Christopher Young displays a photo of H. F. B. Lynch (photo: Aram Arkun)

Visiting Lecturer from England Sheds Light on Armenian Origins of English Travel Writer H. F. B. Lynch


BOSTON – Christopher Young, a retired Crown Court judge from England, gave a talk titled “What Attracted H. F. B. Lynch to Armenia? Origins and Influences” on October 1 at Boston University, organized by the Charles K. and Elisabeth M. Kenosian Chair in Modern Armenian History and Literature at the university.

His Honour Christopher Young (photo: Aram Arkun)

Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch (1862-1913), informally known as Harry, is most famous for his comprehensive two-volume work, Armenia: Travels and Studies, published in 1901 with plentiful illustrations, which covers Armenian geography, history, architecture, culture and politics in detail. Young focused in his talk, illustrated with slides, on Lynch’s Armenian family connection, his commercial, political and military interests, and his interactions with various contemporary English political figures. He was introduced to the audience by Prof. Simon Payaslian, holder of the Kenosian Chair.

His Honour Christopher Young, left, and Prof. Simon Payaslian (photo: Aram Arkun)

The story began in the 1790s, when Lynch’s maternal grandfather, 20-year-old ensign Robert Taylor, was sent to Bushire to learn Persian as part of the British East India Company (EIC) army, and eloped with Rosa, the 12-year-old daughter of Hovhannes Moscow, an Armenian merchant of Shiraz. Taylor, who eventually became British consul and resident at Bagdad, had four children with Rosa. One of these daughters, Caroline, married Lt. Henry Blosse Lynch, of the EIC navy.

The latter saw potential for commerce and navigation on the Tigris and invited two of his brothers to join him from the family home in Ireland. Thomas, a classical scholar of Trinity College in Dublin, ended up marrying Harriet, Caroline’s sister, who became the mother of H. F. B. Lynch. A second brother, Stephen, married a daughter of another Armenian merchant. The three brothers founded the Lynch Brothers, which later became the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company.

Young, basing himself on published and unpublished works by Lynch family members as well as documents such as wills and census returns, concludes that the Lynches were “wealthy, cultured, well connected and ambitious.” Thomas became British consul-general for Persia. Both he and Stephen brought their families to London, while maintaining mansions and land in Basra and Baghdad. Rosa, who had become a widow and blind, lived in London with Thomas and Harriet.

H. F. B. Lynch was born there in 1862, and his Armenian grandmother died 15 years later. He also grew up near his uncle Stephen’s Armenian wife Hosanna and interacted with his mother’s brother John George Taylor, who had become British consul at Erzerum and traveled with his Armenian dragoman.

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At the same time, the Lynches moved in fashionable and elite English circles. Thomas’ two daughters were presented at court and his son Henry went to Eton College and then Cambridge University, studying classics. The family was Protestant and conservative, being anti-Russian and imperialists. While opposed to Irish home rule, they were compassionate toward the poor during the Irish Potato Famine.

In the late 1880s, Henry was sent to Baghdad to learn the company business and expand it into Persia. He must have met and perhaps lived with Armenian relatives while there. His travels to Armenia in the 1890s might have been precipitated by this or by the Armenian revolutionary activity fermenting in the Ottoman Empire at this time. He collected newspaper clippings on the Yafta Affair of 1893, and in June of that year wrote to the Royal Geographical Society that he hoped to begin a journey through Russian and Turkish Armenia late that summer.

In his travel party was his cousin Captain Henry Blosse Lynch of the Devonshire Regiment. Young quoted from both Lynch’s diary and his published work to show how Lynch “was falling under the spell of the landscape” and of interesting Armenian figures like Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian, whose consecration he attended.

Young stated that during Lynch’s visit to Erzerum and discussions with British consul Robert Wyndham Graves, Lynch developed the idea of a semi-autonomous Armenian state within the boundaries of a reformed Ottoman Empire, which he wrote about the following summary in his articles in the Contemporary Review. He wrote some more articles to mixed reviews, while, according to Young, his attempts to meet with British politicians did not lead to any practical results.

Lynch also feared the results of Russian intervention in Armenia, unlike many Armenians of the time. Young examined the question of whether Lynch could have done his research and preparations for his book for the British intelligence services but determined that Lynch’s contacts with British government officials or military officers were merely part of what his Baghdad firm usually did — pass on interesting or useful information.

Young examined why Lynch’s two-volume book did not reveal much of himself or his connection to Armenia. On the one hand, Lynch had an Armenian grandmother and continued personal connections to Armenia. Young surmised that Lynch’s connection with the small and subject nation of the Irish as well as the sympathy evinced by Lynch’s parents during the Irish Famine may have strengthened his feelings about Armenia. Young said, “He wanted to capture part of his own heritage in words and photography before it was too late.” Lynch also enjoyed the opportunities offered by travel in Armenia for mountaineering and meeting the challenges of difficult terrain. The trip could also allow him to write a book similar to that of George Curzon on Persia which would make him the preeminent authority on Armenia and the region. He avoided mentioning his personal Armenian connections in order not to give the book a partisan air.

Young summed it up as follows: “His whole approach, therefore, and the book which resulted, is a unique combination, fed by his origins and the influence of family and friends, of a love of Armenia and its people, and 19th-century British imperialism, of which he was a firm advocate.”

Young based his talk on archival sources in Britain and Armenia, as well as private Lynch family papers and published and unpublished articles and books. Young obtained a master’s degree in Byzantine Studies at Kings College in London after his retirement from his career as a judge, and he continued to Pembroke College, in Oxford, to research Lynch’s life.

Young has published “The Quest for Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch,” a chapter in Between Paris and Fresno: Armenian Studies in Honor of Dickran Kouymjian (ed. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, 2008, pp. 499–509). His most recent lecture, entitled “Anglo-Armenian Links in 19th Century Baghdad,” is available on YouTube.

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