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John Ernest Buttery HOTSON (1877 – 1944).

[A Mini-Archive of J.E.B. Hotson’s Baluchistan Scientific & Military Mission, 1916-18].


The Mini-Archive includes 3 Items:



John Ernest Buttery HOTSON (1877 – 1944).

“Itinerary of J.E.B. Hotson, P.A.” [Mss. Map of Baluchistan and Adjacent Areas].

Manuscript, [British India (Pakistan), 1918].

Manuscript, pen and ink, pencil and crayon (Very Good, some wear and light stains along old folds), 44.5 x 56.5 cm (17.5 x 22 inches).



John Ernest Buttery HOTSON (1877 – 1944).

“Beluchi Notes / Hotson Diary” [Ornithology / List of Birds encountered in Baluchistan].

Manuscript, [British India (Pakistan), 1918].

Manuscript, pencil and black pen on the verso of a long letterpress excerpt from an ornithology book (Good, wear and some small tears along old folds and some tattering to edges but not affecting content), 58 x 21.5 cm (23 x 8.5 inches).




Baluchistān. Scale 1/2,000,000 / Southern Asia Series – Baluchistān Sheet.

Calcutta: Survey of India Office, 1918.

Heliozincograph in colours, dissected into 15 sections and mounted upon original linen, folding into original black cloth covers with gilt-debossed title to front cover (Very Good, overall clean and attractive, just some light toning and a few tiny spots, light scuffing to covers), 57.5 x 65.5 cm (22.5 x 26 inches).


A fascinating and historically significant mini-archive regarding the mission of Sir Ernest Hotson to explore the wild frontier region of Baluchistan during World War I, when the naturalist and future Acting Governor of Bombay led the Mekran Levy Corps, a special cavalry reconnaissance unit, on an espionage and diplomatic mission to keep the region’s restless tribes from falling under the influence of German-Ottoman agents provocateurs, a mandate that had the legitimate ‘cover’ of investigating the region’s little known flora and fauna; the mini-archive includes two parts of Hotson’s supposedly otherwise lost Baluchistan diary, being 1) an original manuscript map of Baluchistan that charts Hotson’s itineraries in great detail from April 1916 to July 1918, and 2) a lengthy manuscript list of the bird species that Hotson encountered in Baluchistan; while the final part of the collection is 3) the Survey of India’s very rare map of Baluchistan, the era’s finest general map of the region; intriguing artifacts from the golden age of ‘Academic Espionage’ featuring information that survives nowhere else.


Baluchistan (also Balochistan) is a vast desert and mountain region comprising today’s southwestern Pakistan, southeastern Iran and the far south of Afghanistan, with its southern perimeter formed by the Makran Coast of the Arabian Sea.  It is home the Baluchi people, who speak an Iranic language, and who possess a culture distinct from their neighbours.


Due to Baluchistan’s rugged terrain and forbidding climate, and the warlike nature of many of its tribes, it remained one of the last regions in South Asia to be explored and scientifically studied by outsiders.


In 1839, Britain supposedly ‘conquered’ Baluchistan, although it scarcely had any authority outside of a few cities and military outposts, with control of the countryside remaining in the hands of local rulers, of which the Khan of Kalat, who controlled much of eastern Baluchistan, was a key powerbroker.  Baluchistan remained a mysterious land, but was vitally important to Britain, as it formed a buffer between British India and Persia and Afghanistan, preventing Russian encroachment during the era of ‘The Great Game’.


The geopolitical climate changed upon the British takeover of Afghanistan in 1880 and the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907, which ended The Great Game, and which gave Britain de facto colonial control over all Southern Persia.  However, Britain soon faced a new threat, in the form of Germany and her Ottoman allies, who sought to gain influence in Persia (an incredibly unstable country), at their expense.  Thus, Baluchistan, once again, became a buffer zone, but this time protecting India from new threats.


In the period immediately before and during World War I, Baluchistan assumed a crucial geopolitical role.  The Ottomans, with active German backing, invaded western and northern Persia during the Persian Campaign (December 1914 – October 1918), seeking to either topple the ailing Qajar regime, or to convince it to switch sides to support the Central Powers.  While the Ottoman-Germans did not manage to overthrow the Shah (the Qajars would be toppled by their own people in 1919), they took Tabriz and much of the Caspian coast, causing intense alarm on the part of the British.


The Germans in Persia, led by the brilliant super-spy Wilhelm Wassmuss, the ‘German Lawrence (of Arabia)’, tried to foment anti-British and anti-Russian sentiment amongst all the various peoples of Persia, seeking to support the Ottoman Sultan in a ‘jihad’ against the Anglo-Russian “infidels”.  This grand PR campaign (backed with promises of enormous bribes) for a while gained some traction and made the situation in Persia even more unpredictable and unstable.


