Page images

gold washings are within a triangle bounded by the Angara to the east, the Yenessei to the west, and Chinese Tartary to the south. In this latter district are situated the penal silver mines of Nertchinsk. The precious metals of the district are forwarded, under escort, to Russia. From the Ural mines, a portion is forwarded also by land to St. Petersburg; while the heavier produce of the various ores is put into boats on the Ai at Statonst, and reaches the same city by water after an intricate river navigation of more than 3000 miles. A portion of the copper is sent to China. The labour in the mines is still partly supplied by migration from the neighbouring towns. The city of Tomsk, for instance, is nearly deserted in the month of June by its able-bodied population, which goes to work at the mines on the Yenessei. In September it returns. The proprietors and agents are compelled by law to dismiss these workmen in that month, and they return to their winter residence. The wages that they have earned during their absence would with frugality support them throughout the year; but it is scarcely necessary to say that frugality among this class of persons is rare. Not only the city, but the district generally suffers deeply from their crimes.

“At the time of the breaking up of the summer labour the roads for a season are infested with these rascals, many of whom riot at the villages on the road until they have spent and gambled away all they have earned during the entire summer. This of course leads to crime upon crime, and to murders especially.

Upon the best information I could obtain, not less than forty bodies of these men, murdered by some of the gang to which they belonged, are picked up by the police upon the roads in the average of years at this season, between the above-mentioned mines and Tomsk.' (Hill, i. 314.)

There is a carefully organised police throughout the greater part of Siberia, and upon the whole its services are decidedly efficient. Nevertheless, it cannot be expected that in so wide and dreary a waste, where sometimes, even upon the main roads, no house is seen for forty or fifty miles, the detection of crime should be very frequent. Only a small proportion of the criminals are brought to justice. These persons are carefully tried, and when convicted, which is commonly the case, are severely punished. They are imprisoned, or flogged, or banished to the penal mines, according to the degree of their guilt. The punishment of death is never directly awarded in Russia; and, at first sight, this appears an indication of humanity. The humanity, however, does not exist; what is avoided directly, is continually inflicted indirectly; and in no

country is there greater cruelty towards criminals. Of the number condemned to suffer the full severity of the plette, a fearful scourge now substituted for the knout, it is estimated that two-fifths never recover, but die sooner or later from its effects. Mr. Hill was present at one of these floggings; and as strangers have rarely been eye-witnesses of these spectacles, which give painful evidence of the severity of the Russian executive, we shall risk shocking some of our readers with details of barbarity, and extract portions of his description of what took place. The criminal whose punishment Mr. Hill witnessed, had, according to' his own confession, robbed his employer, and murdered him in cold blood; he admitted also that it was his fifth murder. There were no extenuating circumstances, and there can be no doubt that in any country he would have suffered the severest punishment that its laws prescribed. He was tried at Tomsk, and was there sentenced to receive a hundred lashes, and to be branded upon the forehead and the temples. When the day for the infliction arrived, he was led to a platform which had been erected for the occasion, and after some useless harassing delays, during which the unhappy man, according to custom, threw his handkerchief among the crowd, that any compassionate persons might collect in it a few copper coins to aid his recovery should he not die under the lash, he was bound to an inclined plane of wood. The executioner, himself a criminal, produced the scourge, which at the first blow cut deep into the flesh, so that the blood spouted out, and the victim's whole frame quivered as he uttered a most piercing cry. The strokes were continued at intervals.

•Whether the manner in which the executioner performed his office was any refinement of his own, or regulated by the letter of the law, I did not hear; but the attitudes which he took, and the formality with which he continually wiped the blood from the tails of the scourge, and arranged these to do the most execution, could not fail to excite disgust in the most frigid; and had the offences of the sufferer been anything less than five murders, might have produced sympathy and pity for his sufferings.

• After the fiftieth stroke, when the criminal's back was but a mere mass of raw and mangled flesh, with the blood running in a stream on either side of the board, the executioner exchanged his gory scourge for a fresh one, with which he continued the operation with the same effect, and answered by the same cries, until the soldier called a hundred, when this part of the sentence was accomplished.

• Preparations were now made for the branding ; the arms and legs of the murderer were unbound, and the plane, upon which he still lay, which rested upon hinges at the feet, was placed in nearly an upright position. The executioner then produced his brand, and VOL. CI. NO. CCVI.


[ocr errors]

while the head of the criminal was held by the soldier he placed the instrument upon the wretched man's forehead, and after giving it two strokes with his open hand, he covered the wound which it made with some indelible tincture; and after this he stamped both temples in a similar manner.

"The murderer had his feet now unbound, and a trial was made whether he could walk; but as he was not able to stand he was carried down the steps of the platform, and just as he reached the ground appeared to be expiring; but some charitable person that was by hastened to rub his face with some forcible restorative, and he presently revived. He was now thrown into a cart filled with straw, and conveyed back to prison to await death, or his sufficient recovery to admit of his being sent to labour in the mines of Nertchinsk for the remainder of his

days.' (Hill, i. 327.) These dreadful details of legal barbarity give ample evidence that the sentence of death is not excluded from the Russian code in consequence of any humane or peculiar Christian views. It is clear that death is not only often legally inflicted, but death by torture.

