SIBERIA, or Asiatic Russia, comprises all the north of Asia, extending from the Arctic ocean on the north to the Altai chain of mountains on the south, and from the Ural mountains on the west to the Pacific ocean on the east. Behring's strait on the northeast divides it from the continent of North America. Its length from west to east can not be less than four thousand miles, and its breadth from north to south varies from one to two thousand miles, the whole comprising an area of about three millions, eight hundred and twenty thousand square miles.
This immense territory has much less diversity of surface than might be presumed from its extent. Assuming the meridian of one hundred and five degrees as a line of demarcation, two regions will be formed—a western and an eastern — exhibiting a very marked difference in the configuration of their surface. Both regions have their greatest altitude in the south, and may be considered as a vast inclined plane, sloping gradually north to the Arctic ocean: but the eastern region is traversed in different directions by several mountain-chains; whereas the western region, with the exception of the chain of the Ural on the western and that of the Altai on the southern frontiers, forms a vast plain, almost unbroken by any greater heights than a few hills and the banks of the rivers which wind across it. This plain, toward the south, has a height of about two thousand feet above the sea, but toward the north is so near its level as often to become extensively inundated.
For convenience of description, this plain has been arranged, according to its productive powers, in four divisions—the steppe or pastoral, the agricultural, the woody, and the moorland or tundra. The steppe, occupying the most elevated part of the plain, extends from the southern frontiers north to latitude fifty-five degrees; and from the western frontiers, within these limits, east to the banks of the Irtysch. The greater part of it consists of what is called the steppe of Ishim,and has a bare and almost sterile surface, often incrusted with salt, but also occasionally covered with a scanty vegetation, and sometimes even enlivened by tracts of green pasture, over which the nomadic tribes roam with their flocks and herds.
The agricultural division extends north to latitude sixty degrees, though its exact limits can not be properly defined by a parallel of latitude, since they more strictly form a waving line encroaching or encroached upon by the other divisions, according as the configuration of the surface and properties of the soil are favorable or unfavorable to agricultural operations. In many parts, where it borders on the steppe, it has much of the same character, and has only occasional tracts which have been or can be advantageously brought under the plough; and in many other parts, as the same vegetative powers which may be employed in growing grain naturally grow trees, primeval forests are often found ; but still the term agricultural is properly applied to it, as it is only within its limits that agriculture is successfully prosecuted on an extensive scale, and occupies a considerable proportion of the inhabitants. The division thus named has an extent of about two hundred and fifty thousand square miles, and, under favorable circumstances, might furnish subsistence to a very large population; but, as yet, it is only the more fertile alluvial tracts adjacent to the rivers that have been brought under anything like regular culture. Within this division, though not properly belonging to it, is the steppe of Baraba, situated between the Irtysch and the Obi. The southern portion greatly resembles the steppe of Ishim, though on the whole it is not so arid, and has a more abundant vegetation. The northern portion, though flat and swampy, is covered with nearly continuous forests of birch and fir, haunted by numerous wild animals, including the beaver.
This portion of the Baraba or Barabinza steppe may therefore be considered as the commencement of the wooded division, which extends north to latitude sixty-four degrees, and in parts to sixty-six, though in the higher latitude the trees are seldom of very vigorous growth. The whole of this division is covered with vast forests of birch and different species of fir and pine. It is not at all adapted to agriculture, but barley and rye are occasionally cultivated. Wild animals are very numerous, and many valuable furs are obtained.
The last division is that of the moorland or tundra, consisting of a low, monotonous flat, covered with moss, and nearly destitute of trees. It extends along the shores of the Arctic ocean, and has so rigorous a climate, that even in summer ice is found a few inches below the surface. Here the reindeer exists in vast herds, both wild and domesticated; white bears and foxes are also numerous, and furnish valuable furs; and the coasts and mouths of the rivers are frequented by immense shoals of fish and flocks of fowl. One remarkable feature in the western part of the tundra is an isolated mountain-mass which rises with steep sides to the north of Ob-dorsk, about latitude sixty-six degrees, and forms a kind of range divided into five summits, the loftiest of which attains the height of about five thousand feet.
