Charles Masson (Biographical details)

Charles Masson (archaeologist; British; Male; 1800 - 1853)

Also known as

Masson, Charles; Lewis, James


Explorer, archaeologist, numismatist, and intelligence agent; real name James Lewis, born in London in 1800. He enlisted in the Bengal European Artillery regiment (1822) but deserted in July 1827 from which time he took the name of Charles Masson. He spent five years travelling in the independent regions of north-west India, Afghanistan, Iran and the Near East, then was re-employed from 1833-38 by the British East India Company, Bombay Government, to excavate and record finds in south-east Afghanistan, during which time he collected an estimated 60,000 coins and excavated some 50 sites in the Kabul-Jalalabad region. When his true identity was realised in 1835, he was co-opted to work as a newswriter or spy for the British in Kabul in return for a pardon. Having resigned in 1838, he spent another three years in the Sind region and Karachi. In 1840 he became inadvertently embroiled in a revolt in Kalat, and when sent by the rebels to announce their terms to the British in Quetta, was imprisoned as a traitor and spy. Released in 1841, he returned to London and worked until his death in 1853 on his drawings and written account of his archaeological discoveries in Afghanistan. A large part of his collections (especially coins), held by the India Museum (q.v.) was dispersed without documentation. The residue and his manuscripts are now primarily in the British Museum and the British Library.


Gordon Whitteridge, 'Charles Masson of Afghanistan', Warminster, 1986.