Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen

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Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen
Godwin-Austen in an image published in 1890
Born (1834-07-06)6 July 1834
Devon, England
Died 2 December 1923(1923-12-02) (aged 89)
Citizenship British
Fields Topography, geology, surveying, natural history, malacology
Institutions Trigonometrical Survey of India
Alma mater Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Author abbrev. (zoology) Godwin-Austen

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen FRS FZS FRGS MBOU (6 July 1834 – 2 December 1923), known until 1854 as Henry Haversham Austen, was an English topographer, geologist, naturalist and surveyor.

He explored the mountains in the Himalayas and surveyed the glaciers at the base of K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen, and the geographer Kenneth Mason called Godwin-Austen "probably the greatest[1] mountaineer of his day".[1]

Family tradition holds that Haversham Godwin-Austen was a convert to the Buddhist faith (post a self-attested period as an at least nominal Muslim in the middle to late 1850s), and as such he may be the first known British adherent to Buddhism. His small, Burmese style, Buddhist shrine at Nore, Hascombe, Surrey, is likely to have been erected there around 1901 (although a later date of c. 1920 is possible), perhaps after being situated at each of Godwin-Austen’s successive main residences from 1877 onwards, post his return to England after 25 years in Asia. Accordingly, the shrine probably constitutes the first ever ‘custom built’ physical structure raised for Buddhist devotional purposes in Britain. It was forgotten and lost to view under brambles after Godwin-Austen’s time, prior to rediscovery in 1962 by a new owner of Nore, actor Dirk Bogarde.[2]

Godwin-Austen’s conversion – and possibly his shrine – therefore predates the earliest formal Buddhist missions to Britain: namely those of the Japanese-sponsored ‘Buddhist Propagation Society’, led by Irish born Captain Charles J. W. Pfoundes in 1889, and that of English convert Charles Henry Alan Bennett a.k.a. ‘Ananda Metteyya’ in 1908. ‘The Buddhist Society of Great Britain & Ireland’ was formed in 1907.[3]

Early life

The eldest son of the geologist Robert Austen, who in 1854 added Godwin to his surname by royal licence,[4] Henry Haversham Austen was probably born at Ogwell House, near Newton Abbot, Devon, where his father had recently taken up residence.[5] His father's family, landowners in Cheshire and Surrey since the 12th century, was a family of merchant venturers, soldiers, scholars, and collectors, claiming uncertain descents from William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, and Charlemagne. His grandfather, Sir Henry Edmund Austen (1785–1871), was a High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant for Surrey and a gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King William IV.[6] His great-grandfather, Robert Austen (died 1797), married Lady Frances Annesley, a descendant of Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey.[7]

Austen's mother, Maria Elizabeth Godwin, was the only child of Major-General Sir Henry Godwin (1784–1853), who had fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War and who commanded the British and Indian forces in the Second.[8][9][10] H. H. Austen was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and then from 1848 to 1851 at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[9] At Sandhurst he learnt military surveying from Captain Robert Petley[11] and was a contemporary of the future Lord Roberts.

Life in Burma and India

In 1851, after leaving the Royal Military College, Austen was commissioned into the 24th Foot, which later became the South Wales Borderers. In 1852 he saw action in the Second Anglo-Burmese war, in which he served as aide-de-camp to his grandfather, General Sir Henry Godwin. While in Burma, he surveyed the Irrawaddy Delta, and this work came to the favourable notice of Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, Surveyor General of India. Austen next moved to Peshawar under the command of Major General Thomas Reed.[9] His maternal grandfather died unexpectedly in 1853, and as a result Robert Austen added the name of Godwin to his own, so that Austen became Godwin-Austen.[4]

In 1856, Godwin-Austen joined the Trigonometrical Survey of India and began to work in Kashmir under Captain Thomas George Montgomerie.[9] In May 1856 he was promoted Lieutenant, in March 1857 he was formally appointed to the Survey of India, and on 29 October 1858 he was further promoted to Captain.[12]

A liaison with an Indian lady named Kudikji, the daughter of a Muslim landowner of Poonch, probably a Sudhan, may have begun as early as 1855, and this led to the birth in March 1857 of a son who was named Eddy.[12] Another source says that Eddy was born at Sialkot on 15 March 1859.[13] The entanglement is seen by one biographer as probably an obstacle to Godwin-Austen's advancement in India.[7] In April 1857 Godwin-Austen was posted to Kashmir. In June 1858 he married Kudikji in a ceremony near Budrawar, from the British point of view the marriage was legal as it satisfied Muslim conditions. It was, however undesirable. In November 1858, Godwin-Austen was seriously injured in an attack near Udhampur which left him unconscious, and in April 1859 he took a year's home leave, joining the second Battalion of his regiment, the 24th Foot, in England. While there, he became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.[14]

