Charles Bell Tibetan collection


About this collection

The Charles Bell Tibet collection of nearly 200 objects and photo albums is an important archive of the Anglo-Tibetan encounter of the early 20th century.

Charles Bell was the Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet from 1908 -1918 and having received an invitation from the thirteenth Dalai Lama he undertook a special mission to Lhasa in 1920-21; his first and only visit to the capital of Tibet.

The collection of Charles Bell is a record of  his time in the Himalayas. It provides us with an insight both into Bell's work for the British India government and his personal and professional friendships with many Sikkimese, Bhutanese and Tibetan men, including Palhese, Barmiok Lama and the thirteenth Dalai Lama himself.

The collection came to World Museum after a letter arrived at Liverpool Museum (now World Museum) from the Director of Newbury Museum, in September 1949, asking if we would like to take in a, 'large collection of very fine Tibetan curios once belonging to the late Sir Charles Bell'.

The arrival of the Charles Bell collection at Liverpool Museum was to spark a major interest in collecting Tibet, which still continues today.

Explore a wide range of objects including those used in religion, writing and the home, from Buddhist statues to photo albums and from swords to beer jugs.


Did you know?

Many objects in this collection can be traced to important figures in modern Tibetan history including Tupten Gyatso, the thirteenth Dalai Lama.

All items by origin

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  • List of Curios

    Bell, Charles Alfred

    Author: Bell, Charles Alfred
    Description: A typed object catalogue from Bell's handwritten notes on a wide variety of objects from his personal collection. This information often contains, the date he obtained an object, its provenance (including where and who he acquired from) and the person responsible for giving him the information. The process of writing the inventory began in December 1912 and continued until the late 1930s.

  • Tibet: Catalogue of Exhibits

    Tankard, Elaine

    Author: Tankard, Elaine
    Publisher: Liverpool Public Museums
    Date: 1953-03
    Description: Introductory essay and catalogue entries, in themes, for the 1953 exhibition; 'Tibet', held at the Walker Art Gallery.


  • 13th Dalai Lama's exile in British India 1910-1912

    Start date: 1910
    End date: 1910
    Description: Following an increase in hostilities between China and Tibet and the arrival of two thousand Chinese troops into Lhasa, the 13th Dalai Lama and a small entourage fled Lhasa during the night of 12 February 1910. Having been cut off from travelling to Mongolia they decided to head for British India and Sikkim. They rode hard with Chinese troops following closely behind them. A young member of the entourage Chensal Namgang (who would later become Tsarong Shapé), along with a small party, held back the Chinese troops at Chaksam Ferry giving the Dalai Lama time to make it to Phari, where W P Rosemeyer, a British India telegraph engineer gave him protection at a dak bungalow. The following day the Dalai Lama rode on to Yatung, where he was again given protection by David Macdonald (British Trade Agent), he finally rode on to Gnatong and to British India protection on 21st February 1910. Charles Bell was the officer in charge of the Dalai Lama and his entourage, during his time in British India and the two men developed a strong friendship during this event. The Dalai Lama was to stay in British India for over 2 years, only returning to Lhasa once Chinese troops had been removed and the intense fighting in Lhasa had stopped. This event would trigger the Dalai Lama's proclamation of Tibetan Independence in February 1913 and a series of modernising reforms.

  • Mission to Lhasa 1903-1904

    Start date: 1903
    End date: 1903
    Description: The British Mission to Tibet during 1903 and 1904 was an invasion of southern Tibet by British Indian forces on the pretence of negotiating trade relations between Tibet and British India. However, this was instigated primarily in the hope of preventing the Russian Empire from interfering in Tibetan affairs and thus gaining a base in one of the buffer states surrounding British India. The expedition was led by Colonel (later Sir) Francis Younghusband. It had a damaging effect on the British reputation, many Tibetans were killed and monasteries and houses were looted and/or destroyed along the way. The 13th Dalai Lama feld Lhasa before the arrival of the expedition and Younghusband negotiated, a soon to be repelled, convention with the Tibetan government or Kashag in Lhasa that was signed in the Potala on 7 Septmber 1904.

  • Sir Charles Bell's Mission to Lhasa 1920 - 1921

    Start date: 1920-11-17
    End date: 1920-11-17
    Description: Having retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1918, due to health problems, Bell was recalled to service in 1920. His decision to return rested upon the decision to send him to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, a place that he had never been granted permission to visit, but which the 13th Dalai Lama had repeatedlyinvited him to. While waiting in Gyantse Bell received the call that he could proceed to Lhasa and so during November 1920, Bell, the chief medical officer Mr Dyer (who was later replaced by Col. Kennedy) and a large entourage of staff and advisors, including Palhese, Rabten Lepcha (Bell's 'photo orderly') and his Confidential Clerk, Achuk Tsering (who would die of influenza only days after reaching Lhasa) travelled to Lhasa, arriving on 17th November 1921. Bell stayed in Lhasa for 11 months, witnessing many festivals and political disputes. His own life appears to have been in danger during the Butter Sculpture Festival, due to the 13th Dalai Lama's willingness to listen to Bell's position on taxes and developing the army, something deeply opposed by factions of the ultra conservative monastic community. This mission was to be the highlight of Bell's career and has been described as the pinacle of Anglo-Tibetan relations in the 20th century.


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