The British high command understood that Baluchistan, which guarded the western approaches to Karachi, one of British India’s great cities, had to securely remain under British influence, otherwise the fate of India could come into play (the British were fearful of a potential mass Muslim uprising in India, stoked by German agents provocateurs).  As such, losing Baluchistan would represent ‘the first domino to fall’, something that had to be avoided at all costs.  A critical factor was that the Baluchis were well known to deeply resent the British presence in their land, and it would perhaps not take much ‘urging’ to convince them to tip the domino.


In the early days of the war, as the Baluchi tribal leaders were reluctantly tolerating the British, rumours of German espionage activities in southeastern Persia proved deeply unsettling.  Something serious needed to be done to prevent Baluchistan from slipping away.


Enter J.E.B. Hotson: Naturalist, Spy and Explorer of Baluchistan


Sir John Ernest Buttery Hotson (1877 – 1944), who went by the name ‘Ernest’ and signed his name as ‘J.E.B. Hotson’, was an incredibly interesting and consequential figure in the history of early 20th century India and Persia, even if he is not a household name today.  Born in Glasgow, the son of the General Manager of the British Linen Bank, he was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Oxford.  In 1900, he joined the Indian Civil Service, whereupon he would spend most of his career in the government of the Bombay Presidency (that controlled Western India, including British Baluchistan).


Hotson’s first posting was as the Superintendent of the Managed States of Kathiawar, in Gujarat.  Recognized as someone of uncommon ability and intellect, in 1907, he was made the Undersecretary to the Governor in Bombay.  In 1911, he was promoted to become the Private Secretary to the Governor of Bombay, one of the most important roles in the entire British bureaucracy in India.


In 1915, following the outbreak of World War I, Hotson enlisted in the Indian Army.  At this time the British were incredibly concerned about the state of Baluchistan, and the rumours of German agent provocateurs spreading unrest in the region.


Importantly, Britain could not spare the resources to military ‘lock down’ Baluchistan.  The only way to secure the region was to convince the local tribal leaders that the Germans and Ottomans were destined to lose the war and that it would be best for them to stick with the ‘devil they knew’.


In early 1916, Hotson, given the rank of major (and later lieutenant colonel), was chosen to be the Commandant of the Mekran Levy Corps, a light cavalry unit (riding camels) that could move nimbly and quickly across Baluchistan’s forbidding desert and montane landscape.  Importantly, while most of the officers of the Corps were British, the majority of the troops were Beluchis, or other peoples of the Indian Subcontinent who the Beluchis would not find offensive.  This not only supplied the Corps with vital knowledge, but also cultural and familial links to the tribal leaders they needed to lobby.


Hotson’s mandate was to, at least outwardly, play ‘the good cop’, by diplomatically forging bonds with tribal leaders, dispensing gifts, favours and bribes.  As someone who once helped run the Indian colonial regime, Hotson had credibility, as he could deliver on his promises.  Hotson and his men were also to be on the lookout for German and other enemy agents, in both British and Persian Baluchistan.


Helpfully, Hotson also had an entirely legitimate apolitical, non-military reason for touring Baluchistan.  He had been known for some years as an avid and extremely gifted amateur naturalist, fascinated by the flora and fauna of India.  He closely collaborated with many of the Subcontinent’s leading authorities on zoology and botany.  Baluchistan’s natural life had never been scientifically surveyed, and its many biomes supported an amazing range of flora and fauna, including many endemic species.


As such, Hotson, billed his reconnaissance tours across Baluchistan as academic expeditions towards investigating the region’s plant and animal life.  As it turned out, he would conduct extremely serious and valuable field research, returning with amazing specimens of ‘new’ species.


Using an academic cover to conduct espionage was a time-honoured trick, and the World War I era marked its golden age.  Notably, Lawrence of Arabia and Max von Oppenheim, Wilhelm Wassmuss’s boss and the master of German PSYOPs in the Middle East, both worked as archaeologists, while also spying on the other side.  Hotson followed in the footsteps of the legendary British spy-archaeologist Aurel Stein, who had operated in Baluchistan in 1904-5.


The Archive in Focus


The present mini-archive directly relates to Hotson’s period of service as Commandant of the Mekran Levy Corps.  It consists of three items, of which the first two seem to be parts of Hotson’s apparently now otherwise lost diary of his time in Baluchistan and are thus likely unique primary sources.


