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Lecture - The First Nepalese Mission to the West - Dr. John Whelpton

  • Centre for Visual Arts, Auditorium, L4 7A Kennedy Road Hong Kong Island Hong Kong (map)

John Whelpton's talk will look at the 1850 visit to London and Paris by Jang Bahadur Rana, founder of the Rana family regime which ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951. As the first Hindu head of government to cross the kalo pani (`black water’) and travel to Europe, Jang was a media sensation, while his first-hand observation of British power led him to side with the East India Company against the revolt of 1857 in northern India. The speaker will draw on material from his book Jang Bahadur in Europe: The First Nepalese Mission to the West, the second edition of which will be released in Kathmandu in mid-April (see The book includes a translation and commentary of Jang Bahadurko Belait-Yatra, an anonymous account of the visit probably written by one of Jang’s travelling companions, together with extracts from contemporary British and French press coverage and material from the memoirs of Britons involved with the mission,. After explaining the background and course of the visit, the speaker will examine the impressions made by each side on the other, focusing particularly on the difficulties in complying with caste rules in Britain, the contrast in relations between the sexes in South Asia and Europe, and the way in which the author of the Belait-Yatra interpreted British institutions, The talk will end by discussing the mysteries concerning the claim of a Muslim aristocrat executed by the British in 1858 as a rebel spy to have been Jang’s secretary and the fate of Moti Lal Singh, the Nepali crossing sweeper taken into Jang’s employment after a chance meeting in London and now celebrated as the first of his countrymen known to have visited Britain. 

The Speaker

After graduating in Classics from Trinity College, Oxford, Dr. John Whelpton taught English with VSO in Nepal at campuses of Tribhuvan University from 1972 to 1974 and has since returned regularly to Nepal for research on history and politics. From 1975-81 he worked in the Ministry of Defence in London as an Administration Trainee and Higher Executive Officer, afterwards joining the School of Oriental and African studies as a doctoral student and editor of South Asia Research. His dissertation on the rise of Jang Bahadur Rana and the structure of Nepalese politics in the mid- 19th century was published by Manohar in 1990 as Kings, Soldiers and

Priests and his other publications include A History of Nepal (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and (edited with David Gellner and Joanna-Pfaff-Czarnecka) Nationalism and Ethnicity in Nepal (Vajra Books, 2008). He worked as a NET in Hong Kong secondary schools from 1987 to 2010 and has since then taught Latin at HKU-SPACE, the Comitato della Dante Alighieri di Hong Kong and elsewhere, He is treasurer of the Hong Kong Anthropological Society, honorary research associate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and convenor of the Circulus Latinus Honcongensis. He also maintains his own website at with material on Nepal at and full publications list at

Time: reception opens 6.30pm, lecture begins 7.00pm


RAS Members $100; Non-Members / Guests $150
Please email in advance to reserve your place and pay at the door