8 APRIL 1882, Page 17


TlIE mystery of terror which in former times shrouded the land of punishment in Russia from the outer world, has been con- siderably dispersed of late ; but we have for the first time a detailed description of Siberia, and the penal system of whose application that vast region is the centre, in this remark- able and important work. Mr. Lansdell's book possesses an interest and advances a claim of a different order from that of the general literature of travel, and although the reader will remark, he will not be discouraged by, an occasional dryness of style. "My speciality in Siberia," says the author, "was the visitation of its prisons and penal institutions, considered, how- ever, not so much from an economic or administrative as from a philanthropic and religious point of view. Much has been written concerning them that is very unsatisfactory, and some things that are absolutely false. One author published My Exile in Siberia who never went there. 'Escapes' and so- called 'revelations' of Siberia have been written by others who were banished only a few days' journey beyond the Urals, whereas it is only east of the Baikal that the severest forms of exile life. begin. None, so far as I know, who have escaped or been released from the mines have written the tale of what they endured."

Few travellers cross Northern Asia to the Amur. Mr. Lans- dell is the first foreigner who has ever been allowed to go through the Siberian prisons and mines ; but as per- mission was granted to him quite openly, and without the least difficulty, he is doubtless correct in his surmise that be is the first foreigner who ever applied for such an authorisation. The inference he draws—that the authorities had nothing to hide—is certainly a fair one, and his narrative confirms this ; for he went where he would, and almost when h would ; admission, though asked for at a moment's notice, was never refused. Although he had not stipulated for or been promised statistics, he bethought himself of asking for them,. when in Siberia, and they were furnished to him. It cannot be doubted that Mr. Lansdell imitates this above-board behaviour in his own towards his readers ; the stamp of truth and modera- tion is upon his book, and the interest grows from chapter to chapter. Mr. Lansdell took with him a cargo of books from the Bible and Tract Societies for distribution, and he was not only unopposed in this design, but he received a special re- commendation from the Metropolitan of Moscow, to whom be had presented a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and "a permanent legitimation to distribute," duly endorsed by the police. It would seem from this, and from all the subsequent experience of Mr. Lansdell, that the Russian Government draws

• Through Siberia. By Henry Lansdell, Second Edition. London : Sampson Low and Cc.

the line of its intolerance at the Roman Catholic faith. The

first difficulty with which the author found himself confronted was the very natural resentment of educated people in general, and officials in particular, at the unscrupulous statements made in certain English journals respecting things Russian, and he gives some flagrant instances of the justice of that sentiment. " J'adore lea Anglais," said a military Russian to him, " mais je

hais leurs conseils ;" and this is not surprising, if we consider the tone of the " conseils " to which the speaker referred.

The author's journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Perm, and Ekaterineburg is described in a very interesting manner, but it has not the entire novelty that makes the charm of the succeeding narrative. The book divides itself naturally into two parts,—the convict system and prison life, and the incidents of travel and description of the country. To the latter belongs a very interesting chapter on the River Obi, a stream of vast magnitude, which flows through the province of Tobolsk, and

is destined to play an important part in opening up the im- mense wealth of western Siberia to commerce. There is some-

thing fascinating to the imagination in a province seven times as large as Great Britain and Ireland, and with such features as the following :—

" The basin of the Obi offers an almost unlimited supply of pro- ducts needed by England. The Altai Mountains, for instance, are rich in silver, copper, and iron, which last is also abundant in the valley of the Tom. But these are nothing as compared with grain. From the southern border of the Tobolsk province, for 600 miles northward, lies a district of fertile, black earth ; and so exclusively is it of this character in the valleys of many of the rivers, which overflow like the Nile, and leave a rich deposit, that the geologist finds it difficult to pick up even a few specimen pebbles.. It is like a vast tract of garden land, well suited for the production of wheat, oats, linseed, barley, and other cereals. Farther north are prairies for cattle, and a wooded region, inhabited by various far-

bearing animals, where the pine, fir, and birch abound Again, north of the wooded region come the tundras, over which roam the reindeer, wild and tame ; and about one hundred miles up the Ku- reika, which flows into the Yenesei, there is a valuable mine of graphite, lying on the surface; besides which, the rivers are so full of fish that the fishermen try not to catch too many, because of the frequent breaking of their nets."

