Elena Govor





A first Russian Expedition visited Tasmania in 1823. It consisted of a frigate "Kreyser" and a sloop "Ladoga" heading with cargo to the Russian America. Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev who was visiting the Australian colonies for the third time, headed it and captained "Kreyser". His elder brother Andrey Lazarev was the captain of "Ladoga". A future Decembrist, 18-year old midshipman Dmitryi Zavalishin who had left interesting memoirs about this navigation was also amongst the Russian seamen.

"Kreyser" and "Ladoga" stayed in Hobart for more than three weeks (18 May – 9 June 1823). The crews needed a rest and potable water, food and fuel were badly needed after a three months voyage from Rio-de-Janeiro.


Kreyser and Ladoga during their circumnavigation

M. P. Lazarev

Appearance of two Russian ships in Hobart caused a strong interest amongst its citizen. "The whole colony was agitated", - Zavalishin wrote. The Russian seamen were warmly welcomed by the citizen of Hobart whose behavior was lacking of "coldness and pride the British are usually blamed for". Every evening somebody called them for a dinner which would last from 6 to 11 p.m. "Such a long sitting at a dinner table accompanied by mutual courthouses, -Lazarev remembered, - although was annoying for us, but the respect given to us required this duty". On the 4th of June the citizens of Hobart and nearby farmers gave the Russian seamen a luxuriant dinner. Here for the first time on the Van Diemen Land two choirs from "Kreyser" and "Ladoga" sang Russian songs. Several days after the Russian seamen organized a festivity onboard of "Kreyser".

Zavalishin and a doctor from "Kreyser" Petr Aliman managed to organize a riding expedition to the inland part of Tasmania soon after arrival. They spent three days on riding being well armed against the "wild and convicts". Zavalishin described in detail wonders of the Tasmanian flora, Aliman picked up a botanical collection, and a sailor-hunter Kurkov shot a plenty of birds for taxidermy.

The stay in Tasmania was marred by a mutiny of Russian sailors who had been busy in firewood collecting in 40 versts from Hobart. Zavalishin referred to this story in his publications several times. In 1833 for the first time he could name all the participants of the out broken drama. According to Zavalishin, about 50 sailors employed in firewood chopping and reduced to despair by indecency and cruelty by the chief officer Ivan Kadian, had refused to work, and five of them had left the camp having entered into contact with a group of escaped convicts hiding in the bush. The Governor Sorell expressed his concern that if other sailors joined the deserters they would make up a serious threat for the colony which had small forces to maintain law and order. Zavalishin rejected Lazarev’s plan to thwart the mutiny for other sailors were unhappy with Kadian’s and Lazarev’s himself cruelty and could have joined the deserters with arms in their hands. Zavalishin went to the rebels and persuaded them to surrender. Four out of five deserters returned to the ship and got only a relatively soft punishment. The names of three deserters are known – I. Malkov, I. Turyshev and T. Prokofiev. Only one man – steersman Stanislav Stankevich had not returned and Lazarev had to mention it in his official report pointing out his Polish background. Stankevich was from Wilno and was, probably, a Belorussian as well as John Pototzkyi – the first Russian-Polish convict in Australia met by the Lazarev’s expedition. Thus Stankevich had become the first Russian political defector in Australia.

The Russian ships were leaving Hobart on the 9 of June. Before they left the citizens of Hobart requested to present them a Russian flag for memory and it was decided to keep it in the City municipal office. As a sign of respect to "mighty Russia" the fortress first saluted with 11 salvoes. "The English never do it for their own naval ships", - M. Lazarev wrote proudly, and his brother Andrey remembered: "Thunder of guns so rare in this peaceful capital, attracted to the shore crowds of people, clearness of the day, surface of the quiet waters, lit by the sun rising from behind the mountains and smoky clouds above the frigate were making up a pleasant view".




The visit of the Russian ships to Hobart in 1823 had interesting consequences. Many years after Zavalishin wrote the following about the incident with Stankevich: "…Lazarev in his report said about a defection of only one sailor…, having explained the escape by the fact that he (the escapee – VK) had been born in Poland (Actually, from Vilno – Zavalishin commented for himself), and apart from it noted that he might have simply lost in the forest. It was sad to see Lazarev writing a intentionally a false report… Origin from Vilno of the defected sailor could hardly have had any influence on his deed. He was one of the best sailors, literate and occupying a position of steersman, who had voluntarily refused to become a petty officer, in the mean time not without money on his service account. But, being more developed than the rest, of course, he had sensed the undeserved punishments stronger and had not expected any improvement ahead".

The circumstances under which Stankevich had fallen into the hands of the Royal police are not known but it is clear that he had enjoyed freedom not for too long. On the 9th of July 1823, already in a month after the departure of the Russian ships from Hobart, John Campbell, Provost Marshal, reported to the Colonial Secretary Major Frederick Goulburn that, according to the instructions, received from the Governor, a runaway from the Russian "Kreyser" frigate would be held in a Sydney Gaol.

By the end of 1823 the Governor Thomas Brisbane had received the following letter:

To His Excellency

Sir Thomas Brisbane K:C:B.

Governor in Chief

The respectful Memorial of Stanislaus Stankewitz, a sailor, now a prisoner confined in HM County Goal, at Sydney. Most humbly, settith (?) forth! That Memorialist is a native of Russia, and arrived at Hobart Town Van Diemens Land, in the month of June last on board of His Imperial Majesty's Frigate The "Kressler" having touched there, in the way to the North West Coast of America. That Memorialist felling himself oppressed by the usage of his Captain, deserted from his ship, and was not taken up, until after the departure of the "Kressler" from Hobart Town. That, upon being taken, he was put in confinement, and forwarded to Head Quarters where he has remained a prisoner in the Goal during the last six months. – That owing to the length of his imprisonment and having had all the time no other than prison allowance, of bread only, Your Excellency's Memorialist is reduced to the last stage of indigence and distress, and being a foreigner, totally unacquainted with the English Language, his situation has been rendered doubly irksome. In consideration whereof he ventures to address Your Excellency praying for such relief, as his care, when taken into your humane consideration, may seem to admit of, as it is his utmost wish to be enabled to return to his native country.

And Memoralist as in duty bound will ever pray.

Stanislaus Stankewitz (his mark)

Sydney Goal

December 22nd 1823.


Stankevich himself drew a cross below the letter instead of his signature. Till recently only one puzzle had remained – who had helped him to write this reference, and it had been done with a good knowledge of the business and observation of all office sentences appropriate to the case although Stankevich himself had not known English. A comparison of handwriting of a Russian-born convict Abraham Van Brenen who had compiled similar elegant references to the Governor in French, and handwriting of the Stankevich’s letter let reveal that all those letters had been written by the same hand!

It was in December 1823 when Van Brenen was arrested for a check forgery and locked in a Sydney Gaol. Here, apparently, he had met Stankevich who had told his countryman a sad story of his life. Van Brenen immediately wrote an appropriate reference and his care, seemingly, had been fruitful. In 1824 when a French ship "La Coquille" under command of captain Duperrey had called in Sydney, F. Goulburn, the Colonial Secretary, referred to him with a request:

Colonial Secretary Office

19th March 1824


A deserter from the Russian Fregate Creusser having been apprehended after her departure from Van Diemen’s Land, has been detained a long time in strict custody at the express solicitation of Captain Lazaroff for the purpose of being returned back to the Russian Navy. – As no opportunity seems likely to occur of carrying this intention into effect, along with this letter I do myself the honour to transmit him … by a request from the Governor that he may be received on board La Coquille.

I have the honour to be Sir Your obedient servant



The mentioned above Provost Marshall John Campbell was meant to hand Stankevich over to the French. However, he had not done it. On the 20th of March 1824 he advised the Colonial Secretary Goulburn the following:


I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of yesterday’s date which being left at my house at a late hour in the evening, I had not an opportunity of acting on until this morning. Having at 10 this morning transmitted instructions to the Gaoler to put the Russian sailor (now a prisoner in Sydney Gaol) Stanislaus Stankewitz on board the French ship La Coquille and at the same time to deliver your letter (now returned to you herewith) to Captain Duperrez, I have now to report that neither of these services had been effected, the Coquille having sailed at an early hour in the morning’


The subsequent fate of Stankevich remains a mystery. His name is not present in the population registry of 1825 and following years, nor it is in the data base of the pioneers of New South Wales amongst dead, married or those who had become a father in the XIX century. Quite possible, his life had not ended tragically in a Sydney jail and the colonial authorities had placed him onboard of a ship heading off to Europe. His fate, probably, had been decided before April 1825, when a Russian ship "Elena" called in Sydney. Had Stankevich been in jail then, the authorities would have handed him over to the Russian seamen.



In September 1826 the crew of the "Kreyser" frigate which had just returned from a circumnavigation in a course of which she had visited Tasmania and Russian America, was called for interrogation in connection with the Decembrists trial. Their recent co-servant Dmitryi Irinarkhovich Zavalishin (1804-1892) (portrait on the left side) after a testimony of his brother had been accused of heaviest crimes – state treason, espionage for England and intention to defect during this expedition. Captain M.P. Lazarev and officers P.S. Nakhimov (in future the commander of the Russian squadron during the Sinop battle and head of the Sebastopol defense during the Crimean War), I.P. Butenev, M.D. Annenkov and E.V. Putiatin (in future – admiral, head of the frigate "Pallada" expedition, minister of education) and others unanimously denied any specific Zavalishin’s contacts with foreigners. Accusations threatening him with a capital execution were withdrawn due to the seamen’s solidarity. Nevertheless, Zavalishin initially arrested for only for a failure to report about known to him "criminal plans of the Decembrists", was accused of having "considered assassination of the Tsar… invoking it by words and writings", and was sentenced for life to convict labor in Siberia. In 1827 he took off from the Trubetskoy fort of the Petropavlovskaya fortress to the Chita jail.

Dmitryi Zavalishin was twelve when he joined the Naval Cadet Corps. Already at an age of 16 he was appointed a teacher in it, conducting classes on astronomy, mathematics, mechanics and theory of navigation arts. Contemporaneously he kept studying. "I listened… to lectures in the Petersburg university, Medical-Surgeon Academy, School of Mines…, attended an observatory, Academy of Arts, libraries and even plants and workshops", - he wrote. By that time, as he wrote, he had been proficient in ten European and ancient languages".

At an age of 18, he, dissatisfied with the Russian order of life, he established an "Order of Reconstruction" and, already onboard of "Kreyser", sent Alexander I a letter with a request to call him up. He was ready to sacrifice his dream and refuse from an attractive expedition, naively hoping to open the Tsar’s eyes on necessity to uproot misuse of power and restore the law in Russia. Fortunately, the highest decree to return Zavalishin to St-Petersburg found him in 1824 already near the coast of Russian America, and he had managed to complete the navigation remembrance of which had lit all his uneasy life for dozens of years. Alexander I, having acquainted with plans of the Zavalishin’s "Order of Reconstruction", recognized his ideas as "unrealizable" and untimely.

Disappointed in a possibility to cooperate with the top of the State’s officialdom, in the summer 1825 Zavalishin approached K. Ryleev and other members of the Northern Society contemporaneously agitating amongst sailors and attracting new members into his Order. He paid a lot of significance to the moral perfection of its members. He had not taken part in the rebellion itself being then in Kazan where he was distributing "Grief of Wisdom" of Griboyedov. Soon after the rebellion he was arrested, trailed for many months and expelled to Siberia. Having done his 20-year term of convict labor he stayed in Siberia and, after amnesty in 1856, gradually switched to historical and literature activity. In 1863 he moved to Moscow and dedicated the remainder of his life to literature. He died at the 88-th year of his life, having outlived all other Decembrists.