THE RUSSIAN CORVETTE
"BOGATYR" IN MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY IN 1863
relations remained quite tense during the second half of the XIX century.
The rivalry between the two great powers found a specific reflection in the
Australian colonies. The white inhabitants of Down Under considered Russia not just as the
main foe of the British Empire but as a direct
and real threat to the security of the fifth continent. The political and
military elite as well as a significant part of the colonial population were
convinced that should there is a war between England and Russia the Russian
navy will strike upon the Australian cities and land troops on the coast.
Each new exacerbation of Russo-English relations awoke military alarms in
Australia and visits of
the ships of the Russian Pacific Squadron were often considered as espionage
missions aimed at collection of intelligence necessary for preparations of
future military operations.
One of the visits, which awoke an anti-Russian
campaign in the Australian media, which involved accusations of the Russian
seamen in espionage and other indecent intentions, occurred in 1863 when
the corvette "Bogatyr" came to Australia. Till now the accusations preferred
towards the seamen of the corvette remain one of the main arguments confirming
presence of the "Russian threat" to Australia in the past for some researchers...
How did the visit of "Bogatyr" go along, what
kind of accusations were produced against the Russians and how did they match
The corvette "Bogatyr"
called in Melbourne (2-15 of March) and Sydney (19-27 March) during a drill navigation under the flag of the Commander
of the Russian Pacific Squadron Rear Admiral A.A.
Popov. The friendly character of the visit was
not doubtful and henceforth the crew of "Bogatyr"
was received in Australia with warmth and exceptional politeness.
Rear Admiral Popov (on the photo to the
left) and his officers paid the Governors of Victoria G. Barkley
and New South Wales J. Young protocol visits and they in turn visited the
Russian ship. The guests from Russia took part in an official reception
at the spouse's of the Governor of New South Wales, they were given a chance
to see the gold mines of Ballarat and get acquainted with the everyday life
of the gold miners. Special performances were given in theatres to honor the Russian seamen.
The crew of corvette got familiarized with the life of a poorly known to
them country with a lot of interest. The stories about the unusually fast
and successful development of the colonies after the discovery of alluvial
gold and commencement of the "gold rush" were well known in Russia. The seamen took a chance to see
the "Australian miracle" by their own eyes. They attended museums and botanic
gardens, visited the Sydney Mint and the Pentridge
Gaol in Melbourne, had an excursion to the Victorian Parliament and the industrial
works and docks of Sydney. The Russians were overwhelmed by the beautiful
Melbourne, elegant noisy crowds on its long straight streets, windows of
its rich shops, "beauty of its women and luxury they are dressed with".
The Russian seamen gave an account of their
Australian impressions in a series of articles out of which some were published
in 1860-ties. Rear Admiral Popov could not desist
of admiration of the energy, enterprising and diligence of Australians even
in his official reports on the course of navigation - the documents which
were meant to be dry and boring.
The Russian seamen opened their ship for public
visits in Melbourne. Over several days more than 8,000
Australians came on board of "Bogatyr" "inspecting"
the ship day and night. "Our artillery, carbines, galley and engine, - midshipman
P.S. Mukhanov (on
the photo to the left) remembered, - were most strictly and critically
scrutinized... Even shrouds and topcastles were
mobbed by the curious people... The public, apparently, stayed glad with
our reception as well as we were happy with them". The Australian press referred
quite amicably about the design and condition of the corvette itself, noted
the "athletic appearance" of the Russian sailors what made them different
from the punier English sailors from the reporters' point of view.
In a word, the visit was going along more than
successfully. The set up atmosphere of mutual benevolence and a good impression
of the visit of "Bogatyr" could not be marred
by those few publications in newspapers which expressed alarm over the Russian
visit. Thus, the "Argus" from Melbourne and the "Star" from Ballarat pointed
out that "Bogatyr" had managed to approach Melbourne unnoticed and noted the lack of
sufficient naval forces in the Bay of Port-Fillip. Shortly after the departure of
the corvette on the 7th April 1863 "Sydney Morning Gerald" published
an article with an assertion that the crew of "Bogatyr"
had been doing topography survey of the Port-Jackson and Botany Bay area and investigating the presence
of coastal fortification over there. This information, however, did not raise
much response in Australia.
A powerful anti-Russian campaign in the Australian
media commenced much later - in November 1864, more than in a year after
the departure of the Russian corvette. It was caused by a publication in
the Lodon "Times" issued on the 17th of September 1864. It was asserted in an article
"The Perils of Australia" that just recently, in
1863 the fifth continent was on the brink of a Russian invasion. The threat
had been created by the Russian Pacific Squadron. Its commander Rear Admiral
A.A. Popov which
had visited Australia on "Bogatyr"
had received instructions from the Russian Naval Minister to raid Melbourne in case of a Russo-English war.
"Times", however, expressed doubts in the reality of such a plan as it considered
the forces of the Russian squadron insufficient for an attack.
The Australian press regarded the
information in "Times" more than seriously. The papers from Melbourne "Age" and "Argus" as well as other
ones published a whole series of pieces in which the plans of the Russian
invasion and the danger hung over Australia were being commented. “Our fate it seems, - “Argus” wrote in November
1864, - has hung by a thread any time during the last eight or nine months”.
From the point of view
of the media, the threat of the Russian invasion had to activate the efforts
of the colonies in strengthening of their defense
Later on, already in 1880-ties the hidden motive
of this much-talked-of piece in "Times" was revealed. In 1882 "Age" became
an initiator of a scheduled anti-Russian campaign (this time in connection
with the visit of the Rear Admiral's A.B. Aslanbrgov's squadron to Australia) and returned to the vents of
1863-64 in some of its publications. On the 30th
of March 1882 "Age" published interview with G. Verdon which occupied
position of the Treasurer of Victoria in 1860-ties. The ex-Treasurer advised
that a year after the visit of "Bogatyr" around
June 1864 he received quite important and interesting information from a
Polish-born citizen of Melbourne certain S. Rakowsky. Rakowsky declared
that he had a copy of a plan of attack of the Russian Navy on the British
naval ships positioned near the Australian shore. The plan also included
shelling and destruction of the Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart coastal batteries. This document
had been allegedly worked out still in the first half of the year 1863 and
designated for Rear Admiral A.A. Popov. Rakowsky had received
its copy in May 1864 from the lieutenant of "Bogatyr"
V. Zlyshuvsky, also a Pole, which had deserted
from service soon after the visit of his ship to Australia. The worried Treasurer handed
this information to the Governor of Victoria C. Darling. The Governor as well
as many politicians of the colonies considered the military action of Russia against Australia as quite possible. “It was impossible to disregard his information,
- C. Darling wrote referring to the Rakowsky
statements,- as the projects attributed to Russia appeared to be both probable and feasible”.
C. Darling immediately
reported of the hostile intentions of the Tsar's Empire to the other Governors
of the colonies and also sent the obtained information to London. From there the assertions about
a Russian secret plan traveled to the pages of
"Times". Rakowsky himself
who still lived in Melbourne in 1882, confirmed the Verdon's story.
Rakowsky was a well-known personality in
the capital of Victoria. In 1863 he presided over the
Polish-Australian committee of solidarity with the Polish rebellion (1863)
against the Tsar's oppression, participated in organization of meetings and
collection of means for the rebels. He had been familiar with the lieutenant
from "Bogatyr" Zbyszewski (not Zlyshuvsky)
whom he called his nephew and had met during the stay of the Russian corvette
in Melbourne. In July 1863 Zbyshewsky really deserted from the Russian service
and after long adventures found himself in Paris where he deployed activity in
creation of the Polish Revolutionary Navy under the aegis of the Provisional
National Government formed by the Polish rebels.
It has to be emphasized that the authenticity
of the Rakowsky's information on the Russian
secret plans provided by Zbyshewsky does not sustain
any critics. First of all, it is unclear why did the lieutenant from "Bogatyr" advised these plans to his Australian vis-a-vis
only in 1864 when the Polish rebellion had already been defeated. Such information,
had it arrived in Australia in 1863 during a hot stand-off
between England and Russia over the Polish question would
have benefited the Australian Poles a lot more in regard to the collection
of means as well as political and moral support. It seems to be strange that
Zbyshewsky wrote not a single word in his reminiscences
about Rakowsky, his links with Australia or the secret Russian plan of
attack on the fifth continent. We can judge the contents of the Zbyshewsky's letter to Rakowsky
about the instruction given to A.A. Popov, as well as existence of the letter itself only
based on the words of Rakowsky himself. One cannot
get rid of an impression that Rakowsky just made
up the Russian plans in Australia, and he simply needed this impulse
to activate the efforts of the Polish-Australian Committee and preserve his
The conviction of the unreliability of the Rakowsky's information has become better grounded
after familiarization with the Russian archive documents. Among the instructions
of the Russian Naval Minister N.K. Krabbe to
A.A. Popov related
to the activities of the Russian Squadron in the Pacific and the anticipated
was against England and France there is no directions on actions
against Australia. Moreover, it is clear from the
letter from N.K. Krabbe to A.A. Popov (14.10.1863)
that the Russian Minister considered the navigation of "Bogatyr" to Australia and Oceania only as "geographical" which could
be useful for the "education of our sailors".
In the archive correspondence related to the
Zbyshewsky's desertion there is no evidence of
stealing of secret documents by him either. And all this happened under the
circumstances of the first case of desertion of a Russian Naval Officer which
was studied very thoroughly by the Government officialdom. Tsar Alexander
II wrote his own resolution on the report about the Zbyshewsky's
desertion: "Very sad". Such a melancholic reaction would not have taken place
had the deserter stolen any secret documents as well.
the espionage character of the visit of "Bogatyr"
to Australia and presence
of a secret plan of attack on the fifth continent in A.A. Popov's possession
were certainly a fabrication. The visit of "Bogatyr"
was a one of "good will" and bore no threat to the security of the colonies.
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Rossiya i Avstralia vo vtoroi polovine XIX veka. St Petersburg, 1998.
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MacCallum D. The Alleged Russian Plans for
the Invasion of Australia, 1864. // Journal
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Mukhanov P. Sydney. Trans. V. Fitzhardinge // Journal of the Royal Australian Historical
Society. - 1965. – Vol. 51, pt.4.
Paszkowski L. Poles in Australia and Oceania 1790 - 1940. Sydney, 1987. P.33-40.
Pertek J. Poles on the High Seas. Wroclaw, 1978.
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Sydney Morning Herald, 7.04.1863.
Russian ships in Australia