The Outsider

Posted by sepoy on June 15, 2007 · 8 mins read

moorcroft and hearseyIt has been all-petition-all-the-time at CM lately. Which is a marked contrast to my usual unflappably complacent demeanor but, if the shit really start to stink, one must light the fire [my grandfather used to say that and it sounds way better in Punjabi. Also, it makes more sense since cow-dung is used as fuel, but I am getting off the topic here...].

Anyhow, it has been a while since I promised some word of William Moorcroft - one of the adventurers in India who went 'native' - not in the White Mughal way rather in the White Ibn Batutta way. I came across Moorcroft while reading the memoirs of Alexander Burnes (1805—1841) who famously charted the waters of Indus for the East India Company in 1830. In his travelogue, Burnes describes reaching Qandahar and finding the remaining possessions of the dead and buried William Moorcroft [by then a rather legendary and contentious figure in John Company's imagination]. Reading over the catalogue of Moorcroft's possessions - a unique blend of botanical, medicinal, veternarian, and litrary works - I decided to pursue the thread of this amazing life, for just one moment, and in that pursuit came across other indelible characters - like Captain Hyder Young Hearsey.

William Moorcroft (bap. 1767, d. 1825), actually made horseshoes, ran stables, bred horses and taught at the Veterinary College in London. He was the first Englishman with a complete formal veterinary education. His classics, The Horse Medicine Chest (1795) and Methods of Shoeing Horses (1800) made him a good candidate as a manager for East India Company's stud farm in Bengal. And in 1807, he took their offer and set sail for India.

EIC at the turn of the 19th century needed war horses - cavalry being the troops that would protect the reign of the Company from the Sea to Sutlej. He joined the horse farm at Pusa with the intention of purchasing and breeding horses for the EIC. However, he quickly decided that he was not going to find big, sturdy war horses in Bengal - and so, thought to seek the legendary birthplace of the horses in the Himalayan peaks [He also sought "materials of the finest woolen fabric"]. But, first, he needed a guide.

Captain Hyder Young Hearsey (1782 - 1840) was the son of English Captain Harry Hearsey, serving with the Marathas, and an Indian mother. He was sent to England for his education to return to India at the age of 16. He became a cavalry captain in the army of one of the Maratha leaders, Daulatrao Sindhia, and later an officer under George Thomas, another adventurer with a small kingdom centered around Hansi. By the age of 21, Hearsey had himself carved out a small principality in Mewat; married Zuhur al-Nissa, a princess from Cambay; and settled down with an army of five thousand at his command. At the breaking of the second English-Maratha War in 1803, Hearsey decided to join the King's army.

Hearsey was already an explorer by the time he met Moorcroft. Along with Captain Webb and Lt. Raper, he had tried to survey the Ganges from Hardwar to Gangotri in 1808. So, when in 1812, Moorcroft decided to travel, under disguise, across the Himalayas and into Western Tibet, he called upon his friend Hearsey to accompany him. Hearsey brought along with him a long-time companion, Ghulam Hyder Khan, and some fifty native coolies and carriers. There were also two pundit surveyors - one of whom, Harkh Dev, is said to have kept pace for the entire trek ("two of his ordinary steps measuring exactly four feet"). Dressed as native pilgrims [Moorcroft's disguise almost busted when he was found wearing 'half boots of an English pattern'], they argued, cajoled and gifted their way through Gurkha and Tibetan territories to Lake Manasarovar. It was here that Moorcroft discovered that Russian trading caravans had long visited the region [setting off Moorcroft's involvement in the Great Game].

After their return, Moorcroft and Hearsey parted ways. Hearsey continued on in his service to the Company - fighting in the Gurkha wars. Moorcroft went back to managing the EIC stable but found the conditions deteriorating. The demands for war-horses continued to escalate while the supplies continued to deteriorate. He kept asking EIC permission to travel to Bukhara to find better horses, trade routes and gather intelligences. He was finally granted that permission, begrudgingly, in 1819. In the meantime, he had married Purree Khanum, and had had two children. Leaving them behind, Moorcroft took a native staff of around fifty, reportedly 8 tons of luggage, and set off on a legendary journey that would take him over 1500 miles - across Afghanistan, Ladakh, Turkistan and Bukhara. He wrote back to the EIC copious volumes filled with observations botanical, political, cultural, religious; suspicions and theories about Russians behind every rock, but rarely anything about horses.

