Battle royal: Eleanor Nesbitt on unlikely Quaker Josiah Harlan

‘Paramount chief of the Hazarajat, companion of the imperial stirrup, and paragon of the mighty grandees.’

‘Josiah was proud of US republicanism but was attracted to monarchy.’ | Photo: from Wikimedia Commons

O ne hundred and fifty years ago, Josiah Harlan, a very unusual Quaker, died of tuberculosis in San Francisco. Josiah had been readmitted to the Religious Society of Friends after the withdrawal of a judgement against him for violating the rule of pacifism. His career – in Burma, India and Afghanistan – had in fact been very far from pacifist. In 1824, without any medical qualifications, he enlisted as a military surgeon to the British East India Company, and then served with the army in Burma. He had hoped to serve as an officer in the army of Ranjit Singh but on the way met Shah Shuja, the brutal deposed ruler of Afghanistan, and decided to recruit a hundred or so mercenaries to reinstate him.

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