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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.

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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.

John Falconer, British Library
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, India, Tibet

Son of T.C. Waddell, schoolmaster, Dumbartonshire; educated privately and at Glasgow University; graduated in medicine 1878. Indian Medical Service (Bengal) 1880-1906.

IMS 1880; Professor of Chemistry and Pathology, Medical College, Calcutta, for six years; Deputy Sanitary Comm. For ten years, camping over the ancient ‘Holy Land’ of Buddhism, where he discovered many important ancient classical sites; has travelled in Burma, China, Japan, North America, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, and the Himalayas and Tibet; served Burma, 1886-1887 (Medal with clasp); Chitral Relief Force, 1895 (Medal with clasp); China, including Relief of Peking, 1900 (depatches, CIE, and medal with clasp); Mahsud Waziri Blockade, 1901-1902 (clasp); PMO Malakand, 1902; PMO Tibet Mission to Lhasa, 1903-1904 (despatches, CB, medal with clasp).’

Professor of Tibetan, University College, London, 1906-;

Photographs of Kanchenjunga and neighbouring areas of Nepal presented to the Royal Geographical Society in 1898.

Author: Researches on Serpent Venom (1888); Discoveries of Palibothra of the Greeks (1892); The Birds of Sikhim (1893); The Buddhism of Tibet (1895); Discovery of the Birthplace of the Buddha (1896); Reports on Collection of Indo Scythian Buddhist Sculptures from the Swat Valley (1895-97); Among the Himalayas (1899); Tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley (1902); Lhasa and its Mysteries (1905); Aryan Phoenician Origin of the Britons (1924); Indo Sumerian Seals Deciphered (1925); Sumer Aryan Dictionary (1927); Aryan Origin of the Alphabet (1927); The Makers of Civilization in Race and History (1929); The British Edda (1930); Egyptian Civilization: its Sumerian Origin and Real Chronology, and Sumerian Origin of Egyptian Hieroglyphs (1930); Trojan Origin of World’s Civilization (1938); etc.


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

Until very recently, I had tacitly supposed that L A Waddell's entire ethnological estate had been bequeathed to the University of Glasgow. But a recent cryptic contact from Roger Croston, a council member of the Royal Society of Asian Affairs, avers that Waddell's original photographs of Tibet cannot be found in that collection. Whether they were once there but aren't any longer, he didn't explain. But I did get the initial impression he thought I might have been partly responsible!

Turning to Google, as I do at times of perplexity, several interesting related matters emerged. To start with, though I had been aware of the militaristic nature of the Younghusband mission, I'd had no idea of its cultural rapacity, directed by Waddell himself as official Mission Collector (see the potted biography of LAW inset below)


Waddell originally trained as a surgeon and chemist at Glasgow University. He joined the British Army and became an officer for the Indian Medical Service. He was stationed in and worked on campaigns in Burma and India, but in 1888 he was appointed Principal Medical Officer and Deputy Sanitary Commissioner for Darjeeling area.

It was from here that he was able to travel in Tibetan cultural areas, including Sikkim and the borders of Nepal and Tibet, he wrote several articles and books including, 'Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism' (1895), began collecting objects (including a complete Tibetan lhakang, or shrine) and Tibetan manuscripts, he also learned Tibetan.

In 1903 he was appointed to the dual role of Mission Collector and Medical Officer to the Mission to Lhasa led by Colonel (later Sir) Francis Younghusband. The looting/collecting undertaken was on an enormous scale and several hundred mules loaded with crates of objects and manuscripts made their way over the Himalayas to the Indian Museum, Calcutta where Waddell's assistant David Macdonald catalogued the collection.

Shortly after, he returned to England and became Professor of Tibetan at University College London, but retired soon after to write. Waddell then turned his attentions to Sumeria and the Near East.

Presumably that catalogue still exists, and would account for all the glass-plate(?) photographs (etc) taken by Waddell himself for his own retention and subsequent use as illustrations in his books. And presumably the contents of the innumerable other cratefuls were distributed amongst various private collections and public museums in England. The Tibet and Himalayan Collection in the Liverpool Museums, the best such in Europe, contains upwards of 2,000 items acquired not only via the Younghusband Mission of course, including seven religious figurines collected by Waddell himself.