Siberia to the east of longitude one hundred and five degrees, forming nearly one half of the whole territory, has a much more diversified surface than the western region; and, owing partly to its general ruggedness and elevation, and partly to the greater severity of its climate, has much less land adapted for agricultural purposes. The sea of Okhotsk has a bold and rocky shore, and the country behind rises with a steep ascent till a mountain-range is formed, with a general altitude of nearly three thousand feet above sea-level. This range, under the name of the Stanovoy mountains, runs nearly parallel with the coast, till it reaches the frontiers of China, where it takes the name of the Jablonnoi mountains, and proceeding west, continues for a long distance to form the boundary between the two empires. It then takes the name of the mountains of Daouria, and throws out numerous ramifications, which, continuing westward, throw their arms round Lake Baikal, and cover almost all the southern part of the government of Irkoutsk. Other ramifications, proceeding northward, form the water-sheds of the numerous affluents of the right bank of the Lena. On both sides of this river the surface continues elevated, and forms a table-land, the interior of which is still very imperfectly known.
The best portions of Eastern Siberia occur in the south of the government of Irkoutsk, where, in the lower and more open valleys in the vicinity of Lake Baikal, cultivation has been attempted with success, and the oak and hazel, unknown in other parts of Siberia, are found growing freely. In almost the whole of the same government, where the configuration of the surface does not present invincible obstacles, all the grains of Europe are grown, and even the mountains and hills are covered during the greater part of the year with good pasture. Still farther north, in the government of Takoutsk, as far as the town of the same name, grain is cultivated in patches in the upper vale of the Lena, though the far greater part of it is covered with fir and pine, with so much intervening space between the trees, that a good deal of herbage springs up, and helps to nourish the numerous herds of cattle kept by the Yakutes, and grazed chiefly on an immense tract of low land which extends from the Lena eastward to the Aldan.
The northern part of Eastern Siberia consists of two distinct portions— the one extending from longitude one hundred and five degrees east to the lower valley of the Lena, and the other from that valley eastward to Beh-ring's sea. The former portion is very imperfectly known; but, from the modes of life pursued by the Yakutes, who have taken possession of it, it is presumed that it consists chiefly of pasture-ground well adapted for the rearing of cattle, or of moorland wastes, on which no other animal than the reindeer is able to subsist in numerous herds. The latter portion, as far as the Kolima, is traversed from north to south by chains of low hills, separated from each other by wide valleys or open plains, and generally overgrown with stunted larch and birch. In these valleys and plains are numerous lakes, generally well supplied with fish, and bordered by low banks, on which a rich grassy sward is often seen. Another remarkable feature in this locality is the number of albuty, or dry lakes, consisting of a kind of wide basins, so far below the general level of the surface as to have become filled with water when the rivers overflowed their banks, and yet so shallow that the clefts produced by the winter-frost form natural drains, through which the water escapes, and leaves the lakes almost dry. The alluvial bottom, owing to the richness of the soil, immediately on the arrival of summer, becomes clothed with the finest turf. When the drainage is less complete, extensive morasses are formed, covered only with moss or stunted larches, and so destitute of proper pasture, that the districts in which they prevail are almost uninhabited. To the east of the Kolima, branches from the Stanovoy mountains stretch northward, and form a series of ranges which frequently rise from two to three thousand feet. Some of these penetrate to the northern coast, and are seen forming precipitous cliffs at Swialoi Noss, Cape North, and other headlands. Other ramifications from the Stanovoy pursue an opposite course, and traverse the remarkable peninsula of Kamtschatka almost centrally to its southern extremity.
The races and tribes scattered over Siberia are so numerous, that little more can be done here than to give the names of the more important. At least two thirds of the whole population is Russian, and consists either of voluntary immigrants, who have found it their interest to settle in the country, or of exiles and their descendants. In regard to the exiles, Siberia is merely a penal settlement; and hence that portion of the population, which, as coming from Europe, ought to be the most civilized, is not likely to be the most exemplary. In those cases where the exile has been awarded for political causes merely, the individuals may be more unfortunate than vicious ; but when it is the penalty of ordinary crimes, the individuals being convicts in the usual sense of the term, must taint society in the same way as in Yan Diemen's Land and Australia.
