Heart Like a Fakir: General Sir James Abbott and the Fall of the EIC

Heart Like a Fakir: General Sir James Abbott and the Fall of the EIC

Tue, 21 February 2023, 18:30 – 20:00 Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0)

Tickets (£5) here.

Zoom lectures presented by The British in India Historical Trust. This month’s speaker is Chris Mason.

Heart Like a Fakir: General Sir James Abbott and the Fall of the East India Company

This lecture explores the final forty years of Company rule in India as witnessed by General Sir James Abbott, one of the most remarkable characters in colonial history.

Soldier, Central Asian explorer and district commissioner who became King of Hazara, Abbott may also have been the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King and the character of Mr Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Pakistani town of Abbottabad is named after him.

Drawing on Abbott’s voluminous papers, Chris Mason shows how social and sexual relationships between Britons and Indians broke down in the period leading up to 1857. Abbott’s career illustrates how a British officer with a deep knowledge and love for India and exceptional personal qualities could be corrupted by power and insensitive to the social and cultural changes that led to the rebellions of 1857 and the end of Company rule.

Chris Mason is Associate Professor of National Security and Director of the Study of Internal Conflict at the US Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He is a retired Foreign Service Officer with extensive experience of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This talk will be recorded.

This is a paid event.

General Admission to this lecture only: £5.00

General Admission to this lecture and the three others listed at the foot of this page. This ‘all four lectures’ ticket is available for purchase until 17 January and can bought on the booking page for the last lecture ‘Anglo-India and the End of Empire‘. Select the green ‘Tickets’ button and you will find the ‘All four lectures’ ticket listed there: £20

Additional donation (optional) to help fund The British in India Book Prize and The British in India Military History Book Prize: £1 suggested

Please contact the organiser if you would like to attend the lecture but are experiencing financial hardship. Or if you have any queries.


‘Chris Mason’s richly textured and elegant reconstruction of James Abbott’s varied career over the final decades of the East India Company’s rule in India persuasively and entertainingly illuminates the complex and frequently contradictory impulses and impressions shaping British interactions with India in the years before the cataclysmic rebellions of 1857–58. Drawing on Abbott’s remarkable legacy of more than ten thousand pages documenting his forty years in India, Heart Like a Fakir introduces us to a British officer—similar in so many ways to Kurtz in Heart of Darkness—whose deep knowledge and romantic idealization of India—but often willful blindness to the changes happening around him—personifies the increasingly brittle and unstable relationship between colonizer and colonized.’ — Douglas M. Peers, University of Waterloo

Other lectures in the series

Tuesday 21 March

1857: Mutiny or Uprising?

Rana Chhina, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones and Andrew Ward

Tuesday 18 April

The Decline of Empires in South Asia: How Britain and Russia lost their grip over India, Persia and Afghanistan

Heather Campbell

Tuesday 16 May

Anglo-India and the End of Empire

Uther Charlton-Stevens

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