Home Up

"Around 8 or 9 in the morning..."

Hayward set off north from Srinigar in November. The passes through the Hindu Kush (literally, "Killer of Hindus"*) were an unknown quantity, but he soon realized, while still far to the south, that winter was too close. Normally, the latest any pass in the southern ranges stays open is mid November, and many had already been choked closed with snow, not to reopen until late spring. But Hayward was nothing if not bound and determined. On the earlier journey to Yarkand with Shaw, he'd slept out in the open, without tent or even fire, in temperatures as low as 20 below zero. He's survived starvation by eating, raw, his only yak, and over the worst terrain in the world, with up to five feet of snow, he'd managed thirty miles a day. We don't know how bad it was on this journey to Gilgit and beyond, but the trip that normally took 10 to 20 days took over two months. Almost three hundred miles of uncharted territory was covered by him,  along the Indus and then the torrential Gilgit river, never before seen by a European. 


Peaks of the Hindu Kush

Arriving in Gilgit early in 1870, the garrison there had been expecting him, and did their best to turn him back. The problem was that he needed to cross not only a frontier, but a battle line. The Kashmiri forces in Gilgit were engaged in a running war with the tribes of the Dards, a misnamed but highly active tribe of Moslems to the north. The Dogra of Kashmir were of a militaristic race, of the martial Rajput caste, and there were also a number of Sikh warriors. The Hindu of Dogra and the Moslem of Dard were sworn enemies. On both sides, atrocities were common, and the hatred ran deep. So Hayward was faced with the problem of crossing the midst of the battle zone, neither alienating nor befriending either side. He was stuck in Gilgit for a month, attempting, by means of letter and messenger, to negotiate with the Dard chiefs for safe passage. Evasive and suspicious, the only real fact to emerge from his correspondences with them was that the passes through the Hindu Kush were closed by snow anyway, and would remain so until at least mid-year.  But this news did not deter Hayward. After all, he had crossed the Himalaya during the worst period of the year, and would do the same with the Hindu Kush.

Sorting out the players in the game required the patience of Job and the algebra of an Einstein. Dynastic families ruled, sometimes just briefly, and brother and half-brother fought. The area of Yasin was ruled by one of three brothers, each of whom took their turn at banishing the one on the throne and sitting there himself. Currently, Mir Wali held power. His older brother, Mulk Aman, had been overthrown my Wali and was now fighting along side the Kashmiris. The youngest brother, Pahlwan, would soon succeed Mir Wali and was currently ensconced in Chitral, at the moment being ruled by the brothers' uncle, Aman ul-Mulk.  The latter exercised the most power in the area, and in many ways dictated the fortunes of his three fratricidal nephews. All four would factor in the Hayward story.

Finally, Mir Wali said he could travel to Dardistan. There is evidence that Mir Wali thought Hayward might be able to take his grievances back to the Indian government and act as a spokesman for their (the Dards) cause. An earlier treaty had forbidden the Maharajah of Kashmir to lay any claim to the areas around Gilgit and Chitral, and it was this transgression that Mir Wali hoped Hayward would report back to the Governor General in Calcutta. Hayward cautioned the Mir that he was not a government employee, and his entreaties would probably be met with a deaf ear, but he agreed to try anyway. He and Mir Wali became friends, hunting together, testing out the passes, and gradually Hayward realized that even he could not hope to cross them until the snow melted.  Parting with the Mir Wali, he returned to Gilgit to await warmer weather.  Impatient as usual, he headed south towards Kashmir in March, at least six weeks before the passes could be expected to be clear. Wading through over 50 miles of  waist deep snow, with no horse or baggage, he finally crossed back over and descended back into the Punjab in late April with little more than a mild case of snow-blindness. This lone Englishman had thus done, in the space of a few months, what no human being in recorded history had ever done, from Alexander the Great on - crossed the high Himalaya passes in both directions, alone, in the dead of winter, with virtually no maps, charts, supplies or other guidance. 

He met with the Viceroy of India, one Lord Mayo,  and presented the case of the Dards - including reports of a massacre by the Dogra of fairly great atrocity a few years earlier. There were other proofs of the Maharajah's feudal intentions as well. But the Viceroy was stuck - he had no desire to alienate the Kashmiri, when he would very soon call on their assistance to help ward off the Russians, and he and official India couldn't care less about Mir Wali and the Dards.  Once again, intrigue and power play under the surface would act to mold opinion and behavior. The English didn't want the Hindu Kashmiris  to take offence and possibly switch their allegiance or become belligerent.  The Moslems in Dardistan found themselves oppressed by the Kashmiri, but had no bargaining chips to offer the English, even though they believed the English explorer would press their case.  
Hayward then made the move that probably cost him his life. Rebuffed by official India, he took matters into his own hands in an attempt to bring public scrutiny to the Maharajah's cruelty. He published a letter in the local newspaper, the Calcutta Pioneer,  describing in great detail the massacre seven years earlier at the Dard fort in Yasin and the village of Madoori. He described the slaughter of pregnant women, and the burning alive of nearly 40 wounded women. He told of counting 147 skulls of children on the grounds, and the over 400 sets of skeletal remains. Normally, British India would not have been overly concerned about a six-year old massacre of Moslems by Hindus, but Heyward made great pains to describe the slaughtered innocents as being 'fair of skin and blue of eye', not unlike any random English schoolchild.  Public sentiment was outraged against the Maharajah of Kashmir and his troops. Lord Mayo and the officials were apoplectic, not so much at the behavior of the Kashmiri, but at Hayward's irresponsible printing of the evidence in the middle of crucial negotiations with the ruler. Mayo tried to get Rawlinson to rein in his charge, but Rawlinson said, basically, "He's out of control and there's nothing I can do",  
On June 10th, Hayward was warned one last time that if he persisted in his attempts to cross the Himalaya and Hindu Kush to find the source of the Oxus, he would do so at his own risk and without the protection of either the British crown or the Royal Geographic Society. He ignored the warnings and left Srinigar for the last time. Oddly, he encountered little or no official resistance from the Kashmiri. He traveled on, reaching Gilgit without mishap in early July.  He even then crossed the frontier and entered the valley of Yasin , and the town of Darkot in mid July - just one last step from his goal of the Oxus watershed and the Pamir. He'd passed through the land of the Maharajah, and was back in the territory of his friend Mir Wali of Dardistan. Or so he thought. 