A more unsophisticated, and far more interesting population, is furnished by the indigenous tribes. Beginning at the Ural mountains, and proceeding eastward, we find the Samoyedes, or Samoides, in the northwest. Immediately south of these the Ostiaks occupy both sides of the Obi, up to the confluence of the Irtysch, the northern part of the steppe of Baraba, and the whole of the woody region eastward to the banks of the Yenisei. They live by fishing and hunting, and, though their physical structure is by no means robust, they display both great dexterity and courage in attacking the larger and fiercer animals, of both the land and water. Some of them have embraced Christianity, but the great majority are pagans, and continue addicted to Shamanism.
In the south, among the Altai mountains, the Calmucks predominate, but have laid aside a number of the usual peculiarities of their race. They subsist chiefly on the produce of their horses, cattle, and sheep, and cultivate a little grain and tobacco. They have some skill in mechanical arts, particularly in the working of iron, and manufacture their own gunpowder. Though not Buddhists, they are generally addicted to other forms of superstition.
Among the eastern slopes of the Altai are several Turkish tribes, known by the names of Beruisses, Beltires, Sagai, and Katschinzes. The last extend eastward to the banks of the Yenisei.
The Buriats, the most numerous of all the Siberian tribes, dwell chiefly on both sides of Lake Baikal, and eastward as far as the Onon. They are of Mongol origin, and are closely allied to the natives of the northern provinces of China, in both language and customs.
The Tungusi ( Tunguzes, or Toongooses) are the most widely dispersed of all the native tribes. They are found along the shores of the Arctic ocean, from longitude one hundred and ten to one hundred and seventy degrees east; along the banks of the Yenisei as far south as the mouth of the Upper Tongouskai; and along the sea of Okhotsk as far as the town of that name; and thence southwest to the frontiers of China, in Daouria, and to the north of Lake Baikal. Parts of these extensive tracts they occupy exclusively, but others they hold in common with the Yakutes and some minor tribes. They are considered the best formed of the native Siberians, are very expert horsemen, live chiefly by hunting, possess such skill in the working of iron as enables them to prepare their own firearms, and are generally addicted to Shamanism. Among their great amusements are cards and chess. For the latter they carve chessmen very elaborately out of the mammoth's teeth.
The Yakutes, as already mentioned, live intermingled with the Tungusi, and confine themselves almost wholly to the rearing of horses and cattle, and the preparation of dairy-produce from them. The herds of many of them amount to several thousand head. They have made considerable progress in civilization, and pay some attention to the education of their children. They are of Tartar origin, and not a few of them are nominal converts to Christianity, though the majority still adhere to Shamanism.
The Tchouktchis occupy the peninsula formed in the northeast of Siberia, by the Arctic ocean on the north and the sea of Okhotsk on the south. They are very jealous of their independence, and can scarcely be said to be nominally subject to Bussia. Their language proves them to have a common origin with the Esquimaux. They consist of two distinct tribes, the one sedentary and the other nomadic. The former, inhabiting the seashore, subsist by fishing, in which they show great courage and dexterity, and, though not much given to hunting, kill common and white bears, and polar foxes; the latter live intermingled with the Koriaks, and occupy the interior, where they feed large herds of reindeer, and subsist almost entirely on their produce.
Siberia appears to have been partly conquered by Zinghis Khan and his successors, but did not become known to Europe till the year 1580, when a Cossack, called Yermak Timofeyew, who had long robbed the vessels which navigated the Volga, finding himself hotly pressed by the czar of Moscow, crossed over into Asia with his accomplices. Their number sufficed to form a small army, and their courage soon enabled them to acquire extensive settlements. These Yermak offered to the czar, on condition of obtaining pardon. The offer was accepted, and thus Russia for the first time obtained a footing in Asia. The territories thus conquered belonged to the Tartar prince Kutshurn Khan, and included his residence, which, called by the natives Isker, and by the Cossacks Sibir, has given name to the whole country.
The conquests of Yermak continued eastward, and, though interrupted for a time by his death in 1584, were gradually extended, till the whole country west of the Obi was subjected to the czar. In 1604, the town of Tomsk was founded, and became a centre from which new expeditions were fitted out and new conquests made. Privates adventurers, instigated chiefly by the hope of plunder, proceeded in all directions to the southward, where, not without serious reverses, they succeeded in expelling the Kirghiz; and to the eastward, where they entered the basin of the Lena, subdued the Yakutes, and finally, after passing the Aldan mountains, reached the sea of Okhotsk. In the neighborhood of Lake Baikal a formidable resistance was made by the Buriats, but their subjugation was finally completed in 1658. The town of Nertchinsk, which has since become so celebrated for its mines, was then founded, and, two years after, that of Irkoutsk.
