In late September 2011 I returned from Tibet with memories, stories and hundreds of photographs. It seemed more like a dream, even now, when I look over images of another world, it feels as though it happened to someone else. Colin Thubron's words came flooding back, "What did you feel". "Nothing" - only now do I understand.
I have often said the hand of fate is mysterious. Two months later found out that 150 km North of Mt Kailash was the fabled kingdom of Shangri- la, better known as the Kingdom of Guge. Over the Christmas period I watched over and over again the DVD by Michael Wood - "In Search of Myths and Heroes" his journey to the earthly paradise of Shangri-la.
Over the following five years I threw myself into work, project managing large projects in London, dealing with stress and trying to remain faithful to my Buddhist traditions. Easier said than done on a building site. Then travelling, across Europe, dog sledging in Norway, ( agreed to at a drunken Christmas party I hasten to add ), horse riding in the Rockies; Canada, ( agreed to when sober ) and finally travelling through Malaysia. But always in my mind, returning to Western Tibet.
Photos - Dog sledging in Bardenfoss, Norway March 2012
In 2015 my project in London was coming to an end, it was late in the year and my desire to return to India was ignited again. I had left it late, so in order to escape the monsoons, I gazed further North - North East India, Ladakh to be exact. My route through India - Delhi, Dharamsala, Jammu, Ladakh, Srinagar, and finally Amritsar was hastily planned, three weeks in total, and in September I departed for Delhi. Unlike the previous chapters, I will not go through my itinerary in detail, well maybe the odd photograph, only to say that my time in Ladakh had a huge impact in 2017
Dharamshala.- rest house for spiritual pilgrims.
Landing in Delhi I flew to Dharamshala. In common Hindi usage, the word dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims.a fitting home for the current Delhi Lama.
Known now as Little Tibet, this small hill station established by the British in the mid 19th c, its main roads lined with shops and stalls selling all things Tibetan in the rain offered little charm. Its 100,000 Tibetan migrants cling to the hill side dreaming of a Tibet that is beyond their reach. Religion and culture, what is it worth?.
Dharamasala in September rains
In 1860, the 66th Gurkha Light Infantry was moved to Dharamshala, An ideal position for the new base was found on the slopes of the Dhauladhar Hills, near the site of a Hindu sanctuary, or Dharamshala, hence the name of the town. The Battalion was later renamed the historic 1st Gurkha Rifles, this was the beginning of the legend of the Gurkhas, known as the 'Bravest of the Brave'
Nesting in the cedar trees is the church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, this grey stone structure built in 1852 seems more at home in the highlands of Scotland. As I walked around its grounds the smell of wet pine, damp ferns and moss covered British headstones was pervasive. The large tomb of Lord Elgin the British Viceroy who died here in 1863 whilst on holiday stood before me. ( see below)
I always find it fascinating when confronted with an inscription to look the life of that person, hindsight is a wonderful thing. So here is a short synopsis of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, buried in North India, but first you have to know a little bit about his father
Thomas Bruce - A Parthenon mosque & temporary gunpowder store. (No I'm not losing my marbles)
Thomas Bruce the 7th Earl born on the 20th July 1766, and famous or infamous depending on which side of history you stand on, for shall we say, acquiring the Elgin Marbles. Now he's a man who seized the moment.
His moment came when the agents of the said, Lord Thomas Elgin (British Ambassador to Constantinople 1799-1803) removed boat loads (well actually it was British warships ) of ancient sculptures from Athens. The pride of this collection, huge amount of fifth-century BC sculpture taken from the Parthenon, the temple to the goddess Athena, which stood on the Acropolis hill in the centre of the city. The Parthenon sculpture was 75 metres long consisting of sculpted frieze that once ran all round the building, plus 17 life-sized marble figures from its gable ends (or pediments) and 15 of the 92 sculpted panels, originally displayed high up above its columns.
Where did this all start? Back in 1796, Elgin built a splendid country mansion at Broomhall, Fife, Scotland (see link) .Broomhall House The architect behind the project was Thomas Harrison, who shared his client’s passion for Greek sculpture and architecture.
