Ney Elias (1844-1897) was an English explorer, geographer, and diplomat, best known for his extensive travels in Asia. Modern scholars speculate that he was a key intelligence agent for Britain during the Great Game. Elias travelled extensively in the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamirs, and Turkestan regions of High Asia.
In 1866, he went to Shanghai in the employment of a mercantile house; and in 1868 volunteered to lead an expedition and examine the old and new courses of the Hoang-ho. His account of this journey was published in the Royal Geographical Society’s Journal in a paper which gave, Sir Roderick Murchison said, for the first time accurate information about the diversion of the Yellow River.
In July 1872, accompanied by one Chinese servant, Elias started on a journey across the Gobi desert, travelling nearly 2,500 miles from the great wall to the Russian frontier, and thence another 2,300 miles to Nizhny Novgorod. The geographical results of the journey were summed up by Elias in a paper for the Royal Geographical Society. It was accomplished at a time when the Chinese provinces traversed were overrun by the Tungani rebels. For many weeks Elias travelled in constant apprehension of attack; he had scarcely any sleep; and when he reached the Siberian frontier, the Russian officers stared at him as if he had dropped from the sky. By no means a robust man, his indomitable will and silent courage carried him through all the perils of the way; while the accuracy of his observation and the scientific value of his record earned the highest approval of authorities like Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir Henry Yule. Elias received the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (26 May 1873), and on the recommendations of Rawlinson and Sir Bartle Frere, his services were retained by the government of India.
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