When he finally reached Bukhara in February 1825, the first time any Company traveller had entered that kingdom, he did not find many horses to purchase. By this time, EIC had grown exceedingly weary of his travels, his expenses and his immaculate diagrams of flora and fauna. Declaring that he had failed his mission, they demanded an immediate return. However, Moorcroft only made it back as far as the gates of Balkh, by Amu Darya, where he died of a fever, on 27 August 1825. His caravan and the survivors straggled home, on their own.

Burnes listed the books he found in Moorcroft's possession. It is a remarkable list, not only for the breadth of topics but also in the snapshot it offers of knowledges necessitated by the imperial enterprise in early 19th century India - knowledge of languages, religions, and sciences are inextricably mixed in the persona of one William Moorcroft gathering intelligence and supplies to keep afloat the colonial machinery of the Company. The manuscripts and books:

Gladwin's Materia Medica in the Arabic and Persian Languages with English Translations, Gladwin's Persian Moonshee, Elphinstone's Cabool, Malcolm's History of Persia, Berchtold's Essay for Patriotic Travellers, Hunter's Hindoostanee Dictionary, an Essay on Vaccination, a Pamphlet on Trade with India and China, Bedingfield on Diseases, Murray's Chemistry, Saumarez's Physiology, Nautical Alamanack for 1823, Bell on the Urethra, Fry's Pautographia, Herau on War, Duncan's Edinburgh Dispensatory, Marco Polo's Travels, The New Testament in Toorkee [!], Hey's Surgery, Reece's Medical Guide, Maladies Chirurgicales, Hamilton's East India Gazetteer, Scarpa on the Eye, Saunders on the Eye, Fordyce on Fevers, Hutton's Mathematics, Histoire des Desconvertes, Cullen's Practise of Physic, Art of Cookery.

The recent historiography of British in India has done little to highlight the lives of men like Perron, Thomas, Hearsey, and Moorcroft - all Outsiders in the Company's narrative - even as the following generation of adventurers like Burnes, Outram, and Burton hogged the literary limelight of late nineteenth century England with their memoirs, translations and travelogues.

I don't want to turn this post into a boring academic discursive on postcolonial scholarship, so I will abruptly stop and ask you to remember this piece of bar trivia: William Moorcroft sent Tibetan sheep to Regent's Park.


Qalandar | June 16, 2007

What a superb post sepoy. While this wannabe dervish hopes you never lose your activist edge, I must confess to "missing" this sort of insightful post from your blog...

Trish | October 28, 2007

Wow, Did Teddy Roosevelt know about Wm. Moorcraft, the great Veterinarian, Explorer, Spy and Naturalist?

Nimrod Johnson | November 02, 2007

Came across your site looking up Wm. Moorcroft. I got to him from "The Man who would be King" by Ben Macintyre about Josiah Harlan . Another adventurer though American. What wonderful side sights of history. Thxs Nimrod

Charles | June 09, 2008

Can anyone tell me where I would find a portrait or picture of William Moorcroft EIC

The Wandering Hermit | November 07, 2008

There is a brilliant piece about moorcroft by Charles Allen in his Book "A Mountain In Tibet" which follows his journey along with Hyder Jung Herseay to Lake Mansarovar and back.. Indeed he was a most unusual characters ... blessed or cursed by a "Rash Curiousity" which took him on quests quite unique and unusual.. He is one of those forgotten men of the Early Western Explorers.. Enjoyed reading this piece, cheers Z.

andy hearsey | January 14, 2009

what a lovely read-often in these areas just as the tales get more and more interesting,they end.Hyder hearsey( his travelling companion)painted on their journey 7 water colours,one of which( a copy of which I have)is the one you start this article with.This is allegedly the 2 of them in their disguise of the day and moorcroft apparently is one of them-this being the nearest to answering the questioneer who would like to see a portrait of him.I too would like to see portraits of both,especially my ancestor. The British Library bought 6 of these water colours about 5-7 years ago,and would gladly show them to you and sell you copies.Maybe the EIC has portraits of william moorcroft. You might also enjoy reading "The hearseys-5 generations of an Anglo-Indian Family by Col Hugh Pearse which you can freely download on the web. Trust this helps.Regards Andy Hearsey

sepoy | January 14, 2009

Thanks for the comment Andy. And the link to the book mentioned is:

