by Piter Kehoma Boll
Today I am going to introduce you to a German explorer that had a tragic and early death.
Adolf von Schlagintweit was born on 9 January 1829 in Munich, the second son of Rosalie Seidl and Joseph Schlagintweit, an ophthalmologist. He had four brothers, Hermann, Eduard, Robert and Emil. Joseph taught science to his sons at home and raised in them the desire to become explorers, which all five did, becoming known as The Schlagintweit Brothers.
With his older brother Hermann, Adolf studied the geography of the Alps from 1846 to 1848, publishing a study about it in 1850 entitled Untersuchungen über die physikalische Geographie der Alpen. Later, the two brothers were joined by their younger brother Robert and together the three published new studies of the Alps in 1854 in a work entitled Neuer Untersuchungen über die physikalische Geographie und Geologie der Alpen. At this time, the famous botanist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt was interested in studying the geology of the Indian subcontinent, but was too old to do it himself, so he convinced the East India Company to hire the three Schlagintweit brothers to do it.
Traveling to India, the three brothers started exploring the Deccan Plateau in central India and from there moved to the north toward the Himalayas. They did not travel together and only reunited occasionally. Their last reunion happened in the fall of 1856 and, by the beginning of 1857, Hermann and Robert returned to Europe, but Adolf decided to stay and continue exploring.
After crossing the mountains of Tibet, Adolf ended up near Kashgar, a region that is currently part of China, near the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. This region was at the time under conflict, with the East Turkestan Khojas claiming the territory and invading it constantly. The leader of the Khojas during this period was Wali Khan, who was notorious for his brutality and tyranny.
Despite all the warnings from members of his party, who started to desert, and from people fleeing from the region, Adolf was decided to reach Kashgar, and so he did. At the city border, he was met by the Khojas and brought before the Khan. Seeing no use for Europeans explorers wandering through his territory, Wali Khan accused Adolf of being a spy working for the Chinese and had him beheaded on 26 August 1857, at the early age of 28.
In 1859, the Kazakh ethnographer Shoqan Walikhanov, disguised as a merchant, visited Kashgar and found Adolf’s notebook in a tobacco shop, where it was being used to wrap tobacco leaves. He purchased the notebook and tracked down a skull that most likely was Adolf’s. He took the notebook and the skull with him to the Russian Empire, which allowed the information about the circumstances of Adolf’s death finally reach Europe and his family.
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ExecutedToday.com. 1857: Adolf Schlagintweit, intrepid explorer. Available at < http://www.executedtoday.com/2009/08/26/1857-adolf-schlagintweit-wali-khan-kashgar/ >. Access on January 8, 2019.
Wikipedia. Adolf Schlagintweit. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Schlagintweit >. Access on January 8, 2019.
Wikipedia (in German).
Adolf Schlagintweit. Available at < https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Schlagintweit >. Access on January 8, 2019.