From 1857 to June 1860 he had worked for the Survey of India, mainly around the Kazi Nag, Pir Panjal, and Marau-Warwan regions. He was given a permanent post in the Trigonometrical Survey and in 1860 mapped Shigar and the lower Saltoro valley of Baltistanas far as the south face of K1, Masherbrum. In 1861, he traversed the Skoro La, beyond Skardu and Shigar, where he surveyed the Karakoram glaciers: Baltoro, Punmah, Biafo, Chiring, almost as far as the old Mustagh Pass and Hispar. On this expedition, he climbed to about 1000m+ above Urdukas on the Baltoro Glacier, and fixed the height and position of K2 for the first time.[9]

In 1860, after a separation of some fifteen months, Godwin-Austen and Kudikji were reunited, and she accompanied him on his first expedition to Baltistan. However, after September 1860 she disappears from the record, and Godwin-Austen arranged the adoption of their son by a couple named Milner, so it is likely that Kudikji had died by late 1860. A few months before his death in 1924, Godwin-Austen received the surprise of a letter from a Mrs Barclay, one of their grandchildren, a daughter of Eddy, and in reply recalled of Kudikji "She was a good wife with me and if there is anything now left that I can look back on and love, it is her memory and the way she looked after me."[14]

On 5 April 1861 Godwin-Austen married Pauline Georgiana, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wellesley Chichele Plowden, granddaughter of William Plowden (1787–1880), an East India Company director, and niece of William Chichele Plowden, an Indian civilian. Their first child, Alfred, was born in March 1862, but lived less than three months. Pauline herself died in 1871, leaving one surviving son, Arthur.[6][8]

In 1862, Godwin-Austen surveyed upper Changchenmo, Pangong district, and the Zanskar ranges, resulting in his Notes on the Pangong Lake District of Ladakh (1864).[9][15]

Illustration by Godwin-Austen of Paradoxornis nipalensis which he described as Suthora daflaensis

Although he gave great attention to geology and topography, he his greatest interest lay in collecting freshwater molluscs, and in identifying birds. He published his Birds of Assam (1870–1878) and described a number of birds for the first time, some with Arthur Hay, 9th Marquess of Tweeddale. Most of these notes were published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and Godwin-Austen sometimes drew illustrations of the new bird species. He was particularly active in ornithology after 1863, when he was posted in the eastern Himalayas as part of the political mission to Bhutan headed by Ashley Eden. He surveyed the Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia hills, and in 1875 joined an expedition into the Dafla hills.[9] Venturing into anthropology, he described the monuments and customs of the Khasi tribes.[16][17]


In 1877, Godwin-Austen retired from the Trigonometrical Survey of India with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, as his health was beginning to deteriorate, but back in England he recovered. In 1881, he married lastly Jessie, daughter of John Harding Robinson, an Examiner in the House of Lords. They remained married until his wife's death in 1913,[9] and the marriage has been called "a union of love and mutual support".[7]

When his father died in 1884, Godwin-Austen inherited an estate at Shalford, in Surrey. However, he ran into financial difficulties and was forced to sell his collection of birds, about 3,500 skins collected in Manipur and Assam, to the British Museum. Unable to sell land because of an entail, he was declared bankrupt in 1899, although he had discharged the bankruptcy by 1902.[7] For a time he lived at Nore near Godalming,[8] but by 1916 was again living at Shalford Park.[18]

In England, Godwin-Austen was the author of The Land and Freshwater Mollusca of India, of which the first volume was published in parts between 1882 and 1888, the second appearing in the same way between 1897 and 1914. This work brought him recognition as a malacologist, and from 1897 to 1899 he served as an early President of the Malacological Society of London.[19] In 1910 he received a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society.[9] He died on 2 December 1923.[8]


Godwin-Austen's geological collections were the foundation of the collections in the National Museum of India,[citation needed] while his collection of molluscs has been stated to form "the basis of all modern science in this subject".[20]

The name given to the Karakoram peak K2 in the Himalayas was Mount Godwin-Austen, in honour of Colonel Godwin-Austen, but his original code indicating that it was the second highest peak in the Karakoram range now predominates. The Godwin Austen Glacier was also named in his honour.[9]

His son, R. A. Godwin-Austen, was an officer of the Dorset Regiment during the First World War,[18] and was later a supporter of the "saintly mafia" called Ferguson's Gang, dedicated to saving historically important buildings.[21][22] H. H. Godwin-Austen's nephew, General Sir Alfred Godwin-Austen (1889–1963), was a divisional commander of the East African and Western Desert campaigns during the Second World War.[23]

Godwin-Austen's son by Kudikji, Eddy, or Edward, who had been adopted by a family named Milner, became a civil engineer in Hyderabad State and elsewhere. In 1879 he married Emma Theresa Smith, and they had fifteen children. Edward Henry Hastings Milner died in Bombay in 1917, aged only 59, but his widow lived until 1958.[14]

