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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

It may be recollected that I reached Sistan in December


It was on February 15th, 1900, that a Russian Vice-Consul for that important Province was appointed to Sistan to take the place of a Persian who was a news-writer in Russian employ. Major G. Chevenix Trench was then specially selected by the Viceroy of India as a suitable person to look after British interests in that region--and indeed no better man could have been chosen.

Having given up his appointment in India this officer left Quetta on March 7th, 1900, and arrived at Sher-i-Nasrya on the 18th of April, accompanied by Major R. E. Benn, who was on a year's furlough, and can be said, I believe, to be the first European who has travelled all the way from India to England by this overland route, _via_ Meshed-Transcaspia.

Major Trench, prior to leaving for Meshed to take up his appointment of Consul-General for Khorassan, being unable to stand the fierce heat of the sun, laid the foundation stone--it was a "sun-dried mud brick," to be accurate--of the present temporary buildings of the Consulate. A domed mud hut _a la Persane_ was built, with an additional spacious window, but no framework and no glass.

The great difficulty of hoisting the British flag, which seems to have been strongly objected to during the Perso-Afghan Commission when Sir Frederic Goldsmid passed through Sistan in 1872, was overcome mainly owing to the great tact shown by Major Trench. The Union Jack flew daily, gaily and undisturbed, over the mud hovel which will probably be during the next few years one of the most important consular posts we possess in Asia.

Major Benn, who had hastily proceeded to London on a long expected holiday, was immediately recalled to replace Major Trench. Major Benn, accompanied by his plucky and devoted wife and child, journeyed a second time across the Beluchistan desert to reach his post.

The journey was terrible, owing to torrential rains and snowstorms. When already several marches out they were compelled to return to Quetta as their child had become very ill. But they were despatched again on their duty. They encountered severe storms; the country was practically flooded; some of their camels died, and for days at a time they were in the desert unable to move, the country being in many places inundated. In a blizzard two of their men lost themselves and died from exposure, but the party advanced slowly but surely, the plucky little English lady standing all the hardships without a murmur.

Major Benn having been ordered to make a detour, they went down into the Sarhad, south of the Kuh-i-Malek-Siah, and it was not till February 15th, 1901, that they eventually reached Sher-i-Nasrya, and were received by Trench in his mud-hut Consulate, he having moved into a tent. Major Trench, on the arrival of Major Benn, proceeded to Meshed.

During Major Benn's time the Consulate buildings went through a marvellous evolution. It may be recollected that I reached Sistan in December, 1901, or only ten months after his arrival, but there were already several additional mud-rooms built and connected so as to form a suite of a spacious office, sitting-room, dining-room, two bedrooms and a storeroom. There were doors, made locally by imported Indian carpenters, but no glass to the windows,--muslin nailed to the wall answering the purpose of blinds. Famished dogs, attracted by the odour of dinner, would occasionally jump through this flimsy protection, much to the despair of Mrs. Benn--but those were only small troubles. Thieves found their way into the rooms, and even succeeded in stealing Mrs. Benn's jewellery. There was no protection whatever against an attack in force, and the natives were at first most impudent in their curiosity.


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