Current photographs of Broomhall House - the grand piano played by Chopin in 1848
In 1799, Lord Elgin was sent as ambassador to the Ottoman sultan Selim III, who was keen to foster allies from Europe to help him boost his defenses against Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, then under indirect Ottoman rule. Elgin's salary, the princely sum of £6,000 pa
If he wanted the role of ambassador, George II, urged Elgin to marry, so in March 1799, Elgin married and six months later, in September 1799, Elgin set sail from Portsmouth with his new wife, the wealthy Scottish heiress Mary Hamilton Nisbet. bound for Constantinople.
Mary's view of her husbands new appointment, vain and senseless. Before Elgin left, Harrison urged him to use his privileged position to get hold of drawings and copies of Greece’s great monuments. Lord Elgin agreed and enlisted a team of artists directed by the painter Giovanni Battista Lusieri.
On their arrival, Lord and Lady Elgin were lavishly received by the sultan. While his wife organized sumptuous parties, Lord Elgin sent Lusieri and his team to Athens to sketch ancient works of art, as requested by Harrison. Lusieri was given free rein to carry out his work—except when it came to the Acropolis. In order to gain access to the monument, the Ottomans demanded large daily payments, and they refused to let the painter set up a single piece of scaffolding. Lusieri then asked Lord Elgin to request a firman, a special permission from the sultan himself.
Thomas Bruce the 7th Earl & Mary Hamilton Nisbet
So the big question is, what drove Thomas to sway from conservation to thinking a few carving around my aristocratic ancestral home wouldn't go amiss, after all he had obtained from the Turkish authorities, then in control of Athens, permission to work on the Acropolis, an Italian translation of this permit survives and its terms are, shall we say, "disputed".
The permission to work stated - not only to survey and take casts of the sculptures but also to remove whatever pieces were of interest to him—or at least that’s how Elgin interpreted this now controversial passage from the sultan: “When they wish to take away some pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures, no opposition be made.”
You could argue, especially if you are British, that he was genuinely concerned to rescue these works of art for the Parthenon, was in a very sorry state, after all he was the British Ambassador to Constantinople. Hardly a thief?
So what was the Parthenon, well, it was built in the 5th century BC as a Greek temple, later converted into a Christian church, and finally it was turned into a mosque. You are quite wrong to imagine Thomas was removing works of art from an archaeological site - it was more of a seedy shanty town.
During fighting between Venetians and Turks in 1687, a Venetian cannonball hit the Parthenon mosque - temporarily in use as a gunpowder store. Now that presented a problem, because gunpowder, women and children do not mix. Some 300 women and children were killed, and the building itself was ruined. By 1800 a small replacement mosque had been erected inside the shell, the surviving fabric and sculpture was suffering the predictable fate of many ancient ruins.
The local population was using it as a convenient quarry. A good deal of the original sculpture, as well as the plain building blocks, were reused in local housing or ground down for cement. On the other hand, increasing numbers of travellers from northern Europe were busily helping themselves to anything they could pocket (hence the scattering of pieces of Parthenon sculpture around European museums from Copenhagen to Strasbourg) - and guess who was among these collectors, Lord Elgin.
Giovanni Lusieri was employed by Lord and Lady Elgin even though he was not able to speak English. The contract was drawn up between them in French, and Lusieri was to be paid £200 per year. Lusieri had been the Court Painter to the King of Naples and Elgin's secretary, William Hamilton, had written to the King to ask permission to employ his painter.
Who was this painter? Originally, Lord Elgin had considered a number of possible artists for his trip – one of who was the (then not so famous & therefore deemed unsuitable for the role) Joseph Mallord William Turner. Turner seemed at first quite willing at first but when Elgin demanded sole possession of all of his paintings and use of his leisure time to give drawing lessons to his wife , Turner demanded £400 pa, needless to say Turner was not offered the position.
Giovanni Lusieriwas a technical genius whose work, once seen, can never be forgotten. Born in Rome in 1754, by the time Lusieri was 25 years old he was already a lucid, precise draughtsman, fully in command of the science of perspective. He was unique among Italian painters of his time in painting exclusively in pure watercolour.
Lusieri was originally employed to create sketches for Elgin of Greek antiquities and employ moulders who were to create plaster casts of the Greek sculptures. Elgin however found that marble sculptures were missing and that they had allegedly been destroyed. It was Lusieri who persuaded the reluctant Elgin to remove the sculptures in order to protect them from local Turkish opportunists, who were breaking off bits to sell to tourists.
