Ronald Kaulback has two snakes and a lizard bearing his name. In the thirties he collected Asian mammals for the British Museum, and mapped territories in India for the Crown. His book ‚The Salween’, describes his quest for the source of the Salween River in the Himalayas, and he wrote another called ‚Tibetan Trek’. He was awarded the Murchison Grant by the Royal Geographical Society, and he has an entry in the British Who’s Who.
While there isn’t too much information about this illustrious couple to be found in the internet I transcribed the obituary published in The Times from Monday October 30 1995. The yellowish and stained clipping was given to me by somebody who knew Audrey Kaulback.
Ronald Kaulback, OBE, explorer, died on October 2 aged 86. He was born July 23, 1909
AN EXPLORER in the old-fashioned mould of buccaneering Englishmen who roamed the blank spaces of the map, Ronald Kaulback organized and led expeditions in the 1930s to chart the wilderness of Tibet.
Cartography was at best a painstaking process in those days and though direction could be accurately monitored, distance could only be estimated by guessing the speed of travel – a hard task in a terrain where mountains towered as high as 22,000ft and yaks and pack-mules were recalcitrant. But Kaulback was resolute, and during three expeditions he mapped more than 25,000 square miles of the country as well as collecting a medley of rare biological specimens for London’s Natural History Museum.
Ronald John Henry Kaulback was brought up near Richmond in Yorkshire. Even as a child he showed an intrepid spirit, ranging the moors from dawn to dusk and, during summer holidays […] he would sail out to an uninhabited island and camp there with a band of friends, shooting rabbits and fishing for food.
At school at Rugby he distinguished himself not only on the sports filed but also academically and he won a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read History, German and Russian.
In winter he played for the XL Club and the Harlequins, while during the summer vacations he discovered a talent for the balalaika and played with Medvedev’s Russian orchestra in various London restaurants.
He was a high-spirited young man, and at times treated university rules with what his senior tutor was once to describe, after a week-long unlicensed defection to Poland, as “a magnificent disregard”. perhaps his best-known prank – one which was to occupy the popular press for some days – was the dunking of a certain Hector Mappin in Grantchester millpond to douse the fire of a quite unacceptable arrogance.
Kaulback’s original intention had been to enrol in the Diplomatic Service, but his plans abruptly changed when Sir Percy Sykes and general Sir Percy Cox, both family friends and Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, urged him to join the famous Himalayan explorer and rhododendron expert Captain Kingdon-Ward on an expedition to Tibet. His senior […] provided the requisite reference: “I have known Ronald Kaulback well through three tumultuous years at this college, and can confidently recommend him to you either as an explorer, companion, or as a buccaneer or, probably best of all, as president of a South American republic.”
Kingdon-Ward and Kaulback set out from India in March 1933 and reached Tibet about a month later. The passes through the mountains were perilous and they and their coolies braved pitiless bandits and fierce blizzards. But they travelled on, covering about 2,500 miles of country and surviving chiefly on corncobs and cucumbers.
Kaulback had to turn back alone after only three months because his papers were not in order, a serious matter in a country which was closed to all but Asiatics. His adventures, however, were not over. On his way back through Assam he came to a village besieged by a man-eating tiger, and was implored by residents to kill the beast. Kaulback sat up all night in a machan, a platform built in a tree, with a goat tethered beneath him as bait. When the tiger arrived, and a bleating commotion ensued, Kaulback took aim and wounded the beast but, in the darkness, could not see well enough to finish it off. Only in the halflight of dawn did he climb down from his eyrie and, with brave disregard for personal safety, follow the blood […] trail into the forest. He finally encountered the enraged animal in a bamboo brake and mercifully dispatched it with a clean shot through the skull. It was afterwards said to be the largest tiger ever killed in the area.
This and other adventures fired Kaulback’s passion for Tibet, and he spent his next six years there. Abandoning his Savile Row suits for native robes, he trekked the gorge country of the Himalayas and sought the source of the Salween river. Conditions were rough, he was plagued by blood sucking insects and leeches, counting as many as 600 on his body at one time. Once he was bitten by a Russell’s viper, whose venom can paralyse the human nervous system in less than one hour, but putting a tourniquet on his arm Kaulback managed to stanch the flow of poison through his veins.
Kaulback left his own mark on the fauna of the region too. He was responsible for the discovery of a new species of snake which was named Trimeresurus kaulbacki and, among the five previously unknown species of frog which he collected, one was called Japulari kaulbacki. He never saw an abdominable snowman but once at high altitude saw vast footprints in the snow of a mysterious beast which he believed might be the yeti.
In 1937 Kaulback was awarded the Geographical Society’s Merchison grant in recognition of his valuable contribution to geographical knowledge. [the next column was half cut and the last column is missing – as you can see on the photograph below].
While I did every effort to locate the author of the above article I didn’t find him or her. Please contact me if you own the copyright to those lines! [neroli at eircom dot net]