Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography

Triumphs and tragedies

Part 5, 1919 - 1926

Although Frank had spent much of his copious free time during the war laying plans for an expedition to enter Tibet from China, this idea proved impossible since the Chinese were particularly hostile towards Britain at this time. Consequently he returned to Hpimaw, where he had been based before the war, and continued his exploration of the North East frontier, in the region of Burma known as "The Triangle" part of the modern day Kachin state.

Back on the flower trail

He spent the best part of 1919 in this region and collected a number of new plants among them Rhododendron myrtilloides*1

There is no single account of any of the expeditions from the end of the Great war to 1922. instead his book "The Romance Of Plant Hunting" 1924 draws upon his experiences in several expeditions; the 1911 Yunnan expedition and the trip to Burma in 1913-14, 1919, and his return to Yunnan in 1921-22. As such it is not so much an expedition journal as a treatise on some of the challenges facing the plant hunter at that time. He devotes a chapter to a rather unfortunately xenophobic treatise on why only the English have really mastered horticulture (although judged by the standards of the time he was among the most tolerant of different cultures); and a further chunk to why there ought to be a law of copyright or patent on new species of plants, an argument which makes a certain amount of sense until you see what Monsanto and others have managed to do with such ideas today.
Another book also published in 1924, From China To Hkamti Long also covers episodes that took place on different expeditions in 1921 and 1922 covering much the same ground.

He devotes more space to discussing the plans that are needed to mount an expedition; revealing, for example, his provisioning policy.

Let us examine the proposition ... that you are asked to go to Szechwan.
Where is this sneeze situated? It is a province in the far west of that vague region marked China on the map. ....
..... the question of what stores to take with him at first puzzles the collector. It will not help him to know the capitals of Europe by heart, and even the knowledge that Brazil produces coffee, rubber, cocoa, cinchona, and diamonds is of small consequence since these are but a scurvy diet. Besides our destination is China, and the products of China are soya beans, silk, ground nuts, rice, cotton, opium, and tea, most of them indigestible. It is here that common sense comes in. Plants - the best plants - do not flourish in the desert; therefore the country we are bound for must be to some extent inhabited. Therefore food of some sort must be procurable in the neighbourhood - it may be a week's journey or month's journey to the nearest market ; but since the geography books inform us with surprising unanimity that there are 400,000,000 Chinese there must be food somewhere in China. ..... Arguing thus you arrive at the conclusion that the staples of life, flour (or maybe rice), fowls, eggs, and probably meat, can be obtained. The rest is easy - jam, Worcestershire sauce, and a case of whisky, are the first choices of a limited purse. Why? Because jam makes any pulp palatable, and whisky is antiseptic.

The details of the 1919 expedition are sketchy at best. Neither Winifred's biography nor Charles Lyte's goes into much detail and it is almost impossible to decide which parts of the book refer specifically to that trip. I am forced therefore to leave it, for the time being, and move on. (It may be possible to fill in the blanks at a later date)

Return to England

In 1920 he returned, finally, to England, after an absence of seven years. In that time his mother had left Cambridge and was staying in a hotel in Bayswater, west London. His sister Winifred was staying in a hostel which had been her home during the war, when not in France.

Winifred writes about her brother's romantic attachments, to which he seems to have had a rather eccentric approach.
Towards the end of 1918 she received a letter from two of Frank's officer friends telling her of an affaire du couer which had almost ended up with his being engaged to "an attractive young lady in Baghdad" and on the boat home to England he had met a young girl by the name of Alice, at a dance. He showed his dance card to Winifred where he had written

Alice in Wonderland
Alice through the looking glass
Alice for short
Alice where art though?
Allice blue-gown
He did not propose to her but wrote later. The letter it seems was intercepted and nothing further came of it, but Winifred says that she believes it was one of only two romances in his life that he was genuinely serious about.
Back in England at the small hotel where his mother was staying he again proposed to a girl after a very brief meeting. She refused him and his mother said that the only time she had ever liked the girl was when she turned Frank down.

On another occasion in Tibet, as a guest in a family home he found out that he had somehow become married to the head of the house's daughter during the evening. After some considerable protestations the ceremony was reversed and they were able to remain friends, but it is curious to know that this sort of thing does not only happen in comedy movies.

While in England he visited the 1920 Chelsea Flower show. He also began a business venture, borrowing money to buy a partnership in a commercial garden in Torquay, Devon. The plan was that he would go off and bring back new seed and plants to stock the nursery, while his partner would run things back at home. He wrote to Winifred,

... I am in partnership with a man in this nursery - quite a jolly place; we hope to make a big concern of it, and we got it ridiculously cheap. My partner is doing the work, I am giving the advice - some of it ... I have been learning something about cultivating tomatoes today - also picking beans for a customer - we took nearly £3 in the shop today and we have a ripping little Ford van. You must come and stay down here.

During his brief stay in England he also found time to lecture in Liverpool and in Manchester where his host claimed him as a Mancunian since he had been born there thirty five years earlier.

Frank also attended the Central Asian Society dinner*2 which was on October 12th at the Imperial Restaurant, Regent Street, London. In a letter Frank told Winifred that "All the people with season tickets between Timbuctoo and Bokhara will be there."

1921 Percy Sladen expedition

In 1921 Frank returned to Yunnan partly funded by grants from the Royal Society and the Percy Sladen memorial fund. "From China To Hkamti Long" describes this expedition although, as Frank explains in the preface, the first two chapters actually describe the same route from Lashio to Yungning that he made in April and May 1921 as that followed in March and April of 1922.

Franks reports (page 70 CtoHL) meeting Professor Gregory*3 and his son, who were returning from Atuntsi, on July 31st close to a pass at around 12,500 feet.

Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography

NOTES for chapter 5