So, Lord Thomas Elgin, armed with his piece of paper the Rev Hunt and Lusieri set to work supervising the removal of the sculptures. The size of the operation can be gauged from the fact that it occupied more than 300 workmen for over a year. Edward Dodwell, an English visitor to Athens at the time, was appalled by what he saw. "Everything relative to this catastrophe was conducted with an eager spirit of insensate outrage, and an ardour of insensate rapacity, in opposition not only to every feeling of taste but to every sentiment of justice and humanity."
Lord Elgin was not present during the operation, apart from one brief visit in the spring of 1802. Elgin, as a high-ranking diplomat, obtained permission to ship the treasures by HM warships. It would cost him nothing, he had already paid out £28,000 for the work of dismantling and boxing 120 tonnes of marble, safely packed into two hundred boxes, loaded onto wagons, transported to the port of Piraeus and finally to Scotland to adorn Broomhall.
So what became of Lusieri Lusieri. He produced sketches & paintings of the Parthenon both before & after the removal of the marbles. With little time for his art, most of his watercolors remained unfinished. Lusieri felt that had he not worked for Elgin, he would have achieved fame as an artist and could have influenced the British watercolor school. He suffered from rheumatism but continued to draw and died in Athens in 1821 after 20 years in what was at the time a little visited Turkish garrison town in his home below the Acropolis. Many of his pictures sank with the ship "Cambria", wrecked off the coast of Crete in 1828, while others disappeared into private collections. The Elgin family bought the lion’s share of his work after his death. Later Elgin sold parts of his collection at auction in 1986.
His paintings are now sought after - The Monument to Philopappos, Athens a oil on canvas Dimensions: 82.5 x 62.2 cm was sold in 2007 for £300,000.
Transporting the marbles to the United Kingdom was beset with problems from the outset. One of the ships was wrecked near the island of Kýthira, where the cargo of treasures lay on the sea bed for two years before being retrieved. Hostilities with France, and the possibility of the hoard falling into French hands, led Thomas to request that a British warship docked in the port of Piraeus near Athens take the heaviest sculptures from the Parthenon pediments. Elgin had managed to keep the marbles from the French. Bonaparte had a deep personal hatred of Elgin whom he described as the greatest enemy of the nation, blaming Elgin for all of the reverses of his Egyptian policies.
Elgin’s time in the Near East had been full of personal misfortune. During Elgin's stay in Constantinople he enjoyed a period of relief from the rheumatism that plagued him throughout the winter months. His doctor Dr Maclean claimed it was his treatment that effected his cure
Seven leaches on the temples each night for two weeks.
As it turned out Thomas Elgin's euphoria was short lived. During the later days of spring a dreadful disease swept over Constantinople and in his weakened state he contracted a mysterious fever that produced a disastrous effect on his face and particularly his nose. Dr Maclean's treatment over the next six weeks was futile, most of the nose was eaten away, by the end of May nothing remained of it but a raw blotch of skin whose open wound refused to respond to treatment.
Later Lord Byron cruelly attributed Elgin's disfigurement to venereal disease: "Noseless himself, he brings here noseless blocks/to show what time has done, and what the pox"
Lady Elgin was shattered by this development and she tried hard to ignore it but at times she couldn't bear to look directly into her husbands face. In her darkest moments she feared it was leprosy. Dr Hector Maclean later died of the palsy to be replaced by Dr Scott
On his journey home, through France, Thomas Elgin and some of his companions were taken prisoners of war (war having broken out after they left for home) they were imprisoned, held hostage, for three years until 1806. Napoleon made it known that he would look favourably on their case for release if the Parthenon treasurers were to be transferred to the Louvre in Paris.
When they had arrived in France, the Elgins who had been happily married for four years, showed every sign of being devoted to each other, Mary was pregnant with their fourth child. The two years of captivity had put a strain upon their marriage that could never be repaired. Lord Elgin was cross with his wife for staying in Paris, with his best friend, Robert Ferguson, obviously working for his release, instead of staying near her husband in Lourdes.. The only thing that united them at this time was the love of their second son, who was born in France. His death thirteen months later nearly destroyed Mary, who suffered from depression for months afterward.