Dan | April 01, 2009

Anyone interested in the full William Moorcroft story should read the excellent biography "Beyond Bokhara" by Dr. Garry Alder, published in 1985. Unfortunately copies are hard to come by. And if you're interested in what 'really' happened to William Moorcroft, after he faked his death in Andkhoi, Afghanistan in 1825, you should read "Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China" by two French priests Huc and Gabet, as translated into English by William Hazlitt. Huc and Gabet maintain Moorcroft visited Tibet and Lhasa in disguise from 1826-38, and his true identity was only discovered when he was killed by bandits while travelling to Ladakh, when maps and diaries in English were discovered in his luggage.

Richard Cattermole | July 04, 2009

Hello there Andy i hope you read this but my mother is a hearsey and my grandad is Lionel Hearsey who is a decedent of Sir john Hearsey, My grandad lived out in india with his father who was also called lionel douglas hearsey, we have seen the potrait of sir john hearsey. If you read this we would like to know more information about your side of the family. My email is

Alasdair Wyllie | November 14, 2009

This article has thrown up a lot of interesting information. I too am a descendent of General Sir John B Hearsey, his grand-daughter being my great grand-mother. I would be very interested to have contact with any other descendents, or people who can perhaps help me with some details of family history.

Nikki Taylor | November 21, 2009

Hi Alasdair, I am too a descentdent of General Sir John B Hearsey and Major Hyder Young Hearsey. My grandmother was Irene Hearsey, daughter of Theophilus Hearsey. I have found the family history so interesting and am too looking to find descendents.

Nikki Taylor | November 21, 2009

Any descendents or anyone with any information on the Hearsey's please contact me on the following e-mail

Amit Julka | May 25, 2010

Hi...with reference to "if the shit really start to stink, one most light the fire"...can you provide me the actual punjabi proverb(transliterated in roman)...i m very curious if it's the same one used by my grandfather :)

John Wyatt | June 30, 2010

Very interesting stuff! My Grandmother Mary (May) was a Hearsey - I believe a descendant of Gen John Hearsey. She was married to my Grandfather George Wyatt (of the 17/21 st Lancers) and had two brothers Jack and Reginald Hearsey. They all lived in Mussoorie. As a young child I knew them. Alas! they have all been dead for several decades. They, unlike my family (Wyatt) never left India. We went to New Zealand, Britain and, finally Australia. My father's elder brother once showed me a book whose title was (I think) 'Military and Other Deeds of the Hearsey Family'. I would be interested to hear from any other descendants of the Hearsey family.

Andrew Wyatt | July 24, 2010

John, I am the son of Hugh Wyatt, I was born in Mussorie, I am the youngest of seven children, I think you might be my cousin, I have the book you're talking about. Lets see if we are related, send me a further message to see if we can narrow things down.

John Wyatt | July 31, 2010

Dear Andrew Wonderful to hear from you! Yes, we are almost certainly cousins. Your father (my uncle) Hugh is the youngest of the Wyatt brothers. My father, who sadly passed away many years ago was Jack Wyatt who lived at Killara, northeast of Lilydale. At that time your family lived in Croydon. Not long after my father's death I moved away from Melbourne - first to Hobart in Tasmania and later to Canberra. I worked for the Department of Defence and about ten years ago I took early retirement - so I thought! In reality I continued to work as a part time consultant - something I am still doing. Whilst in Tasmania I remarried and have two children from this marriage - a boy (Thomas) who is finishing high school in the next couple of years, and a daughter (Bronwyn) who is half way through a B.Sc (Psychology) degree at the Aust National University here in Canberra, They make me realise how old I have become!! Pretty soon there will be just my wife Carmel and myself - we are going to be a rather funny old couple! Life is good. My other daughter Kathy moved back to Melbourne some years ago and loves being back in her old home town. I try to catch up with her as often as I can. Well, that is about all for now. Please let me know how your parents, brothers, and sister are all getting on and please give them my love and best wishes. I regret not keeping in touch - just so easy to let things slide. Best wishes John

