainly referred to as Lawrence, but sometimes also as Laurence. His middle name when mentioned is always Augustine. There is no reason given in the records as to why he returned to the University to study in the year 1878/79 after he graduated.

Laurence Austine Waddell was awarded an honorary degree of LLD in 1895, the reason for his award being his work as Surgeon-Major in the Indian Medical Service, Bengal. I have attached a copy of his oration (our ref IP6/1/4 pg1):


Special Collection in the University Library hold a number of items relating to Laurence, for further info please see their catalogue:


If you wish to get in touch with them to learn more about these items their email address is


As with Rev John Waddel, we will add the info above to Laurence A Waddell's entry on our website. I hope that this information is of use.

Best wishes

(The Duty Archivist)

Note that there is now a nice new profile of him on the University website:

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For a man of such attainments and distinction, LAW left a singularly faint personal footprint altogether. There were hitherto only three known photographs of him – two portraits (one of which I am currently trying to acquire from the National Portrait Gallery) and one very smudgy enlargement from a picture of British Army officers in Tibet during 1904.

The LAW Special Collection at the University of Glasgow, however, does evidently contain quite a number of photographs of him taken at various stages of his career and retirement, though unlikely to be of portrait quality of course:


Home ⇒ Services A-Z ⇒ Special Collections ⇒ Manuscripts Catalogue ⇒ Material relating to Laurence Augustine Waddell

Potential photographic wish-list:

MS Gen 1691 Add 1/3
L.A. Waddell and two others. Enlarged detail from photograph of Beleaguered Garrison at Gyantsé, published in: Lhasa and its mysteries (London: John Murray, 1905), facing p. 252.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/7/1
Inscribed monoliths, rectangular and wedge-shaped, being viewed by L.A. Waddell and 4 companions. Photograph.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/21
L.A. Waddell, seated, with 8 unidentified people. Photograph.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/22/1
L.A. Waddell receiving treatment to left forearm from unidentified male. Photograph.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/26
L.A. Waddell and 3 turbanned figures examining ox. Photograph.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/27
L.A. Waddell in military uniform with 6 unidentified males. Photograph.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/42
N.G. Hospital, China Expeditionary Force. Photograph of building with Lt. Col. L.A. Waddell and others seated on verandah.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/43
N.G. Hospital, China Expeditionary Force. Photograph of officers, including Lt. Col. L.A. Waddell, seated on verandah of building in MS Gen 1691 Photo/42.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/50
Photograph of L.A. Waddell and a female companion examining a rock. Probably Bute or Arran, 1930s.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/51
Photograph of L.A. Waddell standing below cliff. Probably Bute, 1930s.

MS Gen 1691 Photo/52
Photograph of L.A. Waddell standing on track by standing stones. Probably Bute or Arran, 1930s.

And when as an unprepossessing youth I was first presented to my future father-in-law, Ron Kaulback of Tibetan Trek and Salween fame, he looked me up and down with gathering dismay, and grunted non-committally – there was no welcoming enquiry as to whether I might be the great Laurence Austine's illegitimate grandson, for example. So LAW had slipped by under his radar too.

Fortunately, at long last, a biography of LAW has appeared, but though well received has retained a low profile. The author, Christine Preston, presents an abstract of his ideas on the internet, and the book itself – The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A biography of L A Waddell – is widely available from the usual sources. It's fair to say that had he laid down his pen in about 1908 his reputation would still be undiminished, but it was his encounter with Teach Yourself Sumerian, and his subsequent conviction that the Sumerians were the fons et origo of European and Near Eastern civilisation that lost him the sympathy of the pundits. As Gavin Waddell has perceptively remarked, he wasn't refuted but simply ignored or belittled by subsequent generations of scholars, though his notions were popular enough in their day, and retain their influence in certain quarters even today.

He was of course well aware of opposition to his ideas by other big beasts of the anthropological jungle, and was quite comfortable with that, according to a recent review. I rather expect that he saw it as being their problem rather than his.

The criticisms his work has faced more recently is of wider scope, attacking his earlier as well as his later work. Here's a couple of samples that I've come across – and make no pretence of understanding. He is routinely abused for being a colonialist, a fascist, and a crypto-Christian son of the Manse, dangerously ad hominem attitudes to take, as they could be seen to betray an insecurity or touchiness on the part of the critics themselves.

The first is a critique by Walter Corbiere, is of LAW's Lhasa and its Mysteries: With an Account of the Expedition of 1903-04.

And the second, by Sridar Rana, is of LAW's Buddhism and Lamaism of Tibet.

Laurence Austine Waddell bequeathed his huge collection of books, letters and documents to his alma mater, the University of Glasgow: