Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography

A series of unfortunate events

Part 2 1906 – 1911
"The heaviest loss which botanical science has experienced during the past year is that of Professor Marshall Ward of Cambridge."
Proceedings of the Royal Botanical Society, Edinburgh. 1906

The death of Harry Marshall Ward on 26th August 1906 came as a blow to the world of life sciences but not as big a blow as it was to his family. At no point could the Ward's have been described as wealthy and Frank was forced to find paid work.

Having previously gained a second class honours in his second year tripos, it was agreed that he could return to finish his final two terms at a later date. Another family friend and professor of Chinese at Cambridge, Herbert Allen Giles, pulled some strings and secured a teaching post for Frank in Shanghai. Although a teaching career was not his aim it did at least take him closer to the Brahmaputra and would offer scope for further exploration opportunities.

Plate 125 from A.F.W.Schimper's Plant Geography, 1903. (Online PDF version) showing a forest scene in Burma
Plate 125 from A.F.W.Schimper's Plant Geography, 1903. (Online PDF version) showing a forest scene in Burma.

He sailed on the "Nore" in January 1907 taking advantage of a stopover in Singapore he took a rucksack and spent the night under the stars on the Bukit-Timah road. He wrote home saying that the scenery and vegetation were pure Schimper in reference to Andreas Schimper's Plant Geography which had inspired him.

The school where he was teaching was like a typical English public school transplanted into the tropics. Shanghai was highly westernised and British ex-patriots, diplomats, businessmen and military personnel, worked and relaxed safe in the knowledge that their boys were getting a good grounding in the classics, playing cricket, and no doubt being caned when required just as well as the boys of Eton and Rugby.

Malcolm Playfair Anderson, April 6, 1879 - 21st Feb 1919. Photograph from online obituary written by By MELVILLE B. ANDERSON.
Malcolm Playfair Anderson. 6thApril 1879 - 21st February 1919.

During the long school holidays, Frank explored Java, and Borneo for the sheer pleasure of exploration, although this merely served to whet his appetite for more. After only two years at the school, however, he received an offer he could not refuse. Another friend in England, Oldfield Thomas, keeper of zoology (and new mammal specialist) at the Natural History Museum, had recommended him for an expedition to look for new species of mammals in China. Led by American Malcolm Playfair Anderson,*1 with Dr Jack A.C. Smith, a medical missionary as interpreter, and game hunter Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke. It was financed mainly by the 12th Duke of Bedford hence becoming known as the Duke of Bedford expedition.*2

On the road to Tibet

Frank's account of this trip is detailed in “On the Road to Tibet”, a collection and reprint of a series of articles written for the Shanghai Mercury, published in 1910.*3 The trip was quite successful, Frank discovered two new species of vole Eothynomys wardi, and E. custos, and a shrew, Blarinella wardi. Anderson's additions included a shrew-mole Uropsilus andersoni and a white bellied rat Niviventer andersoni, and Dr Smith produced a shrew Chodsigoa smithii, and something called a zokor, Eospalax smithii.*4 The takin however Budocus taxicolor, were barely troubled by the shooting party. This from “On the Road to Tibet”.

Takin, Budocus taxicolor, (photograph from wikipedia; location Korkeasaari Zoo, Helsinki, Finland under G.N.U. free documentation licence)
Takin Budocus taxicolor (photograph from wikipedia)
Crouching behind a rock, at the beginning of this spur, the old hunter made a sign to us, and looking cautiously over the edge we saw, not fifty yards away amongst the rocks and trees, a dozen or more huge long haired animals, unsuspicious, calmly feeding, the oxen we had come so far to hunt.
    First one showed up, then another as they came closer and closer, ignorant of the fact that they were watched, while we trembled with excitement.
     The hunter whispered his plans to surround the herd as rapidly as possible, but before anything was done, the American, who had our only rifle, opened fire, even then with a magazine rifle, it seemed child's play to hit them at forty yards range, but he gave such a brilliant exhibition of how to put bullets between a row of barn doors, as it were, that we got nothing for our trouble.
Argali (mountain sheep)
Argali Ovis ammon endangered species, under pressure from loss of grazing to man, and from trophy hunters.

Perhaps, given the current threatened/endangered status of Takin in the wild this would seem to be a good thing. The agile mountain sheep were similarly untroubled by the hunting party, as outlined in the following passage.