Selected publications

  • Notes on the Pangong Lake District of Ladakh (1864)
  • Birds of Assam (1870–1878)
  • PD-icon.svg Land and freshwater mollusca of India, including South Arabia, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Nepal, Burma, Pegu, Tenasserim, Malaya Peninsula, Ceylon and other islands of the Indian Ocean; Supplementary to Masers Theobald and Hanley's Conchologica Indica (Taylor and Francis, London, VI+257+ 442+65 pp., 165 pls, published in parts, 1882–1920:
    • Volume 1 + plates; 1882: pp. I–VI, 1–66, pls. 1–12; 1883: pp. 67–164, pls. 13–42; 1884: pls. 43–51; 1886: pp. 165–206; 1887: pls. 52–62; 1888: pp. 207–257 (as Volume I, 1889)
    • volume 2 + plates; 1897: pp. 1–46, pls. 63–69; 1898: pp. 47–86, pls. 70–82; 1899: pp. 87–146, pls. 83–100; 1907: pp. 147–238, pls. 101–117; 1910: pp. 239–310, pls. 118–132; 1914: pp. 311–442, pls. 133–158; (as Volume II, 1914)
    • volume 3 + plates: 1920: pp. 1–65, pls. 159–165; (as Volume III, 1920)
  • PD-icon.svg Blanford W. T. & Godwin-Austen H. H. 1908. Mollusca. Testacellidae and Zonitidae The Fauna of British India, including Burma and Ceylon

Further reading

Catherine Moorehead (18 October 2013). The K2 Man (and His Molluscs): The Extraordinary life of Haversham Godwin-Austen. Neil Wilson Publishing. pp. 365–. ISBN 978-1-906000-60-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kenneth Mason, Abode of Snow (1955)
  2. Catherine Moorehead, The K2 Man (and His Molluscs): The Extraordinary Life of Haversham Godwin-Austen (2013)
  3. Brian Bocking, Laurence Cox and Shin’ichi Yoshinaga, The First Buddhist Mission to The West: Charles Pfoundes and The London Buddhist Mission of 1889 – 1892. (2014) http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/DISKUS/index.php/DISKUS/article/view/51
  4. 4.0 4.1 'H. H. Godwin-Austen' (obituary) in The Journal of Conchology (1925), p. 141
  5. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. 38 (1885), p. xi
  6. 6.0 6.1 Moorehead (2013), chapter 3
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Catherine Moorehead, The K2 Man (and His Molluscs) (2013), chapter 1
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Anonymous (1924). "Obituary". Ibis. 66 (2): 360–362. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1924.tb05332.x.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 Kenneth Mason, revised by Elizabeth Baigent, 'Austen, Henry Haversham Godwin- (1834–1923)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) odnb/33438
  10. T. H. Holdich, 'Obituary: Lieut.-Colonel Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen' in Geographical Journal, vol. 63 (1924), pp. 175–176
  11. Roger Taylor, Larry J. Schaaf, Impressed by Light (Yale University Press and Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007), p. 357
  12. 12.0 12.1 Moorehead (2013), chapter 8
  13. D. K. Palit, Saga of an Indian I. M. S. Officer: The Life and Times of Lieutenant Colonel Anath Nath Palit, OBE 1883-1972 (Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, United Service Institution of India, 2006), p. 67, quoting a letter of Godwin-Austen: "When your father was born at Sialkot on 15 March 1859, he was known as Edward or Eddy. The other names you give, Henry Hastings Godwin, are new to me and must have come from the Milners..."
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Moorehead (2013), chapter 9
  15. H. H. Godwin-Austen, 'On the Glaciers of the Mustakh Range' in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, vol. 34 (1864), pp. 19–56
  16. H. H. Godwin-Austen, 'On the Stone Monuments of the Khasi Hill Tribes, and on Some of the Peculiar Rites and Customs of the People' in Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 1 (1872), pp. 122–143
  17. H. H. Godwin-Austen, 'The Mountain Systems of the Himalaya and Neighbouring Ranges of India' in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, vol. 6, issue 2 (1884), pp. 83–87
  18. 18.0 18.1 Country Life, vol. 39, issues 991-1008 (1916), p. 59: "In the Guildford division Major R. A. Godwin-Austen, son of Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. Godwin-Austen of Shalford Park, is in the 6th Dorset Regiment."
  19. "GODWIN-AUSTEN, Henry Haversham". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. pp. 692–693.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Assessment of Professor Fred Naggs, Natural History Museum, South Kensington
  21. Anna Hutton-North, Ferguson's Gang - The Maidens behind the Masks (Lulu Inc., 2013, ISBN 978-1-291-48453-3)
  22. Maxwell Fraser, Surrey (1975), p. 155
  23. Steen Ammentorp, Godwin-Austen, Sir Alfred Reade at generals.dk, accessed 26 May 2014

External links