Elena Govor



The Russian ships, which came to Australia in the first decades of the XIX century, were always welcomed by the inhabitants of a new British colony. The peak of mutual sympathy occurred during the visits in 1814 and 1820, when Lachlan Macquarie, who then played an exceptional role in eruption of Australian Russophilia, was the Governor of New South Wales. Actually, over the whole history of Russian-Australian contacts no other Australian has deserved such an admiration from the Russians than he has. The Russians did not exaggerate when they were writing about a welcome given to them by the Governor in 1820: "It seemed to us, that the Governor was preoccupied only with bringing us a continuous pleasure" (Vasiliev); [Macquarie] "requested us to visit him as often as possible" (Al. Lazarev).

"Governor tried to foresee our wishes in all what could only be useful for us" (F. Bellinsgausen); "This cordiality of English towards us, what happens very rarely, makes… each of us… be grateful to the Governor and his spouse, which have not wanted to be without us during all our monthly stay here" (Shishmarev). And, at last: "The name of the Governor Macquarie will not leave our hearts" (Shishmarev).

The Macquarie’s diary is an evidence of his intention to welcome the Russians as warmly as possible. Thus, in March 1820, during a stay in Sydney of the ships "Otkrytiye" and "Blagonamerennyi", he made 12 notes about the Russians. Later on he wrote about them as often as before. It can be judged out of his diary and other documents, how important the Russian appraisal of the reception was for him. Several times he mentioned their reaction – "highly pleasured", "highly delighted", "highly gratified and pleased", - and also described a reception given to him during a visit to the Russian ships: "I was received … with the most marked attention and respect’, "[we] were most kindly and politely received". Undoubtedly, the exchange by visits with the Russians was for him somewhat more, than a formal chivalry.

Why did Macquarie pay the Russian seamen so much attention? It was rather determined by his previous contacts with Russia and Russians. In 1807, as an officer of the English Army, he made a trip from India to England across Russia. He entered the territory of the Russian Empire in Baku (now state of Azerbaidjan - VK), and then in a hooded cart, harnessed to three horses, via Astrakhan, Tsaritsyn, Novokhopersk, Tambov, Riazan, Kolomna and Moscow, crossed the whole country, having reached St-Petersburg in two months. His trip across Russia was accidental – he had had to have it chosen as a trip via Turkey was impossible. He was rushing to England to see his bride Elizabeth Campbell and, no wonder, his mind was preoccupied with covering the distance and not with an ambition to reveal a traveller’s curiosity. Nevertheless, his unpublished diary, which he kept filling during all the trip, gives an entertaining portrait of Russia and the Russians. The pages of this diary are not just road notes. They seem to be an absurd nightmare, lasted for nearly two and a half months, as Russia revealed herself to him as a controversial and irrational country. All his attempts to apply to Russia standards and experience of a Westerner became a fiasco whether it was in provincial Baku or in St-Petersburg, during a collision with a (horse) station official or a general-governor. There, where he had expected to find assistance or at least a civilised treatment, he could not find them, and there, where he had not anticipated them, he was suddenly coming across a sincere friendliness and hospitality.

His problems began, when having entered Russia through Baku, he learnt, that he could find himself under quarantine as a "fever" (probably, epidemics of cholera) was then raging in Russia. Macquarie, an experienced traveller, immediately referred to the Governor of Baku Gureev with a request to provide him and his companions with a clean Bill of health indicating that they had entered the country being fit, but the Governor declined to provide the Bill "as not being usual, and adding that if even he gave us one it would not have the effect we wished", - puzzled Macquarie wrote. From a point of view of an Englishman, of course, it was a hazy answer of a bureaucrat. Macquarie launched an energetic activity and, finally, obtained the Bill, but in Astrakhan he got convinced that Gureev had been right: the local authorities locked him in quarantine for 25 days. Moreover, the Governor of Astrakhan was not even answering his letters, and when the term of quarantine had expired, did not keep his promise to let Macquarie leave the town immediately.

Well, one day all mishaps had gone and unperturbed Macquarie left Astrakhan for St-Petersburg. He hoped "to reach that capital in 12 days", travelling day and night, although usually such a trip takes 18-20 days. Alas, amidst the wastes of Russia simple arithmetic did not work and he reached St-Petersburg only in 22 days, having been detained by authorities several times more. A Canadian historian Glynn Barratt affirms, that in Kolomna where Macquarie was held for six days, Macquarie was arrested as a spy but there is no documental evidence of it. Had it been so, the actions of his tormentors would have had some logical explanation. Here, on the contrary, Russian despotism and bureaucracy revealed themselves at a level of absurd. At last having got out of Kolomna and received one more Bill of health from the Moscow Governor, Macquarie was detained again near the entry into Moscow in Lubertsy, this time by an "ignorant Post Master", which decided to send his documents to Moscow for a check-up, but even after that Macquarie was stopped before the Moscow gates by guards once again. Ironically, the Macquarie’s companions, which had left Astrakhan after him, arrived in Moscow before him as they had passed all dangerous places in nights when guards were sleeping tightly. Thus, Macquarie learnt from his own experience a meaning of a Russian proverb "you ride slower and you’ll go farther".

The events in St-Petersburg developed in a similar dramatic way. Having received an order from the English ambassador to dispatch important messages to London, Macquarie headed to Kronshtadt where a ship was waiting for him and, seemingly, forgot that he was still in Russia. Alert guards at the Petersburg gates reminded him about that immediately, having not allowed him to leave the city without a permit from the General of Police. On arrival to his residence Macquarie found out that the General of Police "was gone to sleep and could not be disturbed" till 8 p.m. (all that was happening in the morning). Macquarie launched an anxious activity to overcome this last obstacle and, finally, having rushed the English ambassador and the Russian Foreign Minister into business, got the permit at 10 p.m. He, apparently, even had not noticed the irrationality of his energetic behaviour under the conditions of Russia – had he done nothing and simply waited for the Police Chief awakening instead (as well as any Russian would have acted in such a situation) he would have achieved the same result.

Macquarie’s misfortune in Russia was described by him so lively that in a mind of a Russian reader they awake a familiar feeling of full helplessness before authority. It is symbolic, that according to the memoirs of the Russian seamen, the only Russian word "podorozhnaya" (kind of a trip/road document/certificate - VK) remained unerased in Macquarie’s memory, "unerased, because he was asked for it at each station". Being a self-constrained and cold-blooded man, he, nevertheless, on describing his Russian experience, time and again used expressions "shameful and unjust detention", "mortifying delay and detention", "severe disappointment", "extremely mortified and perplexed" and, at last, a cry of soul: "My patience being almost exhausted", "I’ve never passed a more unpleasant time", "heartily tired of Russian police". It is interesting, that Macquarie had noticed a characteristic feature of the Russian nature: officials were full of suspicion and xenophobia only when they had to take a decision upon his matters. As soon as the burden of responsibility had fallen off their shoulders they became exceptionally hospitable. For example, after six days of "cruel and unjust detention" in Kolomna the commanding officer of the troops there, captain Dashkov, under no circumstances wanted to let Macquarie out of the town before he dined at his place. "I was forced to acquiesce and to deter my journey till the evening", - Macquarie wrote in his diary. Meanwhile he never blamed the Russians as a nation, never forgot to note friendliness and assistance of many people he had met during his trip. His comment about a reception by a commander Veselago in Baku – "true Russian sincerity" – suggests that at least at the beginning of his trip he related to the Russians with sympathy.

In his diary Macquarie gave a very brief description of the Russian cities he had seen on his way from Baku to St-Petersburg, and only in Petersburg, when the day of his departure had come closer, the condition of "overcoming" which dominated his mind during all trip had changed to a common interest to a new place. After endless, wild and often mind-bogging Russia he suddenly had returned to the familiar European world: international intrigues, polite manners, glittering receptions and above all that as a fantastic decoration – grandiose Petersburg with glamorous Tsar’s palaces, wide elegant bridges and statues of heroes. " The most magnificent", "elegant", - he refers to St-Petersburg.

So, instead of a straight correlation – a cordial reception of the Russians in Australia as an answer for a pleasant trip across Russia – the Macquarie’s behaviour turned out to be much more complicated. Possibly the Russians he welcomed so warmly in Australia were for him the envoys of the European face of Russia turned to the West, whereas the details of the trip itself described so lively in his diary: bad roads, detentions and arrests, rudeness of bureaucrats and police, drunk soldiers had been blurred by a romantic mist and nearly got out of his memory. The Macquarie’s words about his trip to Russia "I was welcomed everywhere", said to the captain of "Otkrytiye" Vasiliev in 1820, definitely referred to this European image of Russia. Possibly, he had managed to have appraised the Russian character and distinguished it from the behaviour of bureaucrats.

In those days of 1820, when the Russians were enjoying the Macquarie’s and his wife Elizabeth’s hospitality in their suburban residence in Parramatta, where the hosts welcomed the Russian guests amidst the sunlit golden mimosas and odoriferous orange and pomeranz trees, they did not suspect that clouds over Macquarie’s head were becoming denser and his resignation – a result of intrigues of his adversaries - was not far away… Maybe, welcoming the Russians – the England’s allies – with a special cordiality, he hoped to deserve praise from the metropolitan authorities and to prevent his resignation. The Russians themselves understood that the Macquarie’s attitude towards them had deserved a Russian award. If Zavalishin could be trusted, the Russian seamen after the visits in 1820 conceived a plan to recommend Lachlan Macquarie for a Tsar’s award as a gratitude for the warm welcome. Although no evidence of this recommendation has been found, really more than anybody else Macquarie deserved it staying close to the origin of the Russian-Australian friendship which has never been as cloudless and sincere during the whole subsequent history.

L. Macquarie. Diary.- Macquarie Library, State Library of NSW.
L. Macquarie. Journal. 1807. - Macquarie Library, State Library of NSW.
J. Ritchie, Lachlan Macquarie. A Biography. Melbourne, 1986
G. Barratt. The Russians and Australia, Vancouver, 1988
Rossiiskie moriaki i puteshestvenniki v Avstralii, Moscow, 1993
F. Bellinsgausen. Dvukhkratnye izyskaniya v Yuzhnom Ledovitom okeane, Moscow, 1960
A.P. Lazarev. Zapiski o plavanii voennogo shliupa "Blagonamerennogo", Moscow, 1950
A. Massov. Andreevskyi flag pod Yuzhnym Krestom, SPb., 1995

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