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Amoor province of Eastern Siberia to the frontier of Corea; whilst her cession of the Kuriles to Japan has given her undivided ownership of Sakhalin, which is close to, and forms but an outwork of, her possessions on terra firma. The development of the Russian Empire in this quarter has not been watched in this country with the interest which it deserves. The history of her colonisation of the remote regions drained by the Amoor and its tributaries and washed by the waters of the Seas of Tartary and Okhotsk is a record of adventure, persistence, and conquest of hardships, which is well worth attention,
It was in the sixteenth century that a party of wandering Cossacks is said to have crossed the Ural chain, and added the territory which afterwards became Siberia to the dominion of the Czars of Muscovy. Their subjects continued to penetrate further east; and in the first half of the succeeding century, Yakutsk on the Lena, with which Nordenskjold's late adventurous voyage has made us familiar, and Okhotsk in the sea to which it gave its name, were founded. A detachment of Cossacks, sent to subdue some of the nomad tribes of the desolate region beyond the Lena, first heard of the existence of a great river running to the east, on the banks of which dwelt races who cultivated the soil, and who traded in copper, silver, silk, and cotton, with merchants from China and Japan. In 1643 a party of 132 men, under a leader named Pojarkof, left Yakutsk to find the river. Slowly ascending the numerous streams which traverse the country, he was compelled to go into winter quarters, still a long way from the object of his search. From these he started with a portion of his command, dragging his stores on sledges over land. His march was delayed, and his expedition nearly ended in failure, owing to the treacherous conduct of one of his officers towards some friendly natives. He pushed on, however, in spite of terrible hardships, losing nearly fifty of his men from starvation, till he reached the mouth of the Dzeya, which is an affluent of the Amoor, and sailed on the mighty river itself over 400 miles to its junction with its great tributary, the Sungari. Thence he passed, in a voyage which lasted six weeks, to its mouth. It was not till the middle of 1646, just three years after he had started, that he reached Yakutsk on his return.
The stream which Pojarkof had discovered was worthy of the efforts that had been made to trace its course.
The Amoor is one of the largest rivers of Asia. The basin drained by it and its affluents covers an extent of more than 700,000
square miles. The main stream is formed by the junction of the Argun and Shilka, some 600 miles further east than Lake Baikal. The former has a course, exclusive of its minor windings, of 1,400 miles before it merges in the great flood which runs to the ocean. The Amoor proper, below the junction named above, has a complete length, including all its turnings, of nearly 1,900 miles. The Shilka arm is navigable by boats drawing not more than two feet of water from its junction with the Argun up to Nerchinsk, a distance of 600 or 700 miles.* The point of confluence is called Ust Strelka, and there the Amoor at its very beginning is 450 yards wide. Entered by numerous tributaries on either side, it runs first to the south-east past chains of mountains, through forests of valuable trees, and by extensive tracts of fertile pasture-land for 900_miles, crossing the forty-eighth parallel of north latitude. It then turns to the north-east, and is shortly after joined by another great river, the Sungari; and nearly 200 miles further on by the Usuri
. Up to this point the river has been the frontier between the dominions of the Czar and Chinese Tartary. Below the Usuri, the ascent of which is in a direction between south and south-west, both banks are Russian territory; and the last-named river is the western limit of the great tract of country recently acquired by Russia, which includes the coast of the Gulf of Tartary down to the frontier of Corea. The remaining course of the great stream becomes more and more northerly after it has approached the Gulf of Tartary within twenty-five miles of Castries Bay. Instead of emptying itself into the gulf, however, it runs to the northward of the fifty-third parallel, and then, turning to the south-east again for a short course of about fifty miles, finally falls into the Liman of the Amoor, as the broad arm of the sea separating the northern part of the island of Sakhalin from the mainland is called.
The country through which the lower part of the river flows is, on the whole, fertile and inviting. The forests with which its banks are clothed are composed of a multitude of species of useful trees. The flowers and verdure of the open spaces attest the fertility of the soil, which is further proved by the ease with which cereals and garden vegetables planted by natives, settlers, and the garrisons of the several stations,
* The official. China Sea Directory' says of the Amoor that it is 'navigable for large vessels as far as Nerchinsk, 1,500 miles from its • mouth, in the summer season; in the winter it is frozen over' (vol. iv. p. 106).
are reared. The indications of coal are numerous. Throughout its length the scenery is described by travellers as attractive, and in many places it seems to be highly picturesque.
The result of Pojarkof's report was a renewed series of attempts to explore the river which he had sailed on, and annex the country through which it flows. In 1651, a leader named Khabarof, commissioned by the governor of Yakutsk, in one of his expeditions-after some resistance on the part of the native Daürians of the region-came into contact with the Manchoo forces of the then recent conquerors of China. This was the first of a series of collisions between the Russians and the Chinese, of which we shall, perhaps, see the renewal in our own time. The cruelty with which he treated
. the natives, the memory of which is said to linger still amongst their descendants, rendered Khabarof's progress difficult. A fort that he had built was attacked by a strong Manchoo force, which he defeated. His behaviour to the inhabitants, in which he seems to have been imitated or outdone by his subordinates, stirred up resistance to his countrymen wherever they appeared, and was the cause of infinite mischief throughout the region. Mr. Ravenstein, who has collected in his valuable work, · The Russians on the Amur,' all that was known of the history and condition of Eastern Siberia at the date of its publication, says:
The natives appear to have been exposed to all sorts of extortion ; tribute was levied to an unlimited extent, without any commensurate good being conferred upon the natives. No settlements of peasants or tillers of the soil were founded; the resources of the country were soon exhausted by perpetual foraging expeditions of Russian adventurers. When the Russians first arrived on the Amur, the natives cultivated fields and kept cattle. Ten years afterwards these fields had become deserts.'
The early intercourse of all European nations with the aboriginal or savage inhabitants of distant lands has always resulted in deplorable hardships and injustice to the latter, and the more remote the date at which it first took place, the more intensified have these been. It is to the honour of the rulers of Moscow of the time, that they did their best to stop these proceedings by putting subsequent expeditions under persons of position, and forbidding unauthorised incursions into the recently explored territory. A powerful force was sent out, to the command of which an officer named Stepanof succeeded. On the Usuri he also had a conflict with the Manchoos, of whom he was soon to hear again. In a fort which he had erected to winter in with a garrison of 500 men, he was be
sieged by a Manchoo army 10,000 strong, with several pieces of artillery. He made so stout a defence, that in the end his assailants had to retire. Whilst descending the river in 1658, he was attacked by a flotilla equipped by the Manchoos, and, with more than half his men, was killed. Many prisoners were taken, and were transported to Peking. Their detention there led to the establishment of a Russian ecclesiastical mission, formed of priests who came to minister to their captured countrymen at the Chinese capital, and to the opening of a kind of diplomatic intercourse, which was never altogether suspended till the Middle Kingdom was opened to the nations of the West by the way of its sea-coast.
The failure of this important expedition led to the temporary evacuation of the Amoor country. The next expeditions were for the purpose of consolidating the Muscovite hold on the upper
waters and their tributaries. The country east of the Baikal Lake was explored in several directions, and the town of Nerchinsk was founded shortly after our Charles II. returned to the throne of this country. A year or two later, a party led by an exile of Polish birth, who had surprised and murdered the voivode, or governor, of one of the districts on the Lena, fled to the wilds of the Amoor, from which the Muscovites had altogether retired since Stepanof's time. He built a wooden stockade or fort, to which the name of Albazin was given, on the banks of the river between the mouth of the Shilka and the Dzeya.
The movements of the Muscovites on the Amoor and its tributaries began at length to excite attention in the Chinese Empire. The celebrated Kang-hi, the greatest of the Manchoo emperors, was then on the throne; and it can be easily understood that he and his ministers viewed with suspicion the appearance of strangers, coming in the way they did, so near the early possessions of his race. Complaints were addressed to Nerchinsk on the subject; and a Russian envoy was actually sent to Peking to explain, and was there presented to the emperor and well received. The settlement at Albazin, nevertheless, continued, and its population increased, whilst fresh stations were established lower down the river and on the adjacent streams. At the close of the year 1682, the Russian posts extended to the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. Albazin, founded by a fugitive murderer, had become too important to remain longer unrecognised by the authorities at Moscow; a governor was appointed to it, and it received a grant of arms.
The Chinese at length took steps to reassert their supremacy over the region into which the Russians had intruded at so many points. In 1683 a force was sent to the Amoor, and cleared the banks of many of its intrusive inhabitants. Two years later Albazin was besieged by an army 18,000 strong, provided with light artillery. Its small and gallant garrison were obliged to come to terms with the besiegers, and marched out towards Nerchinsk. The Chinese having destroyed the fort retreated; the Russians lost no time in reoccupying it. It was again besieged; but though its garrison, which made a most valiant resistance, was greatly reduced in numbers, it still remained in the hands of its founders. The attacking force was ordered from Peking to raise the siege, that the progress of negotiations begun between the two nations might not be interfered with.
After an interchange of several preliminary communications and visits of envoys on both sides, a Chinese embassy, accompanied by the eminent missionary Gerbillon, arrived opposite the town of Nerchinsk in the summer of 1689. Several conferences took place, and a treaty was at length signed at the end of the month of August in the year just mentioned. The object of this instrument was, as declared by its preamble, to maintain order in the border territories, to define the frontier between the dominions of the Czar and those of the Emperor of China, and to re-establish peace and a good understanding. The treaty restored the whole of the Amoor proper below the Shilka to China. The boundary ran eastward many miles north of the river to the Sea of Okhotsk. Westward it followed the Argun, the left bank of which was to remain Russian, and then approximately the 50th parallel to Kiachta.
This loss of territory was to some extent compensated by the acquisition of a considerable district further to the north-east, less fertile and more remote, but having a sea-coast and ports and harbours. The peninsula of Kamchatka had long been known by report to the Russians who frequented the Anadyr River. Here again it was the Cossacks who added to the dominions of the Czars. In 1696 Moroscovitch reached the Kamchatka River. In_the following year it was formally taken possession of. •The Cossacks,' says Mr. Dall,* an American writer, 'lost no opportunities of inciting to hostilities, and then butchering, the unfortunate natives, so that in ' forty years the Kamchadales were reduced to a twelfth of “their original numbers. They were loaded with taxes, and “the yassak, or imperial tribute, was often raised tenfold by
* Alaska and its Resources (London, 1870), p. 296.