A further extension of conquests to the south brought the Russo-Cossack adventurers into collision' with the Chinese; and both governments taking part in the quarrel, a war, threatening the existence of one or other of the empires, became imminent. It was, however, prevented, partly by the intervention of the Jesuits resident at Pekin, and a treaty in 1689 definitively fixed the boundaries of the two empires. A second treaty, in 1727, confirming the former, regulated the commercial intercourse, and confined it to the two localities of Kiakhta and Mai-matshin.
Never has so large a territory been acquired at so little expense. Russia, almost without any expenditure of her own means, and chiefly by the aid of a few Cossack adventurers, in little more than a century more than doubled her area. The greater part of it, indeed, is a frozen, inhospitable region, which must always remain comparatively worthless; but vast tracts enjoy a climate and possess a soil well adapted for agriculture, and seem destined, whenever the tribes roaming over them can be induced to settle down to a sedentary life, to become the abodes of a dense population, who, in addition to the resources of pasture and agriculture, will find almost inexhaustible wealth in mines and fisheries.
Siberia is divided, as remarked in a previous chapter, into the two great governments of Western and Eastern Siberia : the former comprising the provinces of Tobolsk, Tomsk, and Yeniseisk ; and the latter those of Irkoutsk, Yakoutsk, Okhotsk, and Kamtschatka.
Tobolsk, the westernmost government of Western Siberia, comprises a large portion of the basin of the great river Obi, or the country between the fiftieth and seventy-third degrees of north latitude, and the sixtieth and eightieth degrees of east longitude: having on the east the government of Yeniseisk; on the south, Tomsk, and the territory of the Kirghiz; on the west, the governments of Orenburg, Perm, and Archangel; and on the north, the sea of Kara, gulf of Obi, &c. Its area is about seven hundred thousand square miles.
The surface of this vast province includes the four divisions into which, according to its productive powers, as described a few pages back, the plain of Western Siberia is divided. The tundra, or northern portion, is the most sterile imaginable, consisting of all but boundless moors and morasses, interspersed here and there with some stunted shrubs, and occupied by only a few Ostiak tribes, who subsist chiefly by fishing, and the chase of fur-bearing animals. Such is the severity of the climate, that this portion is usually covered with ice and snow for about nine months of the year; and, during the other months, ice is always found at a little distance below the surface.
The agricultural portion includes extensive tracts watered by the Irtysch, a part of the Ishim, and the Tobol. Though not generally fertile, this district comprises some very productive tracts, and it has a considerable number of towns, though few of them are of any great size. Even in this part of the government, the climate is very severe; for, though the summer heats be sometimes oppressive, they are but of short duration, and the winters are long and excessively cold. Rye, oats, barley, and buckwheat, are the principal crops.
Iron and copper are extensively raised in various parts of the Ural chain, and gold and silver are produced both there and in the Altai. Soap and tallow works, tanneries, mat-manufactories, &c, are found in different parts: but the commerce of the government is of more importance than its manufacturing industry. Except the clergy, and persons in the government employment, all the inhabitants are more or less engaged in traffic, exchanging their sable and other furs, cattle, cassia, fresh and dried fish, and game, with the Russian traders for grain, flour, hardware, &c. The merchants of Tobolsk, Toumen, and the principal towns in the south and west, send every summer boats laden with flour and other provisions, by way of the Irtysch and Obi, to Berezov and other small towns in the north, which return with cargoes of fish, and with valuable furs, procured from the Ostiaks and other tribes. These furs are afterward partly sent, with soap, tallow, and hides,, to the fair at Nijnei-Novgorod; partly to the Kirghiz, to be bartered for horses, cattle, and cotton-goods obtained through Bokhara; and partly to Kiakhta, on the Chinese frontier, where they are exchanged for tea, silk-fabrics, and other Chinese products. The government, in common with the rest of Siberia, lies under the greatest disadvantages with respect to water-communication : the frozen shores of its northern coast are inaccessible for the purposes of trade; and its rivers, although equal in magnitude to any belonging to the Asiatic continent, are covered with ice during the greater portion of the year. The most common mode of travelling, as likewise of conveying goods, throughout a great portion of the government, is, as in the northern part of Europe, in sledges drawn by dogs or reindeer.
