London. Published by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley. 1839.
IN THE YEARS 1823, 24, 25, AND 26.
BY OTTO VON KOTZEBUE,
POST CAPTAIN IN THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL NAVY.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
LONDON: HENRY COLBURN AND RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET. 1830.
LONDON: PRINTED BY SAMUEL BENTLEY. Dorset Street, Fleet Street.
THE SECOND VOLUME
CALIFORNIA, AND THE NEW RUSSIAN SETTLEMENT, ROSS 69
THE SANDWICH ISLANDS 151
THE PESCADORES, RIMSKI-KORSAKOFF, ESCHSCHOLTZ, AND BRONUS ISLANDS 267
THE LADRONES AND PHILIPPINES 279
ST. HELENA 305
ZOOLOGICAL APPENDIX BY PROFESSOR ESCHSCHOLTZ 323
LIST OF PLATES.
Reception of Captain Kotzebue at the Island of Otdia, To face Title of Vol. I.
Plan of Mattaway Bay and Village 200
Chart of the Navigators' Islands 250
Chart of the Islands of Radak and Ralik 288
Nomahanna, Queen of the Sandwich Islands, To face Title of Vol. II.
The wind, which continued favourable to us as far as the Northern Tropic, was succeeded by a calm that lasted twelve days. The ocean, as far as the eye could reach, was as smooth as a mirror, and the heat almost insupportable. Sailors only can fully understand the disagreeableness of this situation. The activity usual on shipboard gave place to the most wearisome idleness. Every one was impatient; some of the men felt assured that we should never have a wind again, and wished for the most violent storm as a change.
One morning we had the amusement of watching two great sword-fish sunning themselves on the surface of the water. I sent out a boat, in the hope that the powerful creatures would, in complaisance, allow us the sport of harpooning them, but they would not wait; they plunged again into the depths of the sea, and we had disturbed their enjoyments in vain.
Our water-machine was several times let down, even to the depth of a thousand fathoms: on the surface, the temperature was 24 deg., and at this depth, only 2 deg. of Reaumur.
On the 22nd of May, the anniversary of our frigate's leaving Stopel, we got a fresh easterly wind, which carried us forward pretty quickly on the still smooth surface of the sea.
On the 1st of June, when in latitude 42 deg. and longitude 201 deg., and consequently opposite the coast of Japan, we descried a red stripe in the water, about a mile long and a fathom broad. In passing over it we drew up a pail-full, and found that its colour was occasioned by an infinite number of crabs, so small as to be scarcely distinguishable by the naked eye.
We now began daily to experience increasing inconveniences from the Northern climate. The sky, hitherto so serene, became gloomy and covered with storm-clouds, which seldom threatened in vain; we were, besides, enveloped in almost perpetual mists, bounding our prospect to a few fathoms. In a short time, the temperature of the air had fallen from 24 deg. to 3 deg. So sudden a change is always disagreeable, and often dangerous. We had to thank the skill and attention of our physician, Dr. Siegwald, that it did not prove so to us. Such rough weather is not common to the latitude we were in at that season; but it is peculiar to the Japanese coast even in summer. Whales and storm-birds showed themselves in great numbers, reminding us that we were hastening to the North, and were already far from the luxuriant groves of the South-Sea islands.
The wind continued so favourable, that on the 7th of June we could already see the high mountains of Kamtschatka in their winter clothing. Their jagged summits reaching to the heavens, crested with everlasting snow, which glitters in the sunbeams, while their declivities are begirt with clouds, give a magnificent aspect to this coast. On the following day, we reached Awatscha Bay, and in the evening anchored in the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The great peninsula of Kamtschatka, stretching to the river Anadir on the North, and South to the Kurilian Islands, bathed on the east by the ocean, and on the west by the sea of Ochotsk, is, like many men, better than its reputation. It is supposed to be the roughest and most desolate corner of the world, and yet it lies under the same latitude as England and Scotland, and is equal in size to both. The summer is indeed much shorter, but it is also much finer; and the vegetation is more luxuriant than in Great Britain. The winter lasts long, and its discomforts are increased by the quantity of snow that falls; but in the southern parts the cold is moderate; and experience has repeatedly refuted the erroneous opinion, that on account of its long duration, and the consequent curtailment of the summer season, corn cannot be efficaciously cultivated here.
Although the snow lies in some of the valleys till the end of May, because the high, over-shadowing mountains intercept the warm sunbeams, yet garden-plants prosper. Potatoes generally yield a triple crop, and would perfectly supply the want of bread, if the inhabitants cultivated them more diligently: but the easier mode of providing fish in super-abundance as winter food, has induced them to neglect the labour of raising potatoes, although they have known years when the fishery has barely protected them from famine.
The winter, as I have already said, is very unpleasant, from the heavy snows, which, drifting from the mountains, often bury the houses, so that the inhabitants are compelled to dig a passage out, while the cattle walk on its frozen surface over their roofs.
Travelling in this season is very rapid and convenient. The usual mode is in sledges drawn by six or more dogs. The only danger is from snow-storms. The traveller, surprised by this sudden visitation, has no chance for safety except in quietly allowing himself and his dogs to be buried in the snow, and relieving himself from his covering when the storm is past. This, however, is not always practicable; should the storm, or, as it is called here, "purga," overtake him in the ravine of a mountain, such an immense quantity of snow becomes heaped upon him, that he has no power to extricate himself from his tomb. These accidents, however, seldom occur; for the Kamtschatkans have acquired of necessity great foresight in meteorology, and of course never undertake a journey when they do not consider themselves sure of the weather.
The principal reason why the climate of Kamtschatka is inferior to that of other places under the same latitude, is to be found in the configuration of the country. The mountains of England, for instance, are of a very moderate height, and broken by extensive plains; here, on the contrary, intersected only by a few valleys of small extent, a single chain of mountains, its broken snow-crowned summits reaching to the clouds, and in many parts far beyond them, stretches the whole length of the Peninsula, and is based upon its breadth.
The panorama of Kamtschatka is a confused heap of granite blocks of various heights, thickly piled together, whose pointed, jagged forms bear testimony to the tremendous war of elements amidst which they must have burst from the bowels of the earth. The struggle is even now scarcely ended, as the smoking and burning of volcanoes, and frequent shocks of earthquake, sufficiently intimate. One of the mountains, called Kamtschatka Mountain, rivalling in height the loftiest in the world, often vomits forth streams of lava on the surrounding country. These mountains with their glaciers, and volcanoes emitting columns of fire and smoke from amidst fields of ice, afford a picturesque contrast with the beautiful green of the valleys. The most singular and indescribably-splendid effect is produced by the crystal rocks on the western coast, when illuminated by the sun; their whole refulgent surface reflecting his rays in every various tint of the most brilliant colours, resembles the diamond mountains of fairy-land, while the neighbouring rocks of quartz shine like masses of solid gold.
Kamtschatka is a most interesting country to the professor of the natural sciences. Great mineral treasures will certainly be one day discovered here; the number and diversity of its stones is striking even to the most uninitiated. It abounds in hot and salutary springs. To the botanist it offers great varieties of plants, little if at all known; and the zoologist would find here, amongst the animal tribes deserving his attention, besides several kinds of bears, wolves and foxes, the celebrated sable whose skin is sold for so great a price, and the native wild sheep, which inhabits the tops of the highest mountains. It attains the size of a large goat; the head resembles that of an ordinary sheep, but is furnished with strong, crooked horns: the skin and form of the body are like the reindeer, and it feeds chiefly on moss. It is fleet and active, achieving, like the chamois, prodigious springs among the rocks and precipices, and is, consequently, with difficulty killed or taken. In preparing for these leaps, its eye measures the distance with surprising accuracy; the animal then contracts its legs, and darts forward head-foremost to the destined spot, where it alights upon its feet, nor is it ever known to miss, although the point may be so small as to admit its four feet only by their being closely pressed together. The manner in which it balances itself after such leaps is also admirable: our ballet-dancers would consider it a model of a perfect a plomb. The monster of the antediluvian world, the mammoth, must have been an inhabitant of this country, since many of its bones have been found here.
The forests of Kamtschatka are not enlivened by singing-birds; indeed land-birds are all scarce; but there are infinite numbers of waterfowl of many species. Immense flocks of them are to be seen upon the lakes, rivers, morasses, and even the sea itself, in the vicinity of the shore. Fish is abundant, especially in the months of June and July. A single draught of the net provided us with as many as the whole crew could consume in several days. A sort of salmon, ling, and herrings, are preferred for winter stock; the latter, dried in the air, supply food for the dogs.
Kamtschatka was discovered in the year 1696, by a Cossack of Yakutsh, by name Luca Semenoff, who, on a report being spread of the existence of this country, set out with sixteen companions to make a journey hither. In the following years, similar expeditions were repeated in greater force, till Kamtschatka was subjected and made tributary to the Russian crown. The conquest of this country cost many Russian lives; and from the ferocity of the conquerors, and the difficulty of maintaining discipline amongst troops so scattered, ended in nearly exterminating the Kamtschatkans. Although subsequent regulations restrained the disorders of the wild Cossacks, the population is still very thin; but under a wise and careful government it will certainly increase.
The name of Kamtschatka, pronounced Kantschatka, conferred by the Russians, was adopted from the native appellation of the great river flowing through the country. This river derived its name, according to tradition, from Kontschat, a warrior of former times, who had a stronghold on its banks. It is strange that the Kamtschatkans had no designation either for themselves or their country. They called themselves simply men, as considering themselves either the only inhabitants of the earth, or so far surpassing all others, as to be alone worthy of this title. On the southern side of the peninsula, the aborigines are believed to have been distinguished by the name of Itelmen; but the signification of this word remains uncertain.
The Kamtschatkans acknowledged an Almighty Creator of the world, whom they called Kutka. They supposed that he inhabited the heavens; but had at one time dwelt in human form in Kamtschatka, and was the original parent of their race. Even here the tradition of a universal deluge prevails, and a spot is still shown, on the top of a mountain where Kutka landed from a boat, in order to replenish the world with men. The proverbial phrase current in Kamtschatka, to express a period long past, is, "that was in Kutka's days."
Before the expeditions of the Russians to Kamtschatka, the inhabitants were acquainted only with the neighbouring Koriacks and Tchuktchi.
They had also acquired some knowledge of Japan, from a Japanese ship wrecked on their coast. They acknowledged no chief, but lived in perfect independence, which they considered as their highest good.
Besides the supreme God Kutka, they had a host of inferior deities, installed by their imaginations in the forests, the mountains, and the floods. They adored them when their wishes were fulfilled, and insulted them when their affairs went amiss; like the lower class of Italians, who, when any disaster befalls them, take off their cap, enumerate into it as many saints' names as they can call to mind, and then trample it under foot. Two wooden household deities, Aschuschok and Hontai, were held in particular estimation. The former, in the figure of a man, officiated in scaring away the forest spirits from the house; for which service he was remunerated in food, his head being daily anointed with fish-soup. Hontai was half man, half fish, and on every anniversary of the purification from sin, a new one was introduced and placed beside his predecessors, so that the accumulated number of Hontais showed how many years the inhabitants had occupied their house.
The Kamtschatkans believed in their own immortality, and in that of the brute creation; but they expected in a future state to depend upon their labour for subsistence, as in the present life; they only hoped that the toil would be lightened, and its reward more abundant, that they might never suffer hunger. This idea of itself sufficiently proves, that the fisheries sometimes fail in their produce.
The several races of Kamtschatkans frequently waged war with each other; caused either by the forcible abduction of the women, or a deficiency in hospitality on their occasional interchange of visits, which was considered an insult to the guest, demanding a bloody revenge.
Their wars were seldom carried on openly; they preferred stratagem and artifice; and the conquerors practised the greatest cruelties on the conquered. If a party was so beleaguered as to lose all hope of effectual resistance, or of securing their safety by flight, knowing that no mercy would await a surrender, their warlike spirit did not desert them; they first murdered their women and children, and then rushed furiously on the enemy, to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Their weapons were lances, and bows and poisoned arrows.
To treat a guest with the utmost politeness, and leave no cause for hostility, the host was expected to heat his subterranean dwelling till it became almost insupportable: both parties then cast off all their attire, an enormous quantity of food was placed before the guest, and the fire was continually fed. When the visitor declared that he could no longer eat, or endure the heat of the place, all that courtesy required had been done, and the host expected a present in return for his hospitality.
At such entertainments the moucho-more, a deleterious species of mushroom, was usually introduced, as a mode of intoxication. Taken in small quantities, it is said to excite an agreeable hilarity of spirits; but if immoderately used, it will produce insanity of several days' duration. Animated by these enjoyments, the host and guests found mutual amusement in the exercise of their peculiar talent of mimicking men and animals.
The children when grown up showed little affection for their parents, neglected them in old age, and did not even consider it a violation of filial duty to kill them when they became burdensome. They also murdered their defective or weakly children, to spare them the misery of a languishing existence. They did not bury their dead, but dragged the corpse into the open air, by a thong tied about the neck, and left it a prey to dogs; under the belief, that those devoured by these animals, would in another world be drawn by the best dogs.
The mode of solemnizing marriages among the Kamtschatkans was tedious, and, on the part of the bridegroom, attended with many difficulties. A man who wished to marry a girl went to the house of her parents, and without farther declaration took his share in the domestic labours. He thus became the servant of the family, and was obliged to obey all their behests, till he succeeded in winning the favour of the girl and her parents. This might continue for years, and even in the end he was liable to be dismissed, without any compensation for his trouble. If, however, the maiden was pleased, and the parents were satisfied with him, they gave him permission to catch his beloved; from this moment the girl took all possible pains to avoid being alone with him, defended herself with a fishing-net and numerous girdles, all which were to be cut through with a stone knife, while all the family were upon the watch to rescue her at the first outcry: the unfortunate lover had probably no sooner laid hands upon his bride than he was seized by her relations, beaten, and dragged away by his hair; yet was he compelled to conquer and overpower her resistance, or to continue in unrewarded servitude. When, however, the catching was accomplished, the fair one herself proclaimed the victory, and the marriage was celebrated.
The present Kamtschatkans are an extremely good-natured, hospitable, timid people; in colour and features nearly resembling the Chinese and Japanese. They all profess the Christian religion; but secretly retain many of their heathen customs, particularly that of killing their deformed children.
The town, or rather village, adjoining the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul, where the present Governor of Kamtschatka, Captain Stanizky, resides, though the principal place in the peninsula, contains but few convenient houses. The rest, about fifty in number, are mere huts, irregularly scattered up the side of a mountain. The inhabitants of this place, which bears the same name as the harbour, are all Russians, officers of the crown, sailors, disbanded soldiers, and some insignificant traders.
The Kamtschatkans live inland in little villages on the banks of the rivers, but seldom on the sea-coast.
From Krusenstern's representation, Kamtschatka appears very little altered in five-and-twenty years. The only advance made in that period, consists in the cultivation of potatoes by the inhabitants of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the entire water-carriage of various goods and necessaries of life, which were formerly needlessly enhanced in price by being brought overland, through Siberia to Ochotsk.
The northern part of the peninsula and the adjoining country, even to the icy sea, is inhabited by the Tschuktschi, a warlike nomad tribe, removing with celerity from place to place by means of their reindeer. They were not so easily conquered as the Kamtschatkans, and for five-and-thirty years incessantly annoyed the Russians, to whom they now only pay a small tribute in skins. Our cannon at length forced a peace upon them, which had not been long concluded, before there was reason to apprehend a breach of its conditions on their part, and an ambassador was sent to their Tajon, or chief, to discover their intentions. The chief drew a long knife from a sheath at his side, presented it to the ambassador, making him observe that it had a broken point, and addressed him as follows: "When my father died he gave me this knife, saying, 'My son, I received this broken knife from my uncle, whom I succeeded in the dignity of Tajon, and I promised him never to sharpen it against the Russians, because we never prosper in our combats with them; I therefore enjoin thee also to enter into no strife with them till this knife shall of itself renew its point.' You see that the knife is still edgeless, and my father's last will is sacred to me."
According to an accurate census taken of the population of Kamtschatka in the year 1822, it amounts, with the exception of the Tschuktschi, who cannot be computed, to two thousand four hundred and fifty-seven persons of the male, and one thousand nine hundred and forty-one of the female sex. Of these, the native Kamtschatkans were only one thousand four hundred and twenty-eight males, and one thousand three hundred and thirty females; the rest were Koriaks and Russians. They possessed ninety-one horses, seven hundred and eighteen head of cattle, three thousand eight hundred and forty-one dogs, and twelve thousand reindeer, the latter belonging exclusively to the Koriaks.
Unimportant as was the place where we now landed, a change is always agreeable after a long voyage; and the kind and hospitable reception we met with from the commander as well as the inhabitants, contributed greatly to our enjoyments.
We were gratified with a bear-hunt, which produced much sport, and gave us the satisfaction of killing a large and powerful bear. This animal is very numerous here, and is consequently easily met with by a hunting-party. The usually timid Kamtschatkan attacks them with the greatest courage. Often armed only with a lance and a knife, he endeavours to provoke the bear to the combat; and when it rises on its hind legs for defence or attack, the hunter rushes forward, and, resting one end of the lance on the ground, plunges the other into its breast, finally dispatching it with his knife. Sometimes, however, he fails in the attempt, and pays for his temerity with his life.
The following anecdote evinces the hardihood of the bears. Fish, which forms their chief nourishment, and which they procure for themselves from the rivers, was last year excessively scarce. A great famine consequently existed among them, and instead of retiring to their dens, they wandered about the whole winter through, even in the streets of St. Peter and St. Paul. One of them finding the outer gate of a house open, entered, and the gate accidentally closed after him. The woman of the house had just placed a large tea-machine, full of boiling water, in the court, the bear smelt to it and burned his nose; provoked at the pain, he vented all his fury upon the kettle, folded his fore-paws round it, pressed it with his whole strength against his breast to crush it, and burnt himself, of course, still more and more. The horrible growl which rage and pain forced from him, brought all the inhabitants of the house and neighbourhood to the spot, and poor bruin was soon dispatched by shots from the windows. He has, however, immortalized his memory, and become a proverb amongst the town's people, for when any one injures himself by his own violence, they call him "the bear with the tea-kettle."
On the 14th of July, M. Preuss observed an eclipse of the sun, from which he determined the geographical longitude of St. Peter and St. Paul to be 201 deg. 10' 31". On the same day Dr. Siegwald and Messrs. Lenz and Hoffman happily achieved the Herculean task of climbing the Owatscha Mountain, which lies near the harbour. Its height, according to barometrical measurement, is seven thousand two hundred feet. An intermittent smoke arose from its crater, and a cap let down a few feet within it was drawn up burnt. The gentlemen brought back with them some pieces of crystallized sulphur, as evidence of their having really pursued their examination quite into the mouth of the crater.
After having delivered all the articles which we had taken in for Kamtschatka, we left the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul on the morning of the 20th of July, and with favouring breezes sailed for the Russian settlement of New Archangel, on the north-west coast of America.
At sunset the majestic mountains of Kamtschatka appeared for the last time within our horizon, and at a vast distance. This despised and desolate country may perhaps one day become a Russian Mexico. The only treasure of which we robbed it was, a swallow's nest! I mention it, because it long supplied the whole ship's company with amusement.
In the harbour of St. Peter and St. Paul, there is sufficient depth of water close to the shore to admit of landing by means of a plank only. This proximity led a pair of swallows to mistake our frigate for a building upon terra-firma, and to the infinite delight of the sailors, who regarded it as a lucky omen, they deliberately built themselves a nest close to my cabin. Undisturbed by the noise in the ship, the loving pair hatched their brood in safety, fed their young ones with the tenderest care, and cheered them with joyous songs. But when on a sudden they saw their peaceful dwelling removing from the land, they seemed astonished, and hovered anxiously about the ship, yet still fetched food for their young from the shore, till the distance became too great.
The struggle between the instincts of self-preservation and parental love then became perceptible. They flew round the vessel, then vanished for awhile, then suddenly returned to their hungry family, and stretching their open beaks towards them, seemed to lament that no food was to be found. This alternate disappearing and returning continued some time, and terminated in the parents returning no more; the sailors then took on themselves the care of the deserted orphans. They removed them from the nest where the parents warmth was necessary, to another lined with cotton, and fixed in a warm place, and fed them with flies, which seemed to please their palates very well. The system at first appeared to have perfectly succeeded, and we were in hopes of carrying them safely to America; when, in spite of the most careful attention, they fell sick, and on the eighth day, to the general sorrow, not one of our nurslings remained alive.
They however afforded an additional proof how kindly the common people of Russia are interested in all that is helpless.
The swallows brought us no good fortune. The very day after we left Kamtschatka, one of our best sailors fell from the mast-head into the scuttle, and immediately expired. He had climbed thither in safety in the most violent storms, and executed the most difficult tasks with ease; now, in fine weather, on a tranquil sea, he met this fate.
These accidents happen most frequently to the best and cleverest sailors: they confide too much in their own ability, and consider too little the risks they run. It is impossible to warn them sufficiently.
This fatal accident produced a general melancholy among us, which the cloudy, wet, cold weather we soon encountered perpetually increased, till we reached the coast of America. Fortunately, we had all the time a strong west wind; by its help we passed the southern coasts of the Aleutian Islands, and on the 7th of August already approached the American coast. On this day the sun once more smiled on us; the sky afterwards continued clear, and the air became milder and pleasanter as we neared the land.
From our noon observation we were in latitude 55 deg. 36', and longitude 140 deg. 56'. In this region, some navigators have imagined they observed a regular current to the north; but our experience does not confirm the remark. A current carried us from twenty to thirty miles in twenty-four hours, setting sometimes north, and sometimes south, according to the impulse of the wind; close to shore only the current is regularly to the north. The inhabitants concurred in this observation.
We now steered direct for the bay called by the English Norfolk Sound, and by the Russians Sitka Bay, and the island at its back, which the natives call Sitchachan, whence the Russian Sitka. This island, called by the Russians New Archangel, is at present the principal settlement of the Russian-American company.
On the morning of the 9th of August, we were, according to my calculation, near land; but a thick fog concealed us from every object so much as fifty fathoms distant. At length the mid-day sun burst forth, and rapidly dispelling the curtain of cloud and fog, surprised us with a view of the American coast. We were standing right for the mouth of the above-mentioned bay, at a small distance from the Edgecumbe promontory; a table-land so elevated, that in clear weather it serves for a safe landmark at a distance of fifty miles.
We were all day prevented by a calm from making the bay, and were obliged to content ourselves with admiring the wild high rocky coast, with its fir forests. Though now in a much higher latitude than in Kamtschatka, we yet saw no snow, even on the summits of the highest mountains; a proof of the superior mildness of the climate on the American, compared with the Asiatic coast.
The next day we took advantage of a light wind blowing towards the bay; but so gloomy was the weather, that we could scarcely see land, and not one of our crew had ever been in the bay before. It stretches from the entrance to New Archangel twenty-five miles in length, and is full of small islands and shallows; a pilot was not to be thought of; but we happily overcame all our difficulties. We tacked through all the intricacies of this navigation amidst heavy rain and a thick gloom, till we dropped the anchor within musket-shot of the fortress.
We here found the frigate Kreissac, under the command of Captain Lasaref, sent here by Government for the protection of trade, and whom we were destined to succeed.
The appearance of a vessel of our native country, in so distant and desolate a corner of the earth, naturally produced much joy amongst our people. I immediately paid a visit to Captain Lasaref, and then to the Governor of the Colony, Captain Murawief, an old acquaintance, whom I had not seen for many years. At so great a distance from home, friendships are quickly formed between compatriots, even if previously unknown to each other,—how much then must their interest increase, when long ago cemented in the native land! My intercourse with this gentleman, equally distinguished for his noble character and cultivated mind, conduced much to the comfort of a tedious residence in this desert.
To my enquiry, whether my vessel must now remain stationary at the colony, he replied, that until the first of March of the following year (1825), my time was at my own disposal, but that after that period my presence could not be dispensed with. I therefore proceeded to visit California and the Sandwich Islands, and returned to New Archangel on the 23rd of February 1825.
The nearer we drew to the land the milder the weather became, and we were astonished, in so northern a country, to see the mountains at this season of the year entirely free from snow to a considerable height. Throughout this winter, however, which had been particularly mild, the snow in many of the vallies had never lain above a few hours together. Here, under fifty-seven degrees north latitude, the climate is much milder than in European countries similarly situated; as again the north-east coast of Asia is much colder than countries of an equal latitude in Europe.
On the morning of the 24th, after passing a stormy night on this dangerous coast, we happily succeeded in reaching the harbour, and anchoring before the fortress, just before another and most violent tempest set in.
We were received with great rejoicing; and on the following day placed the frigate in such a position, and at such a distance from the fortress, as was most convenient to accomplish the purpose of our mission. To explain this, we must take a short review of the Russian settlement here, and of the affairs of the original inhabitants.
From the highest antiquity to the present day, examples are not wanting of men trusting themselves in small and frail vessels to the perils of the ocean, and performing astonishing voyages, without any of those aids which the improvements in science and mechanical art place within our reach. The children of the Sun in Peru, and the founders of the regular political constitution which existed in Mexico before its invasion by the Spaniards, probably floated in little canoes over the trackless surface of the ocean, as the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands do to this day.
The voyages of the Phoenicians and Romans are sufficiently known; as are those of the Norman heroes who discovered Greenland, Iceland, and even North America.
In vessels just as defective, destitute of the instruments requisite for observing their course, and of any fixed notion concerning the conformation or extent of the earth, often even without a compass, ignorant Russian adventurers have embarked from Ochotsk, and rounding Kamtschatka, have discovered the Aleutian Islands, and attained to the north-west coast of America. Year after year, in more numerous parties, they repeated these expeditions, tempted by the beautiful furs which were procured in the newly-discovered countries. Many of their vessels were lost,—many of those who ventured in them were attacked and murdered by savages; yet still new adventurers were found yearly encountering all these risks, for the sake of the profitable traffic in these furs, especially that of the sea-otter. By degrees they formed themselves into commercial societies, which obtained a firmer footing on the Aleutian Islands, and even on the northern parts of the western coast of America, carried on a regular trade to Siberia, but lived in a state of continual violence and dissensions.
Superior to the natives by the possession of fire-arms, they became overbearing, treated the timid Aleutians in the most cruel manner, and would perhaps have quite exterminated them, had not the Emperor Paul interposed. By his order, in 1797, a Russian-American mercantile company was established, which was to supersede the trading societies hitherto existing, and possess the exclusive privilege of carrying on trade and founding settlements in these regions. The directors, in whose hands was vested the administration of the affairs and appointment of the governor of these settlements, were to reside in Petersburg, under the control of the government, to which they were responsible.
At first the sea-otters were plentiful, even on the coast of Kamtschatka; but the unlimited pursuit of them diminished their numbers so rapidly, that the Company was obliged to extend their search for them over the Aleutian Islands, and even to the island of Kodiack, lying on the American coast, where they had fixed their chief settlement.
From thence the chase was continued to the bay of Tschugatsk and Cook's river. The poor otters were severe sufferers, for the beauty of the skin nature had bestowed on them. They were pursued in every possible direction, and such numbers annually killed, that at length they became scarce, even in these quarters, having already almost wholly disappeared from Kamtschatka and the Aleutian Islands.
The Company therefore resolved to extend their settlements farther south; and thus, in the year 1804, arose the colony on the island of Sitka, whose natives call themselves after their island, but are styled by the Russians Kalushes.
The island is only separated from the mainland by a narrow inlet of the sea. It extends over three degrees and a half of latitude; and, in fact, consists of three islands, as I ascertained by personal examination in boats. The channels, however, which separate them are so narrow, that the three might easily pass for one. The coast of Sitka Bay is intersected by many deep creeks, and the neighbouring waters thickly sprinkled with little rocky islands overgrown with wood, which are a protection against storms, and present a strong wall of defence against the waves.
The harbour of New Archangel is equally well defended by nature, and needs no assistance from art.
A bold enterprising man of the name of Baronof, long superintended the Company's establishments. Peculiarly adapted by nature for the task of contending with a wild people, he seemed to find a pleasure in the occupation. Although the conquest of the Sitkaens, or Kalushes, was not so easily achieved as that of the more timid Aleutians and Kodiacks, he finally accomplished it. A warlike, courageous, and cruel race, provided with fire-arms by the ships of the North American United States, in exchange for otters' skins, maintained an obstinate struggle against the invaders. But Baronof at length obtained a decisive superiority over them. What he could not obtain by presents, he took by force, and, in spite of all opposition, succeeded in founding the settlement on this island. He built some dwelling-houses, made an entrenchment, and having, in his own opinion, appeased the Kalushes by profuse presents, confided the new conquest to a small number of Russians and Aleutians. For a short time matters went on prosperously, when suddenly, the garrison left by Baronof, believing itself in perfect safety, was attacked one night by great numbers of Kalushes, who entered the entrenchments without opposition, and murdered all they met there with circumstances of atrocious cruelty. A few Aleutians only, who happened to be out in their little baidars, escaped by standing out to sea, and brought to Kodiack the news of the annihilation of the settlement at Sitka.
This occurrence took place in the year 1804, when the present Admiral Krusenstern made his voyage round the world, and his second ship, the Neva, was bound for this colony. Baronof immediately seized so excellent an opportunity for revenging himself on the Kalushes. He armed three vessels, and sailed in company with the Neva to Sitka. When the Kalushes heard that the warrior Nonok, as they called Baronof, had returned, terror prevented their attempting to oppose his landing; and they retired in great haste to their fortification, consisting of a great quadrangle closely set round with thick, high beams, broken only by one very small and strong door. The pallisadoes were furnished with loop-holes, for the firing of muskets and falconets, with which the besieged were amply supplied. This wooden fortress, enclosing about three hundred fighting men with their families, held out several days; but no sooner had the heavy guns of the Russians effected a breach, than the besieged, finding their position no longer tenable, surrendered at discretion, and delivered over the sons of their chiefs as hostages for their submission.
Though peace was now established, and they were allowed to retire unmolested, yet, mistrusting the Russians, they stole away secretly in a dark night, having first murdered all who, whether from age or infancy, might be burdensome to them in their flight. Morning discovered the cruelty perpetrated by these barbarians, who, in their fears, judged the Russians by themselves. From this time Baronof remained nominally in possession of the island, and actually of a hill upon it forming a natural fortification, and formerly inhabited by a chief of the Kalushes called Katelan.
The savages thirsted for revenge; and, notwithstanding the treaties concluded with them, unceasingly sought to gratify it by secret arts and ambushes; so that the Russians, unless well armed, and in considerable numbers, could not venture beyond the shelter of their fortress without the most imminent danger of being murdered.
Baronof re-founded the settlement, and having strengthened by scientific defences the high hill, which falls on every side in abrupt precipices, has rendered it perfectly safe from every attack. The necessary dwelling-houses were soon erected; and this place, under the name of New Archangel, became the capital of the Russian possessions in America, stretching from 52 deg. of latitude to the Icy Sea, and including also two settlements lying farther south, of which I shall hereafter have occasion to speak.
Baronof himself resided from this time in New Archangel, and the chase of the sea-otters proved very advantageous to the Company; but so scarce are these animals now become, even here, that the numbers caught only suffice to cover the expenses of maintaining a force sufficient for protection against the savages. For this reason, the Company have contemplated the necessity of entirely abandoning the settlement at New Archangel, and making Kodiack once more their capital. It were, however, a pity this plan should be adopted, as it would afford facilities to other nations, by settling in these regions, to disturb the trade of the Company. But the Company may possibly be compelled to give up New Archangel, by their resources not permitting them to retain it, unless they should receive some assistance from Government.
The climate of Sitka is not so severe as might have been expected from its latitude. In the middle of winter the cold is not excessive, and never lasts long. Agriculture notwithstanding does not appear to be successful here. There is not perhaps a spot in the world where so much rain falls; a dry day is a perfect rarity, and this would itself account for the failure of corn; the nature of the ground is however equally inimical to it.
There are no plains of any extent; the small valleys being every where surrounded by high steep rocks of granite, and consequently overshadowed the greater part of the day. Some vegetables, such as cabbages, turnips, and potatoes, prosper very well: the latter are raised even by the Kalushes, who have learned from the Russians the manner of cultivating them, and consider them as a great delicacy. Upon the continent of America, the climate, under the same latitude, is said to be incomparably better than on this island, although the cold is rather more severe. Great plains are there to be met with, where wheat could probably be successfully cultivated.
The forests of Sitka, consisting principally of fir and beech, are lofty and thick. Some of their trees are a hundred and sixty feet in height, and from six to seven feet in diameter. From these noble trunks the Kalushes form their large canoes, which sometimes carry from twenty-five to thirty men. They are laboriously and skilfully constructed; but the credit their builders may claim for this one branch of industry is nearly all that belongs to a barbarous and worthless race of men.
Wild and unfruitful as this country appears, the soil is rich, so that its indigenous plants, of which there are no great variety, attain a very large growth. Several kinds of berries, particularly raspberries and black currants, of an enormous size but watery taste, are met with in considerable quantities.
The sea, near the coast and in the bays, abounds in fish and in mammalia. Whales, sea-hogs, seals, sea-lions, &c. are very numerous; but of the fish, which chiefly afford subsistence both to the natives and the Russians, the best are herrings, salmon, and cod, of which there is a superfluity. There is no great variety of birds native to this coast; but the beautiful white-headed eagle, and several sorts of pretty humming-birds, migrate from warmer climates to build their nests in Sitka. It is extraordinary that these tender little creatures, always inhabiting hot countries, should venture thus far northwards.
Among the quadrupeds frequenting the forests is the black bear, whose skin fetches so high a price in Russia, and a species of wild sheep known to us only by the descriptions of the Kalushes, and in which our natural histories are still deficient. It differs greatly from that of Kamtschatka: its wool rivals silk in the delicacy and softness of its texture. The most remarkable animal, however, is the sea-otter, that which has allured merchants hither from distant countries, and which, if such intercourse should improve the morals and intellects of the natives, may be considered as their benefactor. This animal inhabits only the north-west coast of America, between the latitudes of 30 deg. and 60 deg., in smaller numbers the Aleutian islands, and formerly the coast of Kamtschatka and the Kurile islands. Its skin makes the finest fur in the world, and is as highly prized by the Chinese as by the Europeans. Its value advances yearly, with the increasing scarceness of the animal; it will soon entirely disappear, and exist only in description to decorate our zoological works.
Attempts have been made to identify the sea and river otter, because there is a considerable resemblance in their form; but the skin of the former is without comparison finer than the latter, which inhabits only lakes and rivers, where the sea-otter is never found.
They are often seen on the surface of the water, many miles from land, lying asleep on their backs, with their young, of which only two are produced at a birth, lying over them sucking. The young cannot swim till they are some months old; but the mother, when she goes out to sea in search of food, carries them on her back and brings them back to her hole in the rocks, when she has satisfied her hunger. If seen by the hunter during these excursions, she is a certain prey, for she never forsakes her offspring however they embarrass her swimming, but, in common with the male, defends them courageously against every attack.
The lungs of these animals are so constructed that they cannot subsist for more than a few minutes under water, but are necessitated to re-ascend to the surface for breath. These opportunities are seized by the hunters, who would seldom succeed, if the otter could remain long under water, where it swims with great rapidity and skill. Even with the above advantage, the chase is very toilsome, and sometimes dangerous. It is carried on in the following manner.
The hunters row in the little Aleutian baidars round the coast, and for some miles out to sea, provided with bows, arrows, and short javelins. As soon as they see an otter they throw their javelins, or shoot their arrows. The animal is seldom struck; it immediately dives, and as it swims very rapidly, the skill of the hunter is displayed in giving the baidar the same direction as that taken by the animal. As soon as the otter re-appears on the water, it is again fired at, when it dives again; and the pursuit is continued in the same way till the creature becomes so weary that it is easily struck.
They tear out with their teeth the arrows which wound them; and often, especially if their young are with them, boldly fall upon the canoes and attack their persecutors with teeth and claws; these conflicts however uniformly end in the defeat and death of the otter. The more baidars are in company, the safer is the hunt, but with experienced hunters two are enough. They often encounter great perils by venturing out too far to sea, and being overtaken by storms.
I now proceed, though with some reluctance, to the description of the natives, the Kalushes. They are, as I have already said, the most worthless people on the face of the earth, and disgusting to such a degree that I must beg fastidious readers to pass over a few pages. The truth of my narrative makes it necessary for me to submit to the revolting task of showing to what point of degradation human nature may sink.
The Sitka Islanders, as well as their neighbours on the continent, are large and strongly built, but have their limbs so ill-proportioned, that they all appear deformed. Their black, straight hair hangs dishevelled over their broad faces, their cheek-bones stand out, their noses are wide and flat, their mouths large, their lips thick, their eyes small, black, and fiery, and their teeth strikingly white.
Their natural colour is not very dark; but they appear much more so than is natural to them, from the custom of smearing themselves daily over the face and body with ochre and a sort of black earth. Immediately after the birth, the head of the child is compressed, to give it what they consider a fine form, in which the eyebrows are drawn up, and the nostrils stretched asunder. In common with many other nations, they tear the beard out by the roots as soon as it appears. This is the business of the women. Their usual clothing consists of a little apron; but the rich wear blankets, purchased from the Russians, or from the American ships, and tied by two corners round the neck, so that they hang down and cover the back. Some of them wear bear-skins in a similar manner. The most opulent possess some European garments, which they wear on great occasions, and which would have an absurd effect were they not so disgusting as to extinguish all inclination to laugh. They never cover the head but in heavy rain, and then protect it by round caps of grass, so ingeniously and closely plaited as to exclude every drop of water.
Whatever the degree of heat or cold, they never vary their costume; and I believe there is not a people in the world so hardened against the weather. In the winter, during a cold of 10 deg. of Reaumur, the Kalushes walk about naked, and jump into the water as the best method of warming themselves. At night they lie without any covering, under the open sky, near a great fire, so near indeed as to be sometimes covered by the hot ashes. The women whom I have seen were either dressed in linen shifts reaching to their feet, or in plaited mats.
The custom common to both sexes, of painting their faces in broad, black, white, and red stripes crossed in all directions, gives them a peculiarly wild and savage appearance. Although this painting is quite arbitrary, and subject to no exact rules, the different races distinguish each other by it. To give the face a yet more insane cast, their long, hanging, tangled hair is mixed with the feathers of the white eagle. When powdered and painted in this way, the repulsiveness of the Kalush women, by nature excessively ugly, may be imagined; but they have a method of still farther disfiguring themselves. As soon as they are nearly marriageable, an incision is made in the under-lip, and a bone passed through it, which is exchanged from time to time for a thicker one, that the opening may be continually widened. At length a sort of double button, of an oval form, called a kaluga, which, among the people of rank, is often four inches long, and three broad, is forced in so as to make the under lip stand forward thus much in a horizontal direction, and leave the lower teeth quite bare. The outer rim of the lip surrounding the wooden button becomes by the violent stretching as thin as a packthread, and of a dark blue colour.
In running, the lip flaps up and down so as to knock sometimes against the chin and sometimes against the nose. Upon the continent, the kaluga is worn still larger; and the female who can cover her whole face with her under-lip passes for the most perfect beauty. Men and women pierce the gristle of the nose, and stick quills, iron rings, and all kinds of ornaments, through it. In their ears, which are also pierced in many places, they wear strings of bones, muscle-shells, and beads.
It would be difficult to convey an adequate idea of the hideousness of these people when their costume is thus complete; but the lips of the women, held out like a trough, and always filled with saliva stained with tobacco-juice, of which they are immoderately fond, is the most abominably revolting part of the spectacle.
The Kalushes have no fixed residence, but hover round the coast in their large canoes, which they call the women's, carrying all their property with them. When they fix upon any spot for their temporary establishment, they build a hut with great celerity, having all the materials at hand. They drive a number of stakes into the ground in a quadrangular form, fill the interstices with thin planks, and roof in the whole with the bark of trees. With such a dwelling they are satisfied; in the severest winter the family sit in a circle, carrying on their several employments round a fire in the centre. The interior displays as much filthiness as if the inhabitants belonged to the dirtiest class of the brute creation. The smoke; the stench of bad fish, and blubber; the repulsive figures of the women, disgustingly occupied in seeking for vermin on the heads or skins of the men, and actually eating them when found; the great utensil for the service of the whole family, which is also the only vessel capable of containing water to wash with; all this soon drives the most inquisitive European out of so detestable a den.
Their food, sufficiently disgusting in itself, is rendered still more so by their manner of eating. It consists almost exclusively of fish, of which the whale is the chief favourite, and its blubber an especial dainty. This is sometimes cooked upon red-hot stones, but more commonly eaten raw. The skins of the sea-otters form their principal wealth, and are a substitute for money; these they barter with the ships which trade with them, to the prejudice of the Russian Company, for muskets, powder, and lead. No Kalush is without one musket at least, of which he perfectly understands the use. The richer a Kalush is, the more powerful he becomes; he has a multitude of wives who bring him a numerous family, and he purchases male and female slaves who must labour and fish for him, and strengthen his force when engaged in warfare. These slaves are prisoners of war, and their descendants; the master's power over them is unlimited, and he even puts them to death without scruple. When the master dies, two of his slaves are murdered on his grave, that he may not want attendance in the other world; these are chosen long before the event occurs, but meet the destiny that awaits them, very philosophically. The continual wars which the different races carry on against each other, with a ferocious cruelty uncommon even among savages, may account for the scanty population of this district; the fire-arms with which, to their own misfortune, they have been furnished by the American ships, have contributed to render their combats more bloody, and consequently to cause renewed and increased irritation. Bows and arrows were formerly their only weapons; now, besides their muskets, they have daggers, and knives half a yard long; they never attack their enemies openly, but fall suddenly upon them in moments of the utmost fancied security. The hope of booty, or of taking a prisoner, is a sufficient motive for one of these treacherous attacks, in which they practise the greatest barbarities; hence the Kalushes, even in time of peace, are always on their guard. They establish their temporary abodes on spots in some measure fortified by nature, and commanding an extensive view on all sides. During the night, the watch is confided to women, who, assembled round a fire outside the hut, amuse themselves by recounting the warlike deeds of their husbands and sons.
Domestic occupations, even the most laborious, are also left to females; the men employing themselves only in hunting, and building their canoes. The slaves are required to assist the women, who often treat them in a most merciless manner. The females take an active part in the wars; they not only stimulate the valour of the men, but even support them in the battle.
Besides the desire of booty, the most frequent occasion of warfare is revenge. One murder can only be atoned by another; but it is indifferent whether the murderer or one of his relations fall,—the custom merely requires a man for a man; should the murdered person be a female, a female is required in return. A case which would appear inconceivable has actually occurred,—that one of these most disgusting creatures has occasioned a struggle similar to that of Troy for the fair Helen, and an advantageous peace has been obtained by the cession of one of these monsters. The Kalush, who would probably look coldly on our most lovely females, finds his filthy countrywomen, with their lip-troughs, so charming, that they often awaken in him the most vehement passion. In proof of this, I remember an occurrence which took place during our residence in Sitka, among a horde of Kalushes who had encamped in the vicinity of the fortress. A girl had four lovers, whose jealousy produced the most violent quarrels: after fighting a long time without any result, they determined to end the strife by murdering the object of their love, and the resolution was immediately executed with their lances. The whole horde assembled round the funeral pile, and chanted a song, a part of which was interpreted by one of our countrymen, who had been long resident here. "Thou wast too beautiful—thou couldst not live—men looked on thee, and madness fired their hearts!"
Savage as this action was, another exceeded it in ferocity. A father, irritated by the cries of his child, an infant in the cradle, snatched it up, and threw it into a vessel full of boiling whale-oil. These examples are sufficient to characterise this hateful people, who appear to be in every respect the very refuse of human nature.
Their weddings are celebrated merely by a feast given to the relatives of the bride. The dead are burned, and their ashes preserved in small wooden boxes, in buildings appropriated to that purpose. They have a confused notion of immortality, and this is the only trace of religion which appears amongst them. They have neither priests, idols, nor any description of worship, but they place great faith in witchcraft; and the sorcerers, who are also their physicians, are held in high estimation, though more feared than loved. These sorcerers profess to heal the sick by conjurations of the Wicked Spirit; they are, however, acquainted with the medicinal properties of many herbs, but carefully conceal their knowledge as a profitable mystery.
We often received visits on board from chiefs of the Kalushes, generally with their whole family and attendants, who came to examine the ship, receive presents, and eat their fill, expressing their gratitude for these civilities by attempting to entertain us with their horrid national dance. Before coming on board, they usually rowed several times round the ship, howling a song to the following effect: "We come to you as friends, and have really no evil intention. Our fathers lived in strife with you, but let peace be between us. Receive us with hospitality, and expect the same from us." This song was accompanied by a sort of tambourine, which did not improve its harmony. They would not climb the ship's side till we had several times repeated our invitation, as it is not their custom to accept the first offer of hospitality, probably from a feeling of distrust. On these visits, the Kalushes were more than usually particular in the decoration of their persons. Their faces were so thickly smeared with stripes of red, black, and white paint, that their natural colour could not be known. Their bodies were painted with black stripes, and their hair covered with a quantity of white down and feathers, which were scattered around with every motion of their heads. Ermine-skins are also frequently fastened into the hair. A wolf or bear-skin, or a blanket, tied round the neck, covers their bodies, and they use an eagle's wing or tail as a fan. Their feet are always bare.
When on such occasions they had seen all they wished of the ship, except the cabins, (for these I would not suffer them to enter, on account of the abominable stench left behind by the rancid oil and blubber, which they used as perfumes,) they assembled upon deck to dance. The women did not dance, but assisted as musicians. Their song, accompanied by the dull music of the tambourine, consisted of a few hollow and unconnected tones, sent forth at intervals to keep time with the stamping of their feet. The men made the most extraordinary motions with their arms and bodies, varying them by high leaps into the air, while showers of feathers fell from their heads. Every dancer retained his own place, but turning continually round and round, gave the spectators an opportunity of admiring him on all sides. One only stood a little apart; he was particularly decorated with ermine-skins and feathers, and beat time for the dancing with a staff ornamented with the teeth of the sea-otter. He appeared to be the director of all the movements.
At every pause we offered tobacco-leaves to the dancers and musical ladies: both sexes eagerly seized the favourite refreshment, and crammed their mouths with it, then recommencing the music and dancing with renewed alacrity. When at length downright exhaustion put an end to the spectacle, the Kalushes were entertained with a favourite mess of rice boiled with treacle. They lay down round the wooden dishes, and helped themselves greedily with their dirty hands. During the meal, the women were much inconvenienced by their lip-troughs; the weight of the rice made them hang over the whole chin, and the mouth could not contain all that was intended for it.
During one of these repasts, the Kalushes were much terrified by a young bear which we had brought from Kamtschatka: breaking loose from his chain, he sprang over their heads, and seizing on the wooden vessel that contained the rice, carried it off in triumph. At parting we always gave them a dram of brandy, which they are very fond of, and can drink in considerable quantities without injury.
That no vice may be wanting to complete their characters, the Kalushes are great gamblers. Their common game is played with little wooden sticks painted of various colours, and called by several names, such as, crab, whale, duck, &c., which are mingled promiscuously together, and placed in heaps covered with moss; the players being then required to tell in which heap the crab, the whale, &c. lies. They lose at this game all their possessions, and even their wives and children, who then become the property of the winner.
During the whole of our residence at Sitka, we maintained peace with the Kalushes, which may be entirely attributed to the moderation and intrepidity of our sailors.
Opposite our frigate, on the shore, the ship's cooper had settled under a tent, almost all our casks being in want of repair; and I allowed him three armed sailors as assistants and protectors against the Kalushes.
One day ten of these savages armed with long knives came into the tent; having sat for some time contemplating the work, they became very troublesome, and, on being forbidden to pass the bounds previously prescribed, drew their knives and attacked the cooper, who would have been severely wounded had he not by good fortune parried a dangerous thrust. The three sailors now sprang forward with their loaded muskets; but as they had received the strictest injunctions not to shed blood, except in the most extreme necessity, they contented themselves with standing before the Kalushes and keeping them off with their bayonets. The savages at first continued to threaten the sailors, but on finding they were not to be intimidated, thought proper to retire to the forest. Had a skirmish really ensued, the consequences might have been serious. The Kalushes would all have united against us, and by rushing upon us from their hiding-places, whenever we left the protection of the ship or the fortress, might have done us much mischief. For this reason, Captain Murawieff, the governor of the settlement, had always exerted himself to the utmost to prevent any disputes. By his judicious regulations, he had acquired great influence over the natives, and had effected considerable improvement in their behaviour. In every respect, indeed, the administration of this excellent man has been such as to promote the true welfare of the colonies; and if the plans laid down by him for the future be adhered to, the trade of the Company will be materially benefited, and new sources of profit opened to them.
I have already mentioned that no people in the world surpass the citizens of the United States in the boldness, activity, and perseverance of their mercantile speculations. This observation was confirmed by an instance we met with here.
On the 16th of April 1825, a two-masted ship ran into this harbour from Boston. It had performed the voyage by Cape Horn in a hundred and sixty-six days, without having put into any intermediate port. Captain Blanchard, proprietor both of the ship, and of the whole cargo, had, upon the strength of a mere report, expended his whole capital upon certain articles of which he had heard that New Archangel was in need; and now, at the close of his immense voyage, found with dismay that not only was the colony well provided for the present, but that a ship was also daily expected from St. Petersburg laden with every thing it could desire. As, however, his offers were very reasonable, the ship and cargo were subsequently purchased of him for twenty-one thousand skins of sea-cats, (not otters) with the stipulation on his part, that he, his crew, and his skins, should be transported to the Sandwich Islands, whence he hoped to procure a passage for Canton, and there to dispose of his merchandise to advantage. These skins are usually sold in China for two Spanish dollars each.
On the arrival of Captain Blanchard's ship in port, the whole crew, he himself not excepted, were in a state of intoxication; and it appeared to be mere good luck that they had escaped the dangers of so many rocks and shallows; but the North Americans are such clever sailors, that even when drunk they are capable of managing a ship. It is also probable, that these had lived more soberly during the voyage, and had been tempted by the joy of completing it, to extraordinary indulgence. On my visit to the ship, I could not help remarking the great economy of all its arrangements: no such thing, for instance, as a looking-glass was to be seen, except the one kept for measuring the angle of the sextant, and that, small as it was, assisted the whole crew in the operation of shaving.
On the 30th of July, the ship Helena, belonging to the Company, arrived in New Archangel from Petersburg, bringing an ample provision of necessaries for the colony. To us this ship was particularly welcome, as the bearer of permission to leave our station and return to Russia. We immediately set to work to get our vessel in sailing order; and the 11th of August was the long wished-for day, when, favoured by a fresh north wind, we bade adieu to New Archangel, where we had passed five months and a-half surrounded by a people calculated only to inspire aversion, and without relief to the wearisomeness of our mode of life, except in the society of Captain Murawieff and the few Russian inhabitants of the fortress.
I determined to return to Kronstadt by the Chinese Sea and the Cape of Good Hope. But having no intention of following Captain Blanchard's example, in wearing out my crew by a voyage of unreasonable length without any relaxation, I appointed Manilla, in the Philippine island of Lucon, for their resting-place, after having made another attempt to find the Ralik chain of islands.
The medium of the astronomical observations made during these five months, gave, as the geographical longitude of New Archangel, 135 deg. 33' 18", and the latitude as 57 deg. 2' 57"; the declination of the needle as 27 deg. 30' east. According to this, the promontory of Mount Edgecumbe is in the longitude 136 deg. 1' 49"; consequently about 20' more westerly than appears on Vancouver's map.
We found a similar difference between our observation of St. Francisco and his; I therefore believe that his whole survey of the north-west coast of America represents it more easterly than it really is. Our longitudes have the greater claim to confidence, as they were the results of repeated observations on land, while his were merely taken on shipboard en passant.
The medium of our observations at New Archangel upon the difference in high tides at the new and full moon, gave thirty minutes for the time, and sixteen feet for the greatest difference in the height of the water.
AND THE RUSSIAN SETTLEMENT OF
CALIFORNIA, AND THE RUSSIAN SETTLEMENT OF ROSS.
I have already mentioned, in the foregoing chapter, that I was allowed to pass the winter of 1824 in California and the Sandwich Islands. Captain Lasaref also, whom I relieved on the station, proposed to run into St. Francisco on the coast of California, on his return, in order there to lay in fresh provisions for his passage round Cape Horn. He first awaited, however, the arrival of the post from St. Petersburg, which passes between these distant points of our far-spreading monarchy only once in the year, arriving in the spring at Ochotsk by the way of Siberia, and reaching New Archangel in the autumn by sea.
It was on the 10th of September 1824, that after having made the necessary preparations for our subsequent residence in New Archangel, and having properly equipped the ship, we again put to sea, and a brisk north wind soon carried us in a southerly direction towards the fertile peninsula of California. Our voyage was safe, and varied by no remarkable occurrence, except that under forty degrees of latitude we were indulged with the spectacle of a most extraordinary struggle between two opposing winds.
After a few days' pretty fresh breezes from the south, clouds suddenly appeared in the north, and, by the motion of the water, we perceived that an equally strong wind was rising in that direction. The waves from the opposite regions foamed and raged against each other like hostile forces; but between them lay a path some fathoms broad, and stretching from east to west to an immeasurable length, which appeared perfectly neutral ground, and enjoyed all the repose of the most profound peace, not a single breath troubling the glassy smoothness of its surface. After a time, victory declared for Boreas, and he drove the smooth strip towards our vessel, which had hitherto been sailing in the territory of the south wind. We presently entered the calm region; and while we had not a puff to swell our sails, the wind raged with undiminished fury on both sides. This strange spectacle lasted for about a quarter of an hour; when the north wind, which had been continually advancing, reached us, and carried us quickly forward towards the point of our destination.
On the 25th of September we found ourselves, by observations, in the neighbourhood of the promontory called by the Spaniards "the King," not far from the bay of St. Francisco; but a thick fog, which at this season always reigns over the coast of California, veiled the wished-for land till the 27th. At ten o'clock in the morning of this day, at a distance of only three miles, we doubled his rocky majesty, a high bold hill terminating towards the sea in a steep wall of black rock, and having nothing at all regal in its appearance,—and perceived in his neighbourhood a very strong surf, occasioned by two contrary and violent currents raging, with the vain fury of insurrection, against the tranquillity of his immoveable throne.
The channel leading into the beautiful basin of St. Francisco is only half gun-shot wide, and commanded by a fortress situated on its left bank, on a high rock, named after St. Joachim. We could distinguish the republican flag, the waving signal, that even this most northern colony of Spain no longer acknowledges the authority of the mother country; we also remarked a few cavalry and a crowd of people who were watching our swiftly sailing vessel with the most eager attention. As we drew nearer, a sentinel grasped with both hands a long speaking trumpet, and enquired our nation and from whence we came. This sharp interrogatory, the sight of the cannon pointed upon our track, and the military, few indeed, but ready for battle, might have induced an opinion that the fortress had power to refuse entrance even to a ship of war, had we not been acquainted with the true state of affairs. St. Joachim, on his rocky throne, is truly a very peaceable and well-disposed saint; no one of his cannon is in condition to fire a single shot, and his troops are cautious of venturing into actual conflict: he fights with words only. I would not therefore refuse to his fortress the courtesy of a salute, but was much astonished at not finding my guns returned. An ambassador from shore soon solved the mystery, by coming to beg so much powder as would serve to answer my civility with becoming respect.
As soon as we had dropped anchor, the whole of the military left the fortress without a garrison, to mingle with the assemblage of curious gazers on the shore, where the apparition of our ship seemed to excite as much astonishment as in the South Sea Islands. I now sent Lieutenant Pfeifer ashore, to notify our arrival in due form to the commandant, and to request his assistance in furnishing our vessel with fresh provisions. The commandant himself, Don Martinez Ignatio, lieutenant of cavalry, had been summoned to the capital Monterey, to attend Congress, and was absent; his deputy, the second lieutenant, Don Joseph Sanchez, received my envoy with much cordiality, and referred in a very flattering manner to my former visit to this port, in the ship Rurik. Don Sanchez was at that time a brave subaltern; but had since, under republican colours, risen in the service. He promised to lend us every assistance in his power, and proved his friendly intentions by an immediate present of fruits, vegetables, and fresh meats.
As our accounts of California are few and defective, a rapid glance at the history and constitution of this unknown but beautiful country, richly endowed by Nature with all that an industrious population could require to furnish the comforts and enjoyments of life, but hitherto sadly neglected under Spanish mis-government, will probably not be unwelcome to the readers who have accompanied me thus far: I will therefore, on its behalf, defer, for a short space, the account of our residence here.
The narrow peninsula on the north-west coast of America, beginning at St. Diego's Point, under thirty-two degrees of latitude, and ending with the promontory of St. Lucas, under twenty-two degrees, was first exclusively called California; but the Spaniards extended this appellation to their more recent discoveries on this coast towards the north; since which, the peninsula has been named Old, and the more northern coast to the Bay of St. Francisco, in thirty-seven degrees latitude, New California; from thence begins the so-called New Albion.
Mexico did not suffice to the ambition of its restless conqueror Cortez. To extend still farther the dominion of Spain, he directed the building of large vessels on the western coast of Mexico; and thus, in the year 1534, was California first seen by Spanish navigators, and in 1537 visited by Francisco de Ulloa. When information of the new discoveries reached the Spanish government, they resolved, contrary to their proceedings in the cases of Mexico and Peru, to gain peaceable possession of the new country by converting the inhabitants to the Christian religion, and declared that this pious object was all they had in view.
Only a small military force was, in fact, dispatched with a body of Jesuits, who established a settlement and began the trade of conversion. Disinterested as this rather expensive expedition appeared, its secret motive might probably be found in the fear that any other nation should establish itself in the neighbourhood of Mexico and the Spanish gold-mines.
The Jesuits came and made converts. These were followed by the Dominicans, who still have settlements, called here missions, in Old California; and subsequently by the Franciscans, who have established themselves in the New. They all convert away at a great rate,—we shall soon find how.
The first missions were seated on the coast of Old California, for the convenience of communication by sea with Mexico, and because the country was favourable to agriculture. The military who accompanied the monks, selected for their residence a situation from whence they could overlook several missions, and be always ready for their defence. These military posts are here called Presidios.
