Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

wide apart and built of logs. There is a public garden and esplanade, and here is quartered a considerable garrison. The country around is without a tree, but many cattle are grazed in the vicinity, and though the summer is short, the heat is sufficiently great to allow of melons ripening in the open air. Opposite the town is the village of Sagbalin, where reside the Mantchu traders, the Russian authorities not allowing them to remain at night on the Russian side of the river. They bring for sale flour, cattle, tobacco, &c., in return for European goods, silver roubles, and Mexican dollars, which latter are sent south to Tsitsibar, and melted into what the English merchants in China call shoesof silver, or “sycee.” Along the Dsaya, which here joins the Amoor, are numerous settlements of

[graphic][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Russians, who have left their country on account of persecutions for conscience sake.* They cultivate great crops of grain, which the Government readily purchases, in order to supply the less favoured colonies on the Amoor, which, on their first foundation, were forced to rely for their stores on sea-borne cargoes from the Baltic, or on what reached them from Transbaïkalia. Low bills covered with fern, stunted oak, and birch beeches, are the characteristic of the banks for many miles. Above Blagovestchensk, and for 200 miles

up, the chalk cliffs of the White Mountains are the most remarkable features in a very pleasing country. Immense flocks of wild fowl frequent these parts of the river,

* Among these are some of the strictest sectaries of the “Starovertsi," or Old Believers, who have also taken refuge in the wildest parts of Siberia. (Morgan, in Prejevalsky's "From Kulja Across the Tian Shan to Lob-Nor.” (1879), p. 202; and Wallace's “ Russia,” Vol. I., p. 14.)

a

and sturgeon are caught in such numbers as to render the preparation of caviare an important industry. Game is also abundant and boldly pursued : villagers will even attack the bear singlehanded on foot. Among the fur animals are fine sables, trapped by the Aronchonee, a wild tribe who wander about this part of the country. Albazin is a village of some importance. Gold is found in the vicinity, but the crowds who flocked thither in the summer of 1867 were disappointed in the hope of wealth. Higher up the stream narrows to the breadth of the Thames at London, but in places it is very shallow. For 120 miles it passes through the Little Hinghan Mountains, among lofty hills covered with dense pine forests, and high limestone cliffs here and there rising up from the water's edge. In general character, it reminded Mr. Bridgett of the Danube between Passau and Linz, but instead of ruined castles on the heights, there are only a few solitary post-houses. Rafts floating cattle down stream, and immigrants on their way to the lower river country, after a journey often of twelve to eighteen months from Southern Russia and the Caspian, are among the most familiar objects that break the monotony of an up-river voyage in this section of the Amoor. In the province of Transbaïkâlia, which is entered after passing the village of Gorbitza, the mountains recede from the river, and the country assumes a more settled aspect. The habitations are no longer confined to the banks of the river, and the country, which is diversified with pine and white birch-patched hills, shows considerable cultivation. The frosts begin early, and in October the crops are often in the fields and even uncut. But the peasants consider this no hardship, as the first fall of snow enables them to carry the sheaves to the barn on sledges, and thus saves what they consider much labour. Steamers can proceed to Chetah, but Stretensk is considered the head of navigation, for here the overland carriage road to Russia commences. A few log-houses, barracks for soldiers, and a convict establishment, with the inevitable domed church, make up the town, and two miles further up stream is the port with dry docks, workshops, and all other needful appliances for repairing the steamers and barges navigating the river. The few European articles in use find their way to this isolated town, partly after a long water carriage up the river from the sea-board, and partly by the still more costly land journey across Siberia. The result is that everything not the produce of the country is dear. At the date of Mr. Bridgett's visit, loaf sugar was selling at an equivalent of 3s. per lb., English bottled porter at 4s. 6d. per quart, and other articles in proportion. It may be added, that the Cossack, having proved but an indifferent colonist, the Government is doing its best to introduce German emigrants into the Amoor Valley.

SIBERIA PROPER.

The continent of Asia is usually described as consisting of certain plateaux and lowlands. The plateaux are the eastern one, comprising the table-land of Tibet and the Desert of Gobi, and the western plateau, or table-land of Iran, divided up into lesser areas by various mountain ranges. The six great lowland areas are the Bucharian lowland, a wild sterile waste between the Caspian Sea and Lake Aral; the Syrian and Arabian lowland, the lowlands of Hindostan, the Indo-Chinese lowlands, through which the Irawaddy

was

flows, Cambodia and Siam, the Chinese lowlands, and finally Siberia, the lowland of the north, and the greatest of them all. Indeed, the country may be described as one immense plain, bounded on the south by mountains, but gradually getting lower and lower as it approaches the north, until along the shore of the Frozen Ocean it is one dreary flat, little raised above the level of the sea. Even there, however, as noted in the recent voyage of Professor Nordenskjöld, there is a difference. West of the Lena the forest keeps a considerable distance from the shore; but to the east of that promontory it approaches in the form of stunted pines almost to the water's edge. It is also evident that the country is, like most of the circumpolar region, rising, for lagoons, only separated by a few yards of land from the sea, are common all along that coast, and recent marine shells are found on the "tûndras," or mossy barrens along the coast, while the Liokov or Siberian Islands, though almost unknown, are said to be scattered with the bones of oxen, horses, and other animals, at present unknown even in a fossil condition on the mainland, as well as with the remains of the mammoth, the fossil tusks of which still form an article of commerce. This mammoth a wool-covered dwarf elephant, which there is every reason to believe lived in the northern part of Siberia, when the climate was very much the same as it is now, and whose form has in a more or less complete shape been preserved to this day in the ice or frozen soil. The region to the west of the Yenisei presents one monotonous level, unbroken by hills. of any sort, covered in its north-western parts by forests, though for the greater extent this province is steppe or upland plain. Much of it consists of dry sand, salt marsh, and bogs; but the Barabinskarä Steppe, between the Rivers Irtish and Obi, has large birch groves, and is well suited for agriculture; while the soil of the Abakan Steppes, which lie along the River Abakan, a tributary of the Yenisei, is so rich that it requires no

But even where the soil is unsuited for crops its fine pastures afford abundance of food to the countless herds of reindeer and cattle possessed by the natives. Eastern Siberia is more diversified, for in this part of the country the plains are intersected by offshoots of the Altai, Sagan, and Stanovoi range of mountains. Much of it is suited for agriculture, and the south is covered for the greater portion of its extent with magnificent forests. Vineyards are common. The fruit is excellent, and wine of a fair quality is made, though as yet it has not found a market out of the country. The northern part, extending to the Arctic Ocean, is for the most part a dreary moss-covered “tûndra” on which, however, can be pastured, at certain seasons of the year, herds of reindeer, though the swarms of mosquitoes which, during the warm weather, infest this and every other portion of Siberia, render life almost intolerable to man; and the æstrus, or “bot,” which attack the deer, combined with the disease which has broken out among them, is rapidly reducing the Samoyedes, Ostiaks, Voguls, and other tribes which depend on them, from affluence to poverty.

Siberia was in early times under Tartar princes, but about 1580 it was subdued by the emissaries of the Czar, and has ever since been looked upon, not so much as an integral part of the Russian empire as a convict settlement, or a region to which colonists could be attracted only by offering special inducements. It has an offensive smack of the hulks about it still, even though there are many free settlers in the country, and, indeed, the

manure.

peasants in the region east of the Ural look upon Siberia as the perfect land of promise. Formerly a proprietor was empowered by law to despatch to Siberia any unruly serfs on his estate, and could transport them thither without a trial. * It is, moreover, shut off either from the markets of the south by the long land journey and the exclusiveness of China, and by the equally extensive region which separates it from Europe ; while the great rivers which flow through it, and afford water-ways in every direction, debouch into the Arctic

[graphic][merged small]

Scas. Therefore, unless the water-way which the enterprise of Wiggins and Nordenskjöld have opened up be found practicable, Siberia, until a railway links it to Russia proper,

will remain a country much larger than Europe, and yet with only about three and a half million people—savage and civilised, bond and free-within its whole boundaries.

Hence, with the exception of its mines, its trade is unimportant, and its manufactures few and languishing. Spirits and leather are, however, produced to a considerable extent. Soap-boiling, tallow-melting, and the making of stearine candles employ a good deal of capital; while cotton and wool are woven into coarse fabrics in some of the cities, which, like Irkutsk,

• Wallace's “Russia,” Vol. I., p. 375.

Tobolsk, Tjumen, Omsk (p. 20), and Tomsk have from 17,000 to 27,000 inhabitants. The fisheries on the great rivers afford occupation for many of the native Siberians; and at the fairs which are periodically held business is done with the most remote parts of Europe and Asia. Kiakhta is the meeting place for the Chinese and Siberian traders, and here is a school for teaching young merchants the Chinese language. The mines are, however, the great sources of wealth for Siberia at present. At one time all of them were Government

[graphic][merged small]

monopolies, and worked for Government alone, but of late most of them have been thrown open to private individuals, the Crown simply exacting a royalty, and claiming particular gems as its perquisites. The result is that the Government not only makes more than it did in former times when it worked the mines on public account, but by abandoning its monopoly has stimulated those directly dependent on their working to greater energy than was evinced by public officials sure of their salaries, whether the soil searched after the most antique or most approved method, or whether it yielded little or much. Large sums are often made by mere peasants in the gold mines of the Ourals,

. and particularly in the sands of the River Nertcha and its tributaries in Eastern Siberia;

was

« PreviousContinue »