This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MYY 115).


Travelogue films showing indigenous life in the interwar period, filmed by the British traveller, linguist, spy and author Reginald Teague Jones OBE, who changed his name to Sinclair after his alleged involvement in the massacre of Bolshevik commissars from Baku in the Caucasus in September 1918.

Bombay harbour: shots taken during day and night. Cochin: fisherman throwing purse-seine net near shoreline; shots of ‘China’ nets drying and in use on shoreline. Dobhis wash clothes (shot list ‘native laundry operations’); location identified as Jumna. Large piles of laundry on foreshore. Cattle mill amongst dobhis, and bring futher loads of clothes. Juma Masjid, Dehli: architectural shots, scenes of multitudinous worshippers at prayer. Shot list: ‘These photographs are unique in that they were taken by special permission from inside the mosque on the occasion of the annual ’Id ul Fitr which ends the fast of Ramadan.’ Various shots of outrigger sailboats coming ashore; beach scenes. Potter working his wheel; wheel is spun by means of a large stick (no mechanism). Various shots of timber (probably teak) - both cut planks and beams, and whole tree trunks - being pushed and hauled by elephants, at a timber plant on the banks of large river (possibly Burma? See MYY 114; shot belongs to same sequence, as noted in shot list for latter film). Further shots of Burma: leg-rowers (see MYY 114).


Catalogue entry by Dr Francis Gooding, AHRC Colonial Film Database 2010.



Reginald Teague-Jones, OBE (1889-1988), who from 1922 assumed the alias ‘Major Ronald Sinclair’, was a remarkable character whose adventurous life to this day remains rather shadowy. Born in Lancashire, Teague-Jones spent almost his entire life abroad. His travels began in 1902 with a four-year sojourn in Russia, during which time he witnessed the Bloody Sunday Massacre and the revolution of 1905, before returning to the UK to study at King’s College, London. By 1910 he was employed as a civilian in India, and just a few years later it seems he was involved in ‘efforts to prevent gun smuggling and slavery’ in various places along the Arabian and Persian coasts of the Indian Ocean, before being moved to the North-West Frontier as part of the para-military Frontier Constabulary (Wooller, 1989).    

Fluent in German, French, Russian, Persian and Urdu, and evidently unafraid of adventure and risk, Teague-Jones became involved in more complex intelligence and espionage operations after the outbreak of the First World War. Work of this kind led to his being involved in an ugly incident in Transcaspia (now Turkmenistan) during 1918, an event that he is indelibly (though perhaps unjustly) tarred with, and which necessitated the change of name shortly afterward. 

After the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, the collapse of Russia into civil war plunged the Caucasus and the southern, central Asian flanks of the country into chaos. With White Russians and various other anti-Bolshevik forces occupied fighting the Red Army, the British became concerned about the security of supply lines to the Mesopotamian front and about German activities in Central Asia. More alarmingly, it seemed possible that a clear route through to British India was opening up for the Germans and their Ottoman allies, who were advancing on the Caspian oil port of Baku. Numerous British intelligence missions were launched throughout Central Asia to counter the threat (Leach, 2003, 24)

Teague-Jones, possessed of all the necessary linguistic and operational skills, was despatched – alone but for one companion, and in disguise as a Persian merchant – to Baku. His mission was to assess the Turkish advance on the Azerbaijani capital, and to stymie German attempts to obtain cotton supplies from Transcaspia. In August 1918, having succeeded in these aims, he was withdrawn to Krasnodovsk in Transcaspian Turkestan, where he was authorised to negotiate with the Government, principally to ensure mutual cooperation in the event of Bolshevik or Turkish attack.

It was here that Teague-Jones became embroiled in the incident leading to his change of identity. The Transcaspian Government, headed by  Fyodor Funtikov of the anti-Bolshevik Socialist Revolutionaries, was at this time holding captive a number of Bolshevik commissars. Teague-Jones seems to have been tasked with attempting to have them transferred to British custody in India, in order that they could be used in prisoner exchanges with the Bolsheviks. The official who would have been responsible for moving the prisoners to India was Major-General Wilfred Malleson, Teague-Jones’ immediate superior, who appears either not to have been very keen on the idea (Teague-Jones’ diary records that Malleson ‘suggested that the Trans-Caspian authorities find some other way of disposing of them’; Teague-Jones, 1990, 120) or maybe to have worded his instruction poorly (perhaps that the authorities ‘dispose of the Commissars as they thought fit’; Leach, op.cit., 26-7). A discussion of the issue attended by Teague-Jones was without definite conclusion, although shooting the prisoners was evidently discussed, with Funtikov in favour of this option (Teague-Jones, op.cit.). Teague-Jones, despite qualifying his account by saying he had ‘rather a hazy recollection of what was actually said’ (ibid., 120), records that he ‘remained strictly neutral and took no active part in the discussion, except to repeat Malleson’s message’ (ibid., 121). In any case, whatever the true British position, at some point during the following day Funtikov – or possibly Kuhn, another anti-Bolshevik commandant – seems to have decided to kill the prisoners, and 26 of them were taken out into the desert and summarily executed.

Teague-Jones maintained, both at the time and later in his life, that he had no prior knowledge of the executions, less still any hand in them; however, he was later blamed for them by both Funtikov and the Bolsheviks. By 1922, most likely in fear of Soviet reprisals, he had retired from the Indian Army Reserve and took the name Major Ronald Sinclair. He would live as Sinclair for the rest of his life.