Of course we were always at a disadvantage when chasing these frolicsome creatures because we had to haul guns along; they hadn't...we pursued those sheep up amongst the clouds for three days and they had the laugh every time... at the end of those three days the boy scouts might have tracked us all over the mountains by means of the pieces of clothing and morsels of flesh we left hooked onto the rocks...but never a baa-lamb did we slay.

Given the "Giddy Oysters" delight at all forms of discomfort and inconvenience, the expedition would seem to have been a complete success, from Frank's point of view.

I was alone with one of the coolies, some few hundred yards behind the party; next minute they were swallowed up amongst the trees and darkness.
     … a stinging blast of icy wind was roaring, whipping up the snow, obliterating the trail, and singing through our clothes as though they had been muslin... I was off the trail, plunging knee deep into the snow drifts.
     … we were still following the trail, though numbed as I was, progress was painfully slow and dangerous falls frequent. After an hour … the trails diverged, my coolie, who was leading, took the wrong one …
     Choosing a spot under some stunted larches, as much out of the wind as possible, we at last, after many unsuccessful attempts with flint and steel on account of the gale, lit a fire and huddled round it; and there on the mountainside at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet, amidst wind and snow, without food or covering, we passed the night.

He was once again separated from the main party a few days later although this time, he says, it was amusing. Frank arrived in the village where the rest of the party had already arrived but was unable to find the inn where they were staying. But not wishing to spend another night in the cold he entered what he described as a mule inn, but as he spoke almost no Chinese he could not explain his situation to the innkeeper. Frank's gun un-nerved the host who tried to bribe him to leave, with local money which was the equivalent of about a farthing. Frank laughed out loud at this offer, and then eventually remembered the word for an inn. Even then he had practically to kidnap the man at gunpoint to get him to show him where the inn was, but he was at last reunited with the main party.

Still later on during the expedition Frank went off on his own whilst the rest hunted. Again he became lost having been forced from the correct path by some Tibetan hunting dogs and failing to regain his route afterwards. He ended up spending two nights under the stars and two days walking with nothing to eat but a piece of bread. On the evening of the first day he came upon the corpse of a small child which had been left in the open, a traditional sky burial. It was being devoured by some kites and, of course, the sight had a profound effect on him. He met several Tibetans but he knew even less Tibetan than Chinese and on one encounter he held on to his loaded and cocked revolver in his pocket, fearing that he might actually need to use it.

News of the death of King Edward VII, 6th May 1910, reached the expedition seven days later on 13th May while they were staying at a Church Missionary Society outstation, near Chengdu.
In Mianyang they visited a school and were entertained by a Mr Taylor, a fellow Cambridge alumnus, Mr Watt, a keen botanist, and Mr. Spreckley, who had spent some time in West Africa.

They spent about a week in Chengdu the capital of Sichuan, where they attended a memorial service for King Edward VII. It is difficult to follow the route of the expedition because many place names have changed. Also the way Chinese is written in the English alphabet has changed. However, from Chengdu, they traveled roughly west through Ya'an, Luding, and Kangding in Tibet where they were entertained by Mr and Mrs Herbert of the China inland mission. This city, now the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China, was then called Tatsienlu and, according to Frank ... may justly be called the last city in China, ...

I have tried to indicate the route and key places as best I can on a modern map.
I must apologise if there are any errors and omissions, it is not easy.


View Frank Kingdon-Ward "On the road to Tibet" map in a larger map

On The Road To Tibet devotes much more space to describing the people and places, and customs of the areas that Frank traveled through than to any further events. Eventually the party rejoined the Yangtse river at Chongqing and they undertook a two thousand mile boat journey back to Shanghai.

A small herbarium collection was made and sent to the Cambridge Botanical department.

That first expedition no doubt whetted his appetite for more but, with little prospect of another backer soon, Frank returned to the school in Shanghai and resigned himself to the tedious life of a schoolteacher.

Notes for part 2
1.Photograph of Malcolm P Anderson
2.Bedford had also financed similar expeditions in 1904 (also led by Anderson) and in 1906
3.On the Road to Tibet, Shanghai Mercury Ltd. 1910 (unobtainable) Reprinted 2006 Ulm/Donnau isbn 3-931997-26-X (now out of stock. From book dealers only)
4.The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins, Michael Grayson JHU Press, 2009

Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography