Images of First Cars to Cross the Himalayas into Tibet and Secret Photos of Japan from 1898 for Auction at Bonhams

Rare and stunning images of the first cars taken to Tibet in 1907, one for the Panchen Lama, and secret images of Meiji Japan from 1898 will be sold in Bonhams Travel & Photography – India and Beyond Sale on October 6 in New Bond Street

An album, (lot 355) likely to have belonged an army mechanic responsible for the first motorcars to cross the Himalayas into Tibet, during 1907-1908 is estimated to sell for £600-800.

Himalayas into Tibet

In 1907 two motorcars were carried over the Himalayas into Tibet. One was an 8hp Clement brought as a gift for the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama, (pictured in this album with the Chinese Amban at the wheel), who presided over Tashilhunpo monastery near Shigatse. The other was a Peugeot which belonged to Captain O’Connor (later to become Sir Frederick O’Connor), who was posted to Gyantse as the British Trade Agent under the Anglo-Tibet Convention. He is pictured in this album driving his Peugeot on the plain in front of the Gyantse fortress.

Freddie O’Connor, (1870-1943), had served in the Swat Valley and the Tirah campaign between 1897-1898, at Gilgit between 1899-1903, and as the Tibetan-speaking officer and secretary to Younghusband’s Lhasa Mission between 1903-1904, staying on as the British Trade Agent at Gyantse. During his appointment in Tibet, O’Connor struck up a close friendship with the Panchen Lama and took him to Calcutta in 1905 to meet the later King George and Queen Mary. Upon his departure Captain O’Connor gave his car as a gift to the Panchen Lama and it is reported that the Panchen Lama shed tears when O’Connor left the country.

The Peugeot is pictured on the plain in front of the Gyantse fortress in F. O’Connor’s On the Frontier and Beyond John Murray, 1931.

Images include: Captain O’Connor in his Peugeot; the Chinese Amban in his 8hp Clement; native portraits, including Tibetan ladies; Tibetan famers with yaks; horse-drawn carts; a Christian cemetery in Tibet; native portraits and British portraits in India, including regimental group portraits.


A another view into a lost world in this sale is found in a fascinating album of 122 portraits and views of Japan, (Lot 351) taken and compiled by Walter J. Clutterbuck , in 1898 and estimated to sell for £3,000-4,000.

Walter J. Clutterbuck was an amateur photographer of means who travelled the world, including Japan, becoming one of the ?rst photographers of Okinawa. This album, mostly of mainland Japan, was compiled in 1898, just before he sailed to the island. Clutterbuck was seemingly very taken with the place.

His photographic methods were somewhat unusual. Clutterbuck took surreptitious photographs, disguising his stereoscopic camera as a pair of binoculars to ensure his shots would retain the realism and naturalness of the moment.

Portraits taken in Japan prior to Clutterbuck’s were posed and contrived; normally shot in studios. This album, however, contains a unique snapshot of Meiji-era Japanese life, comprised of beautifully composed portraits of people going about their everyday business. Clutterbuck’s skill as a photographer has remained largely unrecognised, but the delicacy and beauty of this album shows him to have been a talented artist.