The International Dr. G.W. Leitner Trail
Marcus Roberts & Silvia Dovoli (Oxford University Jewish Country House Project)


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Leitner's later Years and Death

Leitner took retirement from the British Government in 1886, as his health was impaired. He was encouraged to go to a continental spa for the benefit of his health, but died at Bonn on 22 March 1899, having caught pneumonia in the cold winter weather.

The Anglican Cemetery and the Grave of G.W. Leitner

Leitner was buried at Woking (where his wife also rests), in a sub-section of the Anglican Cemetery, in a plot not too far from the Muslim cemetery he had established, and he was given a Protestant burial service. This plot is separate from the surrounding Christian burials and many of the burials appear to represent burials of Jewish Christians including that of his wife Olympia Caroline Schwaab, whom Leitner had married in Frankfort and is thought to be of Jewish origin too. Leitner's tomb is somewhat out of the ordinary as it appears to provide a number of cryptic references to key parts of his life and to some extent his beliefs, as there are references to Christianity, Islam and possibly to a Jewish-Christian identity. The location is near to the entrance of Cemetery Pales and off Cyprian's Avenue, at the foot of a large Wellingtonia, one of his favourite varieties of tree.

At first glance, Leitner's tomb lacks any overt Christian religious symbolism, even if the other grave markers around his memorial have prominent crosses. However, on closer inspection, the main plaque with the inscription is in the shape of an abbreviated Maltese Cross, and this may be intended in part as an allusion to his time at the Protestant missionary college in Malta. Leitner's Old Testament heritage is reflected in the quotation on a book representing the Bible, which quotes the Old Testament Psalm, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. There is also an Arabic inscription, 'Al-'ilmu khayrum min al-maali', which translates as, 'Knowledge is better than wealth', representing his Islamic learning and interests.

The most prominent part of the memorial, apart from the bust of Leitner, is a garlanded inscription, arching over the top of the memorial, which reads cryptically 'The Learned are Honoured in Their Work'. This does not appear to be a direct quotation though clearly compliments the Arabic quotation, but also may also be a hidden allusion to the London Society and one of its leading lights, Alexander McCaul, who was a missionary to the Jews, then the head of Palestine Place, in Bethnal Green, the headquarters of the movement as well as a professor of Hebrew at King's College. A search for the closest match to the inscription brought up the sermon by Alexander McCaul (1799-1863) within his polemic against Judaism ('The Old Paths: Or, A Comparison of the Principles and Doctrines of Modern Judaism...'), where McCaul criticises the traditional Jewish Laws of mourning and burial, as he argues that scholars (followed by the rich) should not be given the precedence and distinction demanded in burial by Jewish Law over ordinary people, but that scholars should be valued only for their moral distinction in life. '... After death there is but little difference between the learned and the unlearned, and the real difference is made not by their previous learning or ignorance, but by their moral worth.' This seems to match the sentiment of both the English and Arabic mottos on Leitner's tomb and one suspects that this text would have been on his step-father's bookshelf.

Leitner's actual religious identity and beliefs remains a mystery, though shortly before his death he had a conversation with a Jewish linguist, who reported in his obituary in the Jewish Chronicle that he had been open about his Jewish identity with him, but would not reveal whether his sympathies lay with Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. The evidence suggests that Leitner may have affiliated with the Protestant, Jewish-Christianity of the London Society, as a key formative part of his formative years, and saw himself as having a Jewish identity of some sort, even if he did not have a clear or precise notion of his own ultimate religious identity or 'Jewishness'. As far as any creed or denomination was concerned, it is likely that his actual beliefs were rationalistic, Theistic and non-supernaturalistic, with a belief and faith in the perceived spiritual truth underpinning and uniting different faiths. His writings and memorial gives us the clues that his faith had Christian, Jewish and Islamic components, but with strong sympathies towards Islam.

After Leitner's Death

After his death, his Oriental Institute became defunct and Leitner's collection of Egyptian and Indian art, lodged in Woking, was eventually auctioned off. Over time his collection, broken-up, percolated its way across Europe, but much of its whereabouts is now unknown, particularly after the pillaging of World War II.

However, in terms of the facts that are known, in 1901, a short catalogue of the contents of the Leitner Museum at Woking was published under the authority of Leitner's wife and son (who were key figures in the dispersal) with the help of the editors of The Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review. The bulk of Gandharan sculptures; 506 carvings and casts, were bought by the Berlin Museum in 1904, for 140,000 marks. In 1905 and until 1907, other parts of the Leitner's collection were also purchased by the Berlin Museum. A few of the sculptures were eventually looted during the Second World War, and transported to Saint Petersburg.

Seventy ethnographic specimens bought together with the Gandharan sculptures, are today held at the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin. In 1911, Leitner's collection of coins was sold at an auction held by Rollin and Feuardent, with 60 coins subsequently bought by the British Museum. In 1912, the rest of his collections, including the Egyptian collection, were sold at auction at Woking, by J.C. Stevenson, an auctioneer who specialised in natural history and exotic specimens (for instance, he was responsible for selling the collection of butterflies assembled by the naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace). Seven musical instruments were purchased by Henry Balfour in 1912, and in 1939 bequeathed to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Seven casts of Graeco-Buddhist sculptures were donated to the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg by Lina Leitner in 1914. At the British Library there is catalogue of Leitner's collection of Oriental Manuscripts, dated 1915, with the stamp of the India Office.

The whereabouts of the rest of Leitner's collections are currently unknown.

Control of the mosque was taken over by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in 1913, when he was invited by the trustees to move into the lodgings to teach the British public about Islam and assist Muslims. He had previously collaborated with Leitner in authoring a notable history of Islam in Urdu while in India. Kamal-ud-Din was one of the earliest Punjabi scholars to synthesise both (local) classical learning and European learning and Kamal-ud-Din had excelled not just in Arabic, but in Law and Economics. He was also regarded as a moderniser, standing for a non-sectarian form of Islam, without practices such as killing apostates, or wearing the veil. It must be qualified that he was from the minority Ahmadiyya Islamic community, an Islamic sect whose teachings are regarded by sections of main-stream Islam as heterodox and apostate, but who as a group, in 1908, formulated a missionary plan focused on converting the English using English as a medium of communication, following a vision of their leader and founder, Ahmad, who died in 1907. Kamal-ud-Din was broadly pro Raj, as they protected his movement from being attacked as apostates. Leitner's close association with the Ahmadiyya, was clearly important to him and his support for them may well have derived from their modernising and reforming teachings. His links with them would benefit from further research as well as an examination as to how this affected his relations with mainstream Islam.

Leitner's work in Lahore helped create the intellectual networks vital for missionaries like Kamal-ud-Din and gave them an intellectual bridgehead into Europe. Thus it was natural that he followed in Leitner's footsteps and ended up at Woking and both converting and then working with English born converts to Islam, though Leitner is likely to have been dismayed to see the Institute being transformed from its original purposes in this way. At Woking, he became the first Muslim missionary to the West and he became the founder of the Woking Muslim Mission & Literary Trust, and it was officially called the Shah Jehan Mosque to honour its main donor. The mission promoted a very Westernised version of Islam. With this, the flow of Urdu publications which were written and edited and then sent out to be printed in Lahore, India for an international distribution, continued to flow out of Woking. Therefore, Woking became a centre of Urdu publications directed at Indian Muslims and Woking became an international centre for the preaching of Islam in both the West and India and Woking became a source of international Islamic dissemination and was thus an important staging post in the 'modernisation', Westernisation and globalisation of Islam.

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