(Na reke Amure v 1854-1855 gg.  By A. Ye. Baranov. Russkaya Starina, Vol. 71, 3/1891, pgs. 327-354, with corrections in Vol. 72, page 506.)

Recollections of an officer in N.N. Murav’ev’s expedition, 1854-55.

In 1848 Major General Nikolai Nikolaevich Murav’ev was named governor-general of Eastern Siberia, succeeding General Rupert who had died in Irkutsk. Apparently the new governor-general’s first action to bring officials out from Russia to renew the personnel of local administrative institutions in which malfeasance was very widespread. Murav’ev investigated maladministration not only in the case of individual officials, but also of whole offices. One of the number of officials who decided to go to Irkutsk was a relative of mine with whom I too traveled with the intent of entering the civil service.

After leaving Moscow in May of 1849, we made the entire journey by horse (about 4000 miles) since at that time there was no railroad or steamboats. The Volga was still in full flood and in places was virtually a sea. Following the post road we had to cross and re-cross the Volga three times before reaching Kazan. At one point, Vasil-Sursk, the river was so high that one whole stage had to done by boat.

Of the towns from Nizhnii-Novgorod to Kazan, only Yekaterinburg was of any interest, being known for producing precious stones. From Yekaterinburg to Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk, we traveled not along the post road through Tyumen, but about 120 miles by dead reckoning over the Barabinsk Steppe. In addition, at that time private carters would carry you at half the price of the post road. The horses here were good. Untiring, they often covered two stages, or about 40 miles, quickly and without feeding. For the most part, they were barely broken in, and while being harnessed their legs were in fetters that were cautiously taken off after the driver sat up front and picked up the reins, whereupon the three-horse troika hurtled forward at full speed for a mile or two until settling down. There were no actual stations. Many peasants were involved in carriage and transferred passengers from village to village using well-known drivers called “pals” [“druzhki”], and for that reason travel over the Barabinsk Steppe was called “by pals” [“na druzhkakh”]. All goods destined for Tomsk. Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk went along this route, so villages had spacious permanent courtyards.

The road, flat as a tablecloth, went through the level and treeless steppe in which every now and then were herds of livestock and horse herds being pastured. Only the high reeds that surrounded the large number of lakes interrupted the steppe’s uniform appearance, though mountains were visible far in the distance. In spite of the heat, it was better to travel during the day than at night when whole clouds of flies appeared and caused much suffering if one did not wear nets covering the face and head. But it was very stuffy under these nets, which were stocked at the route’s endpoints. Probably, such large numbers of insects came out of the marshes surrounding the lakes.

For over a month we traveled to Irkutsk, and this was the normal amount of time. The mail took about a month only couriers covered the distance in three weeks or even less. Upon my arrival in Irkutsk, my relative, as a new person there, could not help me find a position in civil administration quickly. For one thing, he did not know which office would be best. So following the advice of an acquaintance, the Decembrist Petr Aleksandrovich Mukhanev († Irkutsk, 12 February 1854), I decided to enter military service as an officer candidate yunker in the Siberian line battalions. Intimately familiar with the existing order of things there, Mukhanov said that until General Murav’ev cleaned up the bureaucratic body and rooted out malfeasance, I as just beginning service would be subordinate to officials involved in various improper intrigues and, possibly, would suffer. Entering military service also appeared better because a school for officer candidates had been established in Irkutsk, where both general and military subjects were taught.

In 1850 Major General Pavel Ivanovich Zapol’skii arrived in Irkutsk to command a brigade of Siberian line battalions. With him I had to opportunity to see the leading figures in Irkutsk at that time, and also the Decembrists Prince Sergei Petrovich Trubetskoi († Moscow, 22 November 1860) and Prince Sergei Grigor’evich. Volkonskii († aged 78 in Chernigov Province, 28 November 1865). Prince Trubetskoi was tall and had red hair flecked with grey, and similar sideburns. Prince Sergei Grigor’evich was more average in height, with his hair falling in curls to his shoulders. This hair, as well as his beard, was almost white, but as far as I remember his face did not appear so advanced in years as his white hair would lead one to believe.

In 1851 the Trans-Baikal Region and its cossack host were formed, and General Zapol’skii was named regional governor and the host’s government ataman. The host consisted of twelve foot battalions (three brigades) and two Buryat horse regiments. Moreover, the host took in already existing cossack horse regiments that were distributed in settlements along the whole length of our border with China. The foot battalions were formed from peasants previously assigned to the Nerchinsk mining works. The officers of this host were assigned from Siberian line battalions and cossack regiments, but many came from army infantry and cavalry regiments. General Zapol’skii moved to Chita, which had been designated the regional seat in the fall of 1851, and he took me along with him since the battalion to which I belonged was also transferred to Chita.

There were two roads in the Trans-Baikal. One went through the mountains around the lake, where it was often necessary to travel on horseback, while the other, which the general used, went up the Angara River to the Listvinichnaya settlement 40 miles from Irkutsk. From here we crossed the lake by steamer, about 70 miles, to the Posol’sk monastery. The steamer stopped in the roads while sailboats, locally called karbasy, entered the bay named Prochnaya.

Great quantities of the fish called omul [the salmon-like Arctic cisco - M.C.] were caught in Lake Baikal and the rivers that flowed into it (the Upper Angara and Selenga). I do not know to what class of fish omul belonged, but it was red, i.e. its flesh was reddish, and it was very fatty, reaching a length of about 14 inches and even more. Due to its abundance, it was very cheap and was a standard fare for plain folk, as was the brick tea which peasants and cossacks in the Trans-Baikal drank several times a day. This tea was prepared as follows. Finely crushed tea (it was sold in hard plinths about 14 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 1-1/2 inches thick) was boiled in an iron pot for a long time. Butter or well-boiled milk was then put in along with a little salt. Sometimes such tea had roasted flour added, after which it was called zaturon. In neither case was sugar used. If this drink might not be tasty for those unused to it, nevertheless it was very nourishing.

From Posol’sk the road goes to Verkhne-Udinsk, beyond which begins the Khorinsk Steppe, about 2000 miles wide with mountains visible on both sides. Nomad Buryats roamed this steppe, and their felt yurts were scattered both in groups and singly beside the road. Everywhere herds of large and small livestock could be seen, these constituting a Buryat’s entire wealth. In both winter and summer the Buryats wear sheepskin coats, and only when it is very hot do they drop them off their shoulders to be naked to the waist. On the head they have sheepskin or felt hat. Buryats always wear long knives at the waist, which are used for eating meat. They seize a piece of mutton between the teeth and then cut it off right at the lip, and one cannot but be amazed that they do not cut off their own lips. Buryats eat often and messily. In general they are extremely dirty and apparently never wash.