Besides the mining industry of the Siberians, there are two principal branches of commerce in which the population is largely engaged: the fur trade, and the China trade. Of these the fur trade is by far the most important. Mr. Hill says,

* This source of their maintenance will decrease in proportion to the increase of their numbers, and must finally fail them. By the fur trade, indeed, they (he is speaking at the time of the East Siberians) mainly now exist; or, at least, by this trade their condition has become superior to that in which the natives were found at the conquest of the country; and with its extinction, which the increase of inhabitants in Northern Europe generally, and the consequent increase of the demand for the furs in which they clothe themselves, will, sooner or later, accomplish, this cold region will cease to produce the means of maintaining men in sufficiently dense communities to admit of that state of society in any of its degrees which we term civilisation. (Hill, ii. 198.)

Throughout the whole country furs are an object of pursuit; sables, martens, stoats, foxes, squirrels, and ermines, are tracked and trapped by hunters. As a general rule the furs of the eastern are of a better quality than those in the western provinces, but the ermines near the rivers Irtish, Oby, and Ishim form an exception, being of three times the value of those found beyond the river Lena. There are some grounds for Mr. Hill's fears of a deficiency of supply; the profits derived from the ready sale of all furs being an inducement to a widespread and incessant persecution of the victims whose backs they adorn. Still the time has not yet come for any suffering among the


inhabitants in consequence of a scarcity of the animals. A large export goes on to the west; they are disposed of in Yakoutsk to the value annually of three or four hundred thousand pounds, and furs of more than twice that value are sold in a single town bordering on Chinese Tartary.

It is for these furs that the Chinese barter their own produce and create the trade of second importance to Siberia. From Kiachta, the town to which we have alluded, caravans bearing the various products and manufactures of China, thread their way to the northwards along the few dreary tracks which form the roads of the Siberian wilderness. Teas are imported in large quantities; the finest qualities (and the caravan teas are justly celebrated) being used by all who can afford luxuries; and the coarser' brick' tea by the poorer classes. The manner of drinking it, excepting among the most refined persons, differs from that of Europe. No milk or cream is used; the tea is poured into glass tumblers and sipped, the drinker holding in his mouth a lump of sugar.

It is also common to cut slices of lemon into tea. The lower orders compound the strong, ill-flavoured, compressed cakes of brick' tea, into a kind of thick soup, of which butter and salt are ingredients. At Tomsk, which is a town of 9000 inhabitants, and has a wealthy population, in several shops of a superior class were

exposed the more valuable articles of merchandise, such as cloths, furs, cotton, and linen goods, among which we found

in one that we entered, which was kept by a Tartar merchant, • articles of English, French, and German manufacture, as • well as others of the coarser description of Russian goods. • The prices, however, of everything were from three to four

times higher than we usually pay for the same articles in the * west of Europe. Some were even valued as much as six ' times higher than the prices of London and Paris.'* With every step eastwards the price of goods increases, in conse-quence of the difficulties of transit; until in the miserable port of Ochotz, fish is almost the only food of the inhabitants, flour and groceries being almost unheard-of luxuries, and meat very scarce. Even the cattle and poultry are fed on fish.

A trade in ivory, consisting partly of walrus teeth and partly of the large teeth of fossil mammalia dug up on the north-east coast and its adjacent islands, is likewise limited by the difficulty of carriage.

The severity of the climate in Siberia is the foremost check to its prosperity. Over so large a surface there is, doubtless, a

* Hill, vol. i. p. 251.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

great difference of temperature, as well as of those adjuncts which render bad weather more or less tolerable. It is most favourable in the southern and western districts, while in the northern and eastern all but the very hardiest vegetables perish, animals do not thrive, and men degenerate. In the warmer districts the climate is very similar to that of Sweden and Northern Russia, corn being tolerably fruitful : it is cultivated, indeed, with success as high as the 55th degree of northern latitude ; there, however, is its limit; at 60 degrees it cannot be grown; in that latitude agriculture altogether ceases. The surface of the ground is thawed during several weeks in summer, and is free from ice and snow, but the soil is chilled below and frozen hard to an extraordinary depth. “At Yakutsk, in . 62north latitude, the Russian American company bored for ' water in the court-yard of their establishment to the depth of 380 feet, and the ground was still frozen and no water • found. In that same town the inhabitants have cellars under - all their houses, made in the frozen ground precisely as ice• houses are made in other countries. In summer, when the - heat is as excessive as the cold is in winter, they place all • their fresh provisions, such as milk, meat, and fish, where every S thing becomes frozen in two hours.'* The climate of this district is nearly fatal to vegetation; the scorching sunshine of the daytime is at all times of year succeeded frequently by frosty nights. To the eastward, near the river Nalivnoi, the ice, in the middle of July, is sometimes formed, in a few hours, as much as half an inch thick. While the description of the climate further in the same direction, shows it still more dreary and destructive of happiness and health. It can nowhere be worse than it is at Ochotz, where summer consists of three months

of damp and chilly weather, during great part of which the • snow still covers the hills and the ice chokes the harbour; and

this is succeeded by nine months of dreary winter, in which the cold, unlike that of more inland spots, is as raw as it is intense.'

We have no authentic details of the degree of cold which is experienced in the desolate and thinly inhabited marshes which are situated in the vast territory between the Ural mountains and the lower parts of the river Lena; the country is roadless, and the Ostiaks and Samoieds who occupy it, are rarely visited. There is no inducement to the traveller to encounter the miseries and perils of an expedition to their wastes; nor do the traders penetrate their country, for the natives, living wholly

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Sir G. Simpson's Voyage round the World, vol. ii. p. 299.

« PreviousContinue »