"A damnable blaze": John Loader Maffey, the North-West Frontier and the abduction of Mollie Ellis, 1919–1923

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Downloads (Pure)


On 14 April 1923, an attack upon the bungalow of Major Ellis in Kohat on India’s North-West Frontier, resulted in the murder of Mrs Ellis and the abduction of their seventeen-year-old daughter, Mollie. Led by Ajab Khan Afridi, the abductors, fled into the independent territory of the Tirah Jowaki. The North-West Frontier represented a contested and strategically sensitive frontier open to both Russian encroachment and the machinations of the Amir of Afghanistan, whilst the Pathan tribal inhabitants were simultaneously characterised as ‘savages’ and independent warriors. Mollie Ellis’s abduction brought into sharp relief the governance and security of the region that pivoted on John Loader Maffey as Chief Commissioner of the North-West Frontier Province. Using the hitherto unpublished collection of papers and letters from Maffey to his wife, Dorothy Gladys Huggins, an assessment of the political, strategic and financial limits of British power through the lens of the man on the ground will be possible. In the final assessment, the abduction of Mollie Ellis demonstrated that Britain’s existence on this strategically sensitive frontier rested upon an uneasy coexistence between the Afghan Amir, the Frontier tribes and the limits of imperial endurance in both Delhi and London.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)1114-1142
Number of pages29
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number6
Early online date27 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Cite this