Her fifth and final pregnancy drove a wedge through the once-happy couple. Lord Elgin ordered her to leave France for the child’s birth. The spoiled Mary was angered at being ordered to do something she did not want to do and even more angered over the unwanted pregnancy.
Lady Elgin had to travel home without her husband, and began a liaison with Robert Ferguson, who at least had a nose.
Released on parole, Thomas, at last reached England to find that his comfortable world was collapsing around his ears. His wife left him for Robert Ferguson, his son had died, his diplomatic career was in ruins. He had lost his seat in the House of Lords- and his marbles, his precious Grecian antiquities, were the subject of vicious controversy.
The majority of the cases containing the marbles had arrived in England by 1805, the year before Elgin was released. War had broken out between England and Turkey, the French had re-established themselves in Athens, and, smarting over the affair of the Rosetta Stone, had tried to turn the tables by seizing eighty of the chests. English supremacy at sea prevented them from getting their booty away and, in due course, the chests turned up in England. Twelve more chests sank with their freighter off the island of Cerigo, but were raised, two years later, at a cost to Elgin of £5,000. Finally in 1812 all of the marbles were assembled in England.
Thomas Elgin had long since abandoned the idea of taking them to Scotland. Already he was turning over in his mind the possibility of selling them to the government and so recouping his increasingly heavy financial investment in them. Despite the jibes of Payne Knight and his friends the tide of opinion was gradually turning in his favour. The French government had offered him his freedom if he would but pass the marbles over to France? And Ludwig of Bavaria, that prince among collectors, had made a special journey to London to try and buy them?
Far more important was the opinion of the artists who came to inspect the marbles stored in a large shed which Elgin had had built on the corner of Park Lane and Piccadilly to act as gallery. Undoubtedly the most influential artist to see the marbles was Canova. Posterity owes him a particular debt. When, on his ill-fated journey through Europe, Elgin had visited Canova in Rome, he had asked him to ‘restore’ the sculptures. The Italian resolutely refused. ‘They were the work of the ablest artist the world has even seen,’ he declared. ‘It would be sacrilege for me, or any man, to touch them with a chisel.’
Elgin had had enough. The wife, for whom he had planned to bring Greece to Scotland, had abandoned him. The marbles, which should have earned him fame as a connoisseur, were being used to condemn him as a philistine. He was in need of money. In 1816, therefore, he offered the marbles to the British Government for the sum of £74,240.
On Elgin’s calculation, it was by no means an outrageous price. The total cost of dismantling, packaging, and, later, salvaging at sea, ran to £33,000. Giovanni Lusieri’s salary came to £12,000, a sum Elgin must have bitterly regretted paying, for it was Lusieri, for some devious reason, who had taken Byron round the Acropolis pointing out the damage that had been wrought. The expense of building the gallery in Park Lane, together with all the incidentals of transporting and guarding the marbles, took care of another £6,000. Elgin claimed, reasonably enough, that if he had invested the whole sum it would have earned him £23,240. He added this to the initial outlay and came up with that grand total of £74,240 — more than £4,000,00 in today’s money.
Despite his title, Elgin was not a very rich man, especially after 1808 when he faced a ruinous divorce settlement. He divorced Mary, in 1807 and 1808 in the English and Scottish courts—and by act of parliament— for adultery with Robert Ferguson of Raithby suing him for the staggering sum of £10,000. Elgin won the suit (and Lady Elgin lost her children) but it almost bankrupted him
He had mistakenly, believed he would get all his wife’s money. He got his divorce but not the fortune. He took sole custody of their four children, and Mary would not be able to see them again. He remarried a woman 24 years his junior in 1810, Elizabeth (1790–1860), youngest daughter of James Townsend Oswald of Dunnikier; they had four sons, including James Bruce and three daughters. Eight years after the divorce the cash-strapped Elgin put pressure on the British government to buy the collection.
In 1812 he deposited the marbles in the home of the Duke of Devonshire and mobilized his contacts to talk up the value of the pieces and warn against the danger of them falling into foreign hands. In 1816 Parliament created a commission to assess Elgin’s offer, a decision that caused a huge stir in the press.
In 1816 a Parliamentary Select Committee looked into the whole affair (examining everything from the quality of the sculpture as works of art to the legality of their acquisition) and recommended purchase, though for much less money than Elgin had hoped. taking pride of place in the British Museum. In 1816 the commission finally fixed the price of the marbles at £35,000, less than half Elgin’s asking price.
Elgin went to live on the Continent. Because his estates were still heavily encumbered with debt his son, James Bruce, the eighth earl, spent most of his life abroad. Thomas Elgin died, on 4 November 1841, aged 75, in all places ...........Paris.
Quite a tale, now I hear you ask what has this to do with India, Tibet etc well history has a habit of repeating itself, even fate.......read on
James Bruce - like father like son ( with a nose)
And so we come back to James Bruce son of Thomas, and born on the same day as his father, 20th July, and buried in Dharamsala
He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, and graduated with a first in Classics in 1832 In 1841 he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Southampton, the election was declared void on petition. Only 3 % of the total population voted, it was regarded as having been one of the most corrupt elections in British parliamentary history,
Later that year he married Elizabeth-Mary Cumming-Bruce and in the following year he became Governor of Jamaica. Whilst in Jamaica his wife died shortly after the birth of a second daughter on the 7 June 1843
In 1846 he married Lady Mary-Louisa Lambton, mother of the 9th Earl of Elgin, was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Durham, a prominent author of the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839) (as well as Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada and Governor General of the Province of Canada), . And what do you think his lead to, in 1847 was appointed Governor General of Canada. Obviously following in his fathers foot steps up the alter.
Under Lord Elgin, the first real attempts began at establishing responsible government in Canada. Lord Elgin became the first Governor General to distance himself from the affairs of the legislature. Since then, the Governor-General has had a largely symbolic role with regards to the political affairs of the country. As Governor-General, he wrestled with the costs of receiving high levels of immigration in the Canadas, a major issue in the constant debate about immigration during the 19th century.
In 1849 the Baldwin-Lafontaine government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill, compensating French Canadians for losses suffered during the Rebellions of 1837. Lord Elgin granted royal assent to the bill despite heated Tory opposition and his own misgivings over how his action would be received in England. The decision sparked the Burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal by an English-speaking mob. Elgin was assaulted. Instead of calling in the military, he withdrew his family to their country residence and allowed civil authorities to restore order. The French-speaking minority in the Canadian legislature also unsuccessfully tried to have him removed from his post.
In 1849, the Stony Monday Riot took place in Bytown on Monday 17 September. Tories and Reformists clashed over the planned visit of Lord Elgin, one man was killed and many sustained injuries. Two days later, the two political factions, armed with cannon, muskets and pistols faced off on the Sappers Bridge. Although the conflict was defused in time by the military, a general support for the Crown's representative, triumphed in Bytown (renamed Ottawa by Queen Victoria in 1854). In 1854, Lord Elgin negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in an attempt to stimulate the Canadian economy. Later that year, he granted royal assent to the law that abolished the seigneurial system in Quebec, and then resigned as Governor-General.
In 1857, Lord Elgin was appointed High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary in China and the Far East to assist in the process of opening up China and Japan to Western trade. During the Second Opium War, he led the bombardment of Canton (Guangzhou) and oversaw the end of the war by signing the Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin) on 26 June 1858.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French expeditionary forces, arrived in Beijing (Peking).
In mid-September, two envoys, Henry Loch and Harry Parkes went ahead of the main force under a flag of truce to negotiate with Prince Yi and representatives of the Qing Empire. After a day of talks, they and their small escort of British and Indian troopers (including two British envoys and Thomas William Bowlby, a journalist for The Times) were taken prisoner by the Qing general Sengge Rinchen. They were taken to the Ministry of Justice (or Board of Punishments) in Beijing, where they were confined and tortured. Parkes and Loch were returned after two weeks, with 14 other survivors. 20 British, French and Indian captives died. Their bodies were barely recognisable.
"out in the open air in the cold. They then pulled us into an old kitchen and kept us there eight days ; they never allowed us to stir for three or four days. Mr. Bowlby died the second day after we arrived ; he died from maggots forming in his wrists ; he was dressed in a kind of grey check. His body remained there nearly three days, and the next day it was tied to a crossbeam and thrown over the wall to be eaten by dogs and pigs. The next day the Frenchman died ; he was wounded slightly on the head and hand, apparently by a sword. Maggots got into his ears, nose, and mouth, and he became insensible."
