Alexander Gardner (soldier)
Alexander Haughton Campbell Gardner (or Gardiner) (Gordana Khan) (1785–1877) was a traveller, soldier and mercenary. He travelled to Afghanistan and Punjab and served in various military positions in the region. Details of his life remain obscure, though several accounts have been written of his life. Corroborating evidence of the colourful life he led is sparse; nonetheless, the most recent and most thorough biography of Gardner is The Tartan Turban: In Search of Alexander Gardner, a 2017 book by the distinguished Scottish historian John Keay, who first wrote about Gardner in earlier books in 1977 and 1979.
- Alexander Gardner who later became the Colonel of Artillery in the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had travelled extensively in Central Asia from 1819 to 1823 C.E. He saw a lot of slave-catching in Kafiristan, a province of Afghanistan, which was largely inhabited by infields at that time. He found that the area had been reduced to “the lowest state of poverty and wretchedness” as a result of raids by the Muslim king of Kunduz for securing slaves and supplying them to the slave markets in Balkh and Bukhara. He writes:
“All this misery was caused by the oppression of the Kunduz chief, who not content with plundering his wretched subjects, made an annual raid into the country south of Oxus, and by chappaos (night attacks) carried off all the inhabitants on whom his troops could lay their hands. These, after the best had been selected by the chief and his courtiers, were publicly sold in the bazaars of Turkestan. The principal providers of this species of merchandise were the Khan of Khiva, the king of Bokhara (the great hero of the Mohammedan faith), and the robber beg of Kunduz.
“In the regular slave markets, or in transactions between dealers, it is the custom to pay for slaves in money; the usual medium being either Bokharan gold tillahs (in value about 5 or 51/2 Company rupees each), or in gold bars or gold grain. In Yarkand, or on the Chinese frontier, the medium is the silver khurup with the Chinese stamp, the value of which varies from 150 to 200 rupees each. The price of a male slave varies according to circumstances from 5 to 500 rupees. The price of the females also necessarily varies much, 2 tillahs to 10,000 rupees. Even the double the latter sum has been known to have been given.
“However, a vast deal of business is also done by barter, of which we had proof at the holy shrine of Pir-i-Nimcha, where we exchanged two slaves for a few lambs’ skins! Sanctity and slave dealing may be considered somewhat akin in the Turkestan region, and the more holy the person the more extensive are generally his transactions in flesh and blood.”
Alexander Gardner subsequently found a Muslim fruit merchant at Multan “who was proved by his own ledger to have exchanged a female slave girl for three ponies and seven long-haired, red-eyed cats, all of which he disposed of, no doubt to advantage, to the English gentlemen at this station.”
- Memoirs of Alexander Gardner, edited by Major Hugh Pearce, first published in 1898, reprint published from Patiala in 1970, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 1