John Wyatt | August 01, 2010

Nikki With respect to your interest in history of the Hearsey family, see my comments and also those of Andrew Wyatt who has in his possession the book I mentioned in my comment dated June 30 (above). Best wishes John Wyatt

Andy Hearsey | August 24, 2010

Hi to John And Andrew Wyatt-I am the Andy Hearsey who helped get the ball rolling up above some year and a half ago after reading Sepoy's lovely article..I would be interested to know and have this book name confirmed,the author, and if I might be able to purchase a copy from somwhere.Sounds as though it is named" Military and other deeds of the Hearsey family" Maybe we should leave our e-mail addresses on the blog -we may all be pleasantly surprised. Kind regards Andy e-mail:

John Wyatt | January 19, 2011

Andy I'm sorry for the delay in responding to your comm. of 24 August 2010. I have nit been back to this site until now. I think my cousin Andy Wyatt might be able to give you more info about the book. I have not heard back from him since my communication of June 2010. Cheers John Wyatt

Penelope Hearsey | May 15, 2011

Hi i am trying to find out what happened to my Father's Father Lionel Doughlas Hearsey? he is still alive and is 90 he also spent his early years in India and came back to school for his education as did his Father. My Granddad said in India when my Grandmother got divorced. He had plantations out in India in Bengal. I found out about the Indian Princess a couple of years ago and it made sense to my self and Dad as we are both small and dark skin with small dark brown eyes . Can any one help ??

Binayak Dutta-Roy | September 21, 2011

Fascinating to read about the Wyatts & the Hearseys. I am the youngest son of Dr. J.K. Datta of Barlowgunj, Mussoorie. My father was the family doctor of these families who used to live in the "Bhus-wala Kothi" I was also looking for some reference to Cecil Foster and his sister Nellie Foster. Recently I went to old Barlow and met Jimmy Skinner in the old Brewery Road. Hope to hear more about these people as I am planning to put it together in a form of memories of days gone by.

Michael Gibb | November 10, 2011

Hello. I am trying to trace what happened to my maternal great-aunt Alice Queenie Barnard. I found out (today actually) that she married Reginald Hearsey, son of William Andrew Hearsey , on 21 January 1921 at Mandalay, Burma. I understand that Reginald saw service in World War 2 in the Army of Burma Reserve of Officers, gazetted Captain on 19 January 1940.121 He died on 05 October 1944 at Hoshiarpur, Punjab.122 At the time of his death in 1944, he was described as "Deputy Superintendent, Burma Police. If anyone has any information on Alice, I would love to hear from you. Michael

Michael Gibb | November 10, 2011

My email address is: mjcgibb(at) Best wishes. Michael

Rodney William Hearsey | January 25, 2013

I am Rodney william Hearsey, the direct descendant of the Hearsey clan and son of Reginald Hearsey and Alice Queenie Barnard. My mail address is and my facebook link is My Facebook group link is

Mike Holmes | August 23, 2013

Captain Hyder Young Hearsey's father was Col. Andrew Wilson Hearsey (not Capt. Harry Hearsey, who was a later invention to cover a scandal). Col. Andrew Wilson Hearsey later married Charlotte Crane and their son Gen. Sir John Benentt Hearsey married Hariet the daughter of Hyder Young Hearsey thereby breaking the table of affinities by marring his half brothers daughter. This was unacceptable to later Victorian notions and so Capt. Harry Hearsey was invented by the descendants. There are also at least two examples of 1st cousin marriages in the Hearsey family.

B. K. Joshi (Bhushan) | November 22, 2013

Hi Binayak, I am also an old Barlowganj boy. My father was Mr S. C. Joshi and he worked in St Georges. Dr Dutta was very well known to our family and was our regular physician. I have vivid recollection of your house in the Barlowganj bazar, just next to Mr Mela Ram's place. We live in a small cottage on the other side of Whytbank castle till 1956 after which we moved to a larger house situated above the municipal dispensary. I remember Shyamal, who was a few years senior to me in school and Badal who was much senior. About twenty years back I met Badal's son in Allahabad University. I came across your post when I was searching for Mr Foster of Barlowganj and his sister. I now live in Dehradun after retirement.

Phillip Hearsey-Wyatt | November 13, 2014

I am Mr Phillip Hearsey-Wyatt. Would like to know more about how that family name