On the night of 5 October, French units diverted from the main attack force towards the Old Summer Palace. At the time, the palace was occupied by eunuchs and palace maids. Although the French commander Charles Cousin-Montauban assured his British counterpart, James Hope Grant, that "nothing had been touched", there was extensive looting by French and British soldiers. There was no significant resistance to the looting, even though many Qing soldiers were in the vicinity.
On October 18, Lord Elgin the British High Commissioner to China, retaliated against the torture and executions by ordering the destruction of the Old Summer Palace. Destroying the Old Summer Palace was also thought to be a way of discouraging the Qing Empire from using kidnapping as a bargaining tool.
It took 3,500 British troops to set the entire place ablaze, and the massive fire lasted for three days. Unknown to the troops, some 300 remaining eunuchs and palace maids, who concealed themselves from the intruders in locked rooms, perished in palace buildings. Only 13 buildings survived intact, most of them in the remote areas or by the lakeside. (The palace was sacked again and completely destroyed in 1900 when the forces of the Eight Nation Alliance invaded Beijing.
Charles George Gordon, a 27-year-old captain in the Royal Engineers and part of the 1860 Anglo-French expeditionary force, wrote about his experience:
"We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property which [could] not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize money...I have done well. The [local] people are very civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one's heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army."
British and French looters preferred porcelain (much of which still graces British and French country houses while neglecting bronze vessels prized locally for cooking and burial in tombs. Many such treasures dated back to the Shang, Zhou and Han dynasties and were up to 3,600 years old. A specific exception was the looting of the Haiyantang Zodiac fountain with its twelve bronze animal heads.
Some of the most notable treasures ended up at the Chinese Museum in the Palace of Fontainebleau, which Empress Eugénie specifically set up in 1867 to house these newly acquired collections.
Once the Old Summer Palace had been reduced to ruins, a sign was raised with an inscription in Chinese stating, "This is the reward for perfidy and cruelty". The burning of the palace was the last act of the war. On 24 October 1860, Lord Elgin signed the Convention of Peking, which stipulated that China was to cede part of Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong in perpetuity to Britain.
In between Lord Elgin's two trips to China, he had visited Japan. In August 1858, he signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce whose negotiation was much eased by the recent Harris Treaty between Japan and the United States. Lord Elgin was ambivalent about the British policy on forcing opium on the people in the Far East. It was not without internal struggle that he carried out the duty laid on him by Britain. In a letter to his wife, in regard to the bombing of Canton, he wrote, "I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life
The Chinese government estimates that about 1.5 million items were taken. The burning of the Old Summer Palace is still a very sensitive issue in China today. The destruction of the palace has been perceived as barbaric and criminal by many Chinese. An understandable reaction but ignored by the Cultural Revolution, who ninety years later, destroyed some 6000 Tibetan monasteries.
“From a private collection in Scotland where it was stored in a trunk with a label stating that it had been taken from the Summer Palace.” No sense of sensitivity about the 1860 looting. The Chinese could take it. China Poly Corp. was a willing payer of the Castiglione-designed monkey and ox bronze heads that were sold at the same auction. No noisy protests at all. Yet the International Herald Tribune warned of “incalculable repercussions” under the headline “Auction Houses Add Insult to Injury”. Sotheby’s, a few days later, had followed with a similar patent message describing a rare vase as potentially having been ”... brought directly from the Old Summer Palace, Beijing, by Lord Lock of Drylaw, after it was burned down in 1860.” One could almost envision Lord (the 8th Earl) Elgin’s ghost smiling proudly. Lord Lock had served as Elgin’s private secretary during the 1860 campaign.
These days the site is just ruins - piles of scorched masonry, lakes with overgrown plants, lawns with a few stones scattered where many buildings once stood. The site swarms with Chinese visitors, taken there as part of a government-sponsored "patriotic education" programme.
As everyone in China is taught, it was once the most beautiful collection of architecture and art in the country. Its Chinese name was Yuanmingyuan - Garden of Perfect Brightness - where Chinese emperors had built a huge complex of palaces and other fine buildings, and filled them with cultural treasures.
The current Lord Elgin, at his ancestral home in Scotland, when asked to explain what had happened in 1860. showed, from family archives, a picture sketched by a British officer of the return of Bowlby's mangled body in a coffin to British headquarters.