Buryats ride horses well, being used to this from childhood. In a single day they mount and break completely wild horses from their herds. The horse is lassoed, then saddled while in a half-strangled state, and the rope is let loose. At this instant the Buryat leaps onto the horse which carries him off into the steppe. After a few hourse of desparate galloping, the Buryat returns at a walk on an exhausted horse covered in froth and already completely tamed. Buryat saddles have high arches and short stirrups, and both harness and saddle are richly decorated with metal fittings and light-blue and red stones. The first might be turquoise, but I do not know what kind the red ones are except that they are called Marzhany.

With the approach of winter the Buryats migrate to the mountain valleys for shelter from burany (snow storms) and to find pasture for their livestock. At that time very little hay was put aside, apparently only for the smallest livestock, so that if the snow was deep or a hard surface crust formed the animals, after eating as much of the tree branches as they could, starved and collapsed. Generally livestock became so thin and weak by spring that in a strong wind they wandered in the direction they were being blown until completely exhausted, in this way getting tens of miles from camps of the Buryats who were in such cases obliged to search for their own herds. There were instances when as a result of lack of fodder some Buryats lost all their livestock and they went from rich men to the poorest. According to what I heard, in the Khorinsk Steppe and surrounding areas during 1849 or 1850 about a million livestock perished from lack of fodder.

In the east the Khorinsk Steppe runs into the Yablonov mountain range, which ascended in two stages. In places there were shallow marshes with a log path passing through. The descent was shorter but steeper, and it was stony and no more marshes were encountered. At the foot of the mountains there began another steppe stretching about 20 miles all the way to Chita. To the sides the mountains apparently went on with end. Here too Buryats roamed the steppe, and there were paths everywhere that were riding trails from one ulus to another (ulus-a Buryat settlement). From a rise about 7 miles from Chita we could see a large lake about 6 miles in circumference and with a settlement on its eastern shore. Both the lake and the village were called Kinon. Subsequently I happened to be at this lake many times. Large carp (karasy) were caught here in great numbers, even thought the shores and bottom of the lake consisted of coarse grey sand.

Chita is a cossack town that also contained new settlers. It lies in the hills next to the stream of the same name where it flows into the Ingoda River which here took an easterly direction instead of northerly. Earlier Chita was known only for containing Decembrists before they were released as settlers. One of those sentenced in 1826 by the supreme criminal court lived here for the whole time until his return to Russia. This was Dmitrii Irinarkhovich Zavalishin, a naval lieutenant until he was sentenced.1 He lived in his own house with the mother and sisters of his wife, whose family name was Smol’yaninov, if I remember correctly. Apparently, this was the family of Chita’s former town adjutant. In spite of being almost in old age, Zavalishin appeared to enjoy satisfactory health, walked briskly, and in general was very active. I could see no grey in his black hair. He dressed in an old-fashioned grey shaggy cossack coat [kazakin] closed by hooks and with pleats on the side. His cap was also of the old style with a big visor. I saw him almost every day at the table with P.I. Zapol’skii, who enjoyed his company as Chita’s sole educated person who was not his subordinate. Of course, it was through misfortune that Zavalishin was not with similarly cultured comrades. He spoke well and his stories from Tsar Alexander’s time and of olden days in Siberia were very interesting. As far as I could tell, the persons around General Zapol’skii, and all the officials in general, did not pity Zavalishin because he never held back from expressing himself, indeed he was famous for it. Since there was no architect in Chita, Zavalishin undertook the construction of a house for the governor.

At this time there still existed in Chita the stockade which had held the Decembrists. It consisted of three long single-story buildings placed in the shape of the letter H and surrounded by a high palisade with a single pair of gates, opposite which, across the street, was the house of the commandant who was in charge of the prisoners. This house was still standing with its high watchtower, tall enough so that from it the stockade’s whole yard could be easily seen.

With the removal of the palisade in 1853, the stockade was turned into storehouses for the Amur expedition that was being readied. During the winter of 1853-54, the local line battalion prepared beams for building rafts. This construction was begun in the spring of 1854, and thereupon commenced the sending of grain down the Ingoda, Onon, and Shilka to the Shilkinsk works where all the expedition’s supplies were being concentrated, these having been previously prepared in such secrecy that hardly anyone knew about it. The building of rafts in Chita and the dispatch of grain was undertaken by Lieutenant Colonel M. S. Korsakov, at that time governor of the Trans-Baikal Region, and latter governor-general of Eastern Siberia after N. N. Murav’ev. After meeting me at General Zapol’skii’s, M. S. Korsakov offered an appointment as one of the officers of the expedition’s composite battalion of soldiers detached from all the line battalions located in the Trans-Baikal. Of course, I did not decline to take part in such an interesting undertaking and from that time on I was assigned to M. S. Korsakov.

Before being promoted to officer rank, I often happened to live in villages and in particular Narym, or Naryn (apparently a Buryat name), some 50 miles or more from Chita. Besides growing grain, the peasants of this village, for the most part, engaged in hunting and trapping, taking squirrels, fox, deer, and also larger animals such as moose, elk (izyubr, a very large deer the size of a big horse), and bears. Elk were shot mostly in early spring to obtain their antlers, which at that season were the shape of pine cones or budding branches and still soft. Such antlers were sold to the Chinese for a high price (150 roubles or more for a pair), which it was said they used to make a strongly invigorating medicine. Some peasants had domesticated hand-tamed elk that provided a good income.

Hunting was done not only with firearms and various kinds of traps, but also by using pitfalls. These were made about 7 feet long and deep, with a width of about 2 feet. They were covered with a thin layer of light branches, leaves, and debris. The space between pits, about 150 to 200 feet, was fenced off with fallen branches so that animals seeking a way forward would have to approach a pit and upon stepping on its cover, fall through. When the pitfalls strewn over the mountain slopes wee checked, any caught animal had its throat cut while still in the hole (after a rope was tightened around its neck and it was lifted up a little), so that around the pit there were not traces of blood which the animals could scent from far away. Some peasants had a hundred or more such pits.

To hunt squirrels our trappers crossed the Chinese border if there was an abundance of cedar nuts somewhere, as where there were many nuts, there were usually also many squirrels. More deer were taken than any other animal, and if their meat was not worth anything in the absence of a market for it, deerskin and hides were valuable. They were used for clothing not only in winter as coats (the Siberian coats called dokhi were made with the hair on the outside) and warm boots, but also in summer, for which garments the hair on the hides was removed.

If a peasant was a steady worker, he lived well, as livestock was very cheap, the soil was good, and harvests were mostly satisfactory, and sometimes very good indeed. Besides a house and yard in the village, many peasants also had a farm, or as it was called locally-a zaimka (some 5 to 20 miles from the village) in which escaped prisoners worked as laborers for virtually nothing more than being fed. There were generally many vagrants about, all the more so in remote places like Norym. They subsisted on handouts but never called themselves beggars, but wayfarers (ne nishchimi-no prokhozhimi). The peasants never arrested them in spite of orders from the authorities, fearing retribution by arson, and also out of sympathy, since for them all these men were “unfortunates” [“neshchastnen’ki”] who were never refused a handout, but allowed to stay overnight, as far as I remember, only when at a zaimka. I heard many times that the Buryats were hostile to the vagrants due to constant thefts of livestock and horses, and when they met any of these men in remote places they shot them with their rifles.

I also heard that escaped prisoners often lived in villages under the names of deceased settlers with, of course, the knowledge of the village elders who with this in mind did not always make a timely report to the authorities of settlers’ deaths. Such a subterfuge happened when the deceased settler was not well known in the village or the man taking his place thereby avoided being searched for any further. However, in Norym one such peasant was pointed out to me and apparently everyone knew about him. He was already married in this village and had children. He conducted himself in what was considered a thrifty and industrious manner and in general was spoken of as a good person.

Already at that time there were free settlers in the Trans-Baikal. Thus, about 30 miles from Chita up the Ingoda there were three rather large settlements of Little Russians [Ukrainians - M.C.]. Judging by the number of haystacks, the grain in the barns, their buildings, and their holiday dress, these settlers were doing well.

Upon being assigned to the expedition, my duties in Chita consisted of overseeing the construction and loading of the rafts as well as the building of small boats. Work proceeded quickly, being begun at dawn and ceasing at dusk, some 15 to 18 hours each day. This continued from the time the ice broke up on the Ingoda, or about the end of March, until the time I too left down the Ingoda, Onon, and Shilka with the last loads of grain and the remaining detachment of soldiers. This was on 24 April 1854.

We had no problems floating down the rivers in the good weather of that time of year. The trip was interesting because of the novelty and the variety of the places we encountered. The riverbanks were sometimes flat and forested, at other times there were high overhanging slopes. We never grounded on sandbars or collided with the shore. Only when we started on the Ingoda was our rafts’ sturdiness tested in rocky rapids. Carried along by small but swift spurts of current, the rafts bumped on the rocky bottom which fortunately was made up of smooth round stones. In places the rafts’ beams moved up and down like piano keys, causing the stacked rows of grain sacks to be strewn about.

The Shilkinsk works were a penal labor camp. The first thing we saw there was the wheel steamer Argun, specially built for the expedition. Its engine was made by prisoners at Petrovsk (located next to Verkhneudinsk past Lake Baikal). It was the first engine built in eastern Siberia, and satisfactorily, as shown subsequently when it operated without failure during the whole navigation of the Amur, but it turned out to not have enough power. Besides this small ship, many large boats were built, intended not only for personnel, but mainly for carrying large quantities of cereals in the form of flour, garin, and rusk. These provisions were prepared not only for the time to travel the length of the Amur, but also to meet the requirement of all personnel staying at the mouth of the Amur for a at least a year. Delivery of new transports of grain earlier than this would not be possible. Construction of all boats was directed by Captain 2nd Rank P. V. Kozakevich [Petr Vasil’evich Kazakevich - M.C.], later an admiral and commander at Kronstadt, now deceased.

The composite battalion assigned to the expedition was encamped on the right bank of the Shilka opposite the works, where there was much activity in finishing the boats and loading them with grain. General Nikolai Nikolaevich Murav’ev arrived at the Shilkinsk works in the first days of May, and, as I recall, only on 7 May 1854 were we ready to depart.

After a prayer service in the clearing at the river bank in front of the camp, we shoved off from the Shilinsk works. There was a farewell dinner with General N. N. Murav’ev the night before leaving at which were General Zapol’skii, Colonel I. Ye. Razgil’deev of the mining engineers, and many others who came to see the expedition off. During the dinner there was singing by a choir made up of prisoners, noteworthy by their voices and the expression with which they sang some of the songs, especially the Siberian ones.

A few days later, on the Ust’-strelka at the confluence the Shilka with the Argun, the expedition was joined by boats with a sotnia of cossacks, and on 14 May 1854 we were on the Amur.


I will recount the composition of the expedition as best I remember: Lieutenant Colonel Korsakov—commander of the expedition’s troops; Captain 2nd Rank Kozakevich—commander of the flotilla; assisting General Murav’ev-military engineer Akhte; mining engineer Anonsov; adjutant Busse; civil officials Bibikov, Sverbeev, and (I think) Filippeus. Thee were also several other persons, including some sort of scientist—perhaps a naturalist—and a translator of Manchurian and Chinese whose name I do not remember. The steamer was commanded by naval Lieutenant Kupriyanov. There were four officers in the composite line battalion: Medvedev, Monastyrskii, Glehn, and myself, acting as company commanders. Sotnik Skobel’tsyn, who had traced a part of the Amur, commanded the cossacks. There was one other officer with the cossacks. We also had artillery consisting of two mountain guns, and also two howitzers [mortiry], with some soldiers and one officer, Lieutenant Baksheev. The battalion did not exceed a thousand men strong so that the entire expedition, including cossacks and artillery, counted at most 1200 men, and more than likely somewhat less. The general and his staff were on boats provided with cabins or huts. Of course, the general’s hut and boat were the biggest, the hut consisting of two—albeit very small—rooms. The rest of the staff were put two to a boat, so that there were about ten such craft. A few persons were put on the steamer. All the remaining boats were loaded with grain piled in an elongated pyramid a little higher than the gunwales, cover by two layers of sailcloth. Soldiers occupied the free space at the front and back of each boat. We officers of the battalion also built ourselves cabins of a sort in the cargo area of the boats by using the sailcloth that covered the grain.

The cossacks and artillerymen and their horses were on barkaz longboats the cossacks had built on the Argun. These longboats were almost circular and had low sides, and were slower than our boats due to their shape and also because their bottoms were made from beams laid crossways. These longboats demonstrated how much these descendents of Don and Ural cossacks had forgotten the skills their forefathers had known so well about building the swift light craft on which they sailed the Azov and Caspian seas and explored all of Siberia on its rivers. Besides the different boats, we also had rafts made from beams and loaded with various supplies: salt beef, butter, etc., and livestock to feed the expedition. As the provisions and livestock were consumed, the rafts were taken apart to provide wood for the steamboat, so that by the middle of the voyage they were all gone.

The voyage usually proceeded as follows: the steamer left the previous night’s halting place and pushed on to stop where it calculated the flotilla might reach by 10 or 11 o’clock. The boats would arrive and land the companies. The general and his staff stopped a little distance away. Immediately upon tying up, each squad’s cook collected provisions and began preparing a meal. In the meantime the soldiers boiled tea. As long as there was livestock, the food was prepared with fresh meat, and afterwards with salt beef or butter. At each halting place a special detachment was designated to drop chop wood for the steamboat. The soldiers loved the steamer, naming it “Blackie” [“Voronko”] as if it were a horse, after the color of its paint. The presence of the steamboat truly inspired the expedition, making it seem stronger and more important, although in reality no special help could be expected from it if any difficulties were encountered.

By dawn work had ceased and the mournful sound the bugle, playing reveille, signaled it was time to cast off. The boats of the general and his staff, which stayed at the night’s halting place longer, later passed the flotilla which had formed up somewhere about noon for a midday meal. But by evening they had rejoined the flotilla, following behind it or leading in front. Sometimes musicians on their own boat played tunes. Since the main criterion in choosing a halting place was the distance the flotilla might cover in a certain time, these locations were sometimes not completely suitable-soggy, overgrown with willow thickets, reeds, with a steep bank, or, finally, the place might have such a swift current that it was hard to stop and boats bumped the shore or each other.

One battalion officer was on a special longboat without any cargo, with twenty soldiers and their muskets. This longboat followed behind the flotilla as a kind of rearguard so that if necessary it could assist any boat that ran onto a sandbar or started to leak water. There was no need for military precautions since no attack on the expedition was foreseen, all the more so since on the fist half of the river voyage an encounter with the Chinese might only occur in the middle reach of the Amur around the town of Aihun. Upon arriving at the night’s halting place, the duty officer on the longboat had to go around all the boats to check that they were undamaged and the personnel in good health, about which he reported to Lieutenant Colonel Korsakov, from whom all orders were received.

Sometimes the flotilla was stretched out along shore and next to difficult terrain which a challenge to traverse in daytime but now might be required to cross in the dark of night, searching out where the boats had halted, then finding the location of the headquarters staff, and return to one’s own boat at the other end of the flotilla. If the terrain was favorable and night not dark, it was just a nighttime stroll, but if not then it was hard work.

I do not know what the two other officers ate, but Glehn and I mainly ate what was prepared for the soldiers as well as black rusk. However, we had reserves of tea and sugar. During the first third of the voyage, when there were still not many islands, we often traveled at night after preparing food for the soldiers for two days. During such movements we lit fires in hearths set up in the bow of each boat so that the direction of the whole flotilla could be seen. On dark nights it was a very interesting sight.

Each boat was equipped with oars and a sail which were often used to speed the flotilla’s progress. The general was very displeased if there was a favorable wind and one of the officers did not quickly order the sails raised. This was especially the rule during the first half of the voyage when we were passing Aihun. It was clear that the general wash in a hurry to pass that town, no doubt fearing that the governor of the Amur region, once informed of our presence on the Amur, would be able to contact the Chinese government which might give him instructions contrary to the general’s intentions, which were to travel the length of the Amur without hindrance, but also completely peacefully, keeping on friendly terms with China. It later became known that it was only under such conditions that the general was given permission to conduct the expedition. Moreover, our force was so small that it was better to pass by without argument. The Chinese might learn the composition of the expedition and make preparations to block our way. It was difficult to say what such a clash would lead to, but it might very well be be war.

According to talk, the general had apparently sent Lieutenant Colonel Zubarinskii of the general staff to China by way of Kyakhta to ask permission to traverse the Amur to the sea and the Russian possessions located north of the river’s mouth. But this was done, I heard, just before the expedition set off, and the emissary probably had not reached the Chinese capital before we had traveled the entire length of the Amur, or at least most of it. Perhaps this entered into the general’s calculations since there was no particular reason to hope that the Chinese would willingly and without hindrance permit such an incursion into their territory. In general they did not suffer the presence of foreigners among them, and now here was an entire flotilla with troops and a general at their head.

It was clear that our appearance was completely unexpected by the local Amur peoples, as on the river’s middle reaches when we approached Aihun we found settlements abandoned by their inhabitants without taking away all their possessions and domestic animals. During our whole journey down the Amur not a single shot was fired even though there was plenty of wild game-shooting firearms was forbidden. As best I remember, for about a third of the Ust’-strelka’s its right bank was mountainous and covered with forest while the left was usually level terrain in front, though sometimes a little rolling, with open woods, and more or less wide treeless stretches of ground were encountered; in the distance mountains could be seen. In some places there was grass higher than I had ever seen before, almost the height of a man, but coarse like a kind of sedge. About 150 miles from the Ust’-strelka, around Albazin, only grass-covered mounds could be seen. When these were dug into we found burned bricks. The area was a fairly wide and level plain infrequently dotted with woods or isolated stands of trees. There were very islands along this part of the Amur, but their numbers increased the closer we got to the river’s middle reaches. Afterward there were so many islands that without knowledgeable guides we would constantly have been blundering into unnavigable channels.

For the first half of the voyage our guides were nomadic native Orochens and Manegras, of Tungus stock, but past Aihun-Goldi, who were related to Mongols and Chinese. In summer the first lived along the riverbanks in birch-bark huts of conical form, but for winter they undoubtedly had more substantial dwellings in the forest. They traveled in small and light birch-bark boats called omorocha that were very long but narrow so only a single man could sit in one, and not a very large one at that. They used a single double-bladed paddle, i.e. there were rowing blades at both ends of an oar. These boats moved very quickly but were unstable, and thus very risky for persons unused to them. The savages we saw were short and thin with narrow eyes, flat noses and prominent cheekbones. They did not have queues.

Goldis were mostly of middling height and stout physique. Their facial type was similar to that of Mongols and they had queues. They lived in permanent settlements and dressed in shirts and pants of dark-blue cotton material instead of the skins that the Orochens and Manegras wore. The Goldis’ boats were made of wood in the shape of a long box with straight sides and stern. The bottoms were completely flat and came out of the water at the prow, which further back became bent or rounded. Rather short oars with rounded blades were fixed to the sides of the boat. We saw boats like these with the Chinese around Aihun, but larger and with several pairs of oars.

With the increased number of islands in the middle reaches of the Amur, we did not always move through the main channel, and often we went through channels between islands. But in those places where the banks were the true mainland we could see, we were able to ascertain that here the right bank was likewise not mountainous, though elevated and, as on the left, often without any forest. On this part of the river settlements began to appear on the right bank, apparently abandoned by their inhabitants upon our approach. Until we passed Aihun, the flotilla stopped only on the left bank, but afterward we also landed on the right. However, during our entire voyage on the Amur we never stopped at a settlement, undoubtedly to avoid any conflict with the inhabitants.

Two stages before Aihun we stopped at our nighttime halting place longer than usual in order to inspect and clean our muskets and sharpen bayonets and shashka swords. It appeared that here we were making all preparations in the event of any kind of trouble during the rest of the expedition. Here, I think, we broke up the last of the rafts and transferred their remaining supplies on the boats, with some being distributed to the soldiers. These were various articles donated by the Irkutsk merchant Solov’ev for the expedition’s soldiers, such as boots, tea, rusk, soap, and tobacco. The closer we got to the town, the more frequently we saw settlements, and toward the end there were many of them all close together.

We approached Aihun in the morning and stopped a little above it, i.e. without quite reaching the town, at an island with trees that blocked the view of the bank, but through which wooden buildings were visible. The river channel that separated us from the town was only a little more than half a mile wide so we could see crowds of people gathered on shore in front of the town and large boats. There were quite a lot of the latter. Later we found out that this was a force of soldiers and there were also cannons there, but the guns themselves were covered by wooden casings in the form of small peaked roofs so that no one could see them. Afterward it was said in the expedition that there were no guns on the gun carriages at all. On the shore were we stopped there were several two-wheeled carts without horses, loaded with various domestic household goods: trunks, boxes, and baskets filled with things, including different sorts of clothing. Sentries were immediately posted over these carts so they would not be disturbed.

Meanwhile, the general transferred to the steamer which then went up to the town and dropped anchor. Not having been present during the general’s talks with the Chinese authorities nor having heard what happened from anyone who was there, I can only say how the talks went based on the stories that later circulated through the expedition. Thus it was said that the general first found out if the amban (governor) had received instructions from his government regarding the expedition, since, as the general explained, the authorities had been informed well in advance of his intention to travel down the Amur to the Russian possessions on the Sea of Okhotsk. Then, it appears, the general declared that he was going to protect Russian territory from the English, with whom the Chinese at the time were not on good terms, and so our appearance at the mouth of the Amur at that time would benefit the Chinese government by depriving the English of the possibility of attacking China from that direction. The story was that the governor said that if he permitted or did not permit the Russians to pass, he would in either case incur consequences determined by how his government chose to regard the matter. In answer, it was said, the general noted that he was set on getting through to the mouth of the Amur no matter what and would therefore not hold back, if necessary, even from burning the town of Aihun to the ground. However, he very much desired, in view of the friendly relations between the Russian and Chinese governments, that the voyage be accomplished without any misunderstandings.

Without doubt, if the local Chinese authorities had seen any possibility of taking all of us prisoner and cutting off our heads, i.e. if we had been only ten or twenty in number, then they would have preferred this above all else as the way to please their government. This is how they proceeded earlier, in 1850 or 1851, with the general-staff officer Daragan and his topographers and cossacks when they were conducting an investigation of the Amur region. The Chinese government explained away there murder as the result of an attack by bandits, and afterwards pretended that several persons executed for other crimes had been caught and punished as those responsible. The executions had been performed in view of our authorities on the border, I think on the banks of the Argun River. But now we were so strong in number that a similar handling of the situation was out of the question. Caught by surprise, the Chinese also could not gather enough troops to engage us in an open fight with any hope of success, and they thought we were stronger then we really were. As we were later told, the Chinese saw soldiers standing at both ends of our boats and assumed that more were under the sailcloth that covered the grain supplies. Inhabitants of the villages above the town who had fled before us reported in the town that the Russians were coming like the shuga, i.e. as many as the blocks of ice in the river when it breaks up in spring.

Still, it is hard to say whether the Chinese would have decided to bar our way if they had had enough troops and exact information on our numbers. Judging by the state of their soldiery (persons who had been on the steamer said that it was a kind of mob with practically antediluvian weapons) and the well-known unmilitary quality of the Chinese, it was likely that we would have passed by without hindrance, and even parted with the Chinese amicably, as now. I say “amicably” because I did not hear anything about the general’s taking leave of the amban that would contradict this.

As soon as word was received from the steamer, the flotilla set off and left the town and steamer behind. On that day I was the duty officer following on a longboat behind the flotilla. When the last of our boats passed the town, Chinese in brightly colored dress began to come out and cross over to the island. They cried out something to us and waved their arms, apparently expressing their happiness at escaping their uninvited guests.

Subsequently our voyage proceeded in the same manner as before, except that we also stopped some nights on the right bank if it was more suitable. The remainder of the river to its mouth, like its middle part, was strewn with islands that formed a multitude of channels of various sizes, sometimes tens of yards wide and at others a few miles, with currents that were at times very swift or hardly noticeable. In one place several heavily loaded boats got into one of these narrow channels with a swift current but little depth. This happened because one of our officers (Medvedev), trying to improve the orderliness of the boats’ progress, thought of tying them together in pairs, and so the soldiers were unable to row out with the oars and the boats stuck fast in the fine stones (gal’ka) of the channel bottom. The effort to unload the boats and pull them into deeper water took two days, and the general was most displeased.

A short time latter something happened that was more important in regard to its consequences. When passing along a wide channel with a fair wind, the flotilla did not keep to the left, windward, bank, as it should have, but to the right, and it came to a halt in the shallows. Meanwhile, even more consternation arose when the boats began to leak and some filled with water, soaking much of provisions and grain. With difficulty bags of flour, groats, and rusk were pulled from the boats and laid out on the bank to dry. Fortunately the water was not deep on this shore so the soldiers could wade in and recover the bags of grain floating in the boats. Only a few boats avoiding sinking, and even the general’s went down. All his things were soaked, including his wardrobe.Who was responsible for this accident remained unknown. No one spoke about that and I never heard that anyone was held to account for it. The bags of flour were not badly soaked, but the rusk was wet all the way through and later covered with mold.

This event occurred at the end of our voyage, about five days or so before arriving at the Mariinsk post about 300 miles from Nikolaevsk, that is to say before having reached it. We were still standing at the site of the accident when a sloop arrived from Mariinsk, with two officers and sailors at the oars. This meeting was greeted with a loud “Ura!”

The wet cereals could not be dried out during the short time we were at the site of our misfortune (two or three days). It only dried a little on the outside and in such a state was reloaded onto the boats. No doubt it was supposed that all the rusk would be given out before it was entirely ruined, and this would have happened if on our arrival in the Mariinsk post they had not baked fresh bread for the soldiers. The remaining rusk turned green and it was in that state that it was later issued to the soldiers.

Soon we arrived at the Mariinsk post where there were only a few cossacks. Straightaway ovens were built in the river bank and the next day we had fresh bread which proved to be delicious after subsisting on bad black rusk for a whole month.With our arrival at the Mariinsk post our wanderings came to an end, the result of which was the acquisition of a vast territory literally without a shot being fired. We had sailed the length of an unknown river and through an alien population peacefully, as if we were sailing down the Volga. The weather was fine the whole time, and rain was infrequent and did not last long. Everyone in the expedition was always in good health and no one suffered any kind of accident, except for one non-commissioned officer of the combined battalion who went missing a few days before reaching Aihun. His companions guessed that he probably deserted, pining for the young wife he left behind.

To end my description of the first Russian navigation of the Amur, I should note that as we got further away from Aihun the terrain and vegetation changed, taking on the character of more northern regions. Deciduous trees became fewer and fewer until there were none at all, giving way to coniferous forest when the middle part of the river had been dominated by broadleaf trees. The banks became lower and sometime hilly.


We enjoyed only a short rest at the Mariinsk post. After a few days sixty soldiers with two officers (Glehn and me) were sent to the upland around Lake Kizi to build a road from the shore of that lake to De Castries Bay, a distance of perhaps fifteen miles. It should be noted that Lake Kizi is connected to the Amur by that channel on which the Mariinsk post is situated. It is about 30 miles long and from 4 to 8 miles wide.

We crossed the lake on boats from which the grain had been unloaded, towed by a small steamboat (the screw longboat Nadezhda). The shore which had been designated as that from which to start the road turned out to be dry and covered with grass, and thus suitable for our first encampment. Later, as work moved farther from the lake, the camp would also be moved. Having set up tents and laid out the camp, the next day we started felling trees, following the path set by marked trees showing the direction of the road. We built small bridges over streams and corduroy roads over marshes. However, both of these were small and not numerous.

For a time everything went well and the men did not have far to go yet for meals, wo the work was making progress. The only bad thing was how the mosquitoes and gnats tormented us unbearably, and we had to drive them off with smoke. But once our use of a fire for smoke gave us a real scare and interrupted work for a period.

It must be mentioned that the forest through which the road was being laid was—if it may be termed—virgin. The trees were big, sometimes several arm breadths around, overgrown with moss and long white vines that hung from branches and even reached the ground. Everywhere there were many old dried-out trees still standing or leaning over in various stages of decay. In this particular instance a very small fire was lit, just enough to produce smoke. But we did not notice how it spread along the moss that covered the ground until it reached a vine of moss hanging from a tree which began to burn. The moss was dry and in a moment the whole tree was on fire. This quickly spread to other trees so that it was only a few minutes before a great many of the trees around us were on fire. The men were immediately gathered together and led at a run out of the forest after throwing axes and shovels in a nearby stream. We had to run two or three miles, but just as we reached the lakeside the fire spread along the forest’s edge by the camp with a great roar and crackling, and burning up dry trees and windfallen wood. The fire probably spread for tens of miles until it met a barrier in the form of the seashore or wide river, or maybe a treeless space. This fire, I was reliably informed, was visible from one of our naval ships (the steam schooner Vostok) that at the time was in the Tatar Strait some tens of miles from the scene.

For several days we could not resume work in the forest, until finally a short rain dowsed the smoldering trees and the wind cleared the air of the standing smoke. But even later everything was still smoking and sometimes fire broke out again.

Soon after this event our men began to become sick while working. They started to suffer from headaches, nausea, and loss of strength, all of which soon passed as soon as the sick man left the forest. We later guessed that the cause of the illness was the bush called in Siberia “bogul’nik.” It grew in low places throughout the forest, sometimes covering large spaces several hundred yards wide. It had small pink flowers with a pleasant enough fragrance but poisonous qualities. If there was no bogul’nik then there were not sickness, but the men began to report problems as soon as work was passing by these bushes. However, further into the forest, where the land became higher, bogul’nik was rarer and did not cover large areas, so that the sickness ended.

Having escaped sickness from that cause, we were not able to avoid another that was the result of poor quality food. As related above, a significant part of the flour, groats, and rusk—if not most of it—had become wet and then was not dried out. I do not know what became of the flour and groats, but the rusk was spoiled and turned green, and in this state it was given to the soldiers. The salt beef was also bad. Apparently, an inadequate amount of salt allowed worms to get in. We drove them out by suspending the beef over smoke and then soaking it in a stream. Of course, such salt beef could not be a healthy ration, but the moldy rusk was undeniably harmful as it caused stomach pains. But when even these supplies were not delivered to us on time and we had to go hungry. We had to live on a thin soup made from buckwheat groats, but that was also in short supply and had to be conserved.

These circumstances and the arrival of the frigate Diana in De Castries Bay have already been described in print, so in regard to our life in the forest I will only add that as a rule we were constantly half starved, the men were growing thin and weak and as a result the work in building the road went slowly. It must be said that we officers ate the same food as the soldiers, supplemented only by tea. Delays in delivering supplies happened more that once, forcing us to cut back on the issue of rations for preparing meals, as well as rusk, so as not to let the men go entirely hungry.

Once I had to go to the Mariinsk Post to hurry the replenishment of our spent supplies. On arriving at the post I found that the soldiers had fresh fish, red like a kind of salmon and even sturgeon. Understandably, my men threw themselves on this delicious fat fish and everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, set to cooking the food, but two men ate in such a manner that they almost died on the return march. They had cramps, turned black all over, and became extremely weak, and there were intense stomach pains. Not having any medicines, I tried to keep them warm by laying them next to a big fire, and gave them the strongest tea, almost black. After three glasses of this drink their pain began to subside, they felt the warmth in their bodies. We kept them covered and, as best they could, the sick men slept. The next day they were merely weak. Some years later these two soldiers died of fever in Novoarkhangel’sk, but until then they were completely healthy men.

The road to De Castries was unfinished, there still being three or four miles to go, when the detachment and I were sent through Mariinsk to Nikolaevsk and from there to the Petrovk post (on an island in the Amur estuary), from which we were transported by ships to the port of Ayan on the Sea of Okhotsk.


It must be said that as a result of a request by the Russian-American Company in our colonies on the northwest coast of America, a Highest Order directed that 100 soldiers with 2 officers be taken to reinforce the garrison at Novoarkhanel’sk on the island of Sitkha. This detachment was drawn from the composite battalion with the Amur expedition, and its officers were Glehn and I. Now—that is to say in August—company ships from Sitkha arrived at Ayan, to which place the detachment had to be transported. Glehn with some of the soldiers left Nikolaevsk and arrived at Ayan first, and then I set off with the rest of the personnel.

At that time Nikolaevsk consisted of a few small houses (three or four) scattered about in a disorderly fashion, apparently on the same spots where the trees in the forest had been cut down for them. The whole bank was covered by forest, and it was very high and precipitous down to the river. As far as could be seen within the woods, the land on which the small houses were located was level and dry. From the edge of the bank to the middle of the river protruded a long and narrow strip of land, or spit, that was very suited to the building of a battery. Along this spit at the edge of the bank were it dropped off a kind of cellar was dug into the ground, encircled on the outside with thick logs with small windows like embrasures. A roof, with at the same time was the ceiling, was also made from beams covered with a thick layer of earth. These gloomy dugouts had until just recently been the dwellings of our naval officers and sailors who had come to the mouth of the Amur in 1849 with Captain 2nd Rank Genadii Ivanovich Nevel’skoi. Such a form of dwelling was necessary because of possible hostile actions by the Gilyaks—a people, so I heard, who were not inclined to timidity, especially since we were so few in number. You can understand what life was like for our sailors in these casements at the edge of the world for several years, especially in winter with every kind of deprivation. One of the officers, Lieutenant Boshnyak, had died here, not having seen the proud result for which he and his companions had performed so many labors. The opposite bank of the Amur, which here was about one and a half miles wide, was hilly and covered with forest.

We left Nikolaevsk in two longboats and for some time sailed over the river estuary without mishap, but towards evening the wind blew stronger and the waves became higher, forcing us to spend several hours on a sandbar which owing to the periodic rising and fall of the tide at first dried out but then was again covered with water, raising our boats. This phenomenon greatly surprised the soldiers. Meanwhile the wind became much quieter and we were able to proceed further, but in the darkness we lost our sense of direction and did not know in which direction to sail. We could have been sailing straight out to the open ocean. Fortunately for us a small distant light showed us the way. We would at least be able to land on shore where there were people and find out the direction to the Petrovsk post.

After going for some time we heard the distant barking of dogs, and after a half hour of energetic rowing we saw the fires of a Gilyak settlement, near which we stopped. It turned out we were on an island near the left bank of the river and had been going in the right direction and then come back a bit. We bought a little fish from the Gilyaks, but then our attention was drawn by some beams that appeared to be the remains of a recent shipwreck. I later learned that this was the Russian-American Company’s brig Shelekhov (named after one of the company’s founders).

The Gilyaks were dressed in dark-blue Chinese textiles (rather thick cotton) made into robes or gowns. Their black hair was plaited into queues. Their faces were not unpleasant, but the smell of rotten fish emanating from their clothing was repulsive. They appeared to be great traders, constantly offering to sell us various things no doubt collected from the afore mentioned ship.

We set up camp for the night, but for a long time I was unable to fall asleep because big belugas were moving around the longboats and their blowing out their spouts when breathing gave no peace. Their phosphorescent trails in the water could be seen right alongside the longboats since it was deep right at the water’s edge, being about 15 feet deep the same distance from shore. During daytime the belugas did not come so close.

The next day towards evening we arrived at the Petrovsk post, or as it also was called—the Petrovsk winter station. It was on one of the islands near the river’s left bank at the edge of the sea. This island, like the others here, was flat and sandy, with the only growth being juniper and one or the other kind of grass, one of which, called shishka, had small black berries.

At the Petrovsk winter station there were also three or four small houses, in one of which lived G. I. Nevel’skoi with his young and pretty wife. In another lived Captain-Lieutenant Bochmanov, also married. As is well known, G. I. Nevel’skoi was the first to pass through the Tatar Strait and show that Sakhalin was not a peninsula, as earlier supposed, but an island. With the help of several officers, he surveyed the Amur estuary and described all the nearby islands in the Tatar Strait. By raising the Russian flag at the mouth of the Amur he performed the first act in joining the Amur territory to Russia. This was earlier in 1849 or the 1850s.

While waiting for a ship to transport us to Ayan, I lived at Petrovsk for over a week, staying in a little house occupied by Captain-Lieutenant I. V. Furugel’m who was at the time in the employee of the Russian-American Company, commanding one of its ships. Later he was the chief of the colonies and governor of the Amur Region.

G. I. Nevel’skoi offered hospitality to all those who passed through from the Amur to Ayan at this time, inviting them to dine with him until the arrival of the ship that was to carry the traveler onward. I too received such an invitation. With nothing else to do I went hunting after the woodcock that were here in great abundance. Apparently, they were drawn here by the above-mentioned shishka berries of sickly sweet taste, which they ate up before flying south.

Before my departure for Ayan, General N. N. Murav’ev was in Petrovsk as he passed through on his own way to Ayan and thence to Irkutsk. After dinner at G. I. Nevel’skoi’s, I was present during the following conversation between the general and him. To the question of what to do if Chinese officials came to the Gilyaks demanding tribute, and the latter then came to him to complain, the general answered, “Tell them to chase the officials away.”

“And if the officials come to me,”said G. I. Nevel’skoi, “and relate what the Gilyaks told them?”

“Say you don’t know anything about it,” replied the general with a smile.

When taking leave of Petrovsk, the general embraced and kissed several persons, to others he offered his cheek or limited himself to a nod of the head, but he paid absolutely no attention to one navigator officer with completely grey hair but a handsome and not at all old face, even though this man stood braced at attention the whole time with his cap off. Afterwards I found out that in his youth the officer had killed a fellow serviceman in Petropavlovsk (in Kamchatka) in conspiracy with that man’s wife, with whom the officer was intimate. Both were sentenced to hard labor, but through the intercession of N. N. Murav’ev they were pardoned and their status restored.

When saying goodbye to me, the general also offered his cheek, saying, “Farewell, dear B-v. Serve well in Stikha, don’t disgrace P.I. (Zapol’skii), and he may give you an award there.” And in truth he did reward me by later permitting me to leave Sitkha on a round-the-world voyage.

Never before were such a large number of ships sailing on the Sea of Okhotsk as in the summer and fall of 1854. While I was in Petrovsk, ten days in all, three ships arrived: the steam schooner Vostok carrying N. N. Murav’ev; the transport Irtysh or Baikal, I do not remember well, but the commander was the very young Captain-Lieutenant Chikhachev, whom I saw at G. I. Nevel’skoi’s and who gave me leave to inspect his ship. The third ship was the Russian-American Company’s Knyaz’ Menshikov, come to pick up me and my detachment.

I sent the soldiers on board the ship and then myself rowed out in the evening together with its captain, navigator officer Benzeman. The night was dark but absolutely still. The place in the roads where the ship was anchored was marked only by the small light of the lantern on the mast. Soon after I arrived on board I became seasick because the ship was rocking so much. I lay down in my berth but woke up in the middle of the night when I heard some kind of noise—the partitions in of the cabin squeaked as if someone was breaking them. Everything swayed first to one side and then the other. The ship was rocking, leaning hard over to one side. At times it shuddered under the impact of the waves.

Supposing that something extraordinary was happening with the ship and we were in danger, I hurried up on deck. The night was clear and starry; the sails were filled with a fresh breeze. Nothing was going on up on deck and everything was quiet. The captain came up and said things could not be going any better, that the ships had a favorable wind and making excellent headway, and that we would be in Ayan by dinner the following day. Thus was my first experience of sailing on a ship at sea, after which I never paid any attention to these phenomena that had appeared so perilous.

In fact, we did enter the Ayan bay about four o’clock in the evening. The bay was fairly deep, that is to say went some way inland and was protected on three sides by high mountains. The Ayan settlement was at the head of the bay where a large stream emptied into it.

The chief of the port, Captain-Lieutenant Kashevarov, graciously invited me to dine with him every day until I had to leave for Sitkha. At this time he had gathered a heterogeneous group of guests, consisting of people passing through Ayan on their way to Yakutsk and Kamchatka, and also the captains of ships in port, primarily American whalers.

My comrade, Glehn, who had arrived here earlier, had already managed to take part in an expedition set up by General N. N. Murav’ev to capture English and French whaling ships supposed to be around the Shantarsk Islands, a little south of Ayan. Of course, by this time the Crimean War had already begun. The detachment of soldiers that had come to Ayan with Glehn was embarked on board the Russian-American Company’s ship Kamchatka, which carried eight short 12-pounder guns. I believe that in addition to Glehn there was another officer on the ship, General N. N. Murav’ev’s adjutant Busse. For several days the Kamchatka cruised next to the these islands but met only American whaling ships, and no enemy ones appeared.

In Ayan all the buildings belonged to the Russian-American Company and the only government establishment was the post office. I know that in summer during those years the mail from Yakutsk to Kamchatka was carried by horses and deer in sacks thrown over the saddle. Anyone traveling by this route, even ladies, had to make the long trip on horseback. In winter the mail from Yakutsk to Ayan was carried the same way, but onwards to Kamchatka by dogs. These dogs, unneeded in summer, were kept at the various stations along this route, including Ayan. Here there were several hundred of them tied in pairs to posts along the edge of the stream. Thin and evil-tempered, they fought constantly, yelping and barking. This cacophony increased before feeding time, especially when the food was being carried out to be distributed, and then the dissonant concert rose in volume. They fed the dogs dried fish (called yukola) but just enough to keep them from starving to death. In winter the dogs got a full portion insofar as was possible, otherwise they would not be strong enough to run the thirty mile distance to the next station pulling heavy narty (long narrow sleds). Supplies of fish, both dried yukola and pickled, were prepared at the stations. Pickled fish was apparently made in the same way as some of the dried feed for livestock (silage), i.e. in deep pits sealed as much as possible with heavy weights to prevent air from entering, so that the fish dried out somewhat but did not rot.

On 2 September the Kamchatka left Ayan for Sitkha. On board were most of the assigned detachments soldiers, and we officers. The remaining men were embarked on the ship Knyaz’ Menshikov which left Ayan a little later.

At that time (July, August, and September), when such an increased number of ships were sailing on the Sea of Okhotsk, an Anglo-French squadron of six steamships was cruising off the shores of Kamchatka. They managed to capture two Russian ships (the Russian-American Company’s ship Sitkha and a Finnish whaler), but they would have collected more if they had visited Ayan at this time. In De Castries Bay they would have found the frigate Diana. In the meantime they suffered a defeat in Kamchatka, I believe in the middle of August, during which one of the allied admirals was killed or shot himself, and the enemy neither before nor after that undertook any activity.2

In the spring of 1855, they again appeared off Kamchatka, but by that time all our ships and establishments had been moved from Petropavlovsk port to Nikolaevsk on the Amur. Later, in June, the enemy squadron, with the same number of ships as before, then entered De Castries Bay, but our ships were not here. There were, however, a battalion of soldiers and a sotnia of cossacks with two mountain guns, concealed in well-camouflaged trenchworks. Few know of what occurred here, so I will relate a description of the event from a participant (line-battalion officer Chausov, who was later in Sitkha), as far as I remember it.

The enemy ships deployed in the bay and sent sloops with a landing force toward the shore. I do not recall how many sloops there were, but the allies who had panicked when landing at Kamchatka would not have decided to send only a small force here. When the sloops approached to within a sure musket shot from shore (our muskets were smoothbore flintlocks), all our cannons and soldiers in the firing line let loose a volley. The enemy was thrown into great confusion. Two sloops were destroyed and all the rest hurried to turn away from shore, from which repeated firing from cannons and muskets continued until the enemy was out of range. When the sloops were near the ships, the latter’s guns began firing explosive shells which, however, did not cause the least harm. The firing ceased by evening but was resumed in the morning of the next day and thereafter. Everyday for two weeks or even longer, the enemy bombarded the shore from eight in the morning until sundown.

After firing ceased, music was played on the enemy ships, and we on shore had our choir of soldiers and cossacks sing songs. During the bombardments, personnel were withdrawn to places protected from the firing, so that as far as I remember no more than ten men were wounded, of whom a few died. According to Chausov, there were a great many smashed trees on the shore. After leaving De Castries Bay, the allies visited us in Sitkha in order to find out where the Russian naval ships were. Apparently they were still unaware of the existence of Nikolaevsk.

During our voyage to Sitkha the weather did not turn cold and for the most part the wind blew in our direction, though somewhat strongly. Several times I was able to see whales up close. They had the habit of swimming alongside the ship as if in a race, now disappeared below the surface and now surfacing to expel water in thin spray from the hole they had in their heads. It is said this spreads an unbearable stench, the result, probably, from the many small fish and mollusks on which they fed being stuck in their baleen (whale whiskers) while grazing and then later rotting.

On the morning of 2 October 1854, according to the calculations of our ship’s captain, we were at the entrance to Sitkha Bay, but because of the fog we could see only the lower part of some black cliffs. The fog finally dispersed enough for it to be possible for us to recognize the shore, both from the appearance of some cliffs already known to the captain and from their position as determined by the compass. The ship was then directed into the bay where, summoned by firing a cannon, a steamship towed us to the harbor.

Aleksei Yevg. Baranov

1 Dmitrii Irinarkhovich Zavalishin currently (1891) lives in Moscow. He was born about 1805.

2 Regarding the repulse of the Anglo-French from Kamchatka see “Vospominaniya kontr-admirala A. P. Arbuzova”in Russkaya Starina, 1870, Vol. 1, Part Three, pages 304-319.

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Translated by Mark Conrad, 2007.