Mr. Bell and Captain Cochrane agree in representing the Tartar villages in the agricultural part of the government as neat, clean, and comfortable. Their white, plastered chimneys and ovens reminded the latter of his own country (Scotland). The houses consist in general of one or two rooms. Near the hearth is an iron kettle, and at one end of the apartment a bench covered with mats or skins: on this all the family sit by day, and sleeŁ by night. The walls are of wood and moss—a layer of moss between every two beams. A square hole is cut out for a window, and, to supply the want of glass, a piece of ice is often put in; two or three pieces will last the whole winter. They use no stoves, and have neither chairs nor stools. The furniture consists of a few earthenware utensils, and a set of tea-table appendages. The women never eat nor drink till the men have done, and then seldom in their presence.
Owing to the thinness of the population, and the immense distances between the different towns, education is very little diffused, and besides the schools in the capital, there are, perhaps, hardly a dozen in the rest of the government. Except Tobolsk, the capital, there are no towns of note.
The city of Tobolsk, the capital of Western Siberia, and of the government of its own name (and, indeed, of the whole of northern Asia), is situated on the Irtysch, close to its junction with the Tobol. The town proper is built principally on the flat summit of a hill commanding an extensive view, and is surrounded by a strong brick wall with square towers and bastions. When approached from the west it has a remarkably fine appearance, and it really contains some good and solid buildings — most of the government-offices, and the residences of the Russian and German settlers, being within the walls. Along the banks of the river are suburbs, enclosed by a ditch and palisade, and inhabited mostly by Tartars. The streets, which cross each other at right angles, are generally paved with wood. Among its public edifices, the most remarkable are, the cathedral, in the Byzantine style of architecture, with five cupolas, the archbishop's and governor's palaces, a monastery, and a large hospital. It has a bout twenty churches, chiefly of wood, as are most of the houses.
The climate in winter is very severe, so much so as sometimes to freeze mercury; and, next to Yakoutsk, Tobolsk is one of the coldest towns in Siberia: but the dress and houses of the inhabitants being fitted to resist its influence, it is not so disagreeable as might be supposed, and, in other respects, it is not an unpleasant residence. The rivers furnish an inexhaustible supply of fish, and provisions, fur, and game of all kinds, are cheap and abundant; and shops, theatres, and places of public amusement, are numerous. Being on the great road from Russia to China, it is well supplied with most European and Chinese goods ; and French wines, English porter, and books of all kinds, are to be met with. Dobell says, " The society of Tobolsk may fairly stand a comparison with that of some of the best provincial towns in Russia." Among the inhabitants are many descendants of the Swedish officers, sent thither after the battle of Poltava, to whom Tobolsk is mainly indebted for its superior civilization.
This city, which was founded in 1587, is the residence of the governor-general of Western Siberia. It has two ecclesiastical and several Lancastrian schools, and various charitable institutions. No convicts or malefactors are sent thither from European Russia, although persons banished to Siberia for political offences are sometimes permitted to reside in Tobolsk. The population is from twenty to twenty-five thousand.
The government of Tomsk lies principally between the fiftieth and sixtieth degrees of north latitude, and the seventy-fifth and ninetieth degrees of east longitude. It has the government of Tobolsk on the west, that of Yeniseisk on the north and east, and the Altai range on the south. Its area is about three hundred and eighty thousand square miles.
This province belongs to the pastoral and agricultural divisions of Siberia, and in its general features closely resembles the more southern parts of the governments of Tobolsk and Yeniseisk. Large quantities of gold are obtained from the various gold-washings in this government. It has very few manufactures, but there are extensive forges at Kholyvan and Barnaul. Since 1838, Tomsk has comprised a portion of the government of Omsk, the other part of the latter government being included in that of Tobolsk.
Tomsk, the capital of this government, is situated on the Tom, a tributary of the Obi, six hundred and fifty miles east by south of Tobolsk. It has about two thousand houses, and from ten to twelve thousand inhabitants. Here are workhouses for exiles; coarse cloth, leather, and soap manufactories; barracks, public magazines, military and other hospitals; an orphan-house, a dispensary, &c.