Speaking for his ancestors the current Lord Elgin stated "There are things that perhaps you might have done differently, At the same time you've got to judge what was the feeling - intense feeling - at that particular moment." - China obviously rejected this explanation.
For some time afterwards, memory of what happened faded in Chinese minds as the country went through modernisation, the end of imperial rule, war and communist takeover. Indeed in the communist-led Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, says historian Vera Schwarcz, "some remnants of the Summer Palace were literally slashed with knives by Red Guards". They hated reminders of the imperial past.
Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests against communist rule, the Chinese leadership has tried to reinforce its authority by encouraging patriotic pride in the country's history - and teaching citizens that only strong government today can prevent a repeat of the 19th Century humiliation by outsiders. The ruined site of the old Summer Palace offers an ideal place to make this point.
China is also focusing increasingly on all the art that was looted by French and British forces - and taken to Europe. It was widely traded and still sits in all kinds of private and public collections.
And what of the Elgin family? Does today's Lord Elgin think art should be returned to China? "It's a very good arguing point" he concedes. But "the beauty of something is inherent in it wherever it happens to be".
At the family home, stands a magnificent pair of stork sculptures in bronze, originally given by the Japanese emperor to his Chinese counterpart, and then brought back by the 8th Earl of Elgin from Beijing after his China campaign. "These things happen, It's important to go ahead, rather than look back all the time."
And the British-Chinese relationship is certainly looking to a new future. It was symbolised for Lord Elgin when Chinese workmen arrived at Rosyth naval dockyard, very near his home, to install a huge crane, needed to build Britain's new aircraft carriers.
The workmen started helping themselves to Lord Elgin's oilseed rape crop - a Chinese delicacy. He objected at first, but then came to see it as a kind of "tit for tat". But the Chinese want a lot more compensation than that for what happened in 1860. Even in China, though, memory is selective.
Some of the 1860 history has already been buried, in looking for Thomas Bowlby's grave, instead of a cemetery, all that can be found is a golf driving range.
And what of Broomhall House, This beautiful Scottish home secluded in 2,500 acres of private estate, "home of the Bruce family, is now available for exclusive corporate hire and private events for the first time since it was built more than 300 years ago" with Private events | Intimate weddings | Special Occasions | Photo shoots | Film location - see link .View Brochure
There is no reference within their brochure to the Elgin marbles, the Old Summer Palace, the roles of Thomas Bruce the 7th Earl & James Bruce the 8th Earl, or even Giovanni Lusieri’s masterpieces, the roles of both Earls of Elgin, looting and destruction, like the Chinese in Tibet, slowly being airbrushed out of history.
So back to Lord James Bruce Elgin, he became Viceroy of India in 1861, he died two years later of a heart attack while crossing a swinging rope and wooden bridge over the river Chandra, and was laid to rest in a tomb, amongst the wet pines, ferns and moss, in a graveyard, in a Gothic churchyard, in a small garrison town called Dharamshala. A rest house for spiritual pilgrims?
Dharamshala the proposed summer capital of India
On 4 April 1905, the Kangra valley suffered a major earthquake.demolishing much of the cantonment and the neighbouring city of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh as well as the Bhagsunag temple, killing 20,000 people. "1,625 persons perished at Dharamsāla alone, including 15 Europeans and 112 of the Gurkha garrison."
The Gurkhas rebuilt the town along with the temple, which today is acknowledged as the 1st Gurkha Rifles' heritage. The British had planned to make Dharamshala the summer capital of India, but moved to Shimla after the disaster.
Dharamshala had been connected with Hinduism and Buddhism,with the arrival of Tibetan immigrants in the 19th c numerous monasteries were established.
So what better place, for a spiritual pilgrim to rest, when in 1959 the Dalai Lama who had fled from Tibet was allowed by the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to settle in McLeodGanj (in Upper Dharmshala), . There thousands of Tibetan refugees established the "government-in-exile" in 1960 and the Namgyal Monastery. ( see photo above - yes it was still raining)
In 1970, The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives which houses over 80,000 manuscripts and other important resources related to Tibetan history, politics and culture. It is considered one of the most important institutions for Tibetology in the world, its director, Geshe Lahkdor, the old translator of the Dalai Lama.
And so after three days living in this small town, I left by plane heading further North towards Ladakh