The first item is a detailed manuscript itinerary map of Baluchistan showing Hotson’s movements, with his stops at frequent, regular intervals, from April 1916 to July 1918.  The second part is a lengthy manuscript list of the bird species that he encountered in Baluchistan, in some cases, noting the places and dates of the sightings.  The third, and final part is an example of the finest and most accurate printed map of Baluchistan made during the World War I era, which Hotson likely used to compose the present manuscript map, and perhaps as a strategic and orientation guide during the final stages of his Baluchistan expeditions.


It is worth noting that while we cannot trace any other references to Hotson’s supposed diary from his Baluchistan period, his journals for the yeas 1905-1908 inclusive, from the time that he served as a senior civil servant in Kathiawar (Gujarat) are today preserved at the Hill Memorial Library at the Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge (shelfmark: Mss. 2600.).


Referring to #1 “Itinerary of J.E.B. Hotson, P.A.” [Mss. Map of Baluchistan and Adjacent Areas] (1918), while it, at first, appears to be a crude sketch, it is actually quite planometrically accurate and shows a vast amount of sophisticated information.  The map embraces all Baluchistan and adjacent areas, and extends from Karachi (Sindh), in the southeast, over past the port of Chebbar, on the Makran Coast, in Persian Baluchistan, and then up north to Afghanistan’s Helmond Province.  Topographical details are sketch in pencil, with rivers in a light grey crayon, while the names of major cities and towns and international boundaries are penciled in.  The depiction of Baluchistan extends from the Makran Coast, in the south, up to the regional capital, Quetta, in the far north, with the region bound by the Indus River, in the east, over to the west into Persia, showing the India-Persia boundary as of double diagonal hachured line.


Most importantly, as identified in the key, below the title, lower left, the map shows all of Hotson’s itineraries across the region, from April 1916 to July 1918.  The lines of the routes are colour-coded by year, with the itineraries taken in “1916” = grey (penciled) lines; “1917” = red ink lines; and “1918” = black ink lines.  The map marks the progress of Hotson’s itineraries at frequent and regular intervals, noting the dates at which he stopped at various towns and junctures.


Thus, the map provides what is likely the only detailed geo-chronological account of Hotson’s Baluchistan mission.  The map was drafted shortly after he completed his tours in the summer of 1918, and features what would then have been highly confidential information not found anywhere



The map was likely made to illustrate a journal or memoir of Hotson’s Baluchistan experiences, which we gather does not survive.  We do not know if Hotson ever intended to publish his Baluchistan memoirs once wartime censorship expired, but in any event no such publication ever appeared, making this map a unique and valuable artifact of World War I along the India-Persian frontier.


The map charts Hotson’s three distinct tours through Baluchistan and covers all of his movements between April 1916 to July 1918, save for a brief break (February to April 1917), when it seems he briefly left the region to visit his superiors in the Persian Gulf.


The first itinerary, being the Gwadar – Persian Baluchistan tour (April 1916 – February 1917), is show on the map to commence on April 11, 1916, at Gwadar, a port on the Makran Coast (then being an enclave owned by Oman, a British protectorate).  From there, Hotson and the Corps headed up into the interior to cross into Persia on June 28, 1916, whereupon they followed a very circuitous route to thoroughly reconnoiter the region, before heading down the coast, to arrive as the port of Chabbar, Persia, on February 1, 1917.  From there, Hotson traveled by ship to an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf, likely for the purpose of attending debriefing and strategy sessions with high level British military commanders.


The second itinerary is the Quetta – Khanate of Kalat – Karachi tour (April to October 1917).  After his Persian Gulf sojourn, Hotson shows up on the map in Quetta, the capital of British Baluchistan, in the region’s far north, on April 6, 1917.  From there, he and the Mekran Levy Corps scouted the vicinity for some weeks, before deploying south, in July 1917, upon a lengthy trip that took him through the Khanate of Kelat, the largest and most important Baluchi indigenous nation, while cutting back up the Hingol River to make his coverage of the area comprehensive.  His endpoint was Karachi, which he reached on October 9, 1917.


The third itinerary, being the Karachi – Western and Central British Baluchistan – Quetta tour (November 1917 to July 1918), commenced at Karachi, whereupon Hotson embarked by boat on November 13, 1917, bound for the port of Passani, in the western part of British Baluchistan, arriving there on November 17.  From there, he and his party headed inland, to the northwest, to the Persian frontier, before tracking northeast to Panjgur, arriving there on January 5, 1918.  Next, he travelled back down to Passani, which he reached on February 24, before making another tour towards the Persian frontier and then back again to Pangjur, arriving on March 17, 1918.  He next made a circle tour of central British Baluchistan, before heading north up to Quetta, where he arrived on July 11, 1918, whereupon he marked “Finis” on the map, so ending his service in Baluchistan.