There are a number of handsome houses in Tomsk, but the town is irregularly built, except the part that occupies a hill overlooking the river Tom and the country round. Next to Krasnoiarsk, Tomsk is said to be the cheapest and most plentiful spot in Siberia. Its principal buildings are the cathedral and another church, the tribunals, treasury (in which are the magazines of furs collected as tribute from the various native tribes), and two convents. The inhabitants carry on a brisk trade with the Calmucks and Ostiaks, in cattle, furs, &c.; and the town is an emporium for distilled liquors and Chinese goods. It was founded in 1604.
The government of Yeniseisk lies to the east of the governments of Tobolsk and Tomsk, and on the west of the governments of Yakoutsk and Irkoutsk, extending from the Altai mountains to the Arctic ocean. Its area is nine hundred and forty-five thousand square miles.
This government includes almost every variety of climate, soil, and productions, peculiar to Siberia. Its southern inhabitants, like the patriarchs of old, dwell in tents, and, with their flocks and herds, lead a wandering life, changing from place to place as circumstances may direct, or Providence guide them. Those who reside in the centre have fixed residences, and enter into all the pursuits of agriculture and traffic; while the more northern tribes are in a state approximating to savage wildness, and evince all the cunning and ferocity of their native wolves. The destruction of the latter constitutes their chief occupation and support; and after thus supplying themselves with clothing, the superfluous produce of their toil is disposed of to the Russian merchant, chiefly in barter for knives, tobacco, beads, or such other necessaries or luxuries as their own country denies, or savage taste directs.
This province is admirably adapted for commerce, the fine and majestic river Yenisei running through its centre from south to north, and pouring its voluminous waters (the accumulation of numberless tributary rivers) into the Frozen ocean. Its horses and horned cattle are also more esteemed than those of any other part of Siberia.
Krasnoiarsk (from Krasnoi, "red," and yar,"cliff"), the capital of the above government, lies on a low tongue of land between the Yenisei and Kacha, at their junction, in a plain of great beauty and fertility, two hundred and ninety miles east by south of Tomsk, and in the direct route from Western Siberia to Irkoutsk, Yakoutsk, &c. It is a place of considerable trade. The principal street is wide and well levelled, and is intersected at right angles by similar cross-streets, and in the middle of the town are two handsome squares. Many of the houses are built of brick, though the most of them are of wood, painted outside with bright colors. It has a cathedral and three other churches, and a synagogue; spacious public offices, the last generally of stone; and a large public factory, or workhouse, for the employment of the numerous artisan-convicts, in which the tanning of leather, and the construction of droskies, sledges, and all sorts of carriages, are carriedon. There are numerous Tartar graves in the neighborhood, and a fine collection of the antiquities which have been discovered is one of the most interesting sights of Krasnoiarsk. The district of country subordinate to this town is the most productive in the whole province for grain, cattle, horses, &c. Provisions are very plentiful and cheap; fish and game are also in abundance; and the neighborhood is famous for wild-goats, the flesh of which is said to be equal to venison. Krasnoiarsk within the last twenty-five years has risen considerably in importance ; and it has now a brisk traffic in Chinese goods and agricultural produce. Its population is about eight thousand. Some of the other more important towns of the government are Yeniseisk, Suganskoi, Kanskoi, Korgina, Tonka, &c.
The government of Irkoutsk lies in the southern part of Siberia, between the forty-ninth and sixty-third degrees of north latitude, and the ninety-sixth and one hundred and twentieth degrees of east longitude. It is bounded on the north and east by the government of Yakoutsk, from which it is separated by the Lena and Vittim; on the southeast and south by the Chinese empire; and on the west by the government of Yeniseisk. Its length from east to west is about eleven hundred miles, and its breadth about one thousand miles, comprising an area of one hundred and fifty thousand square miles.
This territory is divided between three river-basins—the Amur, Amoor, or Saghalien, the smallest of the three, which drains the eastern portion, and carries its waters through Mantchouria, in China, to the sea of Okhotsk; the Lena, in the north, which it drains in a great measure directly, and by its tributary, the Vittim; and the Yenisei, in the centre and west, receiving-its waters through the Angara, supplied by numerous small streams, but more especially by Lake Baikal, which lies wholly within the government. The last two basins belong to the Arctic ocean, and are separated from that of the Amur by the Daouria mountains.
The greater part of the government having a northern exposure, the climate is more severe than usual under the same latitude, and in winter mercury often freezes. The summer is of short duration, though very warm; the air generally clear and serene. A great part of the surface is occupied by forests, which furnish excellent timber, and abound with all kinds of game. Bears are numerous, many of whom, during the severe winter of 1821, impelled by hunger, made their appearance in the immediate vicinity of Irkoutsk. One was killed within a peasant's cottage, and two in the very streets of the town. They were so emaciated, that the skins were of no value.
A singular accident took place in the summer of the year above named. A peasant who resided at about four miles from the town, had a dancing-bear, which was considered so tame, that he had been exhibiting it, on the day in question, within the house of the commandant of Irkoutsk, for the amusement of the children. On their return home, Mr. Bruin becoming stubborn, and refusing to travel as fast as his master wished him, the latter proceeded to beat him; when the infuriated animal turned round, seized upon him, and literally crushed him to a mummy!
The pastures of this government maintain great numbers of cattle and sheep, the latter being chiefly of the native or flat-tailed variety; the breeds of cattle sent here and throughout Siberia have generally diminished in size, but improved in hardihood. The principal cultivated crops are rye and barley; hemp and flax also succeed well. There is not much fruit.
Many indications of volcanic agency are discoverable, particularly in the northern part of the government, and earthquakes are not unfrequent. In the plain along the Angara, below the town of Irkoutsk, a fine-grained sandstone, of the carboniferous system, prevails; and strata of pure coal, nine feet thick, have been found in it. The mountains are generally granitic. The minerals are very valuable, and include gold, found chiefly in the lateral valleys which run from the central ridge of the Jablonnoi, silver, lead, zinc, and tin. The principal mines are situated in the eastern part of the government, and are wrought, in the direction of the stock, over an extent of one hundred and sixty miles. In working the tin, splendid cells of rock-crystals, with green, yellow, and blue emeralds, and with topazes, are met with. Salt is found in great abundance in lakes and brine-springs, but is not turned to much account.
Manufactures exist to a very limited extent, and consist chiefly of soap, leather, and glass. A considerable trade is carried on with China, through Kiakhta ; and in furs, which, after metals, constitute the principal articles of export.
A considerable proportion of the Russian inhabitants are descendants of exiles from the West. The natives in greatest number are the Tungusi, Mongols, and Buriats. The religion of the Greek church is generally professed, but many continue addicted to the practices of Shamanism. For administrative purposes, the government is divided into six districts or circles, of which Irkoutsk is the capital.
Irkoutsk, the capital of the government, is situated in a plain, about twelve hundred feet above the sea-lef el, on the Angara, at the confluence of the Irkout. It is divided into two parts by the Angara, which is here about one thousand feet wide, surrounded by a wall and ditch, and well built, consisting of wooden houses, which are all neatly planked outside and painted yellow or light gray. The streets, though not paved, have wooden pathways for foot-passengers, and are kept in good order. Its agreeable climate, picturesque situation, the good breeding and wealth of its inhabitants, and its adaptation for commerce, conspire to make it the most important and flourishing city of Siberia, as well as one of the first towns of the Russian empire.
One of the chief ornaments of Irkoutsk is a noble quadrangular parade, one side of which is occupied by the residence of the governor, and other public offices; and most of the houses have kitchen-gardens behind them. The principal buildings include a great number of churches (one of them a cathedral), most of which have been erected at the expense of rich and pious merchants ; two convents ; a handsome exchange, built of stone, and surrounded by stately poplars and pines ; an admiralty, with dockyards on the Angara; the offices of the American Company, which would be considered spacious and ornamental in any town of Europe or of the United States; a school of medicine, a gymnasium, and several other schools; a public library of five thousand volumes, a mineralogical cabinet, two hospitals, a workhouse and house of correction, and a large and well-ventilated prison; the gostinoi dvor, or bazar, supplied with articles of Chinese and European manufacture; and in its vicinity are the markets, supplied with fish, flesh, meal, with its motley crowd of Buriats, Russian women, &c.
The manufactures consist of woollen and linen cloth, hats, leather (common and Morocco), soap, and glass. There are also several distilleries. The trade is in hay, tea, and other articles imported from China, and more especially in fur, for which the Russian American Company have here large warehouses.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855