About this web page ...
This is a lengthy web page. According to Firefox it would take an average reader over two hours to view it in its entirety, and it is assumed that its readers would have at least a small degree of curiosity or interest in the minutia of Doukhobor history. A listing of this web page contents appears below as a preview of what might be expected. The web page itself begins here ... (Link).
The contents have been segregated into six parts that are somewhat sequential and interdependent in their focus, but they can still be accessed and viewed individually using the highlighted quick links to the main categories.
PART ONE - A Brief Review of the Emigration and the relevance of the Richner Kerosene Factory
- the sequencing of the four Doukhobor transatlantic voyages to Canada
- two diaries and what they reveal (or don't) about Batoum and the Richner kerosene factory
- the significance of the timing of the Doukhobor emigration
- about two photographs that depict the Doukhobors at Batoum and Richner's factory
PART TWO - Mapping the Caucasus, Batoum, and the Transcaucasus Railroad
- a map of the Caucasus in 1901, the Transcaucasus Railroad, and Doukhobor settlement villages
- the Suram Pass and the Suram Railroad Tunnel
- the 1913 Moskvich Map of Batoum, the harbour, and the location of the Richner factory
PART THREE - Two Diaries and the Doukhobors at Batoum and the Kerosene Factory
- the L. Sulerzhitsky and S. Tolstoy diaries, and their help with the emigration
- the arrival of the Doukhobors at Batoum by train from their villages
- winter shelter at the Richner kerosene factory depicted in two historic photographs
- the arrival of the SS Lake Huron charter from Liverpool
- the rare factory drawings of the SS Lake Huron and SS Lake Superior
- estimating the photographer's vantage point from the SS Lake Huron
- the departure of the Doukhobors from Batoum to Canada on the SS Lake Huron
PART FOUR - Baku petroleum and the Batoum kerosene factories
- a brief history of petroleum at Baku and its early extraction
- the Nobel, Rothschild and Mantashev Petroleum Barons
- The Nobel mechanical engineers manufacture Berdan rifles
- Robert Nobel, Baku petroleum, and the Nobel Branobel Petroleum Company
- Batoum and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878
- Palashkovsky & Bunge, the Transcaucasus Railroad, and BNITO, the 1st kerosene factory
- seven period postcards of Batoum
- the Petroleum Review and the Batoum kerosene factories
- the historic Dimitri Ivanovich Ermakov photographs of Batoum
PART FIVE- About R. A. Richner and his enterprises
- Mr. R.A. Richner, a petroleum entrepreneur
- Mr. R.A. Richner and his copper mining and smelting enterprise
- Kedabek and the Siemens Bros. copper operations near the Slavianka Doukhobor village
- John Bellows visits Kedabek and Prince Khilkoff in exile at Bashkichet
PART SIX - The Social-Democrats, Stalin and the closing of the kerosene factories.
- factory worker protests and strikes at Batoum and the kerosene factories
- the Social-Democratic Labour Party in the Caucasus
- Lenin's illegal Iskra and the USCC Doukhobor ISKRA, published in Canada since 1943
- Joseph Stalin at the Rothschild factory, street violence and bloodshed at Batoum
- the Georgian Gurians seek self-governance and attract the attention of Leo Tolstoy
- the closing of all Batoum kerosene factories
- Doukhobors in Canada, and out of harm's way during the Russian Revolution of 1905
For readers unfamiliar with this story, Batoum (Batum, Batumi) was a small historic Turkish seaport on the eastern shore of the Black Sea before the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, and its existence was relatively unknown until it received world attention after the war in Russian hands, for its export of Baku petroleum, and kerosene in particular. The Czarist government welcomed foreign investment in the development of that industry, and western Europeans were attracted to Baku at the Caspian Sea and later to Batoum seeking their fortunes. Doukhobors were not interested in petroleum as such, and indeed the very word "kerosene" rarely, if ever, appears in their own historical records, other than references to its use in the historic "Burning of Arms" of 1895. But a vacant kerosene factory at Batoum fulfilled an important and timely practical need that confronted them at the seaport during their emigration to Canada. They were unable to procure temporary accommodations as they awaited the arrival of their transatlantic steamships, and thanks to the generosity of a Mr. Richner, a Swiss entrepreneur and owner of the kerosene factory, over 7500 Doukhobor emigrants in four distinct groups, were given free shelter at his idle factory through the winter cold and rains of 1898 and 1899.
Most of what is already known about the Doukhobor use of this factory can be found in the diaries of two individuals who assisted and accompanied them on their journey to Canada. This web page will use short excerpts from these diaries to revisit Batoum and the factory, and with the assortment of maps, diagrams, period postcards and historic photographs presented here, it can perhaps be viewed as a visual supplement to their story.
Valuable though they are as primary source materials on Doukhobor history, the diaries revealed very little about Mr. Richner, leaving lingering questions about him as an individual. And although his contribution is recognized in the diaries, his act of human kindness and personal story would have seemingly warranted at least some greater attention. The Doukhobor emigrants never met him personally, nor did they have an opportunity to express their gratitude for his generosity. And doing the math (in the table below), we can calculate that his kerosene factory was used in that manner for as long as ten months. Over a century later, we can now look to Google search for a better understanding of these matters.
Search results have not thus far revealed much about Mr. Richner as an individual, and he has indeed been identified as both a Swiss and German entrepreneur. But we now do know a little more about his business operations at Batoum, and his kerosene factory, and we can speculate as to why it may have been idle at the time the Doukhobors made use of it. And surprisingly, we also know that Mr. Richner no longer actually owned this factory. He had sold it almost ten years previously in 1889 and diverted his attention to another business, said to be "one of the most enterprising firms of Batoum".
There were other unexpected discoveries encountered in this web page research, some of which may on their surface appear to be unrelated and even trivial, but which in their aggregate, just couldn't be ignored. These too have found a place on this web page, adding considerable burden to its length.
PART ONE - A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE EMIGRATION AND ROLE OF THE FACTORY
In 1898-1899, over 7500 Doukhobors left their homeland in the Russian Caucasus, seeking refuge from religious persecution and a new more peaceful life on the Canadian prairies. Two Beaver Line steamships, the S.S. Lake Huron and S.S. Lake Superior, were chartered for this emigration, each making two transatlantic voyages. The first and last of the four departures to Canada were on the Lake Huron, the first voyage beginning on December 23, 1898, and the final journey ending at Quebec on June 6, 1899, the four voyages bringing the largest group of immigrants to arrive on Canadian shores at any one time, in Canadian history. This web page will focus on the first of these voyages from Batoum to Halifax on the steamship Lake Huron.
The statistical details of these voyages, their dates, destinations and even the listings of immigrants, have been extensively documented online and elsewhere in print, yet there may still be lingering confusion regarding the departure and sequencing of the four voyages. There were four departures from Batoum but only three of them were transatlantic voyages. The first voyage from Batoum on August 18, 1898, was only to Larnaca, Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, on an old French steamship, the Durau. This voyage hurriedly brought a small contingent of 1,126 desperate Doukhobors to the island for potential settlement. The ill-fated Cyprus settlement was soon abandoned however, and this group of Doukhobors joined the rest of the emigrants to Canada, on the third of four actual transatlantic voyages, on the S.S. Lake Superior. (Cyprus emigration shaded gray below)
Note: A fifth transatlantic voyage on the SS Lake Superior brought 670 passengers from Liverpool to Quebec, that included 56 Doukhobors from Elizavetpol and Kars provinces. These were military conscripts that were unable to emigrate with the rest of the Doukhobors, as they were detained until the completion of their service. The Lake Superior arrived at the port of Quebec on July 20, 1899.
While Russian government permission had been granted for this emigration in 1898, it became abundantly clear that the Doukhobors never had the wherewithal to accomplish it on their own resources, and would require the support, planning expertise, funding and generosity of others. However, many aspects of the emigration, such as the use of the empty kerosene factory at Batoum, also occurred by chance. Even the initial possibility of emigration itself came about rather unexpectedly, after the chance encounter of the exiled Doukhobors with the dowager empress Maria Feodorovna at Abastuman, who then helped set the emigration in motion (Link). And the ultimate choice of Canada as a refuge, also came about inadvertently as a result of Prince Kropotkin's earlier visit to Canada on his own personal business.
Looking back at the sequence of events leading up to the emigration of 1898-1899, its timing, also by chance or circumstance, couldn't have been better, as there appeared to be a coincidental alignment or convergence of favourable conditions and events at Batoum and the Caucasus, which opened a momentary window of opportunity for its success. This window closed, as will be demonstrated on this web page, not long after the departure of the Doukhobors to Canada. And it is quite likely that another Doukhobor emigration of this magnitude could not have been possible until at least the 1980s.
The first and second actual transatlantic voyages were documented in the diaries of Leopold Sulerzhitsky, a young friend of Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, and his eldest son, Sergei I. Tolstoy. The two assisted the Doukhobors with the preparations for their journey at Batoum, and then accompanied them to Canada. Their diaries are the most detailed source of information about the complete migration from the Russian Caucasus to Canada, and the events at the Richner factory, although they are the subject of his web page, are in reality only a very small part of it.
With their focus on the emigration and the emigrants, the diaries understandably reveal very little about Batoum itself, and the industrial significance of the kerosene factory at the seaport. There were one or two references to occasional background factory noises near the harbour, but no other factories were identified by name or description, leaving readers with the impression that perhaps Batoum had only minor significance in the wider scheme of things. But that was far from the case, as the following remarkable photograph of the Batoum harbour clearly demonstrates. Numerous kerosene factories were established by that time near the harbour, and they sustained the growth and prosperity of the seaport for decades after it was connected by rail with the petroleum refineries at Baku.
This photograph of Batoum taken by the celebrated Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (Link) between 1905 and 1915, titled "Town of Nobelevskii from Fort II", depicts the Nobel Brothers' kerosene tank farm. And of particular relevance here, it also depicts the site of the former Richner kerosene factory. Its specific location will be identified in this and other photographs in a later segment of this web page.
Aside from the diaries, this web page will also examine two existing photographs that authenticate the actual presence of the Doukhobors at the factory. Of the two, the photograph depicted below (also in this web page header), does so most effectively as we can actually observe Mr. Richner's factory buildings and a single kerosene tank. These two photographs may likewise be of wider historical interest, as they may be the only remaining close-up photos of this factory known to exist.
PART TWO - MAPPING THE CAUCASUS AND THE RAILROAD
For several decades after their migration from the Milky Waters in the Crimea to the Caucasus in the 1840s, Doukhobors were for the most part isolated in their villages on the Armenian Plateau, far from the general economic, industrial and geopolitical developments in the Caucasus and the rest of Russia, until the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-78. For a brief period at that time, the Doukhobors were entangled with Grand Duke Michael and his siege of the Turkish fortress and city of Kars. After that time until their Burning of Arms protest in 1895, they continued living unmolested in relative quiet and isolation in the interior highlands until they were forcibly displaced from their villages as retribution for their protest. They were exiled to a number of scattered villages in the Georgian lowlands near Tiflis, where they also encountered the southern Caucasus in a state of transition, with signs of emerging industrialization, and a new railroad. And it was this railroad that brought them to the seaport of Batoum.
The Caucasus Map and the overland emigration route to Batoum
The map below depicts a general view of the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the relative locations of Batoum and Baku, and the Transcaucasus Railroad that spanned the 600 mile distance between them. Its route and that of the metalled roads on the map, were traced from a digital copy of the Harry Lynch map of 1891, previously examined elsewhere on this website (Link). The map also depicts the three major Doukhobor settlement regions in the Caucasus, the location of the village sites chosen for their historic "Burning of Arms" protests, and the Georgian lowland areas to which most were subsequently displaced from their villages. It also marks the location of six stations, chosen on the railway route at intervals, to assemble the waiting exiles from the Georgian villages, where they were expected to meet their scheduled trains to Batoum. Although a railroad segment between Kars and Tiflis was also completed in late 1899, it was not available in time for the emigration, and Kars Doukhobors were required to travel by wagon to the nearest railroad station at Akstafa, to meet their train. A narrow gauge railroad branch line of much lesser importance, was also later begun in 1898 to a ski resort at Bakurian, near Borjom, which temporarily employed Doukhobors, before they were strictly forbidden employment of any sort while in exile.
Click to view an enlargement of this map
The Transcaucasus Railroad - a military & economic strategy ...
The Transcaucasus Railroad was initially envisioned by the Imperial Government for military strategic purposes, rather than economics, although it didn't take long for the railroad to prove its worthiness to Baku oil interests at the Caspian Sea and the government Treasury. British writer/historian, Charles Marvin, in his book, The Region of the Eternal Fire, described it thus:
"When the war of 1877-78 broke out between Russia and Turkey, it took the former Power nearly a month to move troops from the Caspian littoral to Tiflis. A few months ago (1883) the new railway to Baku was opened for traffic, and all this hard travelling was at once reduced to a matter of twenty-two hours. In the interval Turkey has done nothing to improve her communications between her capital and Armenia. Russia, therefore, has increased her power in Transcaucasia to an extent that must tell with crushin g effect on the issue of the next campaign. This circumstance alone would almost justify the deficit incurred by constructing the railway from Batoum to Baku. But the new railway has done something more than merely enable Russia to throw her military resources with equal facility towards the Caspian or Black Sea, and ahead into Armenia - it has laid open to Europe the immense petroleum supply of Baku, and secured Russia the market of the world for it."
The first section of the Transcaucasus Railroad was constructed by English engineers and contractors before the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, beginning at Poti at the Black Sea coast in 1865, and reaching Tiflis in 1872. Poti was a small marshy seaport acquired by Russia from the Ottoman Empire after the Russo-Turkish War of 1829 by the terms of the Treaty of Adrianople. It was chosen as the western railhead despite its shallow harbour and limited potential as a seaport, because Batoum, the only other suitable harbour on that seacoast, was still under Ottoman rule. Oddly by a quirk of history, the 1829 Treaty agreement did indeed initially acknowledge the Russian acquisition of Batoum. The southern boundary of the ceded Turkish territory was initially defined by the course of the (T)Chorokh River flowing into the Black Sea just a few miles south of the seaport. But the treaty agreement itself was mistakenly later crafted, with the advice of ill-informed geographers, to place the boundary along the Cholok River instead, which was just a few miles north of Batoum near Ozurgeti. (Ashford,1955) Nonetheless, the "mistaken identity" appears to have been formalized in the final agreement. (view Lynch map)
The most challenging segment of this railroad, for both its construction and its later use, was the difficult grade over the Suram mountain ridge midway between Poti and Tiflis, ascending from near sea level at Poti, to approx. 3000 feet at the summit. The British engineers wanted to tunnel through the steep Suram Pass, but the Russian government was concerned about the high cost of its construction, choosing instead to take the rail bed over the top, a plan which not only proved more expensive in the long run, but which later had to be scrapped completely because of slow traffic congestion, and the eventual construction of the Suram Tunnel in 1890. This tunnel was on the railroad route of the Doukhobor emigrants to Batoum only ten years later, and will be discussed in the following segment of this web page.
The railroad route from Batoum to Poti, then to Gori and beyond to Tiflis, was also travelled (in reverse) over the Suram Pass by Marvin in 1883, (Link) and is described in detail below:
"The line starts from Batoum and Poti at 18 feet above sea level. From Poti for 40 miles the railway traverses a swamp, after which the line rises with gradients from 1 ft. in 125 ft. to 1 in 70, with curves of from 200 feet to 250 feet. Beyond this the gradients are 1 ft. in 45 ft. and 1 ft. in 40, and finally the profile changes to 1 in 22 ft. landing at the Poni station, at the top of the Suram Pass, 3,200 feet above the sea-level. Three engines, one a 60-ton Fairlie, are employed to haul the train up to the top of the pass and ease it down the other side. After leaving Poni the line goes down a few miles at 1 in 22 ft., after which the grades grow slighter. Beyond Gori, to Tiflis, they are comparatively easy, and thenceforth the line is virtually level to the Caspian Sea.
Commercially, the travelling of the pass by such steep gradients is a mistake, however grand the railway may be from an engineering point of view. Only a few trucks or carriages can be taken over the pass at a time, and the line being a single one (in any one direction), this will inevitably lead to a congestion of the traffic the moment the petroleum trade assumes large proportions. It is but right to say that the English engineers who constructed the line urged a tunnel instead of a crossing, and the Tiflis authorities long ago regretted that they did not listen to their advice."
British 0-6-6-0 T Fairlie locomotive as used on Suram Pass and tunnel until 1934 when the Fairlies were displaced by electrics. At right - a Borjomi-Bakuriani narrow gauge railway built with Doukhobor labour and completed in 1902, now also electrified.
The final section of the Tanscaucasus railway eastward between Tiflis and Baku (341 miles), and a branch connector to Batoum (65.5 miles), were completed in 1883, after this seaport was ceded from Turkey. The total length spanning the south Caucasus was almost 600 (561.5) miles, from sea to sea, and the trackage was of standard 5 foot gauge, to match other pre-existing Russian railways.
In 1887 the 220 mile run from Batoum to Tiflis took 14½ hours, giving a through rate of 15½ miles per hour. Stoppages amounted to 2½ hours, thus making a running speed of 19 m.p.h. From Tiflis to Baku, the 341 miles were completed in 17 hours, with a through speed of 20 m.p.h. Stoppages made 2½ hours, so consequently the running speed for this line was 23½ m.p.h. By 1914, the travelling time from Batoum to Tiflis had been reduced to 11½ hours and from Tiflis to Baku, 13 hours. (Ashford,1955)
The Suram Pass, the Tunnel and the Doukhobors ...
Construction of the tunnel began in 1886 with international engineering and the support of Italian labourers, and it was completed in 1890, at which time it was celebrated world wide as a most remarkable achievement.
A profile of the Suram Pass summit, and the 2½ mile tunnel appeared in an article about the tunnel on page 259 of the 1889 Engineering Journal, (vertical dimensions exaggerated). The two relevant pages were extracted and can be viewed here, (Link) while the accompanying engravings referenced in the article can be viewed here. (Link) Of additional interest, the rare composite engraving included detailed drawings of an oil pumping station at Suram, (Figures 17, 18) the first of its kind used to pump Baku kerosene to Batoum through a pipeline along the tunnel railroad bed (Figure 4). The relative location of the tunnel itself is also identified on the map of the Caucasus on this web page. (Link)
Could this be a Doukhobor migrant train at the Suram Pass and Tunnel ...
This extraordinary photograph of the Suram Pass and tunnel is found in the BC Archive Tarasoff Collection (C-01543) dated 1900, and it is remarkable in a number of ways. In one sense, it may be one of only a few remaining historic photos of a train and landslide along the steep western slopes of the Suram Pass. The Suram Tunnel entrance itself is also seen here in the distance. These slopes on the seaward side of the Suram ridge were frequently subjected to heavy Black Sea rainfall causing devastating landslides, a known engineering hazard in this mountainous region, which in this case seemingly incapacitated the Transcaucasus Railroad. We can see the tunnel entrance more clearly in the following composite with a closer focus on the above photo and a better depiction of the tunnel entrance in another later photograph. This evidence does seem to authenticate the geolocation of the photograph near the western tunnel entrance, and we can presume from the absence of a locomotive, that the direction of travel of the coaches in the foreground would have been to the right and downhill. There also appears to be a work train and crew engaged in the clearing of the landslide debris, suggesting that there would have been additional railroad sidings near the tunnel to accomodate the maneuvering of multiple trains. Later photos of the tunnel entrance also reveal evidence of a second track through the tunnel itself..
The Tarasoff collection has been a virtual treasure trove of useful information for readers and researchers since the 1960s, yet it appears that there may be an error in the documentation of this particular photograph in the collection, describing its view as "Across railway on the shore of Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia". This description is also repeated in Mr. Tarasoff's book, "A Pictorial History of the Doukhobors", 1969.
It is also interesting to note that neither the Suram Pass nor the tunnel, both significant aspects of the emigration route, are not referenced in the aforementioned book, the two diaries, or elsewhere in Doukhobor historiography. Yet the mere presence of this photo in the Doukhobor collection would seemingly suggest its Doukhobor relevance. Could these passengers indeed be the very subjects of this web page, the Caucasus emigrants en route to Batoum?
The 1913 Moskvich Map of Batoum and the Richner factory ...
After months of sporadic repeated online Google searches for the elusive factory in question, a search result finally revealed a promising old map of the Batoum seaport. Various versions of this 1913 Moskvich map of Batoum now appear online, although their resolution and quality are not ideal for research purposes. Furthermore, the map place names appear to be in the Russian language, which in this case was not an issue. Fortunately, a better quality viewing option was available and on close inspection, lo and behold, there it was, the Richner factory (Zavod Rechnera) near the southern shore of the Petroleum Harbour in the lower right hand corner of the map. And equally surprising, as it turned out, was evidence of the Rothschild's Caspian and Black Sea kerosene factory (formerly BNITO) nearby. Much more on this to follow.
A copy of this map has been enhanced and annotated for this web page in the English language, to point out relevant places of interest for a general understanding of Batoum and of relevance to the Doukhobor emigration. Reference to this map may add value to many of the historical photographs to follow. Interested readers will need to view an enlargement of this map to read the fine print. Click to view.
PART THREE - TWO DIARIES & THE DOUKHOBORS AT BATOUM
Selected excerpts from the personal diaries of Leopold Sulerzhitsky and Sergei Tolstoy, and a series of related period postcards, will be used below to describe and illustrate a chronological sequence of events at the harbour, from the earliest arrival of the two Tolstoyan Doukhobor assistants, to the departure of the first group of emigrants on their transatlantic voyage on the SS Lake Huron.
Preliminary emigration arrangements ...
Given permission to emigrate from Russia in 1898 (Link), the persecuted Doukhobors in the next few months began consolidating their own funds and also appealed for assistance to Leo Tolstoy and his followers, living near London, at Purleigh. Members of the Quaker British Society of Friends were also sympathetic to the desperate appeals of the exiles in the Georgian lowlands, which were most eager to emigrate. The Society negotiated a Cyprus refuge for the first group of these Doukhobors, with the British government, although this first Cyprus emigration proved to be a failure and these Doukhobors subsequently also made their way to Canada. But their transit through Batoum and departure on the SS Durau on August 6, 1898, had also involved the Richner factory. These Cyprus emigrants were in fact the first of four groups to use it as a harbour shelter.
Initially lukewarm to the idea of this emigration, Leo Tolstoy was convinced however of its urgency, and asked Leopold Sulerzhitsky and his son Sergei Tolstoy, to assist the Doukhobors at Batoum with their following voyages to Canada. This involved the research and chartering of suitable steamships, the organization of travel arrangements, the procurement of passports, the purchasing of onboard provisions, and other such related logistics of their emigration. The former was tasked to supervise the first contingent of exiles on the SS Lake Huron, the latter the second group, on the SS Lake Superior. The two went to Batoum on November 18, 1899, a few days in advance of the Doukhobor arrival, to begin fulfilling this task.
They kept meticulous daily records of their experiences and later recounted them in their diaries, the Sulerzhitsky diary published in 1905, and the Sergei Tolstoy diary in 1940. Originally written and published only in the Russian language, they have since that time been translated into English and are available today: Leopold Sulerzhitsky's diary in Michael Kalmakoff's book, To America with the Doukhobors, 1982, and Sergei Tolstoy's diary translated by J. Woodsworth in the book, Sergej Tolstoy and the Doukhobors - A Journey to Canada, 1998, compiled by Tatʹjana Nikiforova, and edited by Andrew Donskov.
Participants in the emigration of the Doukhobors to Canada: First two photos left to right – Leopold Sulerzhitsky and Sergei Tolstoy. The group photo at far right was taken at Winnipeg in 1899, after the arrival of the Doukhobors on their second voyage to Canada (on the SS Lake Superior). Standing at back; Prince D. Khilkoff, who had previously arrived to Canada to investigate available homestead lands, and Sergei Tolstoy, the three ladies at mid-photo; M. A. Sats, E. D. Khirjakova, M. A. Chekhovich, and seated at front; actor and friend of Leo Tolstoy, L. Sulerzhitsky. - photo by J. F. Mitchell Studio, Doukhobor Discovery Centre Collection.
Diary excerpts - a chronology of events at Batoum ...
A small segment of a web page such as this cannot possibly even attempt to do justice to the enormous wealth of information these diaries have given researchers and ordinary readers about this Doukhobor emigration. Readers interested in this subject would be encouraged to confirm that for themselves by reading their full accounts. The few daily entries which do appear on this web page will focus only on the events at Batoum and the kerosene factory in 1898. Selected excepts from both diaries may interweave on a particular day, to witness an event from different eyes, so to speak. Readers should also bear in mind that Leopold Sulerzhitsky's involvement at Batoum predated that of Sergei Tolstoy, as did his diaries, but the first November 18 record below, as well as those thereafter, reflect their joint experiences.
The daily entries are sequenced chronologically, but some dates are omitted altogether and others are truncated considerably, to extract only relevant content. Sergei Tolstoy's diary records, as dated in the aforementioned book, include both new style and old style calendar formats, and for the sake of clarity, the old style dates have been dropped. Editorial insert bracketing from the book, however has been otherwise retained.
18 November, 1898 (Tolstoy)
We arrived in Batoum on the morning of 18 November and booked into the Belle-vue Hotel right at the seaside. All the ships sailing into port passed directly in front of us and we would be able to see when our ships arrived. The weather was splendid. First of all we went to see the British consul, Stevens, whose office was next door to our hotel. Here too was Matievich's shipping office, whose chief agent was an Englishman, [W. H.] Stuart, a friend of Stevens.
In this close-up view of the Belle-vue Hotel along the seashore, we can also see the office building next door at right, which housed the offices of the Matievich shipping agent and the British consul, P. Stevens. These two buildings on Naberyozhnaya St. (Ulyitsa) are identified and marked on the annotated Moskvich Map of Batoum.
A southerly view of Naberyozhnaya St. with beachfront stores, warehouses and the Belle-vue at right.
This is essentially the western part of Batoum Bay and a wide southern view of the Batoum Harbour itself, with the beachfront street "Naberyozhnaya" appearing at right. Offshore are harbour buoys where larger vessels were allowed to anchor, while smaller vessels were berthed along short piers along the beach. Large seagoing steamships were however escorted by harbour pilots to the larger Batoum and Petroleum Harbour, in the distance beyond the view of this image. The white Batoum kerosene tanks can however, be vaguely seen in the distance beyond the sailboats. The buildings at right are storehouses for local trade, and to their right (just out of view) is the Belle-vue Hotel.
Post and Telegraph two story building on Tifliskaya Ulyitsa - only a single telegraph line connected Batoum with the rest of Russia and Western Europe, its route stretching northward along the Military Road, over the Caucasus Mountains. Transmissions were known to be sporadic, as the connection was subjected to extreme alpine weather conditions and frequent mudslides. Though several blocks from the seashore, this facility was presumably used by British consul, Stevens, the shipping agent, Matievich, and the two Doukhobor assistants, to arrange the details of the Doukhobor emigration to Canada.
The Doukhobor exodus on the railroad to Batoum ...
With arrangements at Batoum in order, thousands of Doukhobors then began their journey by train from the Caucasus hinterlands to the seaport, to await the arrival of their steamships. As the railroad was managed by a private company, with its main office in Tiflis, Sulerzhitsky and Tolstoy, personally travelled there to make the necessary arrangements needed for the transfer of thousands of Doukhobors from the mainland interior to Batoum. This exodus was extremely complex, as the number of coaches, their specifications and the configuration of the trains, had to be carefully calculated, fares needed to be negotiated and paid, and all passports were to be acquired and submitted in advance. Furthermore, the timing of their arrival at Batoum needed to be co-ordinated with the arrival time of the Beaver Line steamships at the harbour, even as arrival dates and times, seemingly changed from day to day. These logistics are detailed somewhat in the Tolstoy diary entries below.
23 November, 1898 (Tolstoy)
At Tiflis this morning, I put in a request at the railway office for passage on special trains, as quickly as possible, with no more than thirty people to a carriage, each train to include two or three baggage-cars; in Batoum to bring the trains to Richner’s factory near the goods station and to allow no less than six hours each for loading and unloading. In my negotiations with the assistant director of operations, Mr. Mitrofanov, a very obliging individual, it turned out that 2,000 people could most conveniently be transported in four shifts on the Nº 21 troop train, which is quite fast, and that the conditions I had outlined would be met, but that the Doukhobors had to pay a fourth-class fare, which was about twice the cost of the ‘resettlement fare.’ This was confirmed by the director, whom I also spoke to. It turned out that in August the Transcaucasian Railway had transported the Doukhobors going to Cyprus at the resettlement fare. But [the Ministry of] State Control protested, since the railway had not given them official confirmation from the administration that the Doukhobors were indeed resettlers.
25 November, 1898 (Tolstoy)
All the Doukhobors would be transported by the military train which arrives in Batoum at 9 a.m. Five hundred and ninety-three people would come from Gomi on 29 November; 553 from Skra on the 30th; 260 from Ksanki and 220 from Kaspi on 1 December; also 371 from Gori and 263 from Koreli on 2 December. The passenger numbers were given to me by Sulerzhitskij. Hence the dates suggested by Sulerzhitskij had been changed somewhat and the Doukhobors would be arriving a little earlier - mainly because they had to travel on four separate trains, rather than the two Sulerzhitskij had envisioned. Note: the railroad stops with the waiting Doukhobors appear on this web page map of the Transcaucasus Railroad. (Link)
Doukhobors shelter at the Richner factory ...
It was early-winter and the procurement of lodging for the expected exiles was of immediate concern, but their inquiries for available accommodation were not enthusiastically received by local hoteliers. It just happened that an empty kerosene factory was available near the harbour and was idle at the time, and Mr. Richner, the apparent owner, was approached to seek his permission for its use. A total stranger, he nonetheless generously offered them its use as shelter free of charge, accommodating four different groups of Doukhobors, awaiting four different sailings over a period of ten months.
25 November, 1898, (Tolstoy)
The problem of finding accommodation in Batoum was solved through the consul, Mr. P. Stevens. In August, when the first group of Doukhobor exiles left for Cyprus, they stayed in Batoum for about three weeks before departure. Initially they camped out in the open air under pouring rain, but Governor Samojlov allowed them to take shelter in army barracks that were empty at the time; however, this disposition was very quickly reversed by Prince Golitsyn, and the Doukhobors again found themselves outdoors in the pouring rain.
Then the Swiss owner of a kerosene factory in Batoum, a Mr. Richner, allowed them the use of his factory, which was not in operation at the time; they stayed about two weeks there and proceeded from there directly to the ship. Mr. Stevens now got in touch once more with Mr. Richner, and since the factory was still not working, the latter offered it to the Doukhobors at no charge, with the simple provision that they would clean out the water closets [before leaving].
29 November, 1898, (Tolstoy)
This morning (Sunday) the first lot of 600 Doukhobors arrived from Gomi. The train was made up of several goods coaches, which had somehow been outfitted with boards for sitting and sleeping. In some carriages iron stoves had been installed, though the weather at that time was still rather warm. The train took them right to the gates of Richner’s factory. The Doukhobors got themselves and their things off the train in a lively and cheerful manner. The rooms of the factory were made up partly of barns with walls of corrugated iron and doors, partly of lean-tos without walls. The first party occupied the closed barns. The baggage was stored separately. Somewhere near the seaside the Doukhobor women had gathered a quantity of wood chips, had dragged out their kazany [iron cauldrons], and were beginning to cook borscht and kulesh [a thick soup] with rice grains and onions. Everybody had brought their own bread with them.
29 November, 1898 (Sulerzhitsky)
On November 21st, 1898, the Lake Huron left Liverpool for Batum. It was necessary that all passengers be in Batum by the time of its arrival. Yesterday, the first train-load of 560 Doukhobors arrived in Batum. Sergei Lvovich and I, and the English Consul, Mr. Stevens, went to meet them. From a distance, through the noise and whistles of the surrounding factories, the drawn out mournful sounds of the singing of the approaching Doukhobors was carried towards us. Around the corner the black locomotive appeared and rumbling past us came car after car in a long train. Tall Doukhobors in their blue work clothes stood at the open doors silently bowing to our welcome. Moving undecidedly backward and forward several times, striking bumpers and chains, the train approached the factory and stopped. The heavy doors of the cars screeched open. Men jumped out, setting up wooden steps on each car, and out came women, children and old men. Soon everyone was settled in the warehouses of the plant, their baggage and provisions piled in the shed.
2 December, 1898, (Tolstoy)
The last of the exiles arrived from Koreli and Gori, 622 people. It rained the whole day; it was damp and rather cool. At Richner's factory it was cold for the people staying in the lean-tos - in the barns with no walls; it was also difficult trying to cook - the wood was too damp to burn. And still no sign of the Huron!
4 December, 1898,(Sulerzhitsky)
The ship has been delayed and the weather has changed for the worse. Day and night, rain pours down, the yard fills with a thin mud, and the people, sitting still in the warehouse, are chilled - especially the children. It is difficult to cook food; the chips are wet, and the area with kettles is filled with smoke which, mixed with fog, floats up and reddens the eyes. From the gloomy grey sky, almost lightless, come slanting streams of autumn rain. Feet slopping through the cold thin mud, sad figures wander in the choking yellow fog; one, covered with bags, bends over a campfire; others coax the smoking chips to burn.
At night a raw penetrating fog hangs over the huge warehouses. It is cold! A lantern burns, blinking dolefully, surrounded by a dirty yellow cloud of light. It squeaks mournfully on its rusty ring every time a cold draft puffs from outside. Rain drums loudly on the roof and bubbles and spatters monotonously in the pools that have gathered in the yard. In the depth of the black night, someone seems to be bitterly weeping, sobbing, sighing loudly. The sound echoes through the warehouse and penetrates mercilessly with its icy chill. The people, who are scattered all over the floor with the children, press closer together.
One night there was such a wind that the warehouse shuddered and the iron roofs rattled as if they were being torn off. It was impossible to sleep! We asked the owner for tarpaulins, and tried to hang them over the open side of the warehouses. The wind shook them relentlessly and the tarpaulins rattled and flapped like flags.
Because of this weather people began to fall ill. Many complained of coughs, of dysentery, and especially of fever, which appeared more and more frequently. There was fear of an epidemic. I had to ask the city doctor to examine the Doukhobors; during the examination, it was found that many were sick. The doctor prescribed medicines, and in the evening Vasya Chernenkoff and I handed them out. Under such living conditions, the medicines could not help much. During the seven day stay in Batum, three children died: two from dysentery and one girl who had suffered earlier from cancer.
The Doukhobor migrants photographed at the Richner factory ...
This photograph from the BC Archive Tarasoff Collection (C-01560) is dated 1898 and titled, Port of Batum, embarkation point for Doukhobor migrants to Canada. And these being Doukhobors at Batoum, the photo would almost certainly depict them sheltering at the Richner kerosene factory, confirmed by the depiction of an oil tank or "RESERVOIR" in the distance behind an open factory shed or warehouse.
The photograph has been assumed to depict Sulerzhitsky's first contingent of Doukhobor emigrants at the Richner factory, as described in his diary. References were made to the use of tarps for protection from the weather, and such a tarp is seen here on the sheet metal rooftop, possibly drying in the sun from the previous night's rain. A second photograph in the Tarasoff collection, seen below and also dated 1898, depicts a similar scene and a similar tarp observed in the opposite direction, suggesting that these two images may be a pair, possibly created at the same time. Both photographs also appear in Mr. Tarasoff's two profusely illustrated books, The Pictorial History of the Doukhobors and Plakun Trava.
This same photograph, interestingly, also appears in another archive with a slightly different interpretation of its contents. The image is found in a Saint Petersburg Russian museum collection (Link), and is one of twenty other photographs, depicting the emigration of the Doukhobors to Canada on the SS Lake Huron. A clipping of the upper portion of this image is depicted below. There were two transatlantic voyages on this steamship, and museum researchers have found this particular image (Fond No.1692-2) to be more likely associated with the later Huron voyage, bringing the fourth group, the Kars Doukhobors, to Canada in 1899. There were in fact four known groups of Doukhobors to have occupied the kerosene factory at Batoum, the first in December 1898, and the last in May 1899, and it would have therefore been this latter group depicted in this image. And indeed, a casual look at the clothing of the immigrants in both images does suggest that this may have been a warmer spring-like moment rather than the month of December. In any case, the determination of the group in question may not be all that important, as this scene at the kerosene factory would have been a similar one, depicting all Doukhobor migrants en route to Canada between 1898 and 1899.
The SS Lake Huron arrives at Batoum ...
Leopold Sulerzhitsky, who was in charge of the first hiring of the SS Lake Huron, researched a potential steamship through Matievich via telegraph to Liverpool, ensuring that the boat was capable of carrying up to 2000 passengers. As a shipping agent, and an insurance agent, Matievich's office beside the Belle-vue appeared to be a one-stop destination to handle multiple arrangements, although detailed contracts and payments were then to be arranged by yet another third party agency in London, Westcott & Laurance. The SS Lake Superior was chartered in a similar fashion shortly thereafter.
The two ships formerly served the Beaver Line as transatlantic Royal Mail carriers, but they had only recently (before 1898) been replaced by speedier boats, and were now put to use as "tramp steamers" hired for the transport of commercial commodities (and immigrants) between Canada, Liverpool and elsewhere. Originally an active transport and ship-building centre for the British slave trade, Liverpool, at the end of the 19th century, became the seaport of choice for Canadian traders of wheat, lumber and cattle, their cargo routinely shipped through the Canada Docks along the Mersey in downtown Liverpool, specially constructed for this trade.
The contracts for the SS Huron and the SS Lake Superior were similar, both stipulating the provision of wooden bunks in the steerage compartment to accommodate the passengers. Sulerzhitsky and Tolstoy were both on hand at the seaport to witness the arrival of the Huron, but they were disappointed to find that this aspect of the charter was not fulfilled. On short notice, they were immediately left with the task of procuring lumber and organizing available Doukhobor carpenters to construct and install the bunks at the Batoum harbour. The task was made somewhat easier with reference to a set of plans or blueprints of these vessels which were fortunately available and in their possession.
6 December, 1898, (Tolstoy)
Early this morning we heard the plaintive, but the strong, deep tones of a ship's whistle, requesting to put in to port. For several days now, such whistles each morning have awakened our hopes that the Huron had finally arrived. We looked out the window, and this time, far out in the harbour we caught sight of a large three-masted steamship which was rocking to and fro in the stormy waves. The plan of the Huron was hanging on our wall, and we determined it was indeed she. At last! Sulerzhitskij set out at once for the ship.
The source and discovery of this photograph is examined on another web page here ... (Link)
7 December, 1898, (Sulerzhitsky)
All that day everyone searched the horizon, in case the smoke of a ship should appear. Not seeing anything by evening, they went to sleep. But the sleep was restless, as no one could sleep for the excitement. And then, not long before daybreak, through the damp fog from the sea came a steady hoot, then another, as if asking for something. Hearing it, many people came out into the dark, to the edge of the pier. Once again, hardly piercing the thick fog, came another hoot, this time short and uncertain. But through the fine rain, nothing could be seen. Yet the blustering wind howled, and with heavy sighs the icy waves broke against the dock, sending clouds of salt spray flying, mixed with drops of rain. It was not until daybreak that we could see the black silhouette of a large three-masted ship gently rocking on the still water outside the harbour. It was the Lake Huron.
After several hours it entered the harbour and stopped near the factory, its side pressed against the pier. No one could board the ship since a customs examination was in progress.
At about three o'clock, we were finally admitted. In the ward room, we were met by a small heavy-set person with energetic, confident movements, who introduced himself as the captain of the ship. We went around the ship with him, comparing it with the plan which had been sent to me earlier, and with which I had planned the bunks and other structures. In comparison with the plan, the ship turned out to be wider by one foot.
Now we could begin work! First the necessary lamps were set up on the ship. Carpenters came from the plant and I divided them into two shifts of one hundred each, so that the work would not stop for a minute, day or night.
The S.S. Lake Huron & Lake Superior factory plans ...
Leopold Sulerzhitsky and Sergei Tolstoy made a number of references in their diaries to a set of "plans" of the Beaver Line steamships acquired from F.A. Matievich, that were helpful to them in their task at Batoum. One reference appears below, and others in previous references (December 6th and December 7th).
With the help of the Matievich Office in Batum, after a long search in all the foreign ports, satisfactory ships—the Lake Huron and the Lake Superior—were found. Both of these ships sailed regularly between Liverpool and Quebec. Plans of both ships were sent, from which it was apparent that in construction and size the two ships were alike. By my calculations, the Lake Huron could carry more than 2,000 persons.
Sergei Tolstoy's diary entry for December 15, 1898, offers readers a remarkably detailed written description of the SS Lake Superior below decks. (Link) But needless to say, a copy of the actual drawings themselves would have been of even greater interest to modern researchers. These prints or plans are fortunately now available for view and research in an extraordinary British online marine archive. A Google search for "F. A. Matievich" regarding insurance, provided clues to their location. It turns out that Matievich was more than a mere insurance broker, he was also a Lloyd's of London insurance surveyor, or inspector. On fulfillment of an insurance claim regarding a shipping accident involving the SS Baku Standard in 1898, he submitted a detailed report of repairs made to the vessel at issue, and it was a copy of this report, thanks to Google, that initially revealed the archival source of the ship drawings.
Tolstoy's diary described conversations with Matievich on this issue at his office:
Negotiations are underway regarding insurance for both ships. As it turned out later, this insurance was rather a waste of money. True, if the ships had sunk before arriving at Batoum, the return of funds would make sense, but the risk was not that great; but what would be the use of getting insurance money if a ship went down with the emigrants? But it is customary to have insurance. Matievich was an insurance agent, and Sulerzhitskij and I raised no objection, not realizing what was actually involved.
The factory drawings, and additional historic photographs of the SS Lake Huron and SS Lake Superior can be viewed on an associated webpage here on this website. (Link).
View from the S.S. Lake Huron at the Petroleum Harbour Mole ...
The following photograph has been in the Royal BC Archives (C-01474) for decades, but although it is dated 1898, the photographer and the precise location of the scene depicted, had been undetermined. By its association with other images in the collection, it would seem to depict the Doukhobors in readiness to board a ship at the Batoum harbour. We can now make a more informed determination of its location with reference to the aforementioned Moskvich map of Batoum.
The photo has been annotated to correspond with a close-up of the map, also annotated, with an arrow indicating the photographer's viewpoint. The photographer was presumably looking northward from the deck of the SS Lake Huron, over the wide expanse of the Petroleum Mole, and the Cabotage Harbour toward a stone breakwater in the far distance. The Richer kerosene factory from whence the emigrants departed would have been behind his view to the right.
It is quite possible that Leopold Sulerzhitsky was referring to this very scene and moment in the December 10, 1898 record of his diary.
10, December, 1898, (Sulerzhitsky)
It was eight o'clock in the morning when the last Doukhobor hoarded the ship. The cranes rumbled endlessly, loading the last provisions and the flour. Smoke came from the huge chimney. Steam was being built up in the boilers and from time to time the ship droned and shuddered as if impatient to be on the way.
Soon the chief of police came with police officers and men. A table was set up near the gang plank where the chief of police installed himself. When everything was ready, all the Doukhobors were sent off the ship to the dock. The police and customs officers examined the whole ship and announced to the chief that there were no Russian citizens on board.
The final loading began. Each family came to the table and presented its documents. The chief of police found the corresponding passport, naming each member of the family, counted all and let them through on to the ship. Foreign passports were not given to the Doukhobors, since they were leaving on the condition that they would never return to their native land. For this reason the passports went from the chief of police to the customs officers, who probably have them to this day.
If the photographer were to disembark and take a hundred foot walk northward toward the breakwater on the opposite side of the mole, then do a slow 180 degree turn clockwise, he would gradually see the Rothschild factory, then the Richner factory, emerge into view on that side of the mole. He might have then taken a moment to compose and take another photograph looking directly southward, to capture the scene depicted in the second photograph below, depicting the steamship Lake Huron berthed at the mole and the same group of Doukhobors now visible across its expanse, boarding the vessel. The factories are now at the photographer's left and the seaport townsite at his right, beyond the mole and the Petroleum Harbour.
So what is a harbour mole?
The Batoum Bay and Harbour as observed on the Moskovich map was naturally endowed with deep water, but the harbour also proved to be too small for a workable seaport, and a concrete and stone pier was designed and constructed in the mid 1860s to extend this moorage 470 yds. north of the south shore, and then another 550 yards westward, at which point we see a lighthouse, in the postcard below. Boats were then allowed to berth along the mole inside the Petroleum Harbour, as did the SS Lake Huron. A long breakwater was also built extending north east into the outer bay to protect the Cabotage Harbour. The top surface of the expansive mole also offered additional space for various harbour related activities, as seen in the following photo at right. Additional specific details about the Batoum harbour can be found in the following excerpt from an American 1926 Pilot's manual. (Link)
View a modern interactive Google street view of the Batoum Harbour with the distant harbour mole (Link)
The S.S. Lake Huron and the Doukhobor departure to Canada ...
10, December, 1898, (Sulerzhitsky)
With a final hoot, we said good-bye to those remaining in Russia ... the last lines holding us to the land were taken away. The shore slowly moved away from us and with it the people standing on the dock. Over the stern, the propellers began to stir the water. The ship shuddered, turned smoothly, and slowly moved forward, surrounded by a flock of skiffs full of friends seeing us off.
The Doukhobors sang a psalm; the mournful drawn out sounds, full of hopeless sorrow, flowed out to the receding shore. Thousands of voices now joined in a single cry of despair, sorrow, injury. Not only people, but it seemed all nature was stilled, shaken by the soul-searing sobbing of a crowd of thousands mourning their parting from their motherland.
High in the air a rocket fired from the ship exploded, and in the distant sky the small white cloud left by it faded. The skiffs suddenly fell back: the ship was moving ahead at full speed. The singing stopped. The petrified crowd, faces wet with tears, silent, holding their breath, looked at the mist-covered, mountainous shore. In the stillness a woman could be heard crying somewhere by the mast.
Regaining awareness, we saw that the shore was far away and the ship was surrounded with a greater and greater expanse of dark blue water. The sounds of the city and of the land disappeared.
In the warm rays of the sun, the gulls circled above, breaking the silence with sharp cries. A fresh wind splashed small, brisk waves against the ship, reminding us of the fact that it was time to forget about the land and its life, that around us was another life, another power that we would have to consider in this unfamiliar, little-understood life, and we must depend on its laws alone.
The eyes of all turned uncontrollably to the bright calm line of the horizon beyond which the mysterious unknown awaited us, toward which our ship moved so confidently. And looking to that future, everyone on the ship, with a more or less heavy sigh thought:
"What could be waiting for us there?"
PART FOUR - BAKU OIL AND BATOUM KEROSENE
A brief history ...
Robert W. Tolf in his book, The Russian Rockefellers, describes the early Zoroastrian worship of an eternal flame near Baku centuries ago, generated by inflammable petroleum gases seeping through fissures in the ground. That worship has long ceased, but remnants of their temple and an "eternal flame" still remain. There was interest in the industrial development of the oil reserves at Baku as early as the 1850s, but its extraction remained rather primitive for many years. It was surprising to find that the oil was mined in open pits by shovels in human hands as late as 1872. There were then over 400 such pits in production at Baku and the oil itself was initially contained in open dirt reservoirs. The petroleum was mainly used for lubricating cart wheels, for illumination as lamp oil (replacing whale oil), and to produce medicated ointments or salves.
The first mechanically drilled oil wells were brought into production at Baku at that same time (1872), when the massive underground reserves were finally liberated, their oil frequently gushing violently two to three hundred feet into the sky. Within a year there were 17 drilled wells and 23
refineries, but there was little infrastructure, and the oil was initially delivered to the refineries from the pits or wells in arbats or horse drawn wagons. Nonetheless owning oil-bearing land at Baku was a privilege, initially only granted to various imperial government favourites and military officers, who essentially held a monopoly on petroleum production. But with growing interest in these lucrative operations, the government abandoned this grant system, and opened these lands to public auction or lease, and the resulting rush in demand for oil-bearing land in certain districts, increased prices to such an extent that small parcels of land were literally sold by the square foot. By the end of the century, Baku was producing half of the world's crude oil and exporting much of it through Batoum to the global petroleum market.
These business opportunities were likewise not overlooked by foreign interests. And the Caucasus in no time at all, became a sort of "wild west", a mix of wealthy foreign investors, local wannabe industrialists and land speculators, with the actual work being done by recently liberated peasants and various poor ethnic workers, who were desperate for work, and willing to do so at low wages, and often terrible working conditions. The bewildering conglomeration of competitive business and syndicate arrangements in the Baku petroleum industry at that time are overwhelming, and they are in their totality far beyond the scope of this web page.
Only three oil industrialists and their companies are of special interest to this web page and the Richner kerosene factory: The Nobel Brothers Petroleum Company called Branobel (Brothers Nobel), the Mantashev Petroleum Company, and the Rothschilds Caspian & Black Sea Petroleum Company, (formerly BNITO).
The Baku Petroleum barons ...
Petroleum Barons: Robert Nobel, Alfred Nobel, Ludwig Nobel, Alphonse Rothschild, Alexander Mantashev
One of many Nobel Bros. early steam-driven oil derricks, in the Absheron Peninsula at Baku
The Nobels and Berdankas ...
Emmanuel Nobel, the Swedish father of his three more well known sons, Robert, Alfred and Ludwig, had been at work by contract for the Russian army and navy in his St. Petersburg machine shop since the Crimean War. In time his three sons also found a place in the family business, attaining a chemical and mechanical engineering reputation developing explosives, and manufacturing munitions. Alfred was the family financial and business expert and chemist, researching nitroglycerine and dynamite. Ludwig was the inventor and skilled mechanical engineer, also with a visionary yet pragmatic approach to business. Robert was the eldest, but his contribution was to come later, and in a most unusual manner.
Ludwig initially applied his engineering expertise to the upfit or upgrading of pre-existing industrial equipment and procedures in czarist Russia, likely contributing more than anyone to the modernization of its fabrication and manufacturing industry. He primarily worked within the Nobel family operations at St. Petersburg, where he also, like his father, made a significant contribution to the development of Imperial Russian war machinery. After their military losses in the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the imperial Russian army made an effort to modernize their arsenal of weapons, upgrading their obsolete muzzle-loading rifles. Ludwig, was commissioned to convert over a hundred thousand of them with breech-loading mechanisms. At the same time the military also undertook a quest abroad for readily available modern rapid-fire breechloaders, finding a suitable design used by American Union Army, Hiram S. Berdan's Sharps shooters in the Civil War. Colonel Berdan, who was himself an inventor and mechanical engineer, improved the rifle design during the end of the war, and the new breechloaders were manufactured by Colt in the US. The Russian military purchased 30 thousand of these Berdan rifles, and not long afterwards determined that an even more improved version could be made at home, inviting Hiram Berdan to come to Russia as a consultant.
A contract for their manufacture was initially awarded to another Swede, Peter Alexandrovich Bilderling, a former friend of Ludwig Nobel, and the two of them partnered to produce the improved Russian Berdan known as the Berdan II or the “Berdanka” at the government armories at Izhevsk near the Urals. The rifle design was slightly modified for three different military applications, which included bayonets.
Berdan NM1859 Sharps rifle. (Source)
Robert Tolf - "The improved Russian Berdan known as the Berdan II or the “Berdanka” was a 42-caliber with a circular thumbpiece at the rear of the bolt and with turning-block action in place of the Berdan’s lifting hinged block. It utilized a new type of cartridge, one that marked another critical phase in the development of the rifle, the first center-fire bottlenecked cartridge with an outside Berdan primer. The imaginative colonel had developed the primer for use with a brass case and at the same time devised a new method of quickly and inexpensively drawing the brass, thus helping to usher in the age of high-powered small-bore rifles with greater accuracy, range, and with a low trajectory".
Robert Nobel finds petroleum at Baku
But it was Robert, the eldest brother, who first introduced the Nobels to Baku petroleum. Robert Nobel was not preoccupied with other matters in the 1870s, and was asked to visit the southern Caucasus in 1874 to search for a source of walnut hardwood for Ludwig's Berdanka butt stocks. As it turned out he couldn't find the hardwoods, but he found opportunities in the developments of the oil industry at Baku and spent his money on oil-bearing land and a small pre-existing oil refinery producing kerosene instead. Soon recognizing the numerous challenges he faced regarding the poor quality of his oil, and the inefficiency of its production, he chose to make a new refinery incorporating his research into recent developments in the extraction and refining of petroleum. His new enterprise not surprisingly required more financial resources than at his disposal, and he convinced Alfred and Ludwig to invest with him in this small operation.
And although the brothers were initially skeptical of this enterprise, Ludwig in particular had the necessary experience, business acumen, and most of all, the engineering skills to help make it a success. Not only did he implement and further improve on the results of Robert's research, he also engineered a better means to distribute the oil, being the first in the industry to introduce rail tanker-wagons, the use of pipelines to move oil from wells to refinery, and the first to use sea-going barges and oil tankers for the shipment of oil. Their enterprise was incorporated as the Branobel (Brothers Nobel) Petroleum Company in 1879 and the Nobels were dominating the domestic production of petroleum and kerosene by the mid-1880s, moving it northward on the Caspian Sea, and then the River Volga, to the rest of Russian and the European market. The Nobel and other Baku refineries are depicted in the following photographs.
Alexander Mantashev was a local Armenian entrepreneur from Tiflis, where his father had been in the textile merchandising business for many years, and for a period of time he assisted the family enterprise by opening a secondary branch in Manchester England as a source of cotton for the family stores. Back at home, he also invested in Baku oil, buying out struggling companies, and like Robert, upgrading their infrastructure, and achieving remarkable success in the domestic market, only second to that of the Nobels at Baku. Of the three, he was later to be of most relevance to the Richner kerosene factory at Batoum.
The French Branch of the Rothschilds, the well know European bankers and financiers, had already invested heavily into railroads in western Europe and an oil refinery at Fiume on the Adriatic (now Croatia). They were also now seeking a reliable source of crude oil for their operations and were keenly eyeing the developments at Baku. But in their case, that would need to wait until there was a means by which the Russian crude oil could be delivered to the Black Sea for their use and the international market. And it would be the Rothschilds who more than the others, made that possible, contributing financially toward the construction of the Transcaucasus Railroad between Baku and Batoum on the Black Sea, and the necessary infrastructure at the seacoast to facilitate the export of petroleum.
Batoum and the Russo-Turkish War ...
The Great Game - an Anglo-Russian adversarial relationship
Historic conflicts between global powers have been characterized at times as "Great Games", whether they were actual wars, or conflicts over spheres of influence. And that term has most often been associated with the long-standing adversarial relationship between England and Russia. That "game" played out more than once over access to the Black Sea, where one has been trying to acquire an ice-free harbour, while the other has been doing its best to contain the effort. This materialized in the Crimean War between Russia and Turkey in 1854, when Britain supported the Ottomans, largely to protect its own colonial interests by acquiring control over the Black Sea as a means of water and overland access to its occupied territory in India. There were over half a million combined human casualties in that brutal war, and any rational mind would have been hard pressed to call that a "great game". Russia lost that particular war, suffering a great loss of human life as well as its ice-free seaport and naval base at Sevastopol. There was a replay of the "game" in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, although this was more a battle of diplomacy. And one can't overlook another ongoing tragic conflict today (2022), between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the latter supported by a military alliance of 12 nations, including Britain, to achieve a "balance of power" at the Black Sea.
Russia had greater success, however, in the Russo-Turkish War, achieving territorial gains along the western coast of the Black Sea in the Balkans, and the Caucasus in the east, occupying Turkish territory surrounding Batoum, and further south into Ardahan and the fortress city of Kars. Batoum itself however, was heavily fortified during the war by the Ottomans at Burun Tabiya and other installations around the harbour. Large warships were not permitted to enter the Black Sea by the Treaty of Paris after the Crimean War. But the British fleet was monitoring the war from Cyprus in the Mediterranean, secretly given jurisdiction over the island by Turkey, to offer it protection from further Russian advances in the Caucasus, should it be needed. Batoum in reality only received greater attention at the war's end, when it was essentially used as a bargaining chip by western European, and particularly British diplomats.
Victorious in this war, Russia could understandably have claimed certain favourable terms. But these were strongly resisted by the western European nations, Britain, Germany and Austria-Hungary, in the diplomatic wrangling surrounding the armistice and Treaty of San Stefano after the war. The western participants demanded that Russia relinquish certain territorial gains in the Balkans in exchange for keeping some in the east, but if it was to retain Batoum, Great Britain insisted that it be demilitarized and granted free-port status. A compromise of sorts on these matters was reached at the Congress of Berlin on March 3, 1878.
This compromise initially favoured Great Britain for a number of years, until the "'porto-franco" clause of the treaty was unilaterally abrogated by Czar Alexander III in 1886, without much foreign complaint. The Russian military also quietly maintained its defence of the Batoum seaport by maintaining former Ottoman fortifications at Burun Tabiya and elsewhere around the periphery of the harbour, where munitions were also kept in readiness.
Batoum after the Russo-Turkish War
Batoum had little commercial significance in Turkish hands prior to the war, and it was viewed by visitors in their travelogues as a sleepy little village and a "swamp with rice and maize fields scattered here and there". But it had been at least envisioned by the Ottomans as a potential principal town of its Lazistan region south of Batoum along the seacoast. Circumstances changed dramatically after the war when Russians took charge, draining the swamps, and planning for the development of a new seaport to replace their loss of Sevastopol in the Crimean War. And despite Russian disapproval of the aforementioned free-port status of Batoum, the city prospered considerably from the commercial duty-free flow of western goods into the region, particularly after the arrival of the Transcaucasus Railroad in 1883. Along with this spurt of economic activity, the seaport also achieved recognition internationally, as several European and Asian consulates soon established offices at the harbour, while foreign travellers frequented the seaport as an eastern gateway to the southern Caucasus.
The aforementioned British writer, Charles Marvin, was such a traveller in 1883, and he commented on the free-port status of Batoum in his travelogue, impressed with the rapid development of the city, yet critical of the open seaport as an unrestricted haven for contraband and smuggling. He defended the Russian government decision to quash this free-port status, considering the measure to be of considerable benefit to the stimulation of Russian trade in petroleum.
"The modus operandi of the wholesale smuggling is kept a secret, but that of the retail is obvious enough. Every night large numbers of Armenian and other merchants arrive by the Tiflis and Baku train, with very little baggage. Every morning the train leaves for Tiflis and Baku, swarming with Armenian and other merchants, who require a host of native porters to convey their luggage to the station. For quite an hour before the train leaves, the station is crammed with merchants and their mushirs, all groaning beneath the weight of bales and packs".
Batoum Black Sea harbour bazaar - post card image
Turkish coffee shop with a view of Batoum harbour and its workers - Dmitri Ermakov photograph
The Transcaucasus Railroad & the BNITO kerosene factory ...
By all accounts, the year 1883 appears to have been the most pivotal moment in the initial commercial and industrial development of Batoum in the latter years of the 19th century. The completion of the Transcaucasus Railroad in that year created an opening for the industrial development of the seaport, which in turn created employment for workers, and a business community for their support.
Palashkovsky and Bunge
Prior to 1883, the products of the petroleum boom at Baku had been directed at the Russian domestic market. And while the major petroleum firms, most notably the Nobels and Mantashev, had long sought government interest in a railroad to extend their marketing westward to other foreign destinations through the Black Sea, little progress on that matter had been made. It took two smaller players, a Russian engineer, Sergei Palashkovsky, and an investor, Andrei Bunge, to finally set that process in motion. They formed a local syndicate to finance the railroad, and succeeded in acquiring an imperial government concession for its construction. And records reveal that the first connection between Tiflis and Baku on that newly completed segment of the railroad was made by a passenger coach on the night of May 8-9, 1883. A similar excursion could also have been made westward over the Suram Pass to Batoum at that time, as the segment between Samtredi on that route, and the seacoast, had also been completed that same year.
BNITO - the first Batoum Petroleum Company
Not content with a railroad to simply move human passengers, Palashkovsky and Bunge also undoubtedly had petroleum cargo on their mind. That same year, they obtained government approval for a new enterprise, the Batum Petroleum and Trading Company, on July 1, 1883. This company would become famously known as the BNITO company, an acronym for its Russian name equivalent - the Batumskoye Neftepromyshlennoye i Torgovoye Obschestvo.
Looking for confirmation of the specific dates of these accomplishments, by some coincidence or perhaps not, the dates of the first journey on the Transcaucasus Railroad and the formation of the BNITO company, the first significant petroleum enterprise at Batoum, were found on a single page (Link) of the Caucasian Calendar of 1884, which was found online in the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library. (Link) The Russian Cyrillic text is somewhat difficult to decipher, and the relevant bits and pieces on that page have been extracted and reconfigured here with English translation.
According to the British trade journal, the Petroleum Review, the two entrepreneurs purchased a 27 acre plot of land, formerly the site of a Turkish village (Barzchani), for company operations on the eastern seashore of Batoum Bay. The property consisted of eight holdings, and was originally purchased from the villagers by a Mr. Joudra, for 4,000 roubles, who after a short time then resold it to Palashkovsky and Bunge for about 25,000 roubles. The BNITO company then additionally leased two parcels of oil-bearing land at Baku, commenced drilling operations, and made arrangements for the refinement of their oil. In readiness for the arrival of their kerosene at Batoum, they built four iron tanks or reservoirs, two for the storage of kerosene, and the others for lubricants and residual oils, and a fleet of railway tank cars or carriages was also acquired to bring their petroleum over the Suram Pass to the Batoum seaport. A kerosene factory, the first of its kind in Batoum, was then constructed at their plant with the machinery to make barrels, and tin can containers to package the kerosene for world export.
Other players soon joined BNITO around the harbour, and the Petroleum Review of 1906, retroactively listed almost a dozen of them, including Richner and Co., Burkhardt and Co., Mantascheff (Mantashev) and Co., Zovianoff Bros., Mutafoff and Melkonianz, Angelidis, Khatchatarianz, Mnazakanoff, Sideridis and Grammatikopulo.
Initial prospects in 1884 were looking positive, with almost half a million barrels of petroleum product, largely kerosene, exported in total that year from Batoum, with BNITO handling almost half of the trade, and the Richner company in second place. As it turned out however, the price of kerosene soon fell after its initial spike. Palashkovsky and Bunge, had seemingly underestimated the financial challenges of their project and were soon forced to seek further funding to sustain its operation. BNITO was refinanced and taken over by the French family of the Rothschilds in 1885, and with the approval of Alexander III himself, the company was reconstituted as the Caspian and Black Sea Petroleum Society (Company). Many writers have unfortunately perpetuated the use of its former name as the BNITO company, creating considerable confusion.
The Rothschilds were well know financiers, and unlike Ludwig Nobel, were not hands-on engineers, business managers or supervisors who did the actual day to day work. But their new petroleum company was a vertically integrated one, involving the extraction, processing, packaging and marketing of their product, which also included their contribution to the building of the Transcaucasus Railroad itself. Robert Rolf claims that Alphonse Rothschild, who was in charge of the Paris branch of the family, also "extended nearly $10 million for completion of the railroad in exchange for numerous mortgages on refineries, wells, and transportation facilities". It's not however clear whether this amount may have had anything to do with the refinancing of BNITO.
In the following years, the Rothschild Batoum factory became the dominant enterprise and the engine of economic growth for the Batoum seaport until its final closure in 1905. It is unknown whether Palashkovsky and Bunge were on hand to witness the departure of the steamer "Rimpha", from the Batoum harbour in 1886, with the first large cargo of kerosene case oil to be shipped overseas from their former BNITO company.
Batoum depicted in period post cards ...
An impressive online selection of historic post cards depict the bustling city centre and the harbour of Batoum as it existed in the late 1890s. (Link) A few examples are reproduced below, in which the lasting western European influence of the Rothschilds has visibly left its mark on the character of the picturesque "Parisian" boulevard along the west side of the city.
Batoum - wide western view to the distant Black Sea, with Alexander Nevsky Military Sobor Cathedral
Batoum - Alexander Nevsky Sobor Cathedral, Boulevard view
Batoum - Sea-side Boulevard and gazebo-bandstand, northward view
Batoum - Marinski Avenue
Batoum - Military installation, its location not stated, although it is presumed to be Barun-Tabiya
The "Petroleum Review" - 1902 ...
The Batoum petroleum installations and kerosene factories ...
The Petroleum Industrial and Technical Review was the first European technical journal devoted entirely to the oil industry. It was published in London between 1899 and 1910 by Russian petro chemist, Paul Dvorkovitz, and the support of other British oil entrepreneurs. Its 1902 issue offers online researchers an interesting map and insights into the workings of the petroleum industry and the kerosene factories at Batoum in 1898.
A special Batoum Commission was formed in that year to address the tendency of petroleum industries to purchase lands for their factories haphazardly throughout the city of Batoum and the harbour, without consideration for the potential hazards of petroleum, which is by its very nature volatile and unpredictable.
Batoum - Fire at Alexander Mantashev Kerosene Factory, its date unknown
A summary of the Commission report was released in the 1902 issue of the Petroleum Review describing the status of the petroleum installations at the seaport in 1898-99 and offering a plan for the future development of the industry to mitigate its potential danger to the community. A strategy was envisioned to locate future installations outside the city boundary in a specially zoned "Petroleum Town" on the south-east side of the harbour, for that purpose. The plan itself was not immediately implemented, but the Petroleum Town does indeed appear on the Moskvich map of 1913 (Map Link) as it does in the post card below.
Batoum - Naphtianoi Gorodok (Petroleum Town) likely after 1905
The report included a detailed map of a wide variety of petroleum installations of various companies, all marked by number or letter and identified in an associated key or legend. The key entries reveal the diversity of special services that accommodated the industry, even the individual oil tanks themselves, which are shown as numbered circles throughout the city.
Surprisingly, the very first key listing is the "M1 and M2 Tin case factory of Richner". Its location on the map has been circled and enlarged on the screen preview of the map above, in which we can observe a single kerosene tank, (circle no.1) quite possibly one and the same "RESERVOIR", as depicted in the previously shown historic Doukhobor photograph. The rectangular object above it (labelled no.2) appears to be a part of the Richner factory itself.
The Nobel Brothers, Rothschild Caspian Society (formerly BNITO) and Mantashev factories and tanks are also identified in the key, although they are more difficult to identify on the map itself. It should be noted that the Nobels at this time, primarily exported their petroleum in bulk, although they also subcontracted the Khatchatarianz factory to manage and operate their kerosene factory.
The following set of three historic photographs of the Batoum harbours reveals the locations of the three large kerosene factories most relevant to this web page. The 2nd (middle) annotated Dmitri Ermakov photo includes rectangular outlines depicting the location of the other two associated Prokudin-Gorskii photographs above it and below it.
The Batoum seaport infrastructure
For general context, it should be clarified that even after the completion of the Transcaucasus Railroad in 1883, and a means of exporting Russian petroleum to overseas markets had become a reality, there was an initiative in 1884 by Baku oil refiners, and indeed the imperial government, to keep the crude oil at the Caspian Sea for refinement as much as possible, while shipping petroleum to Batoum, whether by rail or pipeline in later years, in the form of lighter viscosity kerosene and illumination oil. The actual purpose of the Batoum kerosene factories in that sense, was not to further refine or produce kerosene, but simply to package it for export. By the end of the century, however, most firms at Batoum were also pumping oil directly into ocean steamers, the first of which was the British owned "Murex", contracted by the Rothschild Caspian and Black Sea Society in 1891, to deliver oil to India.
To contain reserves of petroleum at Batoum, the petroleum companies built iron tanks, often in multiples, then called filling stations or reservoirs, with short railroad sidings or spurs alongside, from which the kerosene could be pumped directly into the massive iron tanks from parked railroad tanker cars. In 1898 (Petroleum Review), the Rothschild Caspian and Black Sea Society owned 46 tanks, the Nobel Bros. 27, and Mantashev ( Mantacheff) 23. There were all told 21 firms in Batoum, which between them held 172 tanks, with the Richner factory apparently owning only 1. The tanks were filled by centralized steam pumps through large diameter pipelines, from where the kerosene could then be distributed, also by pipeline, as required by pumps or gravity, to kerosene factories or ocean steamers.
For the manufacture of tin cans and cases, the Batoum factories imported uncut tin sheets from England for the kerosene containers, and planks of softwood from various sources in western Europe, for the wooden cases. Two 4 gallon tins were typically encased in each wooden crate or case, according to predetermined specifications. (Link)
Although the bulk export of petroleum was initially suspected to be detrimental to the survival of the local tin case factory operations, and thereby the employment of thousands of Batoum factory workers, it proved to be otherwise, and both means of export were able to co-exist and contribute to the industrial prosperity of Batoum.
Readers interested in the statistics can read the full 2 page article in its original form here: (Link)
The Petroleum Review - 1906 ...
This issue of the Petroleum Review includes a detailed history of the Batoum kerosene tin case factories and an explanation of the circumstances surrounding their ultimate closing in 1905, adapted from a series of four Russian language articles by another writer, a Mr. M. S. Betanoff, in the Tchernomorski Viestnik, previously published in Batoum in that year. The Betanoff articles expanded on the content of the aforementioned 1898-99 Commission report on the petroleum infrastructure of Batoum, and are of further interest here as they describe in extraordinary detail, the inner structures, fixtures and working procedures of the Rothschilds' kerosene factory, not likely easily found elsewhere. The articles also, at least briefly, describe the short life-span of the Richner and Co. kerosene factory.
The 4 part series of articles has been amalgamated into one 9 page pdf file, and for those inclined to read it in its entirety, it can be viewed by link below. Two segments of interest from the article have also been extracted and posted here for easier access.
About the Rothschild Caspian and Black Sea Society (Bnito) Factory (Link)
About the Mantashev Factory (Link) This links to a rather brief account of the Mantashev factory, and its business relationship with the Richner & Co. kerosene factory.
Dmitri Ermakov historic photographs of the Batoum Harbour ...
The colourized post cards on this web page have painted a somewhat overly romanticised view of Batoum in the last decades of the 1900s. A more realistic and perhaps authentic view of the seaport was also captured near the same time in a series of high resolution black and white photographs by the widely acclaimed Tiflis photographer, Dmitri Ivanovich Ermakov. As a professional, he operated a successful studio business in Tiflis, but he also travelled extensively throughout the Caucasus, Turkey and Persia and had a keen interest in the archaeological history and the diverse ethnography of these regions. Hundreds of his glass plate negatives and prints now reside in modern museum and private collections, preserving a visual historical record of that time. (Link) (Link)
A few Ermakov photographs of Batoum have been reproduced here to depict the stark reality of the Batoum harbour, as it was likely witnessed by the Doukhobors with their very own eyes in 1899, as they walked the waterfronts and awaited their steamships.
The following photographs were selected for their depiction of the harbour export infrastructure and the transport procedures in use for the export of kerosene. This was a deep water harbour allowing ocean vessels to anchor close to shore, along-side short wharves or jetties extending outward into the bay. The photographs depict horse-drawn carts delivering kerosene cases, and also barrels, to these jetties where they are stockpiled for later transfer onto cargo vessels. One excellent photograph, a close-up of a previous photo, depicts a string of railroad tank cars, discharging kerosene into anchored vessels. Though not easily depicted here, larger firms such as the Nobels and Rothschilds would have also pumped kerosene directly from their tank farms, through pipelines along the wharves, to ocean tankers in the harbour
According to the Petroleum Review, the Rothschild kerosene factory was unique in its export procedures and infrastructure, because of its location in the shallow waters of the Cabotage Harbour.
"It owned two jetties on iron piles, and a special coasting wharf in the Cabotage Harbour, and the wharves were provided with pipelines for bulk loading kerosene, and narrow gauge railway lines for transporting oil cases in wagon-carts drawn by horses. All these facilities enabled the company to easily load the kerosene tin cases from the wharves with steam-driven cranes into their own barges, and have them towed out by their own tugs, around the petroleum jetties and the breakwater into the Petroleum Harbour to awaiting sea-going steamers. The firm had 27 iron barges, two tugs and two elevators in the Petroleum Harbour, for transferring tin case cargo to the steamers"
The two remarkable photographs below depict the actual process at work, the photo below showing the loading of barges by a steam-driven crane, and the subsequent photo, the transfer of oil from a barge to an ocean tanker.
PART FIVE - ABOUT MR. RICHNER AND HIS ENTERPRISES
R. A. Richner - and his Kerosene Factory ...
While sheltering at the Richner kerosene factory in 1898 and 1899, the Doukhobors had little time or need to understand its previous history and its place in local affairs, being preoccupied with their own well-being, and the preparations for their emigration. They were however undoubtedly pleased with their good fortune and most certainly appreciative of Mr. Richner's generosity. Records now reveal a number of unexpected surprises about that factory, its ownership, and its association with labour disruptions in the Batoum petroleum industry.
The Petroleum Review addresses the Richner factory in general terms, listing the company as one of several others to emerge at Batoum following the construction of the Transcaucasus Railroad in 1883. It further claims that it had been subsequently sold to Alexander Mantashev.
Footnotes in an article by Eka Tchkoidze (Link), point to specific records in the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library archive that confirm the dates of its relatively short life-span. (Link) Two clips from the relevant pages appear below.
According to the Guide of the Caucasus, "the Factory of Richner and Co. was founded
in 1884 and was by 1886, second in productivity after the Rothschild factory (with additional production statistics shown)".
A similar record confirms that, "the Richner factory was sold in 1889 to Mantashev under the name “Mantashev Factory No. 2”. Other smaller factories were also beginning to close at that time with only five functional factories remaining in 1902, and by 1903, the production of eight former firms was in the hands of only a few remaining larger factories - the Rothschilds, Mantashev, Nobel's subsidiary Khachatiuriantz, and Siderides." (It should be noted that these factory closures were not simply business related.)
There was a measurable decline in local petroleum trade at Batoum in the late 1880s, its causes explained in a report by Vice Consul Peacock, a predecessor of Stevens at Batoum. His analysis demonstrated that, after a period of initial rapid growth, the export of kerosene began to decline by 1890, as a result of classic economic supply and demand. More specifically, it was an oversupply of kerosene production at Baku, with a lesser demand at Batoum by foreign markets, largely as a result of predatory pricing by the American Rockefeller petro-giant, Standard Oil. Domestically, there was also an increase in the price of crude oil at Baku because of increased Russian local demand. Forced to lower their own prices, the smaller Batoum kerosene case factories found it difficult to sustain their operations and either momentarily lowered production or closed down altogether.
This decline in production and the resultant loss of revenue may offer at least one possible explanation for the sale of the Richner factory to Mantashev in 1889. The Mantashev business, on the other hand, was able to prosper for another few years by consolidating its multiple holdings, until even its own operations at Batoum were in jeopardy in the early 1900s, albeit for entirely different reasons. Mr. Richner in the meantime, still kept an office at Batoum after the sale of his factory, and he likely maintained good relations with Alexander Mantashev. And it appears that his former kerosene factory had even retained its former name as the "Richner Kerosene Factory", when the Doukhobors came to occupy it in 1898 and 1899. In reality, it was "Mantashev's Factory No. 2".
R. A. Richner - Copper Mining & Smelting ...
There may also be a second possible explanation for Richner's loss of interest in kerosene. Several reports reveal that he had been simultaneously operating a copper mining and smelting business in 1890 not far from Batoum, which he perhaps felt had a more enduring prospect of success.
The vast resources of copper in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains were known and mined since antiquity by the Greeks and Romans, and many others in the middle ages, and heaps of copper slag have been encountered here and there over the centuries as remaining evidence of primitive smelting operations.
As it turns out, according to the celebrated German scientist, Werner von
Siemens, the very first copper mines in these mountains in prehistoric times were not far distant from the Elizavetpol Doukhobor village of Slavianka, near the present city of Gedabey (Gedabek, then Kedabeg or Kedabek), and reaching further south to the "metalliferous" Mount Ararat. The Siemens Brothers purchased a pre-existing primitive mining and smelting operation here in 1865 and in their hands, it proved to be one of the most innovative and productive such enterprises in imperial Russia by the end of the century. The relationship between the Siemens Kedabek copper smelter and the Slavianka Doukhobors is examined on a related page on this webiste. (Link)
Messrs. Rychner and Co. - Mining and Smelting in the Tchorokh River Valley
Mr. R. A. Richner however had greater interest in the western Caucasian copper resources closer to Batoum, in the mountains of Lazistan, just south of the seaport, and now part of the Adjara Autonomous Republic of Georgia. Records reveal that he had been operating a small copper smelter at Erghi at the mouth of the Tchorokh River in 1890 about 8 miles from Batoum, while the ore itself was mined in the mountains at Merisi (Merissi, Merisski) on its tributary, the Ajaris River, and more distantly in the mountains beyond Artvin, at Khod-Eli (Khoda, Khodulia). The following map marks these locations as well as those of the Siemens Brothers, who had also begun operations here in 1906 by which time the copper mineral resources around Kedabek had begun to dwindle. Their mines were located in the Kvartzkhana Mountains from where an aerial ropeway brought the ore down to a smelter and refinery at Bortchka on the Tchorokh River.
Diplomatic and Consular Reports on Trade 1891, D. A. Peacock:
Inasmuch as the copper works at Erghi, about eight miles from this port (Batoum), had been started in 1890, I must not omit to mention the same. It is the undertaking of Messrs. Rychner and Co., one of the most enterprising firms of Batoum. The ore, containing on the average about 16 percent, of copper, is obtained from the mines of Khota, in the mountains beyond Artvin, about 80 miles from Erghi, and it is at the latter place that the works for roasting and smelting the ore, &c., have been established. The copper ingots prepared there are being shipped to Odessa."
Mines (World) Register 1904:
Merisski Works - Russia: Office: care of R. A. Richner, Batum, Russia. Mines office: Kutais, Russia. Production, 1899 was 164,092 lbs. fine copper. Presumably idle.
Mineral Resources of Georgia Caucasus 1919, D. Ghambashidze:
"Khod-Eli Mines in Tchorokh Valley:
In the highest and most remote part of the Tchorokh Valley, 90 miles from Batum, are the mines of Khod-Eli (Khota), enclosed by mountains of volcanic origin and consisting partly of columnar basalt. They must be very ancient, judging from the slag and antiquities found there. The vein is 30 inches wide, consists of quartz with chalcopyrite through porphry, and contains about 5 per cent of copper. In recent years the mine had a smelter attached to it, the ore being first roasted in heaps in the open. The matte produced was then carried on horseback to the Tchorokh River, and on it by boats, when the conditions allowed it, to a small refinery at Erghi, near the mouth of the river and about 8 miles from Batum, where the matte was finally treated. Principally on account of the difficulties of transport, the mine had to be shut down, but it has lately been taken up again by new capital and a new plant has been erected, which produced between 450 and 700 tons of copper per annum before the war."
As for Mr. R.A. Richner, whether he remained in Batoum in the following turbulent years after 1900 is unknown. But while his copper "Merisski Works" may have long since been forgotten, investment interest in these mountain mineral resources continues to this day as demonstrated in the promotional piece below.
PART SIX - THE TRANSCAUCASIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
In 1899, Batoum was the third largest industrial centre in the Transcaucasus, and its industries employed altogether approximately 11,000 workers in the petroleum works and various other plants. The seaport was indeed at the height of its prosperity. But matters were beginning to take a turn for the worse in the last two years of the century, and although this downturn had much to do with aging infrastructure, and the loss of competitiveness, it had more to do with the growing discontent of its workforce.
Initially most of the oil case factory workers, the largest employment group, were Turkish Muslims, many from the Lazistan region south of Batoum. They were generally uneducated and pleased to find work of any sort and not in a position to improve their wages and working conditions. Their working day was typically fourteen hours, compulsory overtime bringing it at times up to sixteen hours, while their wages ranged between only 60 kopecks and a ruble a day. As more educated and progressive Georgian workers from the Ozurgeti district (Guria) north of Batoum, and Armenians from Tiflis in the east, were attracted to employment at the factories, they were less tolerant of their low wages and their poor working and living conditions, and began to express their demands in sporadic protests, and isolated strikes, joined by dock workers and labourers from other industrial plants. Factory employers were initially reluctant to make concessions, and tolerated this discontent, although czarist authorities were well aware that these developments were fertile ground for potential socialist and political agitation.
And indeed, in 1896 a small group of moderate Russian Social Democrats was formed in Batoum in support of the workers, although it was promptly broken up by czarist police a few months later. A second group, the "Messameh Dassy", came to Batoum shortly after. These were the "legal Marxists" who abstained from violent measures and engaged for the most part, in work of an educational nature, offering workers practical support for their personal welfare. This group however seemingly did little to address their more pressing concerns.
The “Messameh Dassy” movement (which means "third group") was envisioned as a continuation of two preceding political movements or trends of Georgian political thought, the “first” being the feudal crusade against serfdom, and the “second”, the progressive movement of the liberal bourgeoisie. The group itself was organized in 1892 by Georgian activist, S. Jibladze, and ultimately included both a moderate faction, the Mensheviks or Legal Marxists, which was oddly in fact the larger faction, and a smaller more revolutionary militant faction, the Leninist or future Stalin Bolsheviks.
There were however more significant developments at Tiflis, where a more organized labour movement was beginning to take form. At the crossroads of the Transcaucasus, Tiflis was important for its railroad and communications infrastructure, and it was also geographically well positioned as a commercial, cultural, and government administrative centre. Its workforce was thus more diverse than that of Batoum, although it shared similar labour grievances. But it was further swept up in the backwash of a wider emerging working class struggle against capitalism and the czarist government, which was being transformed into a national Marxist-Leninist revolutionary movement by the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).
The Tiflis protest movement was given additional momentum at the Tiflis Orthodox Theological Seminary, where it may have been least expected. While most students attending the institution were undertaking academic and religious studies as normally expected, many were also quietly participating in illicit discussion groups or "kruzhki", to contemplate progressive solutions to social and labour problems. Over 60 of these students were expelled from the seminary for supposedly fomenting anti-government resistance, including two noteworthy young Georgians, Lado Ketskhoveli and Iosif Jugashvili. The latter, also later known as Joseph Stalin, seemingly just failed to show up for his final exams. Their formal education cut short, the two were then free to proselytize more aggressively and organize the labour movement, encouraging local workers to air their grievances by holding work stoppages and demonstrations in various industrial sectors of Tiflis.
Tiflis Orthodox Theological Seminary (1870); Lado Ketskhoveli; and Iosif Jugashvili (Joseph Stalin)
Iosif Jugashvili was under constant police surveillance, but was able to organize a Tiflis branch of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1901. And on April 22 of that year, as a 23 year old, he helped organize about two thousand Tiflis railroad and factory workers to demonstrate at the Soldatsky Bazaar near the centre of the city. Young Stalin also took part in this demonstration, leading it personally. The demonstrators were attacked by police and Cossacks, and during the clash, fourteen workers were injured and over fifty demonstrators were arrested.
Lenin's Iskra newspaper proclaimed this demonstration a turning point in Russian history:
"The event that took place on Sunday, April 22, in Tiflis is of historic import for the entire Caucasus: this day marks the beginning of an open revolutionary movement in the Caucasus."
Aside from characterizing the "historic import" of this Tiflis moment, this short statement in Lenin's Iskra was also crafted to ignite or spark the revolutionary movement itself into action. The word "spark", translated into Russian as "iskra", was not surprisingly adopted a year or two earlier as the actual name of the "Iskra" newspaper, chosen to embody this very role as an instrument of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party movement.
About Lenin's illegal "Iskra" and the USCC Doukhobor "ISKRA"
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) conceived the notion of a promotional newsletter in Siberia, where he had been exiled in 1897. The envisioned purpose of the Iskra in most simple terms, was to co-ordinate the strategies and activities of disparate Marxist groups in western Europe, in support of a unified working class struggle against capitalism and the rule of the Czarist Russian autocracy. On his return from exile in 1900, Lenin lived in Germany and Switzerland and developed a format for the newspaper, solicited funds and contributors, and organized a means by which it could be published and distributed in various branches of the movement across Europe. The newspaper was banned in Russia and various creative methods were used to also smuggle it into the country for domestic readership.
Lenin was on the editorial board for three years but parted ways with the group in 1903 over a difference of opinion regarding strategies moving forward. His "Bolshevik" perspective was not averse to using illegal means and violence if necessary to achieve its ends, while the so called "Legal Marxists", or the Mensheviks, chose to abstain from doing so. In the ensuing years, the "differences of opinion" between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were ultimately expressed in extreme violence.
While Iosif Jugashvili had been organizing the labour movement at Tiflis, his associate Ketskhoveli, and others who had learned basic typesetting skills while students at the Tiflis Seminary, were sent by the Tiflis Social-Democratic Party to Baku to set up a secret underground printing shop, to facilitate the publishing and distribution of Lenin's Iskra and other subversive literature within Russia. Baku was the hub of the Caucasus industrial labour movement, and the newspaper would play a central role in its support. The Nobel petroleum infrastructure, conveniently nearby, could also be used for the underground distribution of their literature, concealed in railroad tank cars and ocean tankers.
The following Robert W. Tolf excerpt describes the Baku print shop and the Lenin Iskra ...
"In the heart of the Tatar quarter, past dozens of small shops where filigree silver, carpets, and ancient Persian weapons were sold in the shadow of the khan’s palace and along the winding alleys with their flat-roofed windowless houses, there was a large cellar which ran under several buildings. Here worked as many as ten dedicated party functionaries operating printing presses, binders, cutters, setting type in several languages. This was “Nina”, headquarters for printed propaganda for Baku and the Caucasus, then for southern Russia and eventually the entire country. Ten thousand copies of Lenin’s Iskra were published in the Baku basement. Lenin’s wife made up the mats, shipped them concealed in book bindings to a local front man via Persia, and printers used them to make castings.
The paper first appeared in 1900 printed in Stuttgart and later in Munich, Geneva, London, but always reprinted and distributed from the Baku basement. The Okhrana could not understand how so many copies of Iskra kept entering the country; they sealed the European border, then the Persian - still the paper was found in all corners of the empire. So were copies of the “Communist Manifesto,” the illegal Georgian Marxist publication Brdzola, pamphlets by Lenin and Leon Trotsky. The handful of men in a stuffy cellar working ten to twelve hours a day for $12 to $15 a month printed more than a million pieces of propaganda."
Baku Iskra basement print shop - 1st issue of Lenin's Iskra (1900) - and the USCC Doukhobor ISKRA (since 1943)
The Doukhobor ISKRA originated as a simple Gestetner-type newsletter publication (Stengazetta) printed and distributed from Brilliant, BC in 1943. Its current name as "ISKRA" was formalized during the first USCC Executive meeting in Brilliant, BC in 1945, not long after the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ organization itself was formed following the collapse of the CCUB. The newsletter, now a well read bilingual magazine, has been continuously published in Canada since that time, and is now composed and printed in Grand Forks, BC. It has assumed its role as the "Voice of the Doukhobors" in the 1990s and its origins and mission statement now appear (in both English and Russian) on the inside cover:
The Russian word "iskra" translates into English as "spark". As the name of our publication, the word "iskra" symbolizes the inner spiritual "spark" which Doukhobors believe to be the manifestation of God in each human being. In 1945, John J. Verigin (Honourary Chairman of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ - USCC) suggested this name for the official USCC Newsletter (which had been published since 1943), to symbolize and encourage the on-going process of spiritual revival and growth among its readers.
ISKRA Publication is dedicated to inspiring in its readers spiritual enlightenment, moral and ethical growth, cultural and intellectual development toward the manifestation, in their daily lives, of the Doukhobor life-concept, based on the Law of God and Teachings of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Stalin and the 1902 Batoum factory worker protests and strikes
Disappointed with the stalled labour movement in Batoum, and impressed with young Stalin's organizational skills, the Tiflis Social-Democratic Labour Party sent him to Batoum to invigorate the factory workers and encourage them to renew their labour demands. He arrived there at the end of November in 1901 and secured employment at the Rothschild kerosene factory, and almost immediately began to fulfill his directives. He systematically created worker protest cells in all the larger kerosene factories at Batoum, and acquired a printing press to prepare leaflets for distribution around the seaport. On December 31, 1901, he called a group of sympathizers together at a worker's private residence to form an organizing committee, and the group quietly established a Batoum branch of the Social-Democratic Labour Party, creatively disguising the event for secrecy as an innocent New Year's Eve celebration.
A few days later on January 4th, 1902, a fire broke out at the Rothschild kerosene factory. And although the workers were quickly able to extinguish the flames, they abruptly demanded a pay bonus for their suppression of the fire, raising suspicions that the fire may have been an arson. Writers have suggested that the whole event may have been a deliberate tactic on Joseph Stalin's part, to gain concessions for the workers from the factory management.
Stalin's provocations continued later into that month, when he organized a strike at the two Mantashev factories, one of which, Factory No.2, was the former Richner kerosene factory. This was Batoum's first big strike and it ended in victory for the workers, as the factory managers agreed to accommodate their demands. It is not clear whether Alexander Mantashev was personally present for the negotiations, but these occurred under his watch and perhaps reinforce his known respect for fairness and his generosity at large.
On February 27th another strike broke out at the Rothschilds' kerosene factory along the harbour seashore, the dispute involving the discharge of 389 workers. The Petroleum Review reported that the workers were suspended to offset a drop in demand for kerosene, once again as a result of Standard Oil predatory pricing. Other accounts claim that these workers were released by the Rothschilds for being suspected members of the revolutionary movement. Stalin was in charge of the strike committee and the preparation of the presentation to the factory management on behalf of the workers. But the factory managers were unwilling to accommodate their demands and reached out for police and government intervention.
What happened next is perhaps best described in the October 15th, 1902, 26th issue of Lenin's Iskra.
"The Kutais military governor, who had just arrived in Batum, called the strikers together and threatened them that all those who did not return to work would be deported to their home villages under convoy. When it was seen that the admonition had no effect, the police, acting on the information of the Rothschild factory management, arrested 32 workers on the night of March 7, with the object of deporting them. On March 8, a crowd of 400 people appeared at police headquarters, demanding the release of the arrested comrades. From police headquarters the crowd made its way to the prison. The assistant military governor, Colonel Dryagin, who arrived just after the crowd, called out a company of the 7th Caucasian Rifle Battalion.
"The crowd demanded that either the arrested should be freed, or that all of them should be arrested. Colonel Dryagin took the second alternative, arrested 348 people and conveyed all of them, including the 32 previously in custody, to the deportation barracks. The next morning, March 9, at nine o'clock, an enormous crowd of workers with their leaders in front came to the deportation station, marching in regular ranks, singing, shouting and whistling. On behalf of the crowd, the workers Mikhail Khirimyantz and Theophil Gogiberidze, who were at their head, made the same demand of Colonel Dryagin, who had come out to meet them - either to release the prisoners or to arrest them all. This time the colonel answered with an order to disperse. When the crowd refused to obey his order Colonel Dryagin called out a company of the 7th Caucasian Rifle Battalion to reinforce the fort battalion detachment stationed there. When the soldiers tried to clear them out of the square the workers responded with a shower of stones. The workers tried to wrest the rifles from the soldiers and cries were heard: 'Beat 'em up, grab their rifles, they can't shoot!' Those who were imprisoned inside the barracks began to throw stones; finally they succeeded in breaking out of the prison yards, and joined the workers in the square. Then the troops opened fire, killing fourteen workers and wounding many others.''
Joseph Stalin was arrested and imprisoned in Batoum on April 5th in 1902, then transferred from prison to prison, until finally being sent to Siberia in November 1904. After his return (or rather his escape) he continued his revolutionary activities in the Caucasus, and made history in later decades as a controversial national political figure, leading the Soviet Union from 1922, through the 2nd World War, until his death in 1953.
The Gurian Revolution
Many of the 389 employees suspended by the Rothschilds in 1902 included seasonal factory workers from the western Georgian Gurian district just north of Batoum.(view map) Although they shared the grievances of other Turkish or Armenian workers, their discontent was also heightened by matters of a different nature. The Gurian region was historically agricultural, and its citizens, of former peasant stock, were understandably attached to their lands, alternating seasonal work at their farms with work at the factories in Batoum. But they were also passionate about their historic cultural Georgian roots. Serfdom had been abolished in Russia in the 1860s, but disputes with former wealthy land owners in Guria continued, frequently resulting in violence. Exacerbated by the disinterested, yet often abusive, imperial government officials from the regional Georgian capital at Kutais, the region was aflame with a violent nationalist resistance movement. The Gurian quest for self-governance and independence from the Czarist state, even captured the attention and sympathy of Leo Tolstoy, who mistakenly embraced the movement in a letter of praise for its strength of conviction, seemingly unaware of its inherent violence. (Link)
Luigi Villari, an Italian historian, writer and diplomat travelled through Batoum in 1905, and made a point of visiting the Gurians at Ozurgeti to better understand their culture and their aggressive resistance movement. He also seemingly underestimated the potential for violence in the region, commenting on events at Ozurgeti after his departure.
Since my departure from Ozurgety the situation has become even more acute. The policy of the Russian Government has alternated between concessions and coercion. While it sent a liberal university professor from St. Petersburg to study the Narodny Sud, and the method of communistic administration, it inaugurated a series of exekutzii, i.e., it quartered troops in villages at the expense of the villagers, and sent detachments of Cossacks and infantry to reduce the people to order. Desperate fighting has taken place in and around Ozurgety . The railway has been cut again and again, and several military trains have been derailed with heavy loss of life, and every day troops along the line have been attacked. When the troops have been successful they have shot down the Gurians without mercy, and the whole province is drenched in blood.
The closing of the Batoum kerosene factories
In 1905 all workers of all kerosene factories at Batoum went on strike, and the larger factories began closing completely because of this labour unrest and the associated slump in container production and export. The Nobel kerosene case oil producer, the Khachaturiants factory, was the first to close in January, followed by the Rothschilds' in February and then the Sideridis factory. Both of the Mantashev factories were also closed in June, all within a few months. The Rothschilds moved all technical equipment abroad, as did Mantashev, who dismantled much of his equipment and transferred it to Egypt where he had previously also been maintaining a kerosene plant. After 1905, and the closure of the kerosene factories, the Nobel and Rothschild firms still however continued to export kerosene in bulk by ocean-going tankers. The Rothschilds ultimately sold their Batoum petroleum operations to the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in 1911. And the Nobel Baku petroleum enterprises and industrial infrastructure at the Caspian and elsewhere throughout Russia, were taken over by the Russian Bolsheviks and the later Soviet Union.
The Doukhobors escape the Russian Revolution of 1905
The historic Doukhobor emigration from Russia began with the failed attempt at settlement in Cyprus, in August 1898, and it ended with the departure of the last Kars group of Doukhobors from Batoum in May 1899. The monumental emigration could not have been successful without the assistance of others, and the necessary infrastructure in communication and transportation that facilitated it. The Doukhobors however, were not confronted by Social-Democrats or revolutionaries and striking workers at Batoum in 1899, and they were in Canada out of harm's way during the 1905 revolution. After their departure the railroad route they had travelled to Batoum, was subjected to repeated sabotage and closure, and even the entrance through the Suram tunnel was blocked by immobilized locomotives to keep Russian troop trains from entering the region.
It could be argued that the window of opportunity for the success of this historic emigration started to close with the arrival of Iosif Jugashvili in Batoum in 1901, and the subsequent strikes at the Mantashev (Richner) and Rothschild kerosene factories in 1902. That window would have certainly been bolted shut by the violent Russian Revolution of 1905, and it possibly would have remained so until Mikhail Gorbachev's period of "perestroika" and "glasnost" in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when ease of movement between east and west became possible once again.
For Doukhobors in Canada, who now live in relative calm and prosperity, Batoum has resonated over the years as a special historic place and moment in time. It is not remembered for kerosene, but rather as a transitional moment from a time of anguish and despair to one of hope and aspiration, as it was in 1899, when the Doukhobor emigrants looked ahead across the Atlantic Ocean, with certain trepidation, yet hope for a better more peaceful life in Canada.
The very phrase, "naush Batoum" or "our Batoum", has in that sense, found a place in "Doukhoborese" vocabulary, to characterize the challenges and opportunities of later migrations. The term was known to be used in Canada by Doukhobor leader, Peter P. Verigin (Chistiakov), who suggested that the displacement and migration of Community Doukhobors from their prairie homesteads in Saskatchewan to British Columbia in 1908, was not unlike their "Batoum experience" and displacement from their Caucasian villages to their ultimate salvation found in Canada. More recently, the Kootenay-Boundary Sons of Freedom trek from Krestova in the West Kootenays to Vancouver in 1962, was also characterized as (their) "Naush Batoum". But in reality, knowing about Batoum and their ancestral history, contemporary Doukhobors in general may just as well, aptly claim they may have had their own personal "Batoum moments or experiences" in their modern lives.