From this point, 1922, until his appointment to the  British Consulate in New York in 1941, there is something of a lacuna. What precise line of work he was in during these years is not conclusively known; he continued to travel widely in Asia and the Near East, ostensibly investigating prospects for commerce under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society, although it seems probable that at least some of this work, if not all, was for the Secret Service. He was not completely invisible during this period – during the late 1920s and 1930s he published numerous travel articles in the British and particularly in the Indian press, and at one point had an American agent for his travel photography and writing (see Sinclair Papers, IOR Eur Mss, 313/24). However, as Hopkirk points out in the epilogue to Teague-Jones’ memoir, his ‘exceptional skills and experience were too valuable to lose at a time when Bolshevism was seen as a grave threat, especially to British India’ (ibid., 213). He would have been ideally suited to covert activities in strategically crucial areas of central Asia, and it seems he kept up contacts with figures known to be in the intelligence services (Hopkirk, 1994, 401-6). His continual travels through the Empire and adjacent areas – East Africa, Central Asia, South America and the Caribbean – would perhaps accord with this hypothesis. Teague-Jones kept his counsel while he lived, though a solitary, empty envelope marked with the legend ‘Major Sinclair, M.I.5.’, found after his death amongst his  personal effects, certainly appears to back up the theory that there was more to his inter-war activities than travel writing, photography and prospecting for trade.



The fourteen films that compose the Imperial War Museum’s Sinclair Collection were taken by Teague-Jones during the final years of the 1920s and in the early 1930s. They comprise an extensive record of his extremely broad travels during this period, and while the locations are identifiable due to both his extensive notes and the body of press cuttings in the India Office Records Sinclair Papers (MSS Eur 313), the exact purpose of these travels is unclear, and is not elucidated by the content of the films themselves.

It seems that Teague-Jones considered using some of them for exhibition; almost all the titles are shot-listed to varying degrees of detail by Sinclair himself, at least two films have prepared literary commentary suitable to read over the playing film (both these films appear together on one reel, MYY 119; the commentaries title them as ‘Khyber Pass’ and ‘Kashmir: Srinagar and the Happy Valley’). This may have been an afterthought, however, as the commentaries were not prepared until late in 1956.

Stills from many of the films were also used to illustrate the numerous travel articles that Teague-Jones published during the same period covered by the films. From 1928 onwards, after having successfully completed a Bombay to London drive which got some attention in the British press (articles on this feat appeared in The Times, The Tatler, and The Field, and elsewhere, and the drive itself was extensively filmed; IWM cat. MYY121/1-2), he authored pieces on this and various subsequent journeys for a variety of publications, including The Times of India, Illustrated Weekly of India, Army Navy and Air Force Gazette, The Animal’s Friend, The Times of Ceylon, Miroir Du Monde, and The Sphere. He also wrote historical and archaeological articles, the occasional political piece (cuttings in the papers indicate he kept well abreast of political developments in the Empire), and had numerous standalone photographs published, particularly in Illustrated Weekly of India (he was represented for a time by a US-based photography agency, World Wide Photos); (MSS Eur C 313/24 – the numerous cuttings are almost all without certain dates attached).

This sort of publishing profile is perhaps unusual for someone working in the secret services, but the regularity with which he published in the Indian press also indicates that he maintained strong connections with India in the decades following his switch of identity. Furthermore there is no explanation given for the various 1920s and 1930s trips themselves beyond his own assertion in a long piece for Review of India that he had chosen to drive across the vast expense of Central Asia in a Morris Oxford due to being ‘cursed with a unusually virulent form of “wanderlust”’ (‘Home by the Back Door: By Car from Bombay to “Blighty”’, Review of India cuttings, MSS Eur C 313/23), and in the absence of any suggestion of a profession, it seems unlikely that occasional travel pieces would have furnished much of a living.

Teague-Jones did eventually publish a memoir of his Central Asian travels (Sinclair, 1988), and his occasional writing of the 1930s is well turned and suited to its context. The papers also contain some humorous private writings, such as ‘The Wanderings of “Bijly”: An eventful year in the life of a Morris-Oxford’, a description of his Bombay-London journey told from the point of view of the car. His still photography is also passably good, and the films themselves are in general carefully shot and edited: he has a good eye for human detail, can compose a scene well when the subject demands it, and his editing is fine enough to hold the viewer’s interest (not a skill shared by all amateur travelogue makers).

But the uncertainty over his profession during these years, and the precise purpose of the great number of journeys, films and photographs, remains. At the very least, they effectively chart his movements during part of this mysterious period, movements which repeatedly took him across the Empire and beyond its fringes during the inter-war years. At the most, and if a certain amount of unproven speculation is allowed, then they may well constitute an idiosyncratic record of those corners of the Empire where there was a British intelligence interest, captured on film by the unique and charismatic agent that had been despatched to investigate them.

If however he was indeed an intelligence agent of some sort, it seems that even officialdom had a limited memory or a lack of records concerning his contribution. In a rather sad 1972 exchange held at NA: FCO 57/377, Teague-Jones recommends himself for honours (mostly, it appears, for his service in Transcaspia, though in fact he is actually rather vague), and it is only after a lengthy correspondence that his respondents at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recognise the true identity of the ‘Major Ronald Sinclair’ whose self-recommendation they have declined.

Francis Gooding (Aug 2010)


Works Cited

Hopkirk, Peter. Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire  (New York: Kodansha, 1994)

Leach, Hugh. Strolling About on the Roof of the World: The First Hundred Years of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs (London, Routledge Curzon 2003)

Sinclair, Major Ronald. Adventures in Persia – To India by the Back Door (London: Witherby 1988)

Teague-Jones, Reginald. The Spy Who Disappeared: Diary of a Secret Mission to Russian Central Asia in 1918 (London: Victor Gollancz 1990)

Wooler, O. H. ‘Sinclair Collection’ (1989) in MSS Eur 313

NA: FCO 57/377

Sinclair Papers: British Library, India Office Records: MSS Eur 313




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Sinclair, Ronald (Major)
Teague Jones, Reginald