As it was not possible to make the savage natives comprehend the doctrines of Christianity, their inculcation was out of the question; and all that these religionists thought necessary to be done with this simple, timid race, scarcely superior to the animals by whom they were surrounded, was to introduce the Catholic worship, or, more properly, the dominion of the monks, by force of arms. The missions multiplied rapidly. In New California, where we now were, the first of these, that of St. Diego, was established in 1769; now there are twenty-one in this country. Twenty-five thousand baptized Indians belong at present to these missions, and a military force of five hundred dragoons is found sufficient to keep them in obedience, to prevent their escape, or, if they should elude the vigilance of their guards, to bring them from the midst of their numerous tribes, improving the favourable opportunity of making new converts by the power of the sword.
The fate of these so called Christian Indians is not preferable even to that of negro slaves. Abandoned to the despotism of tyrannical monks, Heaven itself offers no refuge from their sufferings; for their spiritual masters stand as porters at the gate, and refuse entrance to whom they please. These unfortunate beings pass their lives in prayer, and in toiling for the monks, without possessing any property of their own. Thrice a day they are driven to church, to hear a mass in the Latin language; the rest of their time is employed in labouring in the fields and gardens with coarse, clumsy implements, and in the evening they are locked up in over-crowded barracks, which, unboarded, and without windows or beds, rather resemble cows' stalls than habitations for men. A coarse woollen shirt which they make themselves, and then receive as a present from the missionaries, constitutes their only clothing. Such is the happiness which the Catholic religion has brought to the uncultivated Indian; and this is the Paradise which he must not presume to undervalue by attempting a return to freedom in the society of his unconverted countrymen, under penalty of imprisonment in fetters.
The large tract of arable land which these pious shepherds of souls have appropriated to themselves, and which is cultivated by their flocks, is for the most part sown with wheat and pulse. The harvest is laid up in store; and what is not necessary for immediate consumption is shipped for Mexico, and there either exchanged for articles required by the missions, or sold for hard piastres to fill the coffers of the monks.
In this way were the missionaries, and the military who depended upon them, living quietly enough in California, when the other Spanish colonies threw off their allegiance to the mother country. The insurrection having spread as far as Mexico, they were invited by the new governments, under advantageous conditions, to make common cause with them, but they remained true to their King; nor was their fidelity shaken by the total neglect of the Spaniards, who for many years appeared to have forgotten their very existence, and had not even troubled themselves to make the ordinary remittances for the pay of the military, or the support of the monks. Still their loyalty remained unshaken; they implicitly obeyed even that command of the King which closed their ports against all foreign vessels; and as the republicans were considered as foreigners, and no ships arrived from Spain, the missions, as well as the Presidios, soon began to suffer the greatest scarcity of many necessaries which the country did not produce. The soldiery, even to the commander himself, were in rags, without pay, and deriving a mendicant subsistence from the monks. The want which pressed most heavily on the latter was that of the implements of agriculture and other labour; having, with true Spanish indolence, forborne any attempt to manufacture them in the country. The very source of all their acquisitions was thus threatened with extinction; yet still they adhered to their King, with a fidelity truly honourable had it been more disinterested:—but what could they expect from a change of government, except the limitations of their hitherto unbounded power?
In the discontent of the soldiers, however, smouldered a spark, dangerous to the power of the monks, which was suddenly blown into a flame by a circumstance that occurred a few years before our arrival.
The only pleasure for which the baptized Indians had ever been indebted to the monks was the possession of such baubles as our sailors use in traffic with the South Sea islanders. These things of course could no longer be obtained, and their loss was regarded by the new Christians as a heavy misfortune. Their despair at length broke out into insurrection: they burst their prisons, and attacked the dwellings of the monks, but retired before the fire of musketry. The military, with very little loss on their side, defeated great numbers of the natives, and brought them again into their previous subjection.
A new light dawned on the minds of the dragoons. What would have become of the monks without their valiant support? Elated by victory, and disregarding all the protestations of the ghostly fathers, whose feebleness and helplessness were now apparent, they declared themselves the first class in the country, and independent of Spain, which for so many years had abandoned them to their fate.
Similar causes produced similar effects in Old California, and each country now forms a separate republic.
Spain might with ease have retained these fertile provinces under allegiance. Had their fidelity received the smallest encouragement, it would probably never have been shaken; and California would have proved a most convenient support for the claims of the mother country on the revolutionized colonies, especially on Mexico, formerly the fertile source of Spanish wealth. The Philippines have not rebelled, and these rich islands could have afforded all the assistance the missions required. The neglect of California by Spain would almost seem to have been appointed by Providence, that the prosperity of the new States might suffer no interruption.
One immediate result of the independence of this colony is the opening of her ports to all nations, and the consequent impetus given to commerce. The North American States have been the first to make use of the privilege.
The exports of California now consist of corn, ox-hides, tallow, and the costly skins of the sea-otter. Some speculators have attempted a trade with China, but hitherto without success. A richly laden ship was entrusted to a North American captain for this purpose, who disposed of the cargo in China; but found it more convenient to retain both the money and ship for his own use, than to return to the owners.
The government of New California was on our present visit administered by Don Louis Arguello, the same young man with whom I became acquainted on my voyage in the Rurik, when he was commandant of the Presidio of St. Francisco. He resided at this time in Monterey, and employed himself in devising systems of government which should bring the heterogeneous ingredients of the new republic, dragoons, monks, and Indians, into order and unity.
May the destiny of the latter be ameliorated by the change! No Constitution has yet been established here; and Arguello's power, or perhaps ability, was inadequate to introducing that which he had proposed. Many changes are still necessary in the Californias before they can become the happy and flourishing countries for which Nature intended them.
On the morning after our arrival, I visited old Sanchez in the Presidio. He received me with unfeigned cordiality, and related to me many things which had taken place since my visit in the Rurik eight years ago. Don Louis, he said, had become a great man, and he himself a lieutenant, which here imports a considerable rank. Nevertheless, he disapproved of all the proceedings, and felt assured that no good could accrue from them. He would rather, he said, be a petty Spanish subject, than a republican officer of state.
The Presidio was in the same state in which I found it eight years before; and, except the republican flag, no trace of the important changes which had taken place was perceptible. Every thing was going on in the old, easy, careless way.
Sanchez at once promised to provide the ship daily with fresh meat, but advised me to send a boat to the mission of Santa Clara for a supply of vegetables, which were there to be had in superfluity. The Presidio had, with a negligence which would be inconceivable in any other country, omitted to cultivate even sufficient for their own consumption.
As I had not visited the mission of Santa Clara during my first visit to California, I now determined to proceed thither on the following day, in the long-boat. Sanchez provided a good pilot, and sent a courier overland to announce my arrival at the mission.
The bay of St. Francisco is full ninety miles in circuit: it is divided by islands into two pretty equally sized basins, a northern and a southern. On the banks of the southern, which takes an easterly direction, lie the three missions, St. Francisco, Santa Clara, and St. Jose. Of the northern half of the bay I will speak hereafter.
On the morning of the 28th of September, the Barcasse was ready, and equipped with every thing necessary for our little voyage. Favoured both by wind and tide, we sailed eastward past many charming islands and promontories, to the mission of Santa Clara, which lay at a distance of five-and-twenty miles, in a straight line from the ship. The country presented on all sides a picture of beauty and fertility: the shores are of a moderate elevation, and covered with a brilliant verdure; the hills, towards the interior, swell gently into an amphitheatre, and the background is formed by high thick woods. Groves of oaks are scattered upon the slopes, separated by lovely meadows, and forming more graceful and picturesque groups than I have ever seen as the produce of art. With very little trouble, the most luxuriant harvests might be reaped from this soil; but a happy and industrious population has not yet been established here, to profit from the prodigality of Nature. The death-like stillness of these beautiful fields is broken only by the wild animals which inhabit them; and as far as the eye can reach, it perceives no trace of human existence; not even a canoe is to be seen upon the surrounding waters, which are navigable for large vessels, and boast many excellent harbours;—the large white pelican with the bag under his bill, is the only gainer by the abundance of fish they produce. During the centuries of Spanish supremacy in California, even the exertion of procuring a net has been deemed too great. How abundantly and happily might thousands of families subsist here! and how advantageously might the emigrants to Brazil have preferred this spot for colonization! There, they have to struggle with many difficulties, are often oppressed by the government, and always suffer under a scorching sun. Here, they would have found the climate of the South of Germany, and a luxuriant soil, that would have yielded an ample recompense for the slightest pains bestowed upon it.