On the morning of  July 18, 1870, George Hayward was attacked in his tent after spending all night awake, crouched over a camp fire. He'd beeen warned that his life was in danger. Hands bound behind him, he was roughly marched a bit into the dense woods, and in a small clearing, facing his captors wordlessly, a flash of silver in the morning light took off his head. 

Word reached Gilgit in early August and traveled south to India by the end of the month. Despite their earlier warnings to the explorer, a massive investigation was undertaken by every official and law enforcement agent in northern India and Kashmir. Evidence mounted up, from stories and hearsay, pointing at the Mir Wali. He and Hayward had evidently had an argument the day before the murder, and Hayward had called the fiery chieftain "a strong name".  The British authorities tended to support this version, backed up by evidence from the Kashmiri, even though it was known that Hayward and the Mir were as friendly as anyone in those circumstances.  Hayward also, in the tone of his letters, seemed to have no fear of his Islamic acquaintance and hunting partner, and was more suspect of the Maharajah himself, understandably. Gradually, however, other evidence came to light over the next several months. Plots were uncovered implicating Mir Wali, the Maharajah, even the cunning and cruel Aman Ul-Mulk of Chitral. It seems inconceivable that there were three murder plots with Hayward as the target, all carried out during the same time frame.  As the name of Mir Wali kept popping up, the Aman dispatched the other brother Pahlwan to chase him out of Yasin, and Wali ended up in Badakshan. The Dogra dispatched a lone soldier to the site of the murder to recover the body and any other evidence. Hayward's corpse was found under a crude pile of stones, the dry air of the mountains keeping it relatively intact.  His body was brought back to Gilgit and buried in a corner of an orchard, a salute fired over it by Dogra soldiers. The Maharaja even paid for a headstone.

The Dogra soldier who recovered the body also received what was probably the only eye-witness account of the murder. Hayward, fearing for his safety, had sat awake in his tent all night, but fell asleep just as the sun was rising over the valley. The murderers burst in and overpowered him, tying his hands behind him and a noose around his neck. He was led, stumbling, about a mile in to the woods. The ringleader cut him down with one stroke from his sword.  It was eight or nine in the morning.

Later evidence seems to confirm Hayward's fears, and implicate the Maharajah of Kashmir in the murder.  Incensed at the article in the Pioneer about the massacre, and desirous to shed even more bad light on his Dard enemies in Yasin, it would appear that the Dogra enlisted the aid of renegade Dard ne'er-do-wells under the control of Aman ul-Mulk to follow Hayward and his small party in to Darkot and commit the murder. The two men then conspired to paint Mir Wali as the perpetrator. The Chiltrali had no special love for his nephew, and in fact probably feared him most of the three brothers. It must seem ironic to the soul of Hayward that his body was recovered, and a salute fired over it's final resting place, by the soldiers of the very man most responsible his death. No official findings were ever released, and the British government to this day refuses to point blame at the Kashmiri forces.

Of all the explorers of the 19th Century, celebrated in fact and fiction, perhaps none were quite like Hayward. He did virtually all of his work alone - not the recipient of a large party of support and suppliers like Scott or Shackleton, nor did he have armies of native bearers and guides like Burton, Speke and Livingstone. Alone, he crossed the most difficult and treacherous mountain terrain in the world as no "white man" ever had before, and few have since. His letters, maps and charts back to the RGS were priceless, and helped to open up the area to further exploration. Yet his exploits are sadly, almost unknown today. 
Sir Henry Newbolt later wrote a heroic poem about the event, "He Fell Among Thieves", and it helped to enforce the Victorian stereotype of the strong, silent hero being victimized by ruthless natives...you can read it HERE. - but remember it was written in the Victorian era, and there's no lack of melodrama in it, notwithstanding the wildly inaccurate references to Heyward's school days and sporting instincts.

Gracious authors and owners of the following sites have allowed me to borrow their lovely pictures. I convey my utmost gratitude to them.
AhaInfo.com, Hillstations - Gilgit page
Gorgeous photos of Northern Pakistan and the Indus valley from Evert Wesker - Thank you very much, Mr. Wesker!
* Hindu Kush, from the enormous number of (Indian) Hindu captives and slaves who perished while being transported across the range by victorious Islamic and other non-Hindu captors, between 800 and 1600 AD)