Mr Durie in Caubul - Early 19thC

Research by Dr Bruce Durie.

This item is something of a mystery. It is part of 'An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and Its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India: Comprising a View of the Afghaun Nation, and a History of the Dooraunee Monarchy' by Mountstuart Elphinstone, published in 1819.

Elphinstone (1779–1859) was one of the Scots who founded British India. Born in Dumbarton, 4th son of the 11th Baron Elphinstone, he followed a typical path for younger sons in those days – the civil service of the British East India Company. He rose to prominence while attached to the mission of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) to the Marathas in 1801, and in 1808 became the first British envoy to the court of Kabul, in order to ally the Afghans with Britain against Napoleon's planned advance on India. When Governor of Bombay he did much for education of the native Indian population and wrote a number of books including a History of India.

He seems to have met Mr. Durie in 1812. This Bengali son of 'an Englishman' (more likely a Scot, which Elphinstone might have spotted) and an Indian mother was a pharmacists’s assistant or dispenser, but decided to travel across the Indus, through the Afghan country intending to visit Bagdad, all on no money whatsoever. After time in Caubul (Kabul) and Candahar (Kandahar), Durie turned up at Elphinstone’s residence in Poona, and proceeded to provide vital information that we would now call intelligence.

Some of his tale reads surprisingly modern – the obvious tension between what he calls 'Sunnee or Sheeah', the factional in-fighting between Afghan warlords, the difficulty of travelling in bandit country.

Quite where he sprang from remains clouded. Where he went to afterwards is equally unclear. I wonder if there isn’t some Durie strain in Bengal or Baghdad to this day.

Dr Bruce Durie.

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