LEWIS, James (pseudonym Charles Masson). Aldermanbury (Middlesex) 16.2.1800 — Edmonton (Middlesex) 5.11.1853. British pioneer of Archæology in Afghanistan. Son of George Lewis and Mary Hopcraft, apparently got a good education. Served in Company’s army, from 1821 in Bengal Artillery, soon after participation in the siege of Bharatpur deserted 14.7.1826. Taking the name C.M. and posing himself as an American he travelled in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iran, being thus beyond the rule of the British. Now he soon started exploration and antiquarian research. He served British intelligence as well as archaeology and found supporters in Calcutta (e.g. the Prinsep brothers). Warrant of pardon (for desertion) was given in 1834, but he never took back his original name. Even before this was nominated the agent of Indian Government in Kabul. After some time in England he returned to India in 1838. In 1840 he again started explorations in Baluchistan, but was arrested by the British on suspicion of being a Russian spy. Released, he returned to England. He opposed strongly to the Afghan war. Married.
His keen powers of observation and his courage to live and travel among local people made him one of the best among early Western travellers in Afghanistan. He knew Latin and Greek (and French) and was much interested of the route of Alexander’s campaign. In a nearly inaccessible cave at Bamiyan there is an inscription by him:
“If any fool this high samooch explore,
know that Charles Masson has been here before.”
Publications: “Memoir on the Ancient Coins found at Beghram, in the Kohistān of Kābul”, JASB 3, 1834, 152-175, 5 pl.; “Second Memoir…”, JASB 5, 1836, 1-28; “Third Memoir…”, JASB 5, 1836, 537-547.
– “Memoir on the Topes and Sepulchral Monuments of Afghanistan”, Wilson, Ariana Antiqua. L. 1841, 55-118; “Narrative of an Excursion from Pesháwar to Sháh-Báz Ghari”, JRAS 8, 1846; “Illustration of the Route from Seleucia to Apobatana, as given by Isidorus of Charax”, JRAS 12, 1850, 97-124.
– Narrative of various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, including a Residence in those Countries from 1826 to 1838. 1-3. L. 1842; Narrative of a Journey to Kalāt … and a Memoir on Eastern Baluchistan. L. 1843; both works republished together: 1-4. L. 1844.
– Legends of the Afghan Countries, in verse, with various pieces, original and translated. L. 1848.
Sources: A. D. H. Bivar, review of Whitteridge 1986, BSOAS 51, 1988, 574f.; *K. Walton Dobbins, “Charles Masson and the Jani Topes”, Prācī-Prabhā … in honour of B.N. Mukherjee. N.D. 1989, 137-1??; J. Hackin, Rech. arch. à Begram, MDAFA 9, Paris 1939 (short note on p. 3); Frank E. Ross, “New light on Charles Masson”, IA 1933, 221f.; *R. B. Whitehead, “James Lewis alias Charles Masson”, Numismatic Chronicle 1943, 96f.; *Gordon Whitteridge, Charles Masson of Afghanistan: explorer, archaeologist, numismatist and intelligence agent, Warminster 1986; Wikipedia.