Turing to #2 “Beluchi Notes / Hotson Diary” [Ornithology / List of Birds encountered in Baluchistan] (likely 1918), which is lengthy list of the dozens of bird species that Hotson encountered in Baluchistan, along with, in some cases, noting the places and dates of the sightings.  For example, he recalls that he spotted a “Cuckoo” in Quetta on May 5 [1917].  The list includes many rare and interesting species, some of which are seldom encountered today.  This roughly sketched list, written on the back of a letterpress sheet extracted from an ornithology book, like Item #1 (the mss. map above), was clearly made to have been included in Hotson’s apparently now lost journal of his expeditions in Baluchistan.  While Hotson’s plant and mammal discoveries were subsequently recorded in published academic articles, to our knowledge, the same was not done for his ornithological research, likely making the content provided here a unique survivor.


Referring to #3. The Survey of India’s Baluchistān. / Southern Asia Series / Baluchistān Sheet (Calcutta, 1918), is very rare, and is the finest and most accurate general map of Baluchistan available during the World War I era, predicated upon advanced mapping conducted by the Survey of India.  Its precursor map was Baluchistan. /Scale, 1 inch= 16 miles (Dehra Dun: Survey of India Office, 1892), with the first edition of the present map, which updated the scene, appearing in 1914 (Scale: 1 inch = 32 miles).  The present example is an improved issue of the 1914 map, bearing the note ‘Corrected in 1918 as far as information from Extra-Departmental sources are available’.  A second revised edition of the map would be issued in 1929.


The present map was perhaps available during the final part of Hotson’s Baluchistan mission, and was likely sued to make the manuscript itinerary map (#1 above).


The map is part of the Survey of India’s interconnecting Southern Asia Series, although each ‘Section’ was often issued as a separate map (as here).  We cannot trace any separate examples of the either the 1914 or 1918 issues, although a handful of examples are likely included within the few sets of the Southern Asia Series maps in libraries.




Hotson and the Mekran Levy Corps’ work during World War I was hailed as a great success.  Hotson’s skilled and measured diplomacy succeeded in calming the Baluchi chiefs, and keeping them onside, despite the efforts of German agents provocateurs.  This was a huge relief on the part of the Indian Army, as his work allowed it to concentrate its efforts upon its conquest of Ottoman Mesopotamia, and ‘locking down’ the rest of India, such that any putative unrest was quelled before it even began.


Hotson’s academic efforts were also of propound consequence, as the innumerable specimens of mammals and plants he gathered in Baluchistan included discoveries of species unknown to science.  His specimens of mammals were catalogued by the eminent British zoologist Oldfield Thomas, and among these were seven new species, including Hotson’s Jerboa (Allactaga hotsoni) and Hotson’s Mouse-like Hamster (Calomyscus hotsoni).


Hotson sent his Baluchistan plant specimens to his good friend, the esteemed Jesuit botanist Ethelbert Blatter (1877 – 1934), in Bombay, who catalogued them, resulting in two important academic articles.


In the summer of 1918, after concluding his Baluchistan service, Hotson was made the British Consul General in Shiraz, Persia, a highly important position, overseeing the defense of Southern Persia from Ottoman attack.  Indeed, shortly into his tenure, Brigadier-General Sir Percy Sykes’s South Persia Rifles fought off an Ottoman assault upon Shiraz.


In the wake of the war, Hotson returned to the Bombay Civil Service, becoming the Chief Collector for the Presidency in 1920, and then the Chief Secretary of the Government of Bombay in 1924.


In 1931, Hotson served as the Acting Governor of Bombay, during which time he survived an assassination attempt, relatively unscathed, as the single bullet fired towards him ricocheted off one of the brass clasps of his uniform.


In 1932, Hotson retired and returned to England, whereupon he dedicated the rest of his days to botanical and zoological research, as well as philately (he developed one of the world’s best private collections of the stamps of India and Newfoundland).


References: Parts #1 mss. map and #2 mss. notes are seemingly unrecorded; Part #3. 1918 printed Baluchistan map: none found recorded separately, but one might be included in a set: British Library: Cartographic Items Maps Y.1986. (cf. 1929 ed. of map: OCLC: 1351616311); cf. (re: Hotson’s zoological and botanical discoveries in Baluchistan:) Ethelbert BLATTER, ‘Contributions towards a flora of Persian Baluchistan and Makran : from materials supplied by Capt. J.E.B. Hotson’, The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, vol. 25, pp. 723–739; Ethelbert BLATTER, ‘Contributions towards Fl. Baluchistan from Materials supplied by Capt. J.E.B. Hotson’ (Journal of the Indian Botanical Society, vol. 1 (1919), pp. 84-91; Thomas, OLDFIELD, ‘Some New Mammals from Baluchistan and North-West India’, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, vol. 26, no. 4, (1920), pp. 933-940.

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