251,243 Pages

George Jonas Whitaker Hayward (1839–1870) was a well known nineteenth-century British explorer. Information for all but the final few years of his life is scarce. His explorations and horrific murder in central Asia during "The Great Game" eventually earned him a degree of fame.

Pre-Explorer LifeEdit

Hayward was long supposed to have been Irish but research in the 1990s by Charles Timmis revealed that he was in fact a Yorkshireman, born at Headingly Hall on the outskirts of Leeds. He was educated at the Forest School in north London. In 1859 he became an ensign in the British Army. He was stationed in Multan in India (now in Pakistan) with the 89th Regiment of Foot. In 1863 he purchased a commission and became a Lieutenant. He next transferred to the Cameron Highlanders regiment in 1864. He sold his commission in 1865 and left the British Army.[1]

Affiliation with the Royal Geographical SocietyEdit

Hayward appeared in England in 1868 and approached Sir Henry Rawlinson, vice president of the Royal Geographical Society. He wanted to be hired as an explorer in central Asia and the western Himalayas. Surprisingly Hayward was provided with £300, surveying equipment, map making instruments and instructions to attempt to reach and survey the then unmapped Pamir Mountains. He was to become the only explorer funded by the Royal Geological Society during "The Great Game."[1]

Political Turmoil in Central AsiaEdit

The era that Hayward operated in was one of imperial expansion in Central Asia. In the south the British Empire, based out of India, was consolidating and expanding its positions to the north. In the north the Russian Empire was expanding its territory at a dramatic pace. Soon the Russians were expanding south into central Asia. The area between the two empires was shrinking fast and clandestine agents and explorers were sent to map this unknown area of the world full of lawless tribes, murderous despot rulers and some of the most formidable and challenging terrain on Earth.[2]

Although the Royal Geographical Society was strictly apolitical, Rawlinson was also a member of the government's India Council and a known Russophobe. For this reason it has often been suggested that he may have had political motivations in encouraging Hayward's explorations.

Journey to Kashgar and YarkandEdit

Hayward's official Royal Geographical Society mission was to explore the Pamirs and their routes and approaches. After being rebuffed by officials from approaching the Pamirs via the Northwest Frontier he travelled to Ladakh and onwards to Kashgaria with the intention of approaching the Pamirs from there.

Another Englishman, Robert Shaw, uncle of Sir Francis Younghusband, was making a similar journey to Yarkand and Kashgar at the same time. Shaw seems to have resented Hayward's presence, and although they were often within a few hundred metres of one another, they only met once at the start of their approach to Kashgaria, and then again many months later.

While awaiting permission to proceed at the Kashgaria border Hayward escaped from his guards and spent 20 days exploring and charting the course of the Yarkand River.

Shaw reached Kashgaria in December 1868 after sending ahead envoys announcing his arrival and carrying with him gifts for Yakub Beg. Yakub Beg had just appointed himself King of Kashgaria after driving out the Chinese rulers. A few weeks after Shaw's arrival he was joined by Hayward. Hayward sent no envoy and hand no gifts but convinced the border guards he was with Shaw. Shaw was disturbed by this as he figured Hayward would be stopped at the border.[1]

In Yarkand Hayward and Shaw were separately kept under house arrest. After sometime Shaw was allowed to proceed to Kashgar to meet with Yakub Beg. After a warm reception Shaw eventually found himself once again under house arrest. A few weeks later Hayward arrived in Kashgar and was also placed under house arrest. The two were able to periodically communicate by passing secret notes.

Neither man knew at the time, but they were being held while Yakub Beg was waiting for the response to his recent envoy to Russia. When no positive response came from Russia Shaw again was allowed an audience with the King. Afterwards he was free to return home and was able to arrange for Hayward's release as well as that of Mirza Shuja, a Pundit exploring the region for Britain.[1]

For his efforts exploring the Kun Lun and Karakoram mountains, and the route of the Upper Yarkand River during his approach to Kashgaria Hayward was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Gold Medal.[2]

Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Source of the OxusEdit

In November 1869 Hayward started his next journey north through the Himalaya. With almost no provisions or gear he traveled in the dead of winter almost 300 miles to Gilgit. The winter crossing took over two months instead of the ten to twenty days it took when the passes were clear.

While traveling in this region he had to cross a war zone between Hindu Kashmiris and Muslim Dardistan. In search of a new approach to the Pamirs he visited the Yasin Valley and became friends with Mir Wali who convinced him it was impossible to proceed through the Hindu Kush until the summer thaw.[2]

Hayward returned to India, again crossing the Himalaya with no supplies in the dead of winter. Upon returning he wrote a letter to a Calcutta newspaper describing the atrocities that the Kashmiris had committed against people in Yasin. The publication of the letter caused a minor political storm, as the Maharaja of Kashmir was a close British ally and vassal. Because of the negative attention he received from this letter Hayward severed his connection with the Royal Geographical Society.[1]

In June 1870 Hayward again headed north now that the mountain passes were clear. He traveled through Kashmiri territory and reached Gilgit with no difficulty. In mid July he reached Yasin once more and proceeded to Darkot at the head of the valley. He was on the verge of reaching the Oxus river and the Pamirs.

On the morning of 18 July 1870 Hayward stayed up all night after receiving word he might be attacked. Towards dawn he fell asleep and he was attacked. His hands were tied behind his back and he was dragged into the woods where he was murdered.


Controversy and mystery surrounded Hayward's death.

One version states that his friend Mir Wali arranged his death following a heated argument.[2] An alternate version - that which was least convenient for the British - had it that the Maharaja of Kashmir had arranged Hayward's death as revenge for the letter about the Kashmiri atrocities in Dardistan. The theory says the Maharaja extracted revenge against Hayward and also benefited by framing the ruler's enemy, Mir Wali.[1]

Hayward's body was later recovered by a Kashmiri soldier. It was found under a small pile of stones and was brought back to Gilgit and buried in an orchard that later became the town's Christian cemetery. His tombstone, ironically paid for by the Maharaja of Kashmir, reads: "To the memory of G. W. Hayward, Gold Medallist of the Royal Geographical Society of London, who was cruelly murdered at Darkot, 18 July 1870, on his journey to explore the Pamir steppe. This monument is erected to a gallant officer and accomplished traveler at the instance of the Royal Geographical Society." Since his death, Hayward received little acclaim or recognition. However, he stands alone among the explorers of the Western Himalaya in terms of the areas he surveyed and the size of his expeditions - usually just himself and three to six porters and bearers.


In the 1930s Colonel Reginald Schomberg, a British traveler, passed through Darkot and said local families still possessed Hayward's pistol, telescope and saddle. A London auction sold six topographical watercolors by Hayward in the 1950s that turned up in the Bombay bazaar.

Sir Henry Newbolt wrote the poem "He Fell Among Thieves" about Hayward's death.

Biography: "Murder in the Hindu Kush"Edit

A biography of Hayward, entitled Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game, by travel writer Tim Hannigan was published by the History Press in 2011.[3] His story is also covered briefly in The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk, and Explorers of the Western Himalayas by John Keay.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 WildHare Services, Inc. "Death in the Morning - The story of George J. W. Hayward". WildHare Services, Inc. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Hopkirk, Peter (1997). The Great Game. Kodansha Globe. ISBN 1-56836-022-3. 

External linksEdit

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.