William Moorcroft : A Pirate or a Doyen of the Kashmiri Shawl.
William Moorcroft, born in Ormskirk , Lancashire in 1767, by profession a veterinary surgeon , was in India as a military stud with the East India Company. Belived to the first western traveller to reach Ladakh during the 19th century. Moorcrooft is credited as the first person from the west to study and document various nuances of the Shawl weaving techniques in Kashmir. And is eulogised as the first western to introduce the importance of pashmina fleece to the world. Moorcroft, actually went to Bengal in 1808. His expedition to Ladakh according to Prem Singh Jina the author of Famous Western Explorers to Ladakh started in 1812 and he remained there till 1825. Jina (1995) argues that Moorcroft traveled extensively throughout the Himalayas, Tibet and Central Asia to meet his twin objectives. First to obtain and study the Pashmina wool and second, to survey sacred Hindu lakes. In 1842, all the papers of Moorcroft were obtained by the Asiatic Society and were edited by H. H. Wilson with the title Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Punjab, in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawur, Kabul, Kunduz and Bokhara, from 1819 to 1825 in two volumes.
It was on 3rd November 1822 when Moorcroft reached Kashmir. During his stay in Kashmir, he visited many areas both southern and northern parts. He not only studied the shawls of Kashmir but even visited Sogam, Kupwara to collect the 'Deodar seeds'. After studying Kashmir ; it's people and the art, Moorcrooft in his travelogue, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Punjab, in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawur, Kabul, Kunduz and Bokhara, from 1819 to 1825 has described the people of Kashmir as selfish, ignorant , dishonest and fraud. “In character the Kashmirian is selfish, superstitious, ignorant, supple, intriguing, dishonest and false; he has great ingenuity as a mechanic, and a decided genius for manufactures and commerce, but his transactions are always conducted in a fraudulent spirit (p.128)”. This understanding of Moorcroft about the people of Kashmir motivated me to deconstruct his claim, i tried to understand some basic facts. Facts about the big fraud, facts about a pirate, facts about a fraudulent spirit. And what i found is that William Moorcroft himself was a big fraud, a fraudulent spirit was in him and also was a dishonest traveler. He was a pirate, a cheater, who destroyed the shawl industry in Kashmir. He illegally shared all the technicalities, designs, and other information related to the Shawl weaving to his close relatives in the west. H. H. Wilson the editor of Moorcraft's travelogue substantiates this fact. “The creation of the manufacturer of British Shawls is no doubt to be ascribed, in a great degree, if not solely , to Mr. Moorcroft. From the period of his first journey to the Hiundes he was at great pains in sending home the shawl-wool, and in his present journey he sent to England patterns of shawls, and information regarding their manufacture , which , though addressed mostly to his private friends, found their way silently to persons engaged in similar manufactures, and enabled them to imitate successfully the shawls of Kashmir (p.165)”. Moorcroft according to Caroline Karpinski (1963) became, in fact ,obsessed with the shawl industry and was so engrossed in it that he tried to naturalize the pashmina goat in England. “Unable to import the wool because of a Kashmiri monopoly, they tried to naturalize the goat, and Moorcroft focused on the problem his professional attention. His herd of goats embarked for England, the males on one ship, the females on another, a scheme that proved a blunder, for the ship carrying the females was wrecked with no survivors (p. 116)”. Moorcroft according to many authors sent as many as 40 drawings related to different designs and formulas of the Kashmiri shawl to England. In his zeal to make the western shawls supreme, in order to expand the business of western shawls, Moorcroft campaigned to promote the emigration of the whole families of the artisans who were directly or indirectly linked with the shawl business from Kashmir to Norwich and Paisley.
One can thus safely argue that Moorcroft was a pirate, who violated the intellectual property of the local artisans. The local artisans of Kashmir much before the modern Patent system, are credited to have developed a brilliant method of protecting their intellect. This method of protecting their creative potential is known as 'Taleem'. And Moorcroft was the first person to demystify this code system thus violated our intellectual property. The irony is that after destroying the Kashmiri shawl industry, after committing such a big fraud, Moorcroft still described us as a 'dishonest lot'. What an approach of studying people.....indeed 'western'. No doubt, many people have wrote in detail about Kashmiri Shawls, like Dr. Ab Ahad, Frank Ames, Monisha Ahmed, Parvaiz Nemati, Rosie Thomas, Sherry Rehman and Janet Rizvi but no one has so far highlighted the invisible hands who have destroyed our past.
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad