Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Danish Ambassador’s journey from Russia to Peking in 1692.

As part of the library’s current exhibition on maps, one of our volunteers studied two maps by English cartographer Emanuel Bowen (active c. 1714-67) that illustrate a Danish Ambassador’s journey from Russia to Peking in 1692. Although we didn't have room for them in the exhibition the story is very interesting. The first map, pictured below, is “A new and accurate map of the whole Russian empire as contain’d both in Europe and Asia Drawn from authentic Journals, Surveys and most approved modern maps”. This map shows territory from St. Petersburg (located to the extreme West of the map) eastwards to Kamtchatka and the Arctic Circle. It also shows the North of the Empire of China and depicts the Great Wall of China in miniature.

Emanuel Bowen, “A new and accurate map of the whole Russian empire as contain’d both in Europe and Asia Drawn from authentic Journals, Surveys and most approved modern maps” in Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol. II (1748). Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral U.K., 2014.

This edition of Bowen’s map of the Russian Empire was printed in Volume II of John Harris’ Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). It accompanies the account of the travels of Everard Ysbrants Ides. Ides travel account gives us early observations on what the author refers to as the Ostyaks (the indigenous peoples of Siberia that today include the Khanty people, Ket people and Selkup people). Certain parts of Ides travels can seem preposterous to the modern reader, but they are thought to be more far more accurate than an account of the same voyage published by Adam Brand in 1699.

Brand accompanied the Danish ambassador as “one of his domesticks” but the editor of Ides’ travels noted that Brand’s work contained “a Multitude of Things equally Inconsistent with Probability and Truth; not withstanding which, it gained Credit for a Time, and passed current for a true Relation of this celebrated embassy”. (1) Today, experts on historic voyages and travel narratives still recognize the accuracy with which Ides described the places he visited. Yet, as your blogger found, Ides journey can be extremely difficult to plot on Bowen’s map as the spellings of many of the Russian place names he uses differ from those used by the cartographer.
Ides’  travels
Ides set out from Moscow on the 14th March 1692 with a retinue of personal staff, porters, a baggage train hauled by horses and oxen, and an escort of soldiers. His journey north eastwards to Siberia was initially difficult due to melting snow and moving ice on the rivers. If we look closely at Bowen’s map, this portion of his journey is relatively simple to follow- Ides travelled eastwards from Moscow to Wologda and from there to Kaigorod before crossing the Werchaturia mountains. Due to bad weather Ides was forced to stay in the city of Kaigorod for several weeks until the river Kama was open again to boats. Kaigorod was said to be “an indifferent city” and Ides stated that he felt uncomfortable staying there because during the course of his stay the city had been raided and set ablaze by “a rabble of runaway servants”(2). After Kaigorod Ides travelled to the Siberian city of Tobolsk (referred to as Toboleski), and his observations on this city give us a great insight into the demography of the area, its trade and the cultural practices of the various peoples that lived in the surrounding area.
The city of Tobolsk, artist and engraver unknown, from Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral U.K., 2014 
The people that live in the lands surrounding the city of Tobolsk were said to be Tartars who worshipped Islam, and Ides visited their mosque and gave a detailed description of its interior. North of the River Oby (now called the river Ob) were said to be “Russian Jemskicks, who are in the Pay of his Czarish Majesty, for which they supply the Waywodes that are ordered [that] way, and all other Persons who travel on the Czar’s Affairs in Siberia, with free carriages and men to work […] These people keep great numbers of dogs, which they make use of to travel with in winter, for it is utterly impossible to pass this country with horse sleds” (3).

Engravings of the Ostyak peoples who lived near to Toblosk, from Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright of the Chaper of Worcester Cathedral U.K., 2014.

A series of fine engravings illustrate these pages and give artistic interpretations of what the city and peoples of Tobolsk looked like in the late seventeenth century. The artist and engraver that produced the accompanying illustrations to Ides “A description of the North-East, Parts of Asia and the Empire of China” is not named. It could well have been John George Weltsel, a painter from Sleswick who Ides describes as one of his retinue. Weltsel unfortunately died whilst travelling with Ides after suffering for a fortnight from a fever. They buried his body on a hill near to “the village of Makofskoi” (4) There are illustrations, however, that accompany Harris’ edition of Ides account that could not have been produced by Weltsel because he was deceased by that portion of the journey, for example the landscape illustration showing Ides and his retinue passing through the Great Wall of China.
In addition to engravings and Bowen’s maps, there are a number of humorous, interesting incidents that help break up Ides’ lengthy narrative. I was particularly amused by a brief digression on woolly mammoths. Ides described how along the rivers Yenisei, Tunguska [?]  and Lena “mammuts [mammoths’] tongues and legs are found” (5). What is most striking to the modern reader is that neither Ides nor any of the Ostyaks described were aware of their prehistoric origin and certain communities of Ostyaks were described as believing that mammoths existed underground in the seventeenth century. The Siberian Russians on the other hand were recounted as believing that mammoths drowned during the Biblical great flood, before which the climate of Siberia was warmer. Here is a section from Ides discussion on woolly mammoths:
“ I had a person with me who had annually gone out in search of these bones; he told it to me as Real Truth, that he and his companions found the head of one of these [mammoths], which was discovered by the fall of […]  a frozen piece of earth.  As soon as he opened it, he found the greatest part of the flesh rotten, but it was not without difficulty that they broke out his teeth, which were placed in the fore part of his mouth, as those of Elephants are [.] Concerning this animal there are very different reports. The Heathens of Jakuti, Tungusi, and Ostiaki say that they continually, or at least by reason of the very hard frost, mostly live under ground, where they go backwards and forwards. […] They further believe that if this animal comes so near to the surface of the frozen earth as to smell the air, he immediately dies, which they say is the reason that several of them are found dead on the high banks of the river” (6)
  In addition to the discussion of mammoths there is a humorous, bizarre incident whereby Ides was visited by a Tunguskian prince who he says had “prodigious long hair” (7). Ides was curious as to the exact length of this prince’s locks. Convinced he must measure it, Ides decided his best bet was to ply the prince with brandy and persuade him to unravel his hair. After Ides obtained the permission of an intoxicated prince, he carefully measured the hair with an ell. He found it was four Dutch ells long (about two and a half metres!)
"Tunguzian Prince whose Hair was Four Dutch Ells long and his Son's near an Ell long", engraving in Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, 2014.
  Much of the Ide’s narration on his journey through Siberia and Tartar lands contains similar anthropological observations which, though interesting and enjoyable, can often be extremely critical of the religions and customs of the Ostyak peoples. Finally on 3rd August 1693 the Chinese frontier was reached, where Ides was met by a Captain of the Imperial city and ten soldiers to escort the convoy to Peking. Travelling through Tartar country they were warned to keep to the roads and avoid moving by night because of the number of tigers in the surrounding country side. Following their arrival in Peking, Ides first audience and meal with the Emperor was on 16th of November. He was invited to meet the Jesuit Missionaries and attend the Annual Festival. He departed Peking to return to Moscow on 19th February 1694 and again after many adventures arrived at the court of the Czar on the 1st January 1695. This journey had taken two years and ten months and his record of it a remarkable geographic and anthropological achievement.

1) John Harris, A Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels consisting of above six hundred of the most Authentic Writers, Vol. II, (1748), p. 919. 
2) Ibid., 919-20.
3) Ibid., 922
4)Ibid., 927
5) Ibid., 927
6)Ibid., 928
7) Ibid., 932


by Ian Clargo and Deirdre McKeown

Thursday, 13 February 2014

What to eat when stranded in Greenland: advice from 1630.

Films like Gravity (2013), Castaway (2000) and The Beach (2000) have captivated audiences by exploring what it would be like to be stranded in a remote place, be it a desert island or in outer space. How would you survive, what dangerous creatures or people would you encounter and how would entertain yourself to pass the time? This week your blogger stumbled across a gripping account of how eight Englishmen survived being stranded in Greenland for nine months in 1630. Spoiler alert- their story involves eating whale fritters and roasted walrus!

"The miraculous preservation and deliverance of eight english-men left by mischance in Greenland" was written by one of the eight stranded men, Edward Pellham, and published in A Collection of voyages and travels (1745). The account of the men’s struggle for survival is illustrated with a map of Greenland, pictured below. You can currently see a photograph of this map in the Dean’s Chapel of Worcester Cathedral as part of the library’s “Seeing and Mapping our World” exhibition.  The cartographer is unknown but if you know anything about this map, please get in touch.
Map of Greenland, A Collection of Voyages and Travels (1745), p. 743.
What were  eight Englishmen doing in Greenland in 1630?
Edward Pellham travelled to Greenland in May 1630 as part of the company of Muscovy merchants, who frequently carried out whaling expeditions around Spitsbergen in the seventeenth century. Pellham says that three ships were sent to “make voyage upon whales or sea horse[s] for the advantage of the merchants and the good of the common-wealth”.

The purpose of the Muscovy merchants' whaling expeditions was to use the blubber from whale carcasses to create train oil. Despite its smell, oil manufactured from whales’ blubber was used for lighting oil lamps until the end of nineteenth century in England. It was also used in the manufacture of soap and industrial cleaners until the invention of hydrogenation in the early twentieth century.

Whaling was cruel indeed; just take a look at the illustrative border that surrounds the map of Greenland (shown below) that depicts men trapping and harpooning whales and walruses close to shore. It is a bit of a mystery as to why trading companies would have been killing walruses, which are for some reason described in the period as “sea horses” or “seamorce”. Presumably their blubber was also used in the production of oil.

Stranded with “not so much as book amongst us”.

Like a great many castaway narratives, the eight men of the Muscovy company became separated from their party by a series of misfortunes. They were instructed by their captain to sail from Foreland to Bell Sound to take some casks of train oil from another ship that was carrying too  large a quantity of oil. Pellham and eight men were ordered from this group of twenty to hunt venison en route to Bell Sound. When they returned in their small sailing boat to their ship at the bay of Green Harbour after two days hunting, they found the rest of their group of twenty men had departed without them, leaving them with nothing but their small boat, the clothes on their back and 14 venison carcasses!
In the pages that follow the men dump the venison into the sea in an attempt to lighten their boat and make haste. They try desperately to travel to Bell Sound so that they might join with Captain William Goodler, who was commanding the three Muscovy merchant ships, in time for their company’s departure back to London. Yet a series of storms combined with the fact that the men had “never a compass to direct our course by, nor any of our company […] sufficient to know land when he saw it” meant they reached Bell Sound too late and the Muscovy merchants left them behind. Pellham's is particularly critical of a member of his party called William Fakely, a seaman "though no skilfull mariner", and blames him for persuading them to go in the wrong direction.

Struggling to survive
The rest of the account of the men’s time in Greenland is preoccupied with the details of how they survived. Bulleted below are some of the highlights from the account:

·         Telling inappropriate stories- as soon as the men get stranded they somewhat unwisely decide to discuss what happened to men before them stranded in Greenland. Pellam cheerfully tells a story of “nine good and able men, left in the same place […] by the same master [the Muscovy merchants] [that] all died miserably upon the place, being cruelly disfigured by bears and hungry foxes, which are not only the civilest but also the only inhabitants of that comfortless country”. Talk about lightening the mood!

·         Sampling the local cuisine- The men survived for nine months off a horrifying array of animals native to Greenland. A month after they were stranded, the men come across a group of walruses sleeping on a piece of ice close to the shore that they harpoon, chop to pieces and roast. This, Pellham seems to say, was one of the more pleasant animals to eat, although he comments that they are very difficult to harpoon unless asleep. Pellham also describes how his group of men are forced to eat whale frittars, “a most loathsome meat” made from “the scraps of the fat of the whale, which are flung away after the oil is gotten out of it”. A particularly nasty incident is recounted by Pellham whereby after eating the liver of a bear the group found that “our very skins fell off”. This could be a dramatic addition to the story, or so your blogger hopes. The skin problems the men were suffering from could well have resulted from scurvy caused by their poor diet.

·         A man’s best friend- one of the strangest aspects to this account is that the eight men are stranded for nine months with two bull mastiff dogs. The dogs were brought on the Muscovy merchants’ expedition to help the men hunt for food whilst ashore. It is curious Pellham and his men did not kill the dogs for food, given that for three months they ate one meal a day due to their lack of provisions. It is likely, however, that the mastiffs were too important in helping the men hunt to be killed. On 16th March 1631, Pellham says that one of the mastiffs ran away and was never seen again. When spring arrives the men see a buck and wish to kill it but the remaining bull dog is described as having “grown so fat and lazy” that he cannot bring the buck down. The men are forced to forget the buck and hunt fowl instead!
Pellham and his men were saved on 25th May 1631 when a ship from Hull landed within sight of the area where the men had built their tent. All eight of the men miraculously survived and departed back to London after fourteen days of rest aboard captain Goodler’s ship. Pellham does not describe the men who he was stranded with in any detail but we can nonetheless glean from his account that, because the men were whalers, seamen, and coopers, they were extremely resourceful and good at adapting materials for various purposes. For example, they create needles from whales’ bones to mend clothing. They were also devoted to their faith, and kept holy the Sabbath Day, although Pellham says they had no Bible with them to read. All-in-all Pellham's account is a remarkable read and from it we can glimpse much about the seasonal changes in Greenland and the behaviour of local wildlife. Next week we will be posting another blog about a travel book that contains a map, so be sure to watch this space.