In the Lands of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613-1917)/Introduction

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When in 1613, following the Time of Troubles, the first Romanov came to the throne of Muscovy, sixty years had elapsed since, in the words of Richard Hakluyt, “the strange and wonderful Discoverie of Russia” by the English. It was Hakluyt who gathered together in his Principal navigations, voiages, [traffiques,] and discoueries of the English nation (first published in 1589 and again in expanded form in 1598-1600) the corpus of writing left by the first English explorers, traders and diplomats for, as he further remarked, “I meddle in this worke with the Navigations onely of our owne nation”.[1] The accounts, beginning with that of Richard Chancellor, who survived the ill-fated expedition led by Sir Hugh Willoughby to make his way from the White Sea to Moscow for a momentous audience with Ivan IV in 1553, also include the several journeys that took Anthony Jenkinson down the Volga to Astrakhan and into Persia from 1557, as well as later embassies sent by Queen Elizabeth that produced the poetic epistles of George Turbervile, accompanying ambassador Thomas Randolph in 1568, with their characterization of the Muscovites as “a people passing rude, to vice vile inclin’d”, and the no less damning appraisal by Giles Fletcher in his Of the Russe commonwealth (1591) that the Muscovy Company, fearing it would harm the all important trading privileges, scrambled to suppress and Hakluyt was careful to edit (as he had also done with Turbervile).[2]

It was to a non-English source, however, that Turbervile had reverently referred at the end of his third epistle, advising his addressee Parker “if thou list to know the Russes well,/ To Sigismundus book repair, who all the trueth can tell”. The renowned Austrian diplomat and scholar Freiherr Sigmund von Herberstein’s Rerum moscoviticarum commentarii, published in Vienna in 1549 and pre-dating the English “discovery”, informed Turbervile and Fletcher and many others who knew it in its Latin original (for only in the mid-nineteenth century was an English version available). It was nevertheless the diversity and quality of the English contribution that were more widely appreciated in Elizabethan England, and later. John Milton, for instance, in his Brief history of Muscovia paid tribute to the “many things not unprofitable to the knowledge of Nature, and other Observations” that had been a consequence of the early voyages, if perturbed by what he considered “the excessive love of Gain and Traffick [that] had animated the design”.[3]

Milton’s work, in which his narrative had finished with the accession of Mikhail Fedorovich, was written probably in the 1650s but published posthumously only in 1682, a year momentous in Russian history as marking the beginning of the joint rule of Peter I and his half-brother Ivan V under the regency of their sister Sophia. The previous seventy years of Romanov rule had not, however, witnessed a comparable wealth of English writings on Russia and Anglo-Russian relations deteriorated steadily during the first decades and were broken off following the execution of Charles I in 1649. The sixteenth century had provided examples of authors who inevitably were to loom large down the reigns, voyager/explorer, diplomat, merchant, and under the first Romanovs we find, for instance, among the relatively few English accounts that of William Gourdon, a Hull pilot in the service of the Muscovy Company exploring the northern rivers of Siberia and also describing life among the native Samoeds in 1614-15 (A1); and of the famous botanist John Tradescant the Elder, detailing in his diary the specimens he was collecting near Archangel in 1618 (A2). It was from the White Sea and Archangel that embassies had made their way to Moscow since the middle of the sixteenth century and the 1663-64 embassy of Charles Howard, the Earl of Carlisle found its chronicler not in the earl’s private secretary, the poet Andrew Marvell, but in a Swiss-born attendant in his suite (A9).

The embassy would encounter in the capital two men pursuing professions that would loom large among authors on Russia at least down the eighteenth century – the foreign doctor in Russian service, represented by Samuel Collins, body physician to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (fig. 1) from 1660 to 1669, and author of The present state of Russia, based on letters he had sent from Moscow to the eminent scientist Robert Boyle and posthumously published in 1671 (A6); and the mercenary or soldier of fortune, exemplified at his most successful in the Scot Patrick Gordon, whose diaries of his long years in Russian service from 1661 to his death in 1699, during which he rose to the rank of general and confidant of the young Tsar Peter, were partially published in 1859 and only now are in the process of appearing in full (A7-8).

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Fig. 1 Portrait of Aleksei Mikhailovich, in Samuel Collins, The Present State of Russia (London: J. Winter for D. Newman, 1671). Wellcome Trust, London.

Of these accounts only those of Gourdon, Collins and Carlisle were published in the seventeenth century, when the meagre original English offerings were augmented by foreign accounts, among which Adam Olearius’s Voyages & travels, published in English translation in 1662 (A4), rivalled Herberstein’s in its influence on contemporary readers. However, after the excitement aroused by the Elizabethan accounts and the arrival of the first Muscovite embassies in London, English interest in, and knowledge of, Russia stagnated, as England lost its trading advantages to Holland.


It was an interest that was to quicken once more, when it became known that Peter I, reigning alone since 1696, intended to travel to the West. After a period of some fifteen years from the beginning of his joint rule to the departure in 1697 of the Great Embassy, during which the translation of a French Jesuit’s account of extensive travels that took him through Muscovy to the frontiers of China was the sole offering to the English public (B1), a flurry of publications between 1698 and c.1705 reflected something of the excitement that preceded the Tsar’s arrival, continued during his stay, and never really abated, despite the deterioration of relations in the last decade of his reign.[4]

Many of these publications obviously do not fall within the parameters of this bibliography, but of the seven publications that do, three are by English authors, the first, the log of a ship’s captain (B8), while the second, a single folio sheet published in 1699 (B9), signals the arrival in Russian service of the English master shipwright, a category of immense importance in the creation of Peter’s navy, but not figuring otherwise among memoirists of the period. It is, however, the third work that deserves perhaps special mention, although it is never included in discussions of “travel” literature. The anonymous “English gentleman” of the title page, who signs his preface as “T.C.”, might claim to be the first of British “Grand Tourists” to visit Russia: The new atlas, or, travels and voyages in Europe, Asia, Africa and America (1698) is an account of nine years’ travel, beginning in 1684, that eventually took the author to Moscow, travelling up the Volga from Astrakhan, and further sightseeing in Novgorod, Vologda and other towns before his departure for Poland (B2).

The eighteenth century, when Muscovy became Russia and its window on the West opened wide with the founding of St Petersburg, was soon to bring a greater number of accounts and also new categories of authors.

As a result of Peter the Great’s recruitment drive in London during his visit in 1698 there was an influx of specialists into Russian service, particularly, as has already been suggested, those skilled in all aspects of shipbuilding and things maritime. Among them was Captain John Perry, recruited on a ten-year contract as a hydraulic engineer and working on various canal projects to link the Volga and the Don and Petersburg and the Volga. In 1716 he published The state of Russia under the present Czar, which proved one of the most influential works on Peter’s “new” Russia, detailing the vicissitudes of working for the Russians while offering a sympathetic picture of the young Tsar attempting to reform a backward and recalcitrant nation (B10). The tradition of British specialists and craftsmen was very strong in the last decades of the century and included architects and landscape gardeners, stonemasons and smiths, instrument-makers and engineers, but few published accounts of their activities and experiences. The later nineteenth century in contrast presents a rich array of accounts by men who, for instance, were managers of factories and industrial enterprises in places far removed from the capital.

Fig. 2 Peter I in Russian dress during the Grand Embassy (n.d.), artist unknown.

The status of the diplomat changed during Peter’s reign when Anglo-Russian diplomatic relations were put on a firmer footing and the first permanent ambassadors were appointed (fig. 2). Charles Whitworth, appointed envoy-extraordinary in 1704 and to full ambassadorial rank in 1709, spent ten years in Russia and wrote on his return to London An account of Russia as it was in the year 1710 (B16).

Distributed as a government briefing document on his return, it only found its way into print when published by Horace Walpole at his Strawberry Hill press in 1758. Even at that late date it may nonetheless be considered as the first such publication by a British diplomat under the Romanovs. Whitworth’s example was followed without such a time-gap by An account of Russia, 1767 by Sir George Macartney, printed soon after his return from his ambassadorship and again destined for a restricted circle of readers (D5). Whitworth and Macartney in common with all the British diplomatic representatives down the eighteenth century (and beyond) sent their regular dispatches and reports to the British government. These were eventually published, if not in their entirety, at the end of the following century through the efforts of the Imperial Russian Historical Society and with their mixture of court gossip, politics, military affairs and social events occupy an important and distinctive place in the bibliography (e.g. B15, C2, C20-23, D14). It was, however, the work of a German rather than British diplomat that had contemporary resonance, appearing in English translation as The present state of Russia in the last years of Peter’s reign: the Hanoverian Resident in St Petersburg Friedrich Weber, also serving British interests after George I came to the throne in August 1714, edited his diary of the five years he was in Russia to produce an account that was particularly informative about the growth of the Tsar’s new capital, “a wonder of the world” (B22).

Although the Muscovy Company had been established soon after the English first-footed in Russia, it was revitalised during the reign of Peter the Great as the Russia Company and began an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity down the eighteenth century. Known within Russia as the British Factory, it moved its headquarters from Archangel to St Petersburg in 1723 and its members provided the core of a rapidly growing British community in the new Russian capital that numbered more than 1500 residents by the end of Catherine II’s reign. From the merchants of the Factory came two of the few accounts written and published by British authors in the first half of the eighteenth century. James Spilman’s A journey through Russia into Persia, published in 1742 (D11), was followed in 1754 by Jonas Hanway’s far more substantial Historical account of the British trade over the Caspian Sea: with the author’s journal of travels from England through Russia into Persia (D19). However, as the influence of the Russia Company waned during Alexander I’s reign, only one or two further accounts of little significance emerged from the merchant milieu.

Far more productive were the Anglican clergymen, appointed by the Russia Company to tend to the well-being of the British community in St Petersburg, where the English church stands in the middle of what became known as the English Embankment, and soon thereafter in Cronstadt, and later in the nineteenth century in such places as Moscow, Archangel and Odessa. Many of the clergy combined care for their flock with scholarly pursuits. During Peter I’s reign, Rev. Thomas Consett and during Catherine II’s, Revs John Glen King and William Tooke (fig. 3) published works illuminating Russian Orthodoxy and Russian history as well as the contemporary scene.

Fig. 3 William Tooke (1820), engraving by Joseph Collyer the Younger, after Martin Archer Shee. National Portrait Gallery, London.

One of Tooke’s notable publications after his return from Russia was a translation rather than an original work: Henry Storch’s Picture of Petersburgh (1801) provided a comprehensive update on the flourishing state of the Russian capital nearly a hundred years after Weber’s work (D64).

Doctors remained prominent, serving at the Russian court and in state institutions and educational establishments as well as in aristocratic households. Two Scots doctors, John Bell and John Cook, not only wrote but saw published in their lifetimes wide-ranging books that also qualify as travel accounts with their descriptions of their adventures as physicians attached to Russian embassies sent through Siberia to China and to Astrakhan and onto Persia respectively. Bell’s Travels from St. Petersburg in Russia, to diverse parts of Asia (1763) earned the rare commendation of Dr Johnson and in emphasizing “the observations, which then appeared to me worth remarking, without attempting to embellish them, by taking any of the liberties of exaggeration, or invention, frequently imputed to travellers” (B23), Bell laid down a marker that many future travellers continued to ignore. Dr Thomas Dimsdale, perhaps the most widely known of British doctors in eighteenth-century Russia, was not in Russian service but was invited to St Petersburg on two occasions for a specific reason, the first most famously to inoculate Catherine II and her son the Tsarevich Pavel Petrovich against smallpox in 1768, a journey he subsequently described in his Tracts on inoculation, written and published at St Petersburg in the year 1768 (1781) (D17). For the most part the British doctors in Russian service in the eighteenth century were non-publishing, the outstanding exception being Dr Matthew Guthrie, physician to the Noble Cadet Corps in St Petersburg during Catherine II’s reign and making endless but anonymous contributions about Russian life to the Edinburgh journal The Bee in the 1790s, but notable as the “editor” of his wife’s travels, published in London in 1802 as A tour, performed in the years 1795-6, through the Taurida, or Crimea and much read by British travellers journeying south from Moscow to the Crimea (D70).

The French-born Mrs Guthrie was but the last in a series of women whose impressions of Russia, invariably conveyed in the form of letters, were published during the eighteenth century. The British governess is perhaps more usually associated with the mid-nineteenth century, in fact and in fiction, but she makes her appearance at a very early stage as a published author on Russia. Elizabeth Justice spent three years as a governess in the family of a prosperous English merchant in the Russian capital during the reign of the Empress Anna Ivanovna, and after her return published in 1739 Voyage to Russia, and a second edition with additions in 1746, revealing her far from favourable reaction to many aspects of Russian life (C8). British governesses were to be much in demand among families of the Russian aristocracy, a consequence of the growth of Anglophilia towards the close of Catherine II’s reign, but none followed Mrs Justice’s lead – it is only of recent times that we have seen published the diaries of the Irish Wilmot sisters, who were companions to the famous Princess Dashkova in the early years of the nineteenth century (F3), and the fascinating if incomplete Journals of Claire Clairmont (fig. 4), Byron’s mistress and mother of his daughter Augusta, who spent more than three years as a governess in Moscow from late 1823 (F93-94).

Fig. 4 Portrait of Claire Clairmont (1819) by Amelia Curran. Oil on canvas. Reproduced in Robert Gittings and Jo Manton, Claire Clairmont and the Shelleys (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

It was in the eighteenth century in accord with a widespread convention to preserve the anonymity of a female author that “a lady” was first used in a book’s title in a specifically Anglo-Russian context. Letters from a lady, who resided some years in Russia was published in 1779, when the lady in question was known as Mrs Jane Vigor, although she had arrived in Russia in 1728 during the reign of Peter II as wife of the British Consul-General Thomas Ward and became after his death in 1731 the wife of the British Resident Claudius Rondeau (C3). It is as Lady Rondeau that she is often erroneously known, although she was plain Mrs, as she was when she married for a third time William Vigor, a Russian Company merchant, under which name in the year after her death were published Eleven additional letters from Russia, in the reign of Peter II. By the late Mrs Vigor. Never before published (1784) (C4). Mrs Ward-Rondeau-Vigor might be said to have initiated another significant tradition, that of the account, most frequently the letters, of a diplomat’s wife, which describe court and social life and provide the intimate and gossipy details absent from the dispatches of their husbands. An outstanding later example are the letters of Mrs Anne Disbrowe, wife of the British minister plenipotentiary at the end of the reign of Alexander I who recounts events connected with the failed uprising of 14 December 1825 (F104; fig. 5).

Fig. 5 St Petersburg, Senate Square, 14 December, 1825 (1825-26), by Karl Kolman. Reproduced in Literaturnye mesta Rossii (Moskva: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1987).
Fig. 6 Portrait of Elizabeth, Countess of Craven, later Margravine of Anspach (1778), by George Romney. Oil on canvas.

A lady to whom the title belonged by birth and marriage rather than by convention was Elizabeth Craven (née Berkeley), who included her encounters at the court of Catherine the Great in her adventurous Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople (1789) (D48). Lady Craven (fig. 6) was the first female British tourist to publish her letters at a time when for a number of reasons Russia appeared with increasing frequency in the itineraries of travellers.

The Grand Tour enjoyed its heyday in the eighteenth century and although Dr Johnson might assert that “the grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean”,[5] the northern lands increasingly beckoned the more intrepid travellers, several of whom travelled, pen in hand and with an eye on possible publication.

Although the otherwise unidentified C.T. has been suggested as the first English publishing tourist in Russia from the first years of Peter I’s reign, it was St Petersburg, founded in 1703, that was to prove the great tourist attraction, fulfilling the hopes of its first Governor-General Prince Alexander Menshikov that it “should become another Venice, to see which Foreigners would travel thither purely out of curiosity”.[6] One of the first Englishmen to be so attracted was Sir Francis Dashwood of Hell-Fire Club notoriety, who as a young man of twenty-five took the opportunity to accompany the British envoy-extraordinary Baron Forbes to St Petersburg, where he spent three weeks in June 1733, recording in his diary that “I am well contented with my journey, and think it very much, worth any curious man’s while, going to See, and to Stay there three weeks or a month, but after Curiosity is Satisfied, I think one could amuse oneself better, in more Southern Climates”.[7] Dashwood’s diary remained unpublished for two hundred years, but the letters of the Italian scholar Francesco Algarotti (fig. 7) to his English friend Lord Hervey, dating from 1738, might be considered the first published tourist’s reaction to Peter’s capital, appearing in English translation in 1769, already in the reign of the great Catherine (C15).

Fig. 7 Count Francesco Algarotti (1745), by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Pastel on parchment. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The first real example of an English Grand Tourist’s account of St Petersburg, published soon after a visit, was the twenty-three-year old Sir Nathaniel Wraxall’s Cursory remarks made in a tour through some of the northern parts of Europe (1775) that enjoyed three further editions, emphazing in its changing titles the “tour” (D25). A decade or so later, another traveller, the Scot Andrew Swinton, declared that “Russia begins now to make a part of the grand tour, and not the least curious or useful part of it” (D59), while the specific designation in a title of a “Northern tour” seems to have been used for the first time in 1775 on John Henniker’s (fig. 8) manuscript diary, extracts from which have only recently been published (D26).

Fig. 8 John Henniker-Major, 2nd Baron Henniker (1780s-90s), by Henry Hudson, after George Romney. Mezzotint. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Russian “tours” began to appear with some regularity as the century drew to a close, but it is an indication of how little Russia was known, or perhaps books about it were read, that at least four accounts by “armchair travellers” were readily accepted as genuine – and sadly, continue to be so (and are therefore included in the bibliography as D18, D19, D58, D60 to alert readers to the mystification). In 1792 the Critical Review attacked “persons, who during the time of their supposed peregrinations, were scarcely ever out of their closets”, and who, in the opinion of the reviewer, included poor Swinton, whose description of his visit to Petersburg and its environs in 1788-89 is in fact one of the more original and interesting accounts.[8] Ironically, two years later, the same journal heaped praise on the English translation of a work by the notorious plagiarist Pierre Nicholas Chantreau (D58).[9]

It was not only the tourists themselves who described their exploits in print but also the tutors, ironically known as “bear-leaders”, who accompanied many of the young aristocrats. Two of their number, both Cambridge dons, gained particular renown in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Rev. William Coxe’s Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark (fig. 9) enjoyed no less than six, ever expanding, editions between 1784 and 1803 and became, despite its size, a sort of Murray or Baedeker of its age (D28), while Rev. Edward Clarke’s Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa, recording his hostile reaction to the Russia of Paul I, only appeared in 1810 (E4), but was much reprinted thereafter, perhaps in harmony with the increasing Russophobia of the reign of Nicholas I.

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Fig. 9 William Coxe, Russian edition of his Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark (Moscow: I. Smirnov, 1837).

Coxe travelled by a much-used northern route from Poland into Russia and out via Finland to Sweden. Clarke went south from Moscow to the Crimea and the Sea of Azov and then on to Constantinople. This was a route that had been used since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 1783 and increasingly so in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In the year before Catherine II made her famous journey to her newly acquired territories, Lady Craven had been entranced by the beauty of the region and the forty pages she devoted to the Crimea remained the only description to appear in book form in the eighteenth century, although in 1786 there had appeared in Gentleman’s Magazine a much more informed essay by an anonymous British officer who had visited the area and advertised as “the only account of the Krimea ever given to the publick.”[10] Many British travellers followed Lady Craven to the Crimea particularly in the 1790s (after the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-91) and the early years of the nineteenth century, but few were intent on publishing their impressions.[11] The remarkable and voluminous diaries of an Oxford don, John Parkinson, remained unpublished until 1971 (D66). Originally planning to travel across Russia to China, he and his charge, the future 1st Lord Skelmersdale, settled for a round trip that would take them to Siberia as far as Tobolsk and then south to the Caspian and the edge of the Caucasus before crossing to the Crimea and returning through Ukraine to Moscow and St Petersburg, in 1792-94.

It was on his way to the Crimea, at Sarepta on the Volga, that Parkinson met the eminent German naturalist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Peter Pallas. Pallas was leading an Academy expedition to the south of Russia which he described in a work first published in German but was widely known among British travellers in the first of several English versions, Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian Empire, in the years 1793 and 1794 (1802-03) (D67; figs. 10a and b).

Fig. 10a Title page of the 1799 German edition of Peter Simon Pallas,
Bemerkungen auf einer Reise in die südlichen Statthalterschaften des Russischen Reichs in den Jahren 1793 und 1794 (Leipzig: Gottfried Martini, 1799), Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig.
Fig. 10b Title page of the 1812 English edition of Peter Simon Pallas, Travels through the southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the years 1793 and 1794 (London: John Stockdale, 1812), Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig.

Pallas had entered Russian service in 1767 and was soon dispatched with a six-year expedition that took him deep to Siberia. A partial English translation under the title Travels into Siberia and Tartary, provinces of the Russian empire appeared in 1788-89 in John Trusler’s The habitable world described (D11). It represents but one of a number of descriptions of scientific expeditions and voyages of exploration to appear in English with increasing frequency during Catherine’s reign. Other examples include the French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche’s A journey into Siberia (1770) that so infuriated the Empress by its negative portrayal of Russian civilization (C27), Travels in Kamtschatka, during the years 1787 and 1788 (1790) by Jean-Baptiste-Barthélemy de Lesseps, a translator attached to the La Pérouse circumnavigation that had reached the Sea of Okhotsk in July 1786 (D53), and An account of a geographical and astronomical expedition to the northern parts of Russia, the so-called Joseph Billings’s expedition of 1785-94, written by Martin Sauer, its secretary, and published in England in 1802 (D44).

Such publications obviously belong to a tradition that had begun for English readers with Hakluyt and many works, admittedly mainly translations from foreign originals in Latin, German or French, had subsequently also appeared in England. Siberia had a particular attraction and fascination for writers and public alike. In the first half of the century an influential publication was An historico-geographical description of the north and eastern parts of Europe and Asia; but more particularly of Russia, Siberia, and Great Tartary (1738), written by the Swede Philipp von Strahlenberg, who was captured at the battle of Poltava in 1709 and spent thirteen years as a captive in Siberia (B17). The interest was equally fed by English translations of Russian works of exploration such as Stepan Krasheninnikov’s History of Kamtschatka, and the Kurilski islands (1764; fig. 11) and Account of a voyage of discovery to the north east of Siberia, the frozen ocean and the north-east sea (1806) by Gavriil Sarychev, who had been on the Billings expedition.

Fig. 11 A map of Kamtschatka engraved from the russian map by Tho. Jefferys, in Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov, The history of Kamtschatka and the Kurilski Islands with the countries adjacent; Illustrated with maps and cuts. Published at Petersbourg in the Russian language by order of her Imperial Majesty and translated into English by James Grieve (Glocester: printed by R.Raikes for T. Jefferys, 1764).


The interplay between accounts of “tours” and of serious scientific expeditions continues into the reigns of Alexander I and his brother Nicholas I, which cover the whole of the first half of the nineteenth century up to the Crimean War. Russia was firmly embarked on further expansion of its empire, opening up ever new fields to explore.

Long before the Romanovs Muscovy had seen considerable territorial expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries during the reigns of Ivan III, Vasilii III and Ivan IV: Ivan IV with his capture of Kazan and Astrakhan achieved control of the Volga and the north-western shores of the Caspian, but a secure outlet to the Baltic or access to the Black Sea eluded him. However, there was important expansion in the east, beyond the Urals, initially by Cossack bands under Ermak penetrating into Siberia in 1582. Towns founded during this period in both the Volga territories and Siberia included Orel in 1564, Voronezh and Ufa in 1586 and Tobolsk in 1587. In the seventeenth century, particularly after the Time of Troubles and with the accession of the first Romanov, Siberia was rapidly colonized and the eastern seaboard reached by 1639. Again the establishment of now famous towns and settlements mark the Russian advance: Tomsk (1604) on the Tom River, Eniseisk (1619) and Krasnoiarsk (1628) on the Enisei, Iakutsk on the Lena, Verkhoiansk (1638) on the Iana, Irkutsk (1652) on the Angara near Lake Baikal, Okhotsk (1649) on the Sea of Okhotsk, and Bolsheretsk (1704) near the tip of Kamchatka. The late seventeenth century was also important for the gaining or in some cases, the re-gaining of lands in the south west, particularly in Ukraine and White Russia during the reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich, but it was only at the beginning of the eighteenth century that Peter I succeeded in restoring to Russia its vital outlet on the Baltic.

Russian expansion under Peter might seem relatively insignificant when seen on a map of the period: an area to the west and north of Novgorod, a narrow strip of land along the southern and western shores of the Caspian, the peninsular of Kamchatka. It represented nonetheless the consolidation of a wide landmass, stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific with encroachment to the south into the Ottoman empire. The stage was set for Catherine II’s drive for expansion, inevitably to the south and south-west, resulting in the acquisition of a large swathe of Polish territory after the final partition of 1795 and the wresting of the Black Sea steppes and the Crimea from the Turks. Peter had founded St Petersburg in 1703, asserting as it were Russia’s rightful place by the Baltic; Catherine, whose desire to follow her great predecessor’s lead was writ in stone on the statue of the Bronze Horseman, created the port of Odessa in 1794, determined to exploit the commercial and military advantages of the Black Sea.

Under Alexander I Napoleon’s Grand Duchy of Poland came under Russian control in 1812 and was followed by the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1815, extending Russian control of the Baltic. Highly significant gains were made in the south with the acquisition of Georgia over the period 1801-10 and Bessarabia in 1812, which brought Russia to the borders of the Austrian empire, and further areas of the Caucasus were added by the end of his reign. It was in the same area that Nicholas extended his empire, pushing his frontiers into Armenia and embracing more of the Black Sea littoral, consolidated by the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829.

Of the 108 entries in the bibliography for the reign of Alexander and of the 131 for Nicholas’s, just over half were published before 1855. Of the remaining, many were letters or diaries that were included in autobiographies written in the twilight of the author’s life or in posthumous biographies, while yet others saw the light of day only of recent times, testifying to the continuing interest in accounts of Russia and of travel literature in general and as often as not accompanied with scholarly introductions and annotation. The works published before the Crimean War nevertheless provide important evidence not only of the popularity of existing genres and of author categories but also of the evolving state of Anglo-Russian diplomatic and cultural relations and the changing focus of public attention.

The brief period of Anglo-Russian harmony between the end of the reign of “Crazy Paul” in March 1801 and the Russo-French Treaty at Tilsit in July 1807 which saw publication of the travels of Mrs Guthrie and of Professor Pallas from the previous decade brought an influx of British tourists visiting not only St Petersburg and Moscow but drawn to the “new” Russia of the Crimea and the Black Sea littoral. The antiquities and archaeological sites of the Crimea inevitably evoked associations with the classical world, particularly for the young Oxbridge tourists, some of whom, fired by the emergent Hellenism of the age, proceeded to Constantinople and on to Greece itself. However, in almost every case, their letters or diaries were not published for a number of years (see Heber (F11), Royston (F17) and Kelsall (F20), and, of course, from Paul’s reign, Clarke (E4), whom they all knew, and Tweddell (E3)) and therefore were not so much setting as sharing a trend, manifest in the other publications of the time (F9, F12). Reuilly’s Travels in the Crimea (F4) was translated for Richard Phillips’s Collection of Modern and Contemporary Voyages and Travels that also provided the public with translations of foreign travelogues along the more usual northern tourist routes (F7, F8). The presence of the British tourist in Alexander’s pre-Tilsit Russia was more loudly announced, however, with Sir John Carr’s A northern summer; or, travels round the Baltic, through Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Prussia, and part of Germany, in the year 1804, also (F6) and Sir Robert Ker Porter’s Travelling sketches in Russia and Sweden, during the years 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808 (F13), both also printed for Phillips in 1805 and 1809 respectively. It was to the same period that the merchant George Green’s travels belong but it was only in 1813 that he published what was in many ways the first modest attempt at a English-language guide-book for travellers to St Petersburg and Moscow, as its sub-title clearly reveals: with a description of the post towns, and every thing interesting, in the Russian and Prussian capitals, &c.; to which are added, the names, distances, and price, of every post; and a vocabulary of the most useful terms in English and Russian (F14). It was the desire to see a burnt-out Moscow that brought tourists again to Russia in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of June-December 1812 and the subsequent Allied advance on Paris (F54, F56).

A unique British insight into these momentous events was provided by Robert, later General Sir Robert, Wilson, who had first visited Russia before Tilsit and subsequently published his Brief remarks on the character and composition of the Russian army (1810) (F19). Returning in 1812, Wilson was attached to Kutuzov’s staff and was with the Russian army as it advanced through Europe, but it was only a decade after his death in 1847 that his diaries and letters were eventually published (F18, F48, F49). It was, of course, the French tragedy in Russia that was best reflected in the eye-witness accounts of participants that were published in the immediate aftermath and for many years thereafter. Of the fifteen accounts translated from French originals, only three, however, appeared during Alexander’s reign and one from the first year of Nicholas’s (F32, F33, F35, F41).

In June 1814, soon after the Allies had entered Paris, Alexander I paid a triumphant visit to England. It was during that visit that the Tsar met the noted Quaker William Allen and other Friends as well as representatives of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Russia of the strongly religious Tsar, where the Russian Bible Society had been founded the previous year, was to become a magnet for missionaries from England and Scotland. Allen and Stephen Grellet carried out missionary work in southern Russia in 1818-19 (F78, F79), by which time Daniel Wheeler, invited by Alexander to undertake the draining of the marshes near the Russian capital, had brought out a party of Quakers, twenty assistants and family members, to begin the work that was to keep them in Russia until the early 1830s (F70, F71). Missionaries of the BFBS had been in St Petersburg since the summer of 1812 when Rev. John Patterson arrived and for the next fifteen years travelled throughout the Russian empire furthering the aims of the Russian Bible Society. His memoirs (F59) appeared only in the year of his death, 1858, but extracts from his letters and those of his colleagues, Rev. Ebenezer Henderson and Rev. Robert Pinkerton, were published as early as 1817 (F62, F65). All travelled extensively in the Crimea and the Caucasus, where the Edinburgh Missionary Society had established as early as 1802 a mission at Karass that was visited also by Rev. William Glen in the 1820s (F86). Representatives of other societies, such as Rev. Joseph Wolff of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (F107) and Heinrich Zwick of the Moravian Brotherhood, working for the Russian Bible Society among the Kalmyk tribes (F92), were also active in southern Russia. During Nicholas’s reign the BFBS remained prominent: in 1833 there arrived in the Russian capital its agent George Borrow to supervise the translation of the New Testament into Manchu (F33), although he is perhaps better known in a Russian context for the translations from Pushkin he published during his two-year sojourn. Twenty years later, it was in many ways fitting that in what was to be the last year of Nicholas’s reign a deputation of three Quakers should be sent from London in a noble but vain attempt to avert the outbreak of war (G129-[[In the Lands of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-hand English-language Accounts of the Russian Empire (1613-1917)/Reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855)#G31|31).

A substantial, distinctive, and in some instances controversial contribution was made by British doctors, particularly at the juncture of the two reigns. They were no longer in the service of the court as in earlier reigns but predominantly in the employ of noble families. Between 1824 and 1829 a succession of four doctors served for varying lengths of time in the household of the Anglophile Count, later Prince, Mikhail Vorontsov, son of the long-serving Russian ambassador in London and appointed governor-general of New Russia in 1823. Three of them produced books, in the most interesting of which Robert Lee described in detail the death in Taganrog of Alexander I and also the ensuing Decembrist uprising (F106). Dr Lee’s account appeared only in 1854, but his successors, Augustus Bozzi Granville and Edward Morton, were not slow to publish: Granville’s monumental St Petersburgh (1828), based on a mere few weeks’ residence in the Russian capital in the autumn of 1827, proved very popular and went into a third edition in 1835 (G5), by which time Morton had published his own book that includes not only a detailed description of Odessa, where he had lived with the Vorontsovs for two years, but was also “intended to give some account of Russia as it is, and not as it is represented to be”, not least by Granville (G9). Other doctors also produced interesting accounts during this period: George Lefevre, who was knighted in 1832 for his service as physician to the British embassy in St Petersburg, spent no less than fifteen years in Russia up to 1842 and produced rather vague memoirs in the year after his return (G10), but the impact made by the work of Dr Robert Lyall was considerably greater. Lyall, initially house physician to a Moscow aristocratic family, produced soon after his return to England in 1823, following some eight years in Russia, his monumental The Character of the Russians, and a detailed history of Moscow (1823) (F61) that despite its (unauthorized) dedication to the Tsar, was, according to the Russian embassy in London, “written against his government, and the entire Russian nation”.[12] The good doctor also laid claim to be included in the category of travellers, publishing in 1825 his Travels in Russia, the Krimea, the Caucasus, and Georgia (F90).

The books by Granville and Morton were also to be titled or sub-titled “travels”, as indeed were a score or more of other works from the same decade and countless ones before and after, but perhaps more indicative of a new trend was the title Granville gave to his third edition of 1835: Guide to St Petersburgh: a journal of travels. As the Grand Tour gave way to middle-class tourism, an indication that Russia was beginning to appeal to a wider public was the appearance of the “tourist guide”. In the late 1830s there was published Francis Coghlan’s Guide to St. Petersburg & Moscow, by Hamburg, Lubeck, Travemunde, and by steam-packet, across the Baltic to Cronstadt; fully detailing every form and expense from London-Bridge to St. Petersburg (G37) and the anonymous Guide to Moscow, containing a description of the public edifices, historical notices, useful statistics, and an itinerary of the road from St. Petersburgh, to which is added a vocabulary of useful words and phrases (G38) that were soon followed by the first “Murray” for Russia in 1839 (G62), which was several times updated.

It was Lyall’s itinerary that distinguished his travels from those of his doctor colleagues. His was an account of a journey to the south of Russia, but just one of a swelling number. It has already been remarked how the Crimea began to attract tourists after the annexation of 1783, especially the young Hellenists at the beginning of Alexander’s reign. Russia’s further territorial acquisitions in the Caucasus and Bessarabia were soon reflected in the titles of works, beginning with the translations from the German of Baron Campenhausen in 1808 (F12), Klaproth in 1814 (F22), and the Freygangs in 1823 (F27). The first British traveller to use “Georgia” in his title would seem to be Colonel John Johnson, travelling from India through the Caucasus and Ukraine in 1817 (F75), followed by Sir Robert Ker Porter, travelling the same year from St Petersburg to Georgia and through the Caucasus to Persia (F76), while the two missionaries, Rev. Glen and Rev. Henderson, publishing in 1823 and 1826 respectively, were to introduce the word “Caucasus” (F86, F63). What was essentially a trickle in Alexander’s reign became a veritable stream in Nicholas’ as travellers travelled north and south through Georgia, the Caucasus, Bessarabia and Circassia, as well visiting the Crimea and New Russia, particularly Odessa. Some forty accounts, differing greatly in their detail and focus, written by a whole range of travellers, including numerous military men with an interest in Russia’s continuing struggles with Turkey (G11, G12, G14, G15, G19), and intent on inspecting her new territories brought the Russian south very much to the attention of the public. It was Circassia – whose peoples were locked in armed struggle against the Russians for decades until their final subjugation in 1864 – that was thrust into the limelight in 1836, when the British schooner Vixen was seized by a Russian warship in the Black Sea for illicit trade with the tribesmen. The ship’s supercargo, James Stanislaus Bell, who was released from detention in Sevastopol a month later, was to publish an account of his subsequent travels as Journal of a residence in Circassia during the years 1837, 1838 and 1839 (G48) and initiate a steady stream of books about the region in the 1840s (fig. 12), often hostile to Russia (G65, G67, G68, G119).

Fig. 12 Edmund Spencer, Travels in Circassia, Krim-tartary, &c: including a steam voyage down the Danube, from Vienna to Constantinople, and round the Black Sea (London: H. Colburn, 1839).

The challenges of distance and climate seemed to have deterred many from undertaking journeys into Siberia. Few accounts appeared before the mid-1820s, although in some cases they reflected journeys made a decade or so earlier. Pre-eminent among the authors were “pedestrian” John Dundas Cochrane, a Royal Navy captain who travelled as far as Kamchatka in 1820-21 mainly on foot (F82) and who on his return through Moscow met “blind” James Holman, a former naval lieutenant about to journey through Siberia in 1823 but who was later accused of being a spy by the Russian authorities and was escorted under guard out of the country (F89). Doubts were raised about what the travellers indeed accomplished, not least by Peter Dobell, who had spent many years in Siberia from 1812 before eventually publishing his Travels in Kamtchatka and Siberia; with a narrative of a residence in China (F30) in 1830 and two years later, under the pseudonym “a friend to truth”, published his polemic entitled Russia as it is, and not as it has been represented. During Nicholas’s reign, perhaps the most reliable information on Siberia was supplied by the German scientist Georg Erman (G4), but of particular note was Sir George Simpson’s pioneering circumnavigation of the world by land begun in London that took him from Okhotsk to St Petersburg in 1842 (G80). George Cottrell (G73), travelling as far as Irkutsk in 1840 and taking to task all his predecessors, including not only Holman but also Dobell, offers his own considered views on the exile system and Siberia’s natural resources.

The nineteenth-century variant of the Grand Tourist, now travelling without the guidance of a tutor, was still to be found in the salons of the new and old capitals and publishing his journals for the delectation but, more often, the ridicule of readers and critics alike (e.g. G21, G24, G25). It was in the mid-1830s that a certain Rayford Ramble decided it was opportune to publish his Travelling opinions and sketches, in Russia and Poland (F80), dating back to a journey of 1819, and could still assert that “as for Russia, no one knows any thing about it. That is the very reason why I wish to go thither, in preference to any other place”. It was the Rambles of the time who elicited a broadside from the alleged Russian interlocutor of Leitch Ritchie, author of a volume on the two capitals for Heath’s Picturesque Annual for 1836 (F36):

It seems strange to me that you English should travel to Russia for the avowed purpose of making yourselves acquainted with the manners and character of the people, yet without comprehending a single word of their language. You come here with the greatest prejudices against us as a nation. You see every thing different from what you have been accustomed to at home, except the manners of some dozen families whom you visit. You make no inquiries, no reflections, no allowances. You examine this rude but mighty colossus through your opera glass, or from the windows of your travelling chariot. In the towns your valet de place is your prime authority; in the country you wander about in utter darkness, unable to understand a single object, and unable to ask a single question. You then return home satisfied with having attained the object of your tour; and sit down, without a single malevolent feeling in your breast, but out of pure ignorance, to add to the mass of falsehoods and absurdities with which Europe is already inundated.[13]

Ritchie felt obliged to acknowledge that his Russian acquaintance had a point.

Ignorance of the Russian language was a constant reproach, but it was only the long-time residents who had any realistic hope of acquiring at least a working knowledge. The continual objection to the descriptions of the tourist is against the superficiality of what is supposedly observed and recorded, although there was a growing interest in the life of Russians outside aristocratic circles and outside the capitals. In 1839 two books appeared that seemed to emphasize in their titles the change of focus. If it was only deep into his second volume that Robert Bremner left the delights of St Petersburg and Moscow for the promised Excursions in the interior of Russia (G47), Richard Venables’s Domestic scenes in Russia: in a series of letters describing a year’s residence in that country, chiefly in the interior (G53) did not disappoint. Venables, Cambridge graduate and country parson, accompanied his Russian wife on a visit to her relations in Tambov province, where he became much interested in the problems of serfdom and the rhythms and patterns of provincial life. He was of course not alone, many authors, British and foreign, had attempted over previous decades to describe Russian mores in city and country, but Venables was indicative of a trend, perhaps most tellingly embodied in the writings of a number of women, who lived and worked in Russia at this period.

It is in the books of Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) (G63), Rebecca McCoy (G88), Charlotte Bourne (G98), and Mary Smith (G113), all living in Russia in the 1840s, that with varying success the flavour of life in provincial Russia is captured. It was Revel where Elizabeth Rigby stayed with her sister, who was married to an Estonian nobleman, although she also spent much time in St Petersburg: keenly aware of the differences between Estonians and Russians, she was drawn to both Russian traditions and the Russian language, which she began immediately to learn and praised it as “at once florid and concise – pliable and vigorous, tender and stern; – redundant in imagery, laconic in axiom, graceful in courtesy, strong in argument, soothing in feeling, and tremendous in denunciation, the latent energies of the language are a prophetic guarantee of the destinies of the nation”. Rebecca McCoy, who spent eleven years in Russia as a domestic teacher of English and companion, offered her far from uncritical The Englishwoman in Russia: impressions of the society and manners of the Russians at home as “a simple account of the manners, customs, and genre de vie chez eux of a people whose domestic habits are comparatively but little known to the English nation”. It was as a governess in the noble Dolgorukii family in Moscow and on their Tula estate that Charlotte Bourne spent three years, learning the language well enough to produce an English verse translation of a stanza from Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin and recording fascinating glimpses of some of the literary and intellectual lions of the time. Mary Smith, on the other hand, emphasizes her “travels” during the six years she spent in Russia up to the very end of Nicholas’s reign, seemingly also as a companion and governess, but her observations remain disappointingly general.

Remembering the role of the “lady” author in eighteenth-century accounts, it perhaps occasions no surprise that all four books were published anonymously, three bearing the designation “by a lady”, and only Elizabeth Rigby robustly refusing a similar suggestion from her publisher John Murray. It is in fact only of very recent times that the identities of two of the authors (McCoy and Bourne) have been established. Another former governess who did put her name to her book when it was eventually published in 1863 was Lucy Finlay, who had spent some eight years in Russia as a governess before she married in St Petersburg the artist and architect Thomas Witlam Atkinson. Atkinson was to earn fame for the descriptions and drawings of his travels through Siberia and Central Asia that he published in 1858 and 1860 (G107-08), in which, however, he made no mention that he had been accompanied throughout by his wife and baby son. It was two years after his death in 1861 that his wife put the record straight with her moving book entitled Recollections of Tartar steppes and their inhabitants and signed simply “Mrs Atkinson” (G109).

Venables brought out a second edition of his book in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War, thinking, rightly, that what he had observed, would be helpful in “understanding the Russians”. Apart from Rigby’s book, published in 1841 and again in 1842, the works by Bourne, McCoy and Smith also appeared during or soon after the Crimean War, in 1855, 1856 and 1859, already in the reign of a new Russian ruler, soon to be hailed as the “Tsar-liberator”.

However, during the previous reign there had been more than enough authors willing to encourage Russophobia among the British public, following the example on the British domestic scene of the pro-Turkish David Urquhart, outspoken defender of Circassian independence against Russian aggression, and the Marquis de Custine, author of the highly influential denunciation of Nicholas’s Russia, La Russie en 1839, which appeared in English translation in 1843 as Empire of the czars (G66). Broadsides against Nicholas’s Russia were fired by William Jesse, an army officer on half pay, who left in the summer of 1840 “without regret, glad to escape from “a land of tyrants and a den of slaves”, and Charles Henningsen (G93-94), hiding under a pseudonym but ever ready to approve of Custine’s strictures, and fulminating against that “dark arena, where corruption and oppression in the most revolting forms are still daily running riot, battening on the sufferings of millions, and the brutalizing abasement of whole races”.[14]


The Crimean War was in so many respects a watershed in Anglo-Russian relations. Since the reign of Peter I there had been several occasions when diplomatic relations were strained and broken and the two countries made belligerent noises. Indeed, during the Ochakov Crisis towards the end of Catherine II’s reign, at the time of Paul I’s rapprochement with Napoleon, and subsequent to the Russo-French agreement at Tilsit in 1807, war seemed if not imminent, then possible. It was, however, only on 14 September 1854 that for the first time British soldiers set foot on Russian soil to fight the Russian army in a bloody, protracted, heroic, but ultimately militarily pointless conflict.

Fig. 13 British bombardment of the fortress Bomarsund (Aland Islands)
during the Crimean war (1854), artist unknown.

It was a conflict that spawned a mighty literature in Britain and continues to do so. No genre escaped: poets penned odes and sonnets and dirges and found triumph in defeat for the valiant 600; writers of fiction, particularly that aimed for boys, spun their tales of British heroism; preachers fulminated from the pulpits, claiming God for the British; newspapers and journals packed their columns with all manner of newsworthy items and sensational reports; and the readers of Punch delighted in the cartoons directed not only against the shambling bear that was Russia and its Tsar but increasingly against the bungling British generals and incompetent administrators.[15]

The first contributions by combatants to the literature of the Crimean War came from two navy men who never set foot in the Crimea as such but were captured when HMS Tiger went aground after taking part in the bombardment of Odessa and it was to Odessa, pride of New Russia, that they were taken. Both 1st Lieutenant Royer and Midshipman Barker were quick to produce books that were not, however, harrowing tales of imprisonment and deprivation but veritable paeans to the hospitality and grace of their captor hosts (H1, H2). Back in England on 9 July 1854, Royer wrote in his preface dated September, that he offered his work “with no political object, but simply with a view to record the Author’s impressions of a country which he has recently visited, under circumstances of no little interest at the present moment, and to satisfy in some measure the curiosity naturally felt by the British Public, with regard to all events connected with the scenes of the War in the East”. He was right – no less than six editions appeared before the end of the year.

The role of the navy in the Black Sea and the Baltic, and indeed in the Sea of Okhotsk is often overlooked in the context of the struggle on the peninsula itself, although it receives due emphasis in the subsequent accounts of combatants from senior admirals to junior officers (e.g. H3-7, H9-10, H127), if not from ratings. The ordinary soldiers in contrast find their voice in numerous accounts which may not have been published in their lifetime but which posterity has been zealous to recover from the obscurity of family and regimental archives. The Crimean War section of the bibliography lists 145 accounts, of which fifty-two were published between 1854 and 1859, a further forty-three by the end of the nineteenth century, twenty in the first half of the twentieth century, and no less than thirty more since 1950. Within the overall total there are only eight foreign accounts, four, possibly five, translated from French (H24, H25, H107, H117, H125) and one from German (H118), and two written by Americans, one of whom was the skipper of a troop ship on loan to the French and the other, a reporter (H89, H99): one of the French accounts (H125), by the French chef Alexis Soyer, who was responsible for reforming the diets of the Allied troops and installing new ovens, offers a unique insight into the complexities of provisioning an invading force. The British accounts form an imposing, diverse, and frequently moving record of an epic struggle, in which life in the trenches before Sevastopol or in tents at Balaklava and elsewhere, cavalry charges, hails of shells and bullets, shortages of supplies and food, omnipresent death and disease, extremes of weather, all play their part. To some extent they parallel the often harrowing French accounts of Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 and anticipate some of the accounts of the horrors of WWI on the Russian front. They include accounts by soldiers and officers who spent some time in Russian captivity: the cavalryman, for instance, who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade, was captured by Cossacks, and was marched off into the interior to Voronezh, and describes Russian towns and families with whom he was billeted as well as the often bad treatment he received (H33); captured officers, who were generally well treated and moved with freedom in the towns where they were held (H106, H141). After the armistice many officers fraternized with the Russians, became tourists and described, often in detail, excursions to the caves of Inkerman, the sultan’s palace at Bakhchiserai and other parts of the Crimean peninsular (H31, H49, H66, H67, H95, H112).

While such touristic activities are perhaps understandable in the aftermath of the conflict, tourism during the war is not, but there were more than a few people who made the journey from England precisely to see the sites of recent battles and, if they were “fortunate”, to witness action. Such was Henry Bushby, who described an “enjoyable” month’s visit early in the campaign (H83), or the self-styled “travelling gentlemen”, the two Money brothers (H131), while the antics and adventures of Rev. Wickenden beggar belief (H72). The phenomenon of “war tourism” aroused only consternation in a French pastor offering solace to the wounded (H117). Virtually in the same category are the wives of serving officers who watched from the hilltops while their menfolk waged war: Frances Duberly, wife of a regimental paymaster and a great horsewoman, not only witnessed the charge of the Light Brigade but managed to get her journal published in London even before her return to England (H29), while Ellen Palmer undeniably showed a lot of pluck during her visit to see her officer brother, one of the survivors of the 600 (H102).

There were, however, women whose presence in the Crimea was dictated by their wish to offer help to the sick and the wounded. There is little doubt that the Crimean War is associated with the name of Florence Nightingale before that of any military participant in the conflict. It was not from her pen at that time or, indeed, later, at least in book form, that the contribution that nurses, serving both in Turkey at the military hospital at Scutari and across the Black Sea in the hospital at Balaklava, could be appreciated. One of the Sisters of Mercy who accompanied Miss Nightingale published her memoir some years after the events (H108), but it was a voice highly critical of the lady of the lamp that made itself heard already in 1857 (H111), the year that there also appeared the Wonderful adventures of Mrs Seacole in many lands with an introduction by the influential correspondent of The Times, William Russell: Mary Seacole (fig. 14), of mixed Scottish-Creole descent, who, rejected as a nurse, nevertheless went to the Crimea, setting up a British Hotel (fig. 15) near Sevastopol and nursing the wounded (H116).

Fig. 14 Only known photo of Mary Seacole (1805-1881), taken c.1873, photographer unknown.
Fig. 15 Sketch of Mary Seacole’s “British Hotel” in the Crimea (n.d.), by Lady Alicia Blackwood.

More positive assessments of Nightingale’s achievements came from the civil doctors, who worked with her at Scutari (H122), but there are also several accounts by the military surgeons and doctors attached to units heavily involved in the fighting (e.g. H20, H43, H53, H62, H112).

William Russell, who had written of Seacole, “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead”, enjoyed much longer fame than she. On the monument erected to his memory in St Paul’s he is described as “the first and greatest of war correspondents”. He was with the troops that left Southampton in March 1854, witnessed the landing at Kalamita Bay on 14 September and covered all the subsequent events of the war. His dispatches to The Times alerted the British public to the true horrors of the war, the vast mismanagement and above all to the heroism of the private soldier. His dispatches were collected as yearly accounts and many times reprinted (H63). His example was to be followed thereafter in every major conflict in which Russia (and not only Russia, of course) was involved and we have literally dozens of books emanating from correspondents following, for instance, the Russo-Japanese War and the Russian participation in WWI, as well as reporting the 1905 and 1917 revolutions.

The Crimean War was also the war of drawings and sketchbooks, bringing fame to William “Crimean” Simpson (fig. 16), hailed as the “earliest of war artists” and producing numerous sketches from the war zone, including one of Balaklava at the behest of Queen Victoria, which were later sold as albums (H87-88).

Fig. 16 William Simpson photographed by Roger Fenton on Cathcart Hill before Sevastopol, Crimea, 1855. Adrian Lipscomb collection.

There were other artists such as Constantin Guys, whom The Illustrated London News sent out as its roving artist (H37), as well as amateur artists among the military (H15, H26, H109). It was also, even more importantly, the war when Roger Fenton with his “photographic van”, sponsored by Thomas Agnew & Sons (as Simpson had been by Colnaghi), photographed military commanders, local figures, and studies of camp life (fig. 17), and ushered in, unbeknowingly, the era of the travel and other accounts, illustrated with photographs (H114).

Fig. 17 Balaklava harbour (Crimea) [1855], photograph by Roger Fenton.


Alexander II came to the throne when the Crimean War was at its height and reigned for twenty-six years before a terrorist’s bomb ended his life. For all his liberal impulses and reforms, his was a reign marked by much bloodshed and warfare, but in the early years, the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 30 March 1856 that brought the Crimean conflict to an end and discussions within Russia about the imminent emancipation of the serfs seemed to promise better things.

Inevitably, in the aftermath of the war the Crimea attracted tourists who visited the battlefields and then moved off to other attractions (e.g. I3, I4, I9, I18), but of considerable more interest were the memoirs of combatants who felt drawn to revisit the region at later stages of their lives (see H14, H48, H81, H87). Tourists were soon returning in numbers, many still drawn to St Petersburg and Moscow, arriving by train through Poland or by steamer to Cronstadt. Designed as a tourist’s guide to the northern ports to which the North of Europe Steam Company’s steamers sailed and to the towns reached by the connecting railway routes, was James Mahony’s The book of the Baltic (1857) (I7).

Early in the reign other momentous, if very different events engaged the attention of visitors. The signing of the emancipation act of 3 March 1861 evoked new interest in the lives of the peasantry and in the consequences of “freedom”. Henry Sutherland Edwards’s The Russians at home, published in the year of the Emancipation, examined both the support for, and opposition to it (I34), and a few years later, the title of Robert Anderson’s Sketches of Russian life before and during the emancipation of the serfs reflected the author’s main focus (I35). Both authors had spent long years in Russia, as had Herbert Barry, a manager of ironworks in Tambov and Nizhnii Novgorod, who was particular attentive to changes that emancipation had brought, contending that for the two classes, nobles and serfs, that had existed pre-1861, now four – nobles, merchants, shopkeepers and peasants – were evident (I87-88). The study of post-Emancipation Russia was taken to a new level by the publication in 1877 of Russia, the result of Donald Mackenzie Wallace’s, five years of extensive travels through European Russia (I90; fig. 18).

Fig. 18 Portrait of Donald Mackenzie Wallace (no later than 1905), photographer unknown.

Russia was attracting ever more British travellers and explorers, intent on reaching the furthest parts of the empire, be it Siberia and Kamchatka or the newly acquired territories of the south east. A striking number were members of the Royal Geographical Society, founded in 1830 and receiving its royal charter in 1859. In the early 1840s Sir Roderick Murchison, who was soon to become the Society’s long-serving president, had travelled extensively through the Urals, producing a work of lasting value on the geology of the region (G70). His achievement was matched by another future president, the geographer and mountaineer Douglas Freshfield, who first climbed in the Caucasus in 1868 (I80), returned on two further occasions during Alexander III’s reign, and produced by the end of the century the monumental account of The exploration of the Caucasus (J142). Other members travelling through the Caucasus included Viscount Pollington in 1865 (I61) and August Mounsey in 1866 (I62), while Major Herbert Wood was invited to join the Russian Geographical Society’s expedition to the Aral Sea in 1874 (I122). Commodore John Buchan Telfer, travelling extensively with his Russian wife through Transcaucasia in the early 1870s, projected his book on the region as a well-informed guide-book for tourists undertaking a 92-day round trip from Odessa (I119). It was, however, through Siberia to Mongolia that William Whyte journeyed in 1869 (I86), and Edward Rae studied the lives of the Samoeds in 1874 (I127) and returned in 1880 to explore the White Sea coast and the Kola peninsula (I178). It was the Russian North, known in part to British readers via the first reports in Hakluyt, that also attracted Captain Joseph Wiggins, one of the most renowned of Victorian Arctic explorers, pioneering the route via the Kara Sea to the River Enisei from 1874 (I121).

The Caucasus had become a magnet for followers of mountaineering, which had gained increasing popularity in Britain following the establishing of the Alpine Club of London in 1857. One of the club’s early presidents and a most experienced climber was Florence Crauford Grove, author of The Frosty Caucasus (fig. 19), who recounted his tramps through the Caucasus in 1874 (I124) and who conquered Mt Elbruz, following Freshfield, who had also made the first ascent of Mt Kazbek.

Fig. 19 Title page of a first edition of Florence Crauford Grove, The Frosty Caucasus (1875).

A decade later, one of the most famous of early British mountaineers, Alfred Mummery, scaled Dych Tau for the first time and was promptly elected to the Alpine Club (J84). Climbing was just one of the energetic forms of sport enjoyed by the British and of course many were drawn to hunt and shoot on country estates as well as in the mountains. “Sport” seems to have been used for the first time in a title in Ferdinand St John’s Rambles in Germany, France, Italy and Russia, in search of sport, published in 1853 (G59), but referring to a visit in 1838. It appeared thereafter with increasing frequency, in, for example, Clive Phillips-Wolley’s Sport in the Crimea and Caucasus (I133) and John Baddeley’s Russia in the ‘eighties’: sport and politics (I170). But of course, hunting, shooting and fishing were staple pursuits for members of the British colony in St Petersburg, as evidenced by books such as James Whishaw’s memoirs (I146) and his relative Fred Whishaw’s Out of doors in Tsarland and The romance of the woods (I147-48). Although shooting was not excluded, observing birds was the nobler pursuit of the Scottish naturalist John Harvie-Brown, who first went to the White Sea in 1872 (I99), but on his second visit in 1876 to the Pechora was accompanied by the noted amateur ornithologist Henry Seebohm (I129). Seebohm penetrated further into Siberia two years later, sailing with Captain Wiggins along the Enesei (I145).

Possibly for a number of officers with the Indian Army and for many civilians far removed from the realities the “Great Game” was yet another sporting event, albeit one protracted over a century or more and with a vast playing field of many countries.[16] Coined by Arthur Conolly, who as a young twenty-two year old lieutenant had left London in August 1829 to join his regiment in India, travelling through Russia to Persia (G17) and who in 1842 was to be brutally executed by the emir of Bokhara, it had its origins in the reign of Catherine II and of her son Paul, who sent off an army to capture India, was fanned into flame by Napoleon’s attempt to convince Alexander I to do the same, and erupted particularly after the Crimean War. There was a steady stream of officers who had journeyed through Russia since the reign of Alexander I, watching Russia’s relentless military advance. Colonel Valentine Baker and two other officers travelled through Central Asia in 1873 with the specific aim of gathering “political, geographical, and strategical information that might be valuable” (I114). It was, however, the larger-than-life, Russian-speaking Captain Fred Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards who stirred up the Russophobic fears of the British public with the publication in 1876 of his best-seller, A ride to Khiva, in which he described his mid-winter journey through Russia, with the surprising agreement of the Russian minister of war, to the khanate of Khiva, “protected” by Russia since 1873 (I132). Burnaby rode off again the following winter to eastern Turkey to assess the increasing tense situation developing between Turkey and Russia and the threat to British interests and even as he penned his second book (I142), war broke out and the Russian army moved towards Constantinople.

It was to be a conflict extensively covered by reporters from British and American newspapers, ever more in evidence since the Crimean War. David Ker, the future well-known author of boys’ fiction, had covered events leading to the Russian appropriation of Khiva for the Daily Telegraph (I108) and Januarius MacGahan of the New York Herald witnessed its fall on 9 June 1873 (I115). MacGahan was to be one of seventeen international correspondents reporting the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 whose dispatches for the Daily News were collected in two annual volumes (I149). Other American and British accounts appeared over the next few years (I148-52, I155), but of especial interest for illuminating the other, Turkish, side of the war and in particular the stubborn Turkish defence of the fortress of Plevna, which fell finally in December 1877 and led to the peace treaty of San Stefano on 3 March 1878 (fig. 20), were two books written by British subjects serving with the Turks (I153-54), while the most idiosyncratic addition were undoubtedly the five poetic cantos the Scottish doctor, John McCosh devoted to “the war of the czar” (I156).

Fig. 20 “The Great Game: the Afghan Emir Sher Ali Khan with his ‘friends’ Russia and Great Britain” (30 November, 1878), cartoon by Sir John Tenniel.

Alexander II’s reign was also the reign of the Americans. Americans of course were no strangers to Russia.[17] When Catherine II was on the throne, John Ledyard, who had been on Captain Cook’s last voyage, published his account that included a description of Kamchatka in 1783 (D32), four years before he returned to undertake a journey across Siberia that led only to his arrest and expulsion from Russia in 1788 (D56). This was a year before John Paul Jones, regarded as a traitor by the British, was also expelled after his ill-fated service in the Russian navy. His memoirs (D55), like Ledyard’s diary (D56), were published only decades after the events. Similar delays, often attributable to the discretion of diplomats, occurred during the reigns of both Alexander I (F16, F24-25, F50-51) and Nicholas I (G22-23, G32, G54, G78-79). Some eighteen accounts in the bibliography refer to Nicholas’s reign, but only six of which, all by tourists, appeared within it. What seems to have been the first American tourist account to be published in England was the lawyer John Stephens’s Incidents of travel, in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland (1838), utterly conventional but enjoying several editions (G41). Another lawyer, George Ditson, stayed in the south, claiming in his Circassia, published in 1850 (G109), to be the first American to visit and describe the region. John Maxwell (G103) travelled in the same year as Ditson (1847) but his tour took him only as far as Kazan from St Petersburg. He was particularly alive to the presence of American engineers in Russian service. Russian expansion of the railway system had led to the recruitment of foreign specialists and the purchase of machinery and locomotives (for British counterparts, see G89, G102). Prominent among the Americans were Major George Whistler, who worked on the Petersburg-Moscow railway link from 1842 until his death in 1849 (G87), and Joseph Harrison, who sold rolling stock and locomotives for the same railway (G88). In 1857, already in the reign of Alexander II, the firm of Winans, Harrison and Winans won a contract to remount the railway (I21).

During the Crimean War American sympathies, particularly following the fall of Sevastopol, were decidedly pro-Russia and in the years following Alexander II’s accession the rapprochement was much in evidence and is seen by many as the golden period of Russo-American relations, despite the fact that during the long years of the American Civil War, there seemed many a paradox in the relative positions of the Union and the Confederacy vis-à-vis Russia and Britain. The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 could not but engage the interest of Americans in the context of their own difficult path to the 13th Amendment and the abolition of slavery in 1865 (I65). A year later, in 1866, Congress sent Gustavus Fox to congratulate the Tsar on his surviving the first of several attempts to assassinate him and Russian society went to excess in its pro-American raptures (I64). The willingness of the Tsar to sell Alaska to America for a relative pittance in 1867 might also be seen as further evidence of his benevolence, although other factors were obviously at play: it was a change of ownership noted already in an account of the following year: Travel and adventure in the territory of Alaska, formerly Russian America – now ceded to the United States – and in various other parts of the north Pacific. (I60). Virtually a quarter of the 180 entries for Alexander’s reign were written by Americans and they provide not only an indication of the rapidly increasing presence of Americans throughout all parts of the Russian empire but also of a variety of activities and roles that rival but do not equal those of the British.

They included in their ranks two diplomats who were outstanding scholars: Jeremiah Curtin (I51, K66) and Eugene Schuyler (I78, I113) were both linguists, translators, and much else, and travelled extensively in Russia, particularly in central Asia. They were eclipsed as an influential contemporary voice by George Kennan, who first came to Russia as a young member of a Russo-American telegraph surveying expedition that spent three years in Siberia and on Kamchatka in the late 1860s and published some years later in 1871 his Tent life in Siberia (I59). It was, however, the book that resulted from his fourth visit to Siberia in 1885 that was to be decisive in alerting the American and British publics to the abuses within the Russian penal system and provoked much controversy (J36).

It would be remiss not to mention that among American visitors during this reign was none other than Samuel Langhorne Clemens, already using his pseudonym Mark Twain but not yet author of The adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was briefly in the Crimea and Odessa with a group of American tourists in the summer of 1867 and met the Tsar in Yalta, finding him well-disposed to Americans, possibly not unconnected with his having just sold them Alaska for $7.2 million (I71). It was merely a happy coincidence that precisely at the time that Twain was visiting the south of Russia and paying his compliments to the Tsar at Yalta there arrived in St Petersburg a famous English humourist, Lewis Carroll, but in his more modest everyday guise as Rev. Charles Dodgson, an Oxford don, accompanied by his colleague Rev. Henry Liddon (I73). While Twain’s travels “in pursuit of recreation” was published in its first English edition in 1871 (I71), Carroll’s journal, first appearing in America in 1928, was to wait until 1965 (I72). Carroll subsequently had little to say about Russia; Twain in contrast had much to say and write, suggesting for example in 1886 that

Power, when lodged in the hands of man, means oppression – insures oppression: it means oppression always: […] give it to the high priest of the Christian Church in Russia, the Emperor, and with a wave of his hand he will brush a multitude of young men, nursing mothers, gray headed patriarchs, gently young girls, like so many unconsidered flies, into the unimaginable hells of his Siberia, and go blandly to his breakfast, unconscious that he has committed a barbarity.[18]

Like many of his fellow-countrymen, Twain had been much influenced by reading Kennan and his attitude to Russia and to its ruler, who was now Alexander III, had changed fundamentally.


The shortest by more than a decade of reigns beginning in the nineteenth century, Alexander III’s was marked by ultra conservatism and internal repression but was free from the wars that had been virtually ever present before and certainly after and earned the Tsar the unlikely title of “the Peacemaker”. The first years of the new Tsar’s reign were marked by events of very different character and import that were nevertheless strongly reflected in English-language accounts.

The first was a tragedy far away from Moscow that commanded the attention of the British and in particular the American publics. On 12 June 1881 the USS Jeannette, originally a Royal Navy vessel, which had set out on 8 July 1879 on an expedition to the North Pole via the Bering Strait, was crushed by ice and sank off the Siberian coast. The commander, George De Long, and his men were obliged to try to make their way across the ice and then by three small boats towards the delta of the Lena. Two boats with twenty-five men reached different points on the mainland and only thirteen were to survive. Diaries of both some who perished and others who survived were published over the next few years (J3-7), as were the accounts of those who were sent to find them (J8-9, J12).

The incredible hardships suffered by De Long’s crew were of a different order from the horrors of the pogroms that swept through the south-west of Russia, in towns such as Odessa and Kiev, in 1881-83, triggered in part by the assassination of Alexander II, the responsibility for which was placed by some on the Jews. The Jews had suffered persecution since the mid-eighteenth century but were increasingly subjected to restrictions on their movements both within and outside the Pale of Settlement. In 1846 the banker and philanthropist Moses Montefiore (fig. 21) in his capacity as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had visited Russia to plead the Jewish cause in an audience with Nicholas I; in July 1872 he repeated the visit, ostensibly to offer Alexander II congratulations on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great, and reported back on the improved lot of Russian Jews over the past two decades (G99, I106).

Fig. 21 Portrait of Moses Montefiore (n.d.), artist unknown.

Already in his hundred and first year in 1885, he had lived, however, to hear of the horrors of the new pogroms. Although the British press and pamphleteers with such publications as the Times’s Persecution of the Jews, 1881 (1882) responded to the events in Russia, the bibliography registers no first-hand accounts from British observers. It was an American, James Buel, travelling in Russia in 1882, who published the following year his indictment of Russia’s treatment of the Jews (J19), which, a decade later, was taken up by the American novelist Harold Frederic in a series of articles for the New York Times in September 1891 (published in book form only in 1904 (J109)), but which were contested by the London-based American artist Joseph Pennell in articles for the Illustrated London News in December and appearing as a book the following year (J111).

Buel was one of the few travel writers to use the word “nihilism” in his title but far from the only one to discuss the burning issues of nihilism and terrorism, only accentuated by the assassination of Alexander II after a series of similar attempts. Nihilism was “the controlling cause of my visit to Russia”, asserted the American clergyman James Buckley in his The midnight sun: the tsar and the nihilist (J34), while for the correspondent of the Chicago Daily News Russia was simply The land of the nihilist (J69). All three examples are American: British travellers seemed more reluctant to use the word, at least in titles. Not so in fiction. Nihilism brought to the English novel a string of novels with such stirring titles as A nihilist princess or Narka the nihilist, and, indeed, a play, Oscar Wilde’s Vera: or the nihilists, so much so that as late as 1899 a speaker at the Anglo-Russian Society complained that “five novels out of six will have a Nihilistic plot. […] all this may serve to make an exciting story, but it does not give a true picture of Russian life as I have learnt to know it during a residence of many years in that country”.[19] Formed in 1893, the Anglo-Russian Literary Society’s brand of conservative Russophilia was in essence designed to combat, unsuccessfully, the anti-Russian governmental stance of the powerful Society of Friends of Russian Freedom and its organ Free Russia, established three years earlier in 1890 on the initiative of Sergei Stepniak-Kravchinskii, one of a group of influential Russian political émigrés in London. To a greater degree than ever before British Russophobia was underpinned by a sympathy for the oppressed and for those factions, including nihilists, struggling to curb the excesses of autocratic power.

The winter of 1891 saw Russia caught in further tragic events as famine spread along the Volga and gradually further afield to the Urals and the Black Sea, claiming an estimated half-million victims by the end of the following year. The Russian governmental response was slow, begrudging and fudging, help from outside, particularly from Britain and the USA, was immediate and generous. Two Englishmen, who knew Russia well, James Steveni and Edward Hodgetts, toured the area and reported on the conditions for the Daily Chronicle and Reuters respectively, publishing books the following year (J112-13), while detailed accounts of the extensive American relief operation that involved bringing ships from America with food supplies were also soon to appear (J115-17).

Prominent among Russians volunteering to aid the starving peasantry was Leo Tolstoi (fig. 22), trenchant in his criticism of Tsar and Orthodox church for their seeming reluctance to help, and it was in Riazan, some hundred miles southeast of Moscow on the river Oka, that the Swede Jonas Stadling, working to alleviate the suffering, met him in March 1892 (J114), a few months before Francis Reeves, who had arrived with supplies from America (J116).

Fig. 22 Tolstoi organising famine relief in Samara (1891), photographer unknown.

Visits to Tolstoi, whether he was involved in famine relief or at home in Moscow or on his estate at Iasnaia Poliana, had become virtually de rigueur for foreign travellers, particularly British and American enthusiasts for his fiction or social, moral and religious works.[20] The diplomat and scholar, Eugene Schuyler, during his stint at the American embassy in St Petersburg, seems to have initiated the trend as early as 1868 (I78), but it was in the 80s and 90s that a trickle of “pilgrims” threatened to become a flood. During Alexander III’s reign, some thirteen such visits are registered and the visitors include some remarkable figures, both British and American. In March 1888 Tolstoi was visited by Rev. Lansdell, who was on his way to Chinese Mongolia (J75), a few weeks later, by William Stead, the editor of Pall Mall (J78), and then, for the first of many visits, by Aylmer Maude, the noted translator of Tolstoi’s works (J87). In late 1892 two Quakers, John Neave and John Bellows, discussed the plight of the Stundists and of religious minorities whom they were to visit in the Causcasus region (J121-22), before they were followed in the following February by an even more renowned English translator, Constance Garnett (J125). Her American counterpart as translator and writer on Russian literature, Isabel Hapgood, paid many visits to Tolstoi in 1887-89 (J67), and from among her fellow countrymen, mention might be made of the educational reformer Ernest Crosby, closely observing the “Tolstoyan” methods of instruction in the village school at Iasnaia Poliana (J139), and the eccentric Thomas Stevens, who in June 1886 had abandoned his penny farthing on the Russian stage of his attempt to go Around the world on a bicycle (J58; fig. 23) and opted for a circus mustang when visiting Tolstoi in the summer of 1890 (J99).

Fig. 23 Thomas Stevens on his penny-farthing bicycle. Image from his Around the world on a bicycle (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1887). Cornell University Library.

During the following reign of Nicholas II the pilgrimages continued unabated. A further fifteen visits, a far from exhaustive total, are mentioned in the bibliography and only in the last few years up to his death in 1910 is there a noticeable decrease.

The American presence during Alexander III’s reign was even more marked than during his father’s, despite the deterioration of Russo-American relations. Sixty-three of the 142 accounts registered, some 44%, relate to American experiences of Russia. For the most part, Russia was but part of round-the-world tours, reflected in titles such as Arctic sunbeams: or from Broadway to the Bosphorus by way of the North Cape (J1), A tour round the world, being a brief sketch of the most interesting sights seen in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, while on a two years’ ramble (J29) or People and countries visited in a winding journey around the world (J52), but it was also the specific destination for individuals and groups, intent, like the Indiana publisher, to relate “in a natural way, what I saw in a summer’s travel, through a remarkable country, among a strange and interesting people” (J71). There were, as noted elsewhere, travellers with very different agenda and objectives.

There are nineteen accounts by women, twelve American and predominantly tourists of varying degrees of perceptiveness (“Russia impressed me as too vast to comprehend” (J83)), the rest, British. Of the latter, Jane Harrison (J61) and Constance Garnett (J125) have left only disappointingly brief and fragmentary evidence of their visits in 1886 and 1893 respectively, but Bettina Walker’s memories of her studies as a young pianist in St Petersburg from 1886 are considerably more interesting (J63). In the summer of 1887, Elizabeth Brown, director of the solar section of the Liverpool Astronomical Society, travelled to Kineshma on the Volga to observe the solar eclipse, although with disappointing results (J72), while Nellie Peel, a year after her curtsey as a debutante in the 1892 London season, decided to travel to Siberia on a yacht, on which one of her companions was none other than Captain Wiggins, and sailed as far as the mouth of the Enesei, exhibiting, in the words of Lord Dufferin, the former ambassador to Russia, “the audacity of our modern maidens” (J130). It was, however, a nurse who had served during the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Kate Marsden, who was to steal the headlines. In 1891 she left Moscow for Siberia to visit the leper colony at Viliusk in Iakutia and to search for a herb that was said to check the disease (J102). On her return to London after her epic journey, much of it on horseback, she became one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society but her story was widely doubted.

Marsden’s heroics were but one of many accounts of Siberia by British and American travellers during this period, almost all of whom had something to contribute to the burning issue of the day, the Russian penal system and the fate of exiles in Siberia. Siberia, eternal snows and exile had formed an unavoidable triangle in the minds of Europeans at least since the time of Peter the Great and down the decades many travellers recorded meetings with exiles and prisoners: during Catherine II’s reign, for example, John Parkinson devoted fascinating pages to his encounters with exiles in Tobolsk in 1793 (D66) and under Nicholas I several encounters with exiled Decembrists are described by Charles Cottrell (G73), Samuel Hill (G104) and particularly by the Atkinsons (G107, G108). In 1866 the American journalist and author Thomas Knox wrote much about the exile system (I63), but it was Rev. Henry Lansdell’s Through Siberia (I171), recounting his first travels of 1879, when he distributed bibles and religious tracts wherever he found hands to take them and visited many of the places of exile and penal colonies, that was to fuel a controversy that was to rage for at least another decade. Lansdell’s work, in which he made generally conciliatory remarks about the operation of the system, was published only in 1882, following the assassination of Alexander II and in a context of much wider condemnation of Russian oppression. It did, however, receive support in Siberia as it is, published in 1892 by Harry de Windt (fig. 24), in which he describes a journey in the summer of 1890 specifically to inspect prisons and to show that Siberia “was not so black as it is painted” (J98).

Fig. 24 Harry de Windt (no image credit). Photograph published in his From Paris to New York by land (Thomas Nelson & Sons: London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York, 1903).

A few years later De Windt published the text of a lecture he had delivered in London to the Foreign Press Association, defending his views of Russian prisons not only in Siberia but also on Sakhalin (J134), which he had also visited in 1894, publishing in 1896 his The new Siberia: being an account of a visit to the penal island of Sakhalin, and political prison and mines of the Trans-Baikal district, eastern Siberia (J135). In all these works De Windt was openly crossing swords with the American George Kennan. Kennan had visited Russia for the fourth time in May 1885 and embarked on extensive travels through Siberia, accompanied by the photographer George Frost. What he saw made him a committed opponent of the Russian penal system and on his return to America, the critical articles he wrote for the Century magazine that had sponsored his visit and his extensive lecturing were highly influential even before the appearance of his book in 1891 (J36). In England, their influence was acknowledged by, for instance, Lionel Gowing, crossing Siberia in the winter of 1886-87 (J64) and by Dr Emile Dillon, the Russian-based correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, who under the pseudonym E. B. Lanin published in the Fortnightly Review in July 1890 “Russian prisons: the simple truth”, attacking Lansdell and De Windt and moving the poet Algernon Swinburne to write his apologia for tyrannicide in the same journal, “Russia: an ode”. Lanin’s collected articles appeared in 1892 under the title Russian characteristics (J89).

Siberia, however, during Alexander III’s reign invited discussion not only of exile but also of railways. In the spring of 1893 Dr Charles Wenyon travelled Across Siberia on the great post-road, claiming to be one of the last Englishmen to go “in the old fashioned way” by tarantas, steamer and rail from Vladivostok to the Urals (J126). It was three years earlier that the future Nicholas II, then Tsarevich, had inaugurated the construction of the far eastern section of the great Trans-Siberian railway and in the same year, 1890, a bridge was constructed across the Ural River, allowing the single-track railway which was being constructed simultaneously from Moscow to enter Siberia from the west. The completion and the glory of the railway was, however, in reality an event of the following reign.

Several years before the Trans-Siberian, however, another major railway project had been launched. In the spring of 1888 George Dobson sent letters to The Times, later re-issued as a book (J79), describing the opening of the Transcaspian railway. Begun in 1879 and originally from Uzun-Ada on the Caspian, it followed from its new terminus at the harbour of Krasnovodsk the route of the Silk Road, reaching via Bokhara Samarkand, which had become part of the Russian empire in 1868. The title of Dobson’s book, Russia’s railway advance into Central Asia, clearly indicates British fears of Russian expansionism. It came on the heels of the work of the Afghan Boundary Commission, described in 1887 by Lt. Arthur Yate in an equally eloquently entitled book, England and Russia face to face in Asia (J41), based on articles for the Daily Telegraph. Originally conceived as a military railway to assist actions against local tribes, the Transcaspian soon showed its great economic potential as well as its threat to British interests, well understood by George Curzon (fig. 25), the future viceroy of India, whose Russia in Central Asia (J86), records his “journey, taken under circumstances of exceptional ease and advantage” along the line in 1889.

Fig. 25 The Governor-General of India George Curzon with his wife Mary in Delhi (29 December 1902), photographer unknown. Published in Joachim K. Bautze, Das koloniale Indien. Photographien von 1855 bis 1910 (Köln: Fackelträger Verlag, 2007), p. 211.

A decade later, the railway was extended to Tashkent, which soon after its seizure in 1865 had become the capital of Russian Turkestan.


The coronation of the Tsars in Moscow presented a spectacle that foreign diplomats and dignitaries and visiting travellers witnessed and described with varying degrees of fascination and boredom. A number of young English aristocrats descended on Moscow in September 1801 to witness the installation of Alexander I (F2), while the Duke of Devonshire headed a special embassy to attend the coronation of Nicholas I in September 1826, as described in the letters of Mrs Disbrowe (F104). The Daily News sent a special correspondent, John Murphy, to cover Alexander II’s coronation in September 1856 (I12), an event also described in Russia after the war by the prolific author Selina Bunbury (I11). Not unexpectedly, Queen Victoria sent her son the Duke of Edinburgh and his Russian wife, the former Grand Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna, to attend the coronation of Alexander III in May 1883, a ceremony described in letters to his wife by Viscount Wolseley, who accompanied them (J25).

The interest in the coronation of Nicholas II was, however, unprecedented, and only increased by the tragic events that followed it. Nine accounts, two of which are by American observers, describe the coronation. The majority were written by members of the official British party accompanying Queen Victoria’s representatives, on this occasion the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, and included Bishop Mandell Creighton (K22; fig. 26) and W.J. Birkbeck (J82), the acknowledged authority on the Russian church, and Lieutenant-General Grenfell (K20), as well as by a journalist Richard Davis (K24) and the translator and writer Arthur Sykes, who was a member of a tourist group (K23).

Fig. 26 Portrait of Mandell Creighton (1902), by Hubert von Herkomer. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Both Davis and Sykes were apparently not in Moscow when four days after the coronation, on 26 May 1896, there occurred the stampede and death of some 1300 people at Khodynskoe pole, a large open space in the north west of Moscow which had been used without mishap for festive events after the coronation of Alexander III. Completely different reactions to the events were recorded by an American visitor and a long-time British resident. John Logan’s revealingly entitled book, In joyful Russia (K19), is an account of “a thoroughly delightful trip” to a country “in holiday attire” and certainly not to be spoilt by tragic events for “it is not best to let the unthinking brood too deeply over the irretrievable”, but the Tolstoyan Aylmer Maude attacked “the conventional, superficial laudations of a spectacle which enlightened conscience and sober reason must see in a wholly different light” (K26).

The Tsar’s decision to attend the gala ball at the French embassy in the evening of the tragedy earned him the sobriquet of “the bloody” from his critics; some eight and a half years later, his retiring to Tsarskoe selo on the day before the events of Bloody Sunday, 22 January 1905, brought him even greater dishonour. The Russia over which he ruled witnessed in the early years of the new century widespread and growing internal unrest and protest but also a disastrous war against Japan and all at a time of Anglo-Russian hostility.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-06, when British sympathies were for the Japanese, officially at least, attracted much attention and was covered in great detail by correspondents sent by American and European newspapers and journals and their reports were often subsequently gathered together, re-edited and published in book form. As tension mounted in 1903 Bertram Simpson, writing under his pseudonym Bertram Weale, was dispatched to Manchuria and, highly critical of Russian presence in the area, dedicated his book Manchu and Muscovite to the “gallant Japanese nation” (K114). When hostilities broke out in February 1904 Frederick McKenzie, the Canadian correspondent of the Daily Mail, was soon reporting from the Japanese side (K129), while the experienced Scottish journalist Douglas Story on his arrival at Mukden became the first foreign correspondent formally accredited to the Russian army on 24 April 1904 (J133). Maurice Baring, appointed by the Morning Post (K134), and Guy Brooke, the Reuter’s correspondent (K135), travelled out together on the Trans-Siberian to Kharbin in May to report the war, while Oliver Greener, “a secret agent in Port Arthur”, sent reports to both The Times and the China Times (K136). The experiences of the Irish journalist Francis McCullagh were even more fraught: he was with the Russian forces at Mukden in March 1905 when he was captured by the Japanese and sent off to Japan as a POW (K126).

The war was played out against a backcloth of social unrest and riots, giving rise for the first time to ominous titles that were not all the result of hindsight. Even before Bloody Sunday, George Perris, who wrote for various English newspapers, entitled his book Russia in revolution (K4), while Henry Nevinson witnessed The dawn in Russia or scenes in the Russian revolution (K149), once again re-arranged articles previously published in the Daily Chronicle, and under the intriguing title The cable game: the adventures of an American press-boat in Turkish waters during the Russian revolution (K154) Stanley Washburn followed, as had Nevinson, revolutionary events in the Russian south, notably in Odessa. Karl Joubert, an Englishman of Huguenot descent, reeled off three books in 1904 with each title more doom-laden than the previous: Russia as it really is (K13), The truth about the tsar and the present state of Russia (K122), where Nicholas II is dubbed “the last of the Romanoffs”, and The fall of tsardom (K138). Russia was already “red” for Kellog Durland (K157) and John Foster Fraser (K161). It was a time of turmoil and feverish expectation, such that the Virginia lawyer William Edwards, on honeymoon and only briefly in St Petersburg and Moscow in September 1902, felt able to predict “a saturnalia of blood and tears, a squaring of ten centuries’ accounts, more fraught with human anguish and human joy than ever dreamed a Marat and a Robespierre” (K97)

One of the great themes of the period was inevitably travel on the Trans-Siberian, begun in 1890 but only completed in 1916. It was the great “ribbon of iron” along which towards Vladivostok the anthropologist and translator Annette Meakin travelled with her mother in 1900, the first Englishwomen to accomplish that journey (K73), whilst in the opposite direction Dr Francis Clark with his wife and son claimed in the same year to be the first Americans “to go around the world by the new route” (K70). In 1900 the journey still involved a ferry ride across Lake Baikal from the temporary terminus at Port Baikal to Mysovsk, and two new steel-hulled ice-breaking boats that had been built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the huge train-ferry the Baikal and the smaller Angara, came into service that year. It was only in 1904 after horrendous difficulties in construction that the Circum-Baikal railway was completed and it became possible to travel the whole route by rail.

It was precisely in 1900, however, that the Russian Ministry of Ways of Communication published an English-language Guide to the Great Siberian Railway that in exhaustive detail described not only the main railway but all its connecting lines and provided over 350 photographs of the railways and also of the towns and villages and their inhabitants.[21] If its aim was to entice Anglo-American tourists to journey along the whole length of the railway and possibly along its connecting lines then it would seem to have succeeded. There are literally dozens of accounts from the first two decades of Nicholas’s reign about journeys on the Trans-Siberian in full and in part, some naming the railway in titles such as Michael Shoemaker’s The great Siberian railway from St. Petersburg to Pekin (K94), Clarence Cary’s The Trans-Siberian route or notes of a journey from Pekin to New York in 1902 (K95) and Emil Fischer’s Overland via the Trans-Siberian railway: description of a trip from the Far East to Europe and the United States of America (K169), while others simply refer to travel through Siberia itself. Often well illustrated with photographs, the books offer on the one hand their authors’ pronouncements on the comforts or lack of them in the dining cars and sleeping compartments, in the inadequate unisex washrooms, and on the other, more serious lucubrations on the railway’s implications for immigration, for the exploitation of Siberia’s natural resources and for its military importance, soon to be put to the test with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.

The comforts, relatively speaking, of travelling by train notwithstanding, Siberia and the border lands and far reaches of the Russian empire continued to offer formidable challenges to explorers and sportsmen. In 1895-96 the wealthy expatriate Elim Demidov, Prince of San Donato, was accompanied by prominent British sportsmen on three shooting expeditions in the Caucasus (K9) and followed these with further expeditions to the Altai in 1897 (K31) and to Kamchatka in 1900 (K69). The Earl of Ronaldshay, although he did much of his travelling by the Transcaspian and Trans-Siberian, nevertheless also shot wild sheep in the Altai in 1903 (K106), as did Major Harold Swayne during his furlough from the army in India (K108). The region seemingly exerted a particular fascination for officers in the Indian army: Captain John Wood’s Travel & sport in Turkestan (K178) was soon followed by, for example, Lt. Percy Etherton’s Across the roof of the world: a record of sport and travel through Kashmir, Gilgit, Hunza, the Pamirs, Chinese Turkistan, Mongolia and Siberia (K206). The Altai attracted the expert climber Samuel Turner, who climbed Mount Belukha in 1903 (K102-03), while the Pamirs saw increasing numbers of travellers and hunters, including Ralph Cobbold, bagging his first tiger (K46). It was a region that was the destination of serious scientific expeditions, such as undertaken and described by Lt. Axel Olufsen of the Danish army (K14-15), but was also “opened up” for the everyday traveller by the Transcaspian. Many travellers might be named, but let that of one remarkable lady suffice: Ella Christie, the distinguished Scottish traveller and gardener, took part as the sole female in expeditions through Turkestan in 1910 and 1912, during the latter becoming the first British woman ever to enter Khiva (K215). In the north of Russia, the bear and the wolf, traditional victims of the hunting classes, continued to offer “sport” (K158), but it was the birds that drew the Nottingham ornithologist Henry Pearson and his friends on several cruises through northern waters in the late 1890s (K8, K65).

Rail, boat, sled, carriage, horse (K16), even camel (J14) all took travellers on their various routes through Russia. Thomas Stevens had wisely abandoned his penny-farthing for the Russian leg of his journey in 1886 (J58), but cyclists on much more reliable models were soon pedalling their way through Russia. In November 1890 two American students travelled Across Asia on a bicycle and were briefly in Russian territory, reaching Samarkand before proceeding to China (J106). It was in the south of Russia, from Odessa through the Crimea and the Caucasus, that Sir John Foster Fraser and friends cycled also as part of a world tour that occupied no less than 774 days in the second half of the decade (K29). In purely Russian terms it was the British cycling enthusiast Robert Jefferson who was the real star. He claimed a record for his round trip from Warsaw to Moscow in fifty days in the early summer of 1895 (K30) and returned three years later intent on replicating Colonel Burnaby’s (fig. 27) famous ride to Khiva. He entered Russia from Galicia and then from Moscow, accompanied by Russian cycling friends, he followed the Volga and crossing the Kirghiz steppe, was eventually received by the khan of Khiva (K48).

Fig. 27 A Christmas dinner on the heights before Sevastopol (Capt Burnaby is the fifth figure from the left), by J.A. Vinter. Tinted lithograph. Published in The Seat of War in the East (London: Paul & Dominic Colnaghi & Co., 13 & 14 Pall Mall East; Paris: Goupil & Cie, 1855).

Jefferson soon switched his loyalties to the new fangled motor car but did not enter Russia on his trip to Constantinople. The first account in the bibliography is Claude Anet’s Through Persia in a motor-car by Russia and the Caucasus (K141), recording a trip in the spring of 1905, but it was in the summer of 1907 that Prince Scipione Borghese won an international race from Pekin to Paris, racing through Siberia to St Petersburg in his Itala, accompanied by Luigi Barzini, whose account includes some wonderful photographs of their encounters and mishaps in Russia (K166).

Of all the ways of travelling it was the most natural and reliable of them all, on foot, that obviously took explorers to the summits in the Caucasus and the Pamirs and across difficult terrain, but walking under a new name and with new connotations became a fashion towards the end of the nineteenth century: it was the era of the tramp, the vagabond, the wanderer, who restlessly moved from place to place, country to country, living simply, avoiding cities, roaming the countryside. Tramping, generically different from the more genteel ramble (as exemplified in the titles of Isabel Hapgood’s Russian rambles (J67) or David McConaughy’s Rambles through Russia and in Norway and Sweden (J85)), first appears in the bibliography in the title of the American Lee Meriwether’s A tramp trip: how to see Europe on fifty cents a day (1886, J46), in which “desirous of seeing something of low life”, he made his way from Odessa to St Petersburg, as did a decade later Josiah Flint, including a Russian episode in his Tramping with tramps: studies and sketches of vagabond life (K42). Variations on titles are offered by John Patterson’s My vagabondage, being the intimate autobiography of a nature’s nomad (K10) and Max Müller’s Reminiscences of a roving life (K64), which he further explains as “a life of a wanderer – a vagabond – and nothing more”. While Carl Joubert claimed to have spent many years as a tramp (brodiaga) exploring Russia (K13), the “tramp” in both title and lifestyle is firmly linked with the name of Stephen Graham (fig. 28), who described his Russian adventures from 1906 to 1917 in a steady stream of books, beginning with A vagabond in the Caucasus (K232) and A tramp’s sketches (K233) that took him to every corner of Undiscovered Russia (K234). It was entirely in keeping with the image of the Russia he loved that he eschewed St Petersburg, until the outbreak of war in 1914 obliged him to visit the city for the first time on his way back to England.

Graham is just one of a number of figures from Nicholas II’s reign whose links with Russia through their often frequent visits and range of acquaintances, their work as journalists, their lecturing, and constant publications that ranged beyond travel accounts into plays and novels with Russian settings, essays in periodicals and separate collections, and articles in newspapers and magazines brought them reputations as Russia buffs. Another is Bernard, later Sir Bernard, Pares, the pioneer of Russian studies in British universities, who paid his first visit to Russia several years before Graham and became deeply involved in the working of the Duma, convened for the first time in 1906 (K123). At the outbreak of war he was appointed British military observer to the Russian army and remained at the front for three years (K309). The multi-talented Maurice Baring was introduced to Russia in 1901, was a correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War, and became literally enamoured of many aspects of the Russian land, culture and people that were subsequently reflected in his work in many genres, including novels, plays and poetry. Sharing with Pares and Baring a public school and Cambridge background, Morgan Philips Price, who was to become a prominent Labour politician, came somewhat later to the Russian scene, visiting Siberia in the spring of 1910 (K219) and returning as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian to report the war in the Caucasus (K322) and to observe first the February Revolution, then the October for which he had initially much sympathy (K379-81). In their later years Graham (K193), Pares (K58-59), Baring (K79), and Price (K380) all produced memoirs that emphasize the major role that Russia played in their lives. Pares had his American equivalent in Samuel Harper, who made numerous trips to Russia between 1904 and 1939, studied like Pares at Moscow University, and devoted his career to the study of Russia at the University of Chicago from 1912 (K119).

Graham was in the Altai mountains when in July 1914 news reached him of the outbreak of WWI (K290). It was a war that inevitably was to dominate and colour all subsequent accounts of Russia, not least when Russian participation collapsed into revolution. It was also a war in which the British were neither the foe as in the Crimea nor the outsider observer as in the case of Russia’s conflicts with the Ottoman empire, but the ally, the active participant, the involved reporter and observer. Of the 390 accounts listed in the bibliography for Nicholas’s reign, about 100 date from its last three years and many more, begun in earlier times, extend into the period of war and revolution. Predominantly and expectedly British and American, they nonetheless include key works translated from French and German, and they reflect the diplomatic, military, political and social issues of the time.

Pares, as we have seen, was appointed as a British military observer with the Russian army and it was in this or a similar capacity that other British military personnel were involved. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox, who had been had been military attaché at the Petersburg embassy since 1911, was appointed liaison officer to the Russian army in 1914, visiting the eastern front on several occasions (K311), while in March 1916 Samuel Hoare, later Lord Templeton, was sent by British intelligence to Russia to work with the Russian general staff (K352). Chief of the British Military Mission and attached to the G.H.Q. of the Russian armies at Mogilev from August 1914 to April 1917 was Major-General Sir John Hanbury-Williams (K310). At a more humble level, John Morse fought as “an Englishman in the Russian ranks” (K300) for nine months in Russian Poland until his capture by, and escape from, the Germans in 1914-15. The Canadian William Gibson volunteered in 1914 (K304) and Richard Boleslavski was in a Polish volunteer lancer regiment with the Russian army on the eastern front in 1916 (K363), although the American pilot Bert Hall, serving with the French, arrived too late in January 1917 to aid the Russian air service (K377).

It was, however, as nurses and medical orderlies in hospitals or in the field that British presence during the war was most marked and effective. The once highly popular novelist Hugh Walpole used his experiences with a Russian Red Cross unit in the Carpathians (K315) for the first of his two novels on Russian themes, The Dark Forest (1916), while in the space of little more than two years (1916-17) Robert Scotland Liddell published an impressive trilogy about his Red Cross service with the Russian army in Poland and in Georgia and the Caucasus (K335-37), introducing in his last volume a series of vignettes of nurses whom he had met at the front. Violetta Thurstan joined the Russian Red Cross after service in Belgium and was soon wounded by shrapnel, from which she convalesced in Petrograd (K317). Although she entitled her book A British nurse in Bolshevik Russia (K356) Margaret Barber had arrived in Petrograd in 1916 and worked in hospitals in a number of Russian towns up to the end of 1919, whereas Florence Farmborough left her post as a governess in Moscow to train as a nurse with the outbreak of war and served at the front until 1917 (K185), as did Mary Britnieva, born in Russia to Anglo-Russian parents (K314). Dr Elsie Inglis headed a seventy-six-strong nursing unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Russia that was in the south of Russia and Roumania in 1916-17 (K364-66). It was her work as a nurse for the Swedish Red Cross that brought Elsa Brändström her fame as the “Angel of Siberia”, where since 1915 she had cared for countless German and Austrian POWs (K303).

The accounts of German nationals who became prisoners of war indeed occupy a small but distinctive place in the bibliography. Edward Dwinger (K334) and Hans Kohn (K341), who both later earned considerable reputations as authors, if in very different fields, endured long years of captivity in Siberian camps from 1915, as did Hereward Price, the title of whose book, Boche and Bolshevik: experiences of an Englishman in the German army and in Russian prisons (K327), reveals something of his unique fate. Price, who was eventually to become a professor in an American university, as did Kohn, was drafted into the German army while he was a lecturer at Bonn. Two German nationals, who were not in the German army, were among those arrested within Russia and sent to camps: Theodor Kroeger, born and educated in Russia, tried unsuccessfully to escape to Germany in 1914, but, suspected of being a spy, spent two years in Siberian camps (K298), while Johann Dietrich, a hypnotist, was detained while on a professional visit to Petrograd (K307). Finally, an Austrian POW, Gustav Krist, captured in November 1914, endured long years of captivity not in Siberia but in Turkestan before his repatriation in 1921 (K321).

Russian participation in the war was described by the international corps of journalists on an unprecedented scale. If the Crimean War witnessed the birth of war journalism and subsequent conflicts were covered by an ever growing number of correspondents, WWI saw legions of journalists reporting from the capital and provincial cities and from the battlefields and behind the lines. Newspapers recruited people on the spot to contribute regular pieces or sent out their special correspondents and, as the bibliography clearly shows, many of the journalists subsequently gathered together their reports and published them and other materials as books.

The American lawyer-turned-journalist Stanley Washburn, one of the most seasoned of Russia reporters, having covered the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution (K154), was the special war correspondent of The Times from September 1914 and his articles were quickly collected and re-edited to form a trilogy under the general title of Field notes from the Russian front and published in 1915-17 (K313, K340, K362). The first volume is notable for the photographs by George Mewes of the Daily Mirror, the only “official” English photographer with the Russian armies. During the same Polish campaign in 1914-15 a colleague reporting for the Daily Telegraph was Granville Fortescue, who had been the military attaché at the American embassy during the Russo-Japanese war (K299). Among the first British reporters were Hugh Walpole, already mentioned for his work with the Russian Red Cross but initially sent to report the war for the Daily Mail and Saturday Review (K315), and Morgan Price, reporting for the Manchester Guardian (K322). Walpole’s last role in these years was as head of the British Propaganda Unit, to which Denis Garstin, who earlier contributed articles to the Morning Post and the Daily News, was also attached (K218). In 1916 Henry Fyfe, who was to be the first journalist to report the murder of Rasputin at the end of that year, was previously at the Galician front, writing for The War Illustrated and other publications, but his reports, which were often heavily censored, never subsequently appeared in book form (K328). John Pollock, who spent four years in Russia between 1915 and 1919, also working for the Russian Red Cross, published in 1919 his War and revolution in Russia which comprised articles he had sent to the Manchester Guardian and other English newspapers. Robert Liddell was yet another who combined service with the Red Cross with reporting for the Sphere as its special correspondent. Further American reporters of note were Arno Dosch-Fleurot for the New York World (K369) and Richard Child for Collier’s Weekly (K358). Florence Harper, who was the staff war correspondent of Leslie’s Weekly but later served at the front as a nurse at a Red Cross hospital, worked with the photographer Donald Thompson to produce an album of extraordinary photographs of Russia at war and in revolution in addition to a narrative of her experiences (K370-72).

From the seat of government rather than from the front, the dispatches sent by the various foreign ambassadors and members of their embassies informed their governments of what they could glean from ministers and officials, of the substance of new decrees and orders, of the mood of the people in the capital and, where possible, elsewhere. Collections of dispatches and reports, diaries and letters included in autobiographies and biographies, as well as books on the country were a staple of British publications on Russia almost from the very beginning of contacts and in the nineteenth century were swelled by their American equivalents. They emerge as a particularly invaluable source for the events of the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was in the British embassy during the Russo-Japanese war and the 1905 revolution. His letters to Mrs Roosevelt, wife of the American president, occupy a special place in his correspondence during this period (K113) and are complemented by the memoirs of Earl Onslow, then Viscount Cranley, who was personal secretary to three ambassadors over the same period (K116). They were briefly colleagues of Sir Nevile Henderson, whose first stint at the embassy was from December 1905 to April 1909, and he returned in 1912 to serve under Sir George Buchanan (K153). Buchanan was in post some eight momentous years from 1910 to 1918, recorded in his memoirs published in 1923 as My Mission to Russia (K225). Another notable member of the embassy staff was H.J. Bruce, who was Head of Chancery from 1913 to 1918 and was to marry the ballerina Tamara Karsavina (K263-64). Two British consuls provide important commentaries on events away from the capital: Thomas Preston was consul in Ekaterinburg between 1913 and 1917 and still in post at the time of the murder of the imperial family (K155); and Bruce Lockhart, Consul-General in Moscow from 1914 to 1917, was to achieve greater notoriety in Bolshevik Russia for his involvement in the so-called “Lockhart plot” (K242-44). Although obviously occupying no official position other than that of “family” it is pertinent to note in this context the string of books produced from the 1920s until shortly before her death in 1959, by Buchanan’s daughter, Meriel, which become increasingly repetitive, when not strident in the defence of her father’s actions (K226-30), but her first book, published in 1918, is a detailed description of life in Petrograd the city of trouble, 1914-1918 (K305). The two American ambassadors during these years, George Marye (K316) and his successor David Francis (K353-54), have both left their memoirs, as has the respected French ambassador, Maurice Paléologue, who charted his four-year sojourn in the Russian capital in meticulous detail (K297). Attachés in the American and French embassies, James Houghteling (K378) and comte Louis de Robien (K387), also published diaries that covered the February Revolution. Finally, the memoirs of the experienced and fluent Russian speaking Dutch diplomat William Oudenyk describe his many visits and stays in Russia from 1898 to the end of 1918, when he was acting minister of the Dutch legation (K56).

The war was still raging, at least on the western front, when the reign of the Romanovs came to an end with the abdication on 15 March 1917 of Nicholas II following the February Revolution. Ahead were the critical months up to the October Revolution, when the Provisional Government, headed first by Prince Lvov and then by Aleksandr Kerenskii, attempted to keep Russia in the war. It is a period described not only in many of the accounts registered in the bibliography but in at least twenty more, written by people who arrived after the Tsar’s abdication; it is nonetheless a period outside the scope of this bibliography, which is dedicated to descriptions of Russia under the Romanovs. This Introduction, despite its length, is an attempt precisely to introduce themes, trends and events during and across reigns, to highlight the richness and variety of English-language first-hand accounts of the Russian empire, to encourage research and reading, rather than offer exhaustive treatment of any specific topic. It is the gateway, nothing more, to the bibliography itself.


  1. Richard Hakluyt, The principal navigations voyages traffiques & discoveries of the English nation, made by sea or overland to the remote & farthest distant quarters of the earth at any time within the compasse of these 1600 yeares, vol. I (London: J.M. Dent, 1907), pp. 6-7.
  2. For an excellent commentary and anthology, see Lloyd E. Berry and Robert O. Crummey (eds.), Rude & barbarous kingdom: Russia in the accounts of sixteenth-century English voyagers (Madison, Milwaukee and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968).
  3. John Milton, A brief history of Moscovia and other less-known countries lying eastward of Russia as far as Cathay. Gathered from the writings of several eye-witnesses (London: printed by M. Flesher for Brabazon Aylmer, 1682), p. 69.
  4. For the continuing impact of Peter on the British consciousness, see Anthony Cross, Peter the Great through British eyes: perceptions and representations of the tsar since 1698 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  5. James Boswell, Life of Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 742.
  6. Quoted in [F.C. Weber], The present state of Russia, vol. I (London: printed for W. Taylor, W. and J. Innys, and J. Osborn, 1723), p. 4.
  7. Dashwood’s account has not appeared in book form and is not registered in the bibliography. See Sir Francis Dashwood, ‘Diary of a visit to St Petersburg in 1733’, ed. Betty Kemp, Slavonic and East European Review, XXXVIII (1959), p. 206.
  8. Critical Review, V (1792), p. 294.
  9. Ibid., ns X (1794), p. 497. See A.G. Cross, ‘The armchair traveller “in” Catherine II’s Russia’, in Rossiia, Zapad, Vostok: vstrechnye techeniia, ed. V.E. Bagno (St Petersburg: Nauka, 1996), pp. 313-21. More generally, Percy G. Adams, Travellers and travel liars 1660-1800) (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962).
  10. Gentleman’s Magazine, LVI, pt 2 (1786), pp. 644-48, 847-51.
  11. See Anthony Cross, ‘From the assassination of Paul I to Tilsit: the British in Russia and their travel writings (1801-1807)’, Journal of European Studies, XLII (2012), no. 1, pp. 5- 21.
  12. Quoted by Lyall himself in an appendix to his following book, Travels in Russia, the Krimea, the Caucasus, and Georgia, vol. II (London, 1825), p. 519.
  13. A similar note was struck by Thomas Shaw, a long-time tutor in Russia and translator of Pushkin, writing a few years later (Thomas B. Shaw, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. LIII, no. 329 (March 1843), p. 282).
  14. The classic study remains J.H. Gleason, The genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain: a study of the interaction of policy and opinion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950). On the many fluctuations in Anglo-Russian relations at this period, nevertheless see Harold N. Ingle, Nesselrode and the Russian rapprochement with Britain, 1836-1844 (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1976).
  15. See Anthony Cross, The Russian theme in English literature from the sixteenth century to 1980: an introductory survey and a bibliography (Oxford: Willem A. Meeuws, 1985); Patrick Waddington, “Theirs but to do and die”: the poetry of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava 25 October 1854 (Cotgrave: Astra Press, 1995); Anthony Cross, ‘The Crimean War and the Caricature War’, Slavonic and East European Review, LXXXIV (2006), pp. 460-80.
  16. See Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: on secret service in High Asia (London: John Murray, 1990).
  17. There is a considerable literature on American presence in Russia. See Anna M. Babey, Americans in Russia 1776-1917: a study of the American travelers in Russia from the American Revolution to the Russian Revolution (New York: Comet Press, 1938); Max M Laserson, The American impact on Russia 1784-1917 (New York: Macmillan, 1950); Thomas A. Bailey, America faces Russia: Russian-American relations from early times to our day (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964). Of the leading Russian authority Nikolai Bolkhovitinov’s many relevant works, only The beginnings of Russian-American relations 1775-1815 (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1975) and not the subsequent volumes has appeared in English.
  18. ‘The New Dynasty’, in Mark Twain: collected tales, sketches, speeches, & essays 1852-1890, edited by Louis J. Budd (New York: Library of America, 1992), p. 883.
  19. F. Toulmin Smith, ‘That the representation of Russian life in English novels is mislleading’, Anglo-Russian Literary Society Proceedings, no. 25 (1899), pp. 88-110.
  20. See R.F. Christian, ‘The road to Yasnaya Polyana: some pilgrims from Britain and their reminiscences’, Slavonic and East European Review, LXVI (1988), pp. 526-52; Robert Whittaker, ‘Tolstoy’s American visitors: memories of personal encounters, 1868-1909’, TriQuarterly, nos. 110-11 (Fall 2001), pp. 213-73.
  21. Guide to the Great Siberian Railway. Edited by A.I. Dmitriev-Mamanov and A.F. Zdziarski. English translation by Miss L. Kukol-Yasnopolsky, revised by John Marshall (St Petersburg: Typography of the Artitstic Printing Society, 1900). For a comprehensive history that makes wide use of some of the travellers’ accounts listed in this bibliography, see Harmon Tupper, To the great ocean: the taming of Siberia and the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway (London: Secker & Warburg, 1965). See also Christian Wolmar, To the edge of the world: the story of the Trans-Siberian express, the world’s greatest railway (London: Atlantic Books, 2013).

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