SPURLING, Stephen (1821-1892); BAILY, Henry Hall (1839-1896)
Studio portraits of five officers of the Russian naval corvette “Boyarin”. Hobart, May-June 1870.
Five albumen print photographs in carte de visite format, mount sizes 101 x 63 mm (1) and 105 x 63 mm (4); one with the back mark of H. H. Baily, Hobart and four with the back mark of S. Spurling, Hobart; the versos have fully contemporary inscriptions written in ink or pencil, identifying the sitters (one is inscribed by Captain Balck, and the others possibly by Florence Gresley – see below); in addition, four of the cartes are accompanied by a section cut from their original album window mount, also bearing contemporary captions (these are written in the hand of the original owner of the album); the prints are all in good condition, some with light mottling in the negative or slight loss of contrast; the mounts are clean and stable.
Provenance: From an album associated with the Lempriere and Gresley families of Hobart.
In 1870, the Russian naval corvette Boyarin (or Boiarin) became the first Russian naval vessel to visit Tasmania since the frigate Kreiser and sloop Ladoga had called at Hobart Town in May-June 1823. The Boyarin, like its much earlier predecessors, spent more than two weeks in port. The ship’s officers treated their sojourn in Hobart as an opportunity to improve diplomatic relations between Russia and the colonies. In scenes that echoed the generally enthusiastic reception given to the officers and crew of the CSS Shenandoah during its surprise appearance at Melbourne in 1865, they were warmly received by the Tasmanian public, and numerous public engagements – including a ball at Government House and a concert at the Town Hall – were staged in their honour. The citizens of Hobart were invited to take conducted tours of the ship. As a result of the officers’ cordial demeanour and willingness to socialise, much of the fear and mistrust that had surrounded the question of Russian imperial ambitions in the Pacific – tensions which had lingered since the Crimean War era – was rapidly dispelled. Conversely, the Russian visitors were able to observe at first hand the workings and attitudes of this British colonial society on the edge of the Southern Ocean, and to attempt to interpret the murkier aspects of its young history – namely, the treatment of the island’s indigenous people, and of its convict population.
Four of these portraits of officers from the Boyarin were taken in the Murray Street studio of Stephen Spurling. The sitters are: Commander Balck; Lieutenants Linden and Kochukoff; and paymaster Birileff. The most significant of these men – although not the highest in rank – is Lieutenant Vilgelm Andreevich Linden, who had two accounts of his time in Hobart published in Russia shortly after his return there (see below). The fifth portrait is of Midshipman Baron Stackelberg, and was taken in Henry Hall Baily’s Liverpool Street studio.
Captain Balck inscribed his own name in both Cyrillic and Roman script, along with the year, on the back of his portrait, while the other inscriptions on the backs were possibly written by Florence Gresley (1852-1940), daughter of Hobart J.P. Nigel Gresley, Esq., as three also bear the name ‘Florry’ in the same handwriting as the officer’s name. The person to whom these cartes were presented (or someone closely associated with them, who was almost certainly a member of the well-connected Lempriere or Gresley families), added his or her own captions to four of the window mounts, and thankfully these have been preserved. In these captions, the somewhat exotic title Monsieur is given to both Lieutenants Linden and Kochukoff, while Balck and Stackleberg (sic) are Captain and Baron, respectively.
We believe that these portraits were private photographs presented personally to the album’s owner by the Russian officers as souvenirs of the Boyarin‘s visit to Hobart, and that they were not commercial cartes de visite marketed by either Spurling or Baily. Perhaps Florence Gresley met the officers at the ball in Hobart, where she obtained these portraits?
Tasmanian Archives (Libraries Tasmania) holds the only copies of four of these cartes de visite which we have been able to trace in Australian collections: the portraits of Linden, Birileff and Balck (by Spurling), and Stackelberg (by Baily). We have not been able to trace any other surviving copy of the carte de visite portrait of Lieutenant Kochukoff, or of any other photographic portraits of the Boyarin‘s crew taken while the ship was in Hobart in 1870, although it may be the case that, while other examples do exist, the sitters have never been properly identified.
The following is an extract from Elena Govor’s essay, Tasmania through Russian eyes, published in Tasmanian Historical Research Association. Papers and Proceedings, vol. 37, no. 4, 1990, pp. 150-164:
‘In 1870, after a long interval, a Russian ship appeared once more in Tasmanian waters. This was the corvette Boyarin, commanded by Vasily Fedorovich Serkov, en route from Adelaide to Sydney. The captain’s report contained nothing of interest about the ship’s stay in Hobart. However, three crew members — Lieutenants Vilgelm Andreevich Linden, Alexander Egorovich Konkevich and Cadet llya Andreevich Boratynski — left recollections of their visit. Their writings are not of equal interest, but together give a valuable picture of life in Hobart in 1870. Most interesting is Linden’s account, which is in two parts: a description of their stay in the port, their reception and meeting with local residents; and a general survey of Tasmania, based on information he was able to gather during his stay [see V.V. Linden, ‘In the Pacific Ocean (from the circumnavigation of the Boyariri), Vestnik Evropy, 1871, no.7, pp. 121-71. Even earlier was his short description ‘Hobart-town, Tasmania’, in Kronstadtskii vestnik, 1870, no. 100].
The townspeople gave the Russian ship a very warm and friendly welcome. The ship stayed in Hobart nearly three weeks, from 13 (25) May to 31 May (12 June). On the very first day, when the Boyarin was open to the public, there were some 2000 visitors. ‘Everywhere in the town we were welcomed with open arms’, wrote the young cadet Boratynski, ‘there were balls in private houses nearly every day’. ‘One could say that the households competed amongst themselves in their attentions and welcome to our officers’, added Linden. Among those showing the greatest hospitality he mentioned the headmaster of the High School, J.H. Poulett-Harris, the President of the Legislative Council, F.M. Innes, and the Colonial Treasurer, Т.О. Chapman. He also told of meetings with Governor Du Cane (whose house, outside the town, seemed a real palace to the sailors), with the Colonial Secretary and Premier, J.M. Wilson, the Governor’s secretary, Chichester, and the Mayor, Dr Smart. Another member of the voyage, A.G. Konkevich, writing under the pseudonym ‘A. Belomor’, related the events in a literary and humorous style, and considered that the main ‘instigator’ behind the warm welcome they received was the Governor’s wife, ‘a real Lady, who had only two years before left England’. She visited the Boyarin and took the crew under ‘her high and special protection’. The ice was broken, and her example followed by all the ladies. ‘Soon we were made at home in many households and could already listen — not very attentively — to the older members’ views on politics and future relations between Australia and Russia as a consequence of the last war with Great Britain’.
The Tasmanian Times and the Mercury devoted much attention to the Russian corvette. As recompense for this attention and the sympathy shown by the press to the interests of the Boyarin, the officers held a reception on board for the editors and staff. Incidentally, Konkevich attributes the warm attitude of the Tasmanian press, not without irony, to the fact that
they were at daggers drawn with the South Australian papers. As the Adelaide papers had abused us, both the Hobart papers elevated us to the level of sailor-heroes, suffering this rudeness. And our old corvette was declared to be the best ship of all the fleets of Europe.
Altogether this was a time of goodwill between Russia and the Australian colonies, and the observant Linden found only one interesting reminder of the recent hostilities – a Russian cannon, a trophy of Bomarzund — standing by the memorial to former governor Sir John Franklin. For the occasion of their visit it had been carefully covered up. Linden quotes a newspaper item as evidence of a new attitude to Russian-Australian relations.
The presence in our port of a ship from a distant country, which has had practically no previous contact with the colonies, and which was quite recently regarded with fear and enmity, must undoubtedly be useful. It broadens our horizons and acquaints us with new subjects and people. As recently as 1854 we feared the appearance on our river of a Russian cruiser, as heralding destruction and the horrors of war. Today we welcome the visit of the “Boyarin” as a happy event and offer her our sincere friendship.
P.M. Innes was similarly optimistic.
Through the visit of the corvette, we are getting to know the Russians, whom we had previously never met. True we have as yet no trade with Russia, but who knows, with the rapid advances in Russia, when this may begin. It may be very soon, sooner than we suspect.
… Linden left an interesting description of the mariners’ visits to governmental and charitable institutions — Parliament, the Town Hall, the Supreme Court, museums, the hospital, the prison, an old people’s home and an orphanage. Not everything made a good impression on the Russians, and we have to assume that Linden’s criticisms were fair:
the hospital did not distinguish itself by its cleanliness or its ventilation… The prison cells were damp and unheated and the dining room of the old people’s home had holes in the roof.
But the small number of residents of the orphanage sang several hymns and gave three hearty cheers for Captain Serkov, which so touched the Captain that he sent them two poods (33 kg) of sweets.
There was a surprise for the mariners at a concert given by the musical society in the Town Hall: the Russian anthem ‘God save the Tsar’ and two Russian songs, ‘Along the Danube’ and ‘Troika’, were performed, and the Colonial Treasurer’s son read some farewell verses dedicated to the Boyarin. The departure of the Russian sailors was clouded by the death of Gunner Belavin, ‘an honest and capable man’. Linden tells of a Mr Portsmouth, who, not knowing that the officers had already collected the money for a tombstone, offered to open a subscription among the townspeople for this purpose.
The parting from the hospitable people of Hobart was very warm. Konkevich recalled:
I really don’t know how this lotus-eating interlude of being spoilt in Van Diemen’s Land would have ended if our captain had been less resolute and energetic. After a three week stay he hoisted anchor in spite of a delegation of Hobart ladies with what they thought was irrefutable argument of the necessity to stay longer in Australian waters.
Linden not only kept his own notes of his travels, but also compiled an almost encyclopaedic collection of information gathered in Tasmania. As well as chapters on geography, he made an analysis of the aftermath of transportation on the economic development of the island. He suggested that the abolition of transportation
undeniably caused a diminution in trade, because the Government had previously spent significant sums of money on the upkeep of the convicts, and also because the colony had lost its supply of cheap labour.
But he also noted — justly — that eventually the system of transportation and the associated government subsidies had given birth to a mood of dependence in the young colony, rather than a sturdy self-reliance on its own resources, and that the cheap convict labour had nurtured inefficient, immoral and predatory management. In comparison with the other Australian colonies, Linden noticed a decrease in the trade and in the agricultural purposefulness of the whole Tasmanian economy. He was probably the first to acquaint the Russian reader with the problems of the proposed economic unification of the Australian colonies, which Tasmania supported. ‘A trade federation might lead to a subsequent political federation’, he wrote in 1871.
Linden collected interesting information about the government and electoral system of Tasmania, and of the system of land allocation which allowed an influx of free settlers, noting that questions connected with the development of new territories were also important at that time in Russia.
He gave a detailed account of the extermination of the indigenous Tasmanians. In particular he didn’t spare Governor Sorell, who was so warmly praised by the sailors of the Kreiser and the Ladoga. Under his administration, Linden wrote, ‘the theft of aboriginal children and the merciless treatment of aboriginal women went unpunished’.
Unlike other writers, Linden drew attention to the ambiguity of the actions of George Augustus Robinson, he who managed the transhipment of the remnants of the Tasmanians to Flinders Island.
Robinson, in describing his actions, claims that he used only his powers of persuasion on the aborigines. It was hardly so. It wasn’t persuasion that made the indigenous Tasmanians leave their native forests — it was their hopeless situation. If they had known what awaited them, they would doubtless have chosen to die of hunger like hunted beasts in their dens, rather than to yield to Robinson’s persuasions. Their life on Flinders was no better than imprisonment.’