Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/362

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

northern border of the desert of Khorasan, and after visiting Meshhed struck north to Kila't, the famous stronghold of Nadir Shah. From this they passed on to the Darah-gaz district, and recrossing the great frontier range (Kurendagh) explored the upper course of the Atrek, and thence went south-west by Jahgirm to Shahrúd, and rejoined the high road from Meshhed to Teheran. The survey made by Gill under great difficulties in this expedition embraced valuable additions to geographical knowledge, and formed the subject of a paper read by him at the Belfast meeting of the British Association in 1874, and published in the ‘Geographical Magazine.’

In 1874 Gill stood for Hackney in the conservative interest against Messrs. Reed and Holms, in which, although defeated, he polled 8,994 votes. Six years later he stood for Nottingham, but was again unsuccessful.

In 1876 Gill was ordered to Hongkong, and, while quartered there, he obtained leave to travel in China. He reached Pekin in September. After a trip in the north of Pechili to the borders of Liaotung and the sea terminus of the great wall, he ascended the Yang-tse as far as Chung-Ching in Szechuen, with Mr. Evelyn Colborne Baber for a companion. From Chung-Ching he travelled to Cheng-tu-fu, the famous capital of Szechuen. Here he was delayed, and utilised his time in an excursion to the alps in the north of Szechuen, the ‘Min mountains’ of the ancient Yü-Kung, from which the great Kiang of the Chinese flows down into Szechuen. No traveller had preceded Gill in that part of China. The journey, which formed a loop of some four hundred miles and occupied a month or more, brought the traveller for the first time into partial contact with those highland races whom the Chinese call Mantzu and Sifan. On his return to Cheng-tu, Gill started with Mr. Mesny, who had joined him there, for Eastern Tibet and the Irawadi. His first place of halt was Tachienlu (8,340 ft.), whence he mounted at once to the summit level of the great Tibetan tableland, continuing his journey by Lit'ang (13,280 ft.) to Bat'ang (8,546 ft.) in a tributary valley of the great Kinsha, and then crossing that river he turned south, travelling parallel to the river for twenty-four marches on his way to Talifu, the western capital of Yunnan. Here the most laborious part of his task was done, as the route thence to the Irawadi had been already surveyed by Mr. Baker after the murder of Margary. Having descended the Irawadi, Gill went to Calcutta and back to England, after twenty months of travel. The story of this journey was eventually (1880) published in two volumes under the title of ‘The River of Golden Sand,’ but the scientific results were embodied in an elaborate memoir contributed to the ‘Journal of the Royal Geographical Society,’ and in a map of forty-two sheets on a scale of two miles to one inch. The merits of his enterprise and record of his travel secured in 1879 the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and in the following year that of the Paris Geographical Society.

On his return home he was appointed to the intelligence branch of the war office. When the negotiations at St. Stefano were going on, Gill started with a friend, rather suddenly, for the Danube, to visit the scenes of recent war, but they were prevented from getting beyond Giurgevo by Russian officials, whom they ridiculed in ‘Vanity Fair’ (see ‘Arrested by the Russians,’ June 8, 12, 15, 1878). In the spring of 1879 Gill was sent to Constantinople on duty, in association with Major Clarke, R.A., as assistant boundary commissioner for the new Asiatic boundary between Turkey and Russia, consequent on the Berlin treaty. In the summer of 1880, when the news of the defeat of Maiwand reached England, Captain Gill obtained leave and hurried to the scene, but he did not reach Quetta until Roberts had relieved Kandahar. He was allowed to join Sir C. Macgregor, as a survey officer, in his expedition against the Maris, and was mentioned in despatches. On the termination of the expedition Gill embarked at Karachi for Bandar Abbás, and travelled by Sirgán, Kermán, Yezd, and Teheran, to Meshhed. He hoped to get to Merv, but complaints from M. de Giers of English officers haunting the frontier brought about a recall, and he returned to England by Russia, reaching London 1 April 1881.

In October of the same year the transactions of the French at Tunis had drawn Gill's attention to North Africa, and he obtained leave of absence with the view of obtaining detailed knowledge of the provinces between Tunis and Egypt. At Malta he engaged a dragoman, a Syrian from Beyrout, by name Khalil-Atik, who won his master's regard, rejoined him on the last fatal expedition, and perished with him. Gill went to Tripoli, where he was detained for some months, waiting for a permit to travel from Constantinople, which never came. But Gill dispensed with it, and several interesting journeys were accomplished and a large mass of information collected. His first journey was parallel to the coast westward to Zuara and Farwa, a second to Nalut in the hill country W.S.W. of Tripoli and thence eastward to Yifrin, and then N. by E. to Tripoli; lastly from Tripoli