The Tibet and Himalayan Collection also houses a collection of 200 or so objects, photographs etc, originally acquired by Charles Bell (mentioned earlier), a much more perceptive and sympathetic observer of Tibetan culture and religion than Waddell himself. He hadn't been a member of the Younghusband Mission himself, but his collection includes an album of photographs taken during that episode by John Claude White (who was himself strongly opposed to what happened under Younghusband's command and Waddell's enthusiastic support of it).

On the inside cover of my Waddell grandmother's Anglican prayer book, she had inscribed (as a teenage adoptee in Callender) what is nowadays an oft-repeated and much-mangled quotation, most frequently attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, which begins

There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us ...

The second line of this could have served as epitaph to the British Empire (like that of Rome, by no means the worst example of imperial rule in global history).

My own family, and my wife Sonia's family, and their friends' families, were for many generations involved in keeping the wheels of Empire turning, as administrators, engineers, merchants or missionaries. Good people all of them, we knew not a few of them. The current prosperity of most of today's world is a direct historical consequence of British imperialism. Britain made the modern world.

But there were all too many episodes over the centuries which make deeply painful reading – please click here to read a dispassionate account of just what went on as the Younghusband Mission unfolded (I'm very grateful to Roger Croston for this link).

Looting (along with rape and pillage) is what armies from every corner of the globe have done from time immemorial – often euphemised as 'living off the country', and mostly tolerated by those in charge as pay and rations might well be running low. Kipling expresses this brilliantly in his poem Loot (note that the Widow, or Widow of Windsor, was popular parlance for Queen Victoria), though some British commanders such as Wellington during the Peninsular campaign strongly disapproved of the practice.

But official sanction, openly expressed and exemplified, by military leaders from what was then the world's richest and most technologically advanced nation, strikes a very different note. Col L A Waddell is authoritatively said to be still highly esteemed by Tibetologists, but (though no saint myself) I think the less of him for this episode.


I have just been favoured (Nov 2018) by an email from John Titor, Time Lord and Master of Multidimensional Space. Eboracus is very excited, as he's an avid fan of Doctor Who, and I am all of a doodah as a result of the Temporospatial Supremo's commendation of this account of L A Waddell's life and writings, as an "Outstanding L A Waddell Biography".

He also speaks briefly of a New World Order, and such-like matters familiar to readers of John Hooper Harvey's opus Heritage of Britain, a pdf of which Titor has very obligingly attached to his email.


Online Journal Patterns of Prejudice

The two lives of John Hooper Harvey

Graham Macklin
Pages 167–190
Published online: 03 Apr 2008


Macklin's article documents the two lives of noted architectural historian John Hooper Harvey, focusing on the inextricable link between his fêted academic career and his involvement during the 1930s with the most extreme antisemitic and pro-Nazi group in Britain, the Imperial Fascist League, led by Arnold Leese. Macklin argues that Harvey's virulent antisemitism and his academic writing were part of an interconnected totality with one informing the other throughout his career. In examining the link between his gutter antisemitism and his vast erudition and learning Macklin also highlights the importance of neo-mediaevalism to fascist and Nazi ideology. His article stands slightly apart from the other articles in this special issue in that it deals with a tradition of historicized 'folk' history and cultural aspects of race rather than explicitly 'scientific' or anthropological racism. Given the recent resurgence of 'heritage' and 'cultural traditions' studies in the academy Macklin's article on these neglected aspects of thinking on race and nation is particularly timely.

Keywords: antisemitism, Arnold Leese, British fascism, Imperial Fascist League, John Hooper Harvey, Nordicism, racism

Neither Eboracus nor I understand such complicated matters, and are feeling uncomfortably out of our depth. Furthermore, we're wondering (as you may be too) what all this unpleasant stuff has to do with Laurence Austine Waddell. Read on ...

Title Page

Dedication to L A Waddell

We'd like to emphasise that L A Waddell himself may very well not have shared the Aryan supremacist views expressed in this book, and that we certainly don't in any way whatsoever.

That said, it's certainly a spooky coincidence that there was a Potocki (pronounced Potoffski) in the sixth form at school with me in the early 1960's, evidently the son of the Count Potocki who financed the Right Review and published this book. Potocki is a Polish name (in fact my school contemporary said the family were trying to retrieve their estate(s) in Poland from the Communist regime imposed by the Soviet Union after WW2), but, paradoxically, not at all Aryan!