The arrangement of the work is admirably lucid, enabling the reader distinctly to follow the narrative of travel, and that of investigation. These are so separate that they might fairly claim, if our space would admit, to be severally considered. The general impression created by Mr. Lansdell's account of the prison system and the lives of the prisoners in Siberia, of all shades of criminality and grades of punishment, is decidedly one of relief. The story is by no means so painful to read as one imagines beforehand; and the pictures of the sufferings of the " exiles " on the way to the scene of their banishment, which has always appealed strongly to imagination, is surprisingly softened.

A very interesting account of the convicts' journey from the central prison at Moscow, whence they are sent off in " droves " of 700 each by rail to Nijni Novgorod, so soon as the river navi- gation opens, dispels the belief that they are subjected to cruel hardships and excessive fatigue. The kindness of the peasants to the convicts on their journey is creditable to the Russian people, and the fact that the exiles are permitted to accept the freely- offered alms speaks well for the authorities. Contrasted with the experiences of the " chaines," or convict gangs, under the French penal system, those of the Siberian exiles are decidedly mild. The journey on foot is now reduced as much as possible; exiles to eastern Siberia begin their walking eastward at Tomsk. "When not hindered by accidental causes," says the author, "they usually rest one day and walk two, marching sometimes twenty miles or more a day. Temporary prisons are erected

along the road to receive them for the night, and in the towns are larger buildings, called perisylnie prisons, in which they may rest, if necessary, a longer time, and where there are hospitals,

medical attendance, &c."

The number of ordinary exiles sent to Siberia for several years past has been from 17,000 to 20,000 yearly, but this in- cludes wives and children who choose to accompany the pri- soners. Of these, nearly 8,000, on their arrival in Siberia, are set free to get their own living ; about 3,000 of them being sent to eastern, and 5,000 sent to western Siberia. The exiles come from all parts of Russia in Europe, and include about 300 yearly from Finland. For statistical purposes, theRussians are marked off into five classes, thus,—nobles, merchants, ecclesiastics, citizens, and peasants; and in prison the higher grades receive better allowance, and are not mixed with the peasant prisoners, but have rooms apart. Mr. Lansdell found that not more than

three or four per cent. are from the upper classes. Very early in his narrative the following remarkable passage occurs :— "As to the crimes of the exiles, they are not all political, nor even chiefly so. A large proportion-4,000 out of 18,000—of them are charged with no particular offence, except that they have rendered themselves obnoxious to the community among which they lived. If a man in Russia be idle and drunken, and will not pay his taxes nor support his wife and family, but leaves these things to be done by his neighbours, his commune—which may consist of one or more villages —meet in their mir, or village parliament, vote the man a nuisance, and adjudge that he be sent, at their expense, to Siberia. This judgment is submitted to higher authorities, and unless just cause be shown to the contrary, is confirmed. The man is then taken to Siberia, not to be imprisoned, but to get his living as a colonist. Those sent thus by the villages, I was told, are chiefly drunkards."

This is surely a remarkable provision for shooting the social rubbish into a waste place. Compulsory colonisation of this kind might be a blessing undisguised to countries nearer home than Russia.

For any one of thirty crimes enumerated by the author, a man may be sent to Siberia. The list includes all the worst actions classed as crimes in every country, and such minor offences as eluding military service, illicit distilling, incurring debt, and travelling without passport. The sentences of the exiles vary widely, according as they are condemned to one or the other of two classes,—those who lose all their rights, and those who lose only some of their rights. The former alterna- tive is very severe :—

" If a man have a title or official rank, he is degraded. An exile's marriage rights are broken, so that his wife is free to marry another. Neither his word nor his bond is of any value. He cannot sign a legal document or serve any, office, either municipal or imperial. He can hold no property, nor do anything legal in his own name. In prison, he must wear convict's clothes, and have his head half-shaved ; and in the case of a woman, she cannot marry after her release from prison till by good conduct she has placed herself in a certain cate- gory; and either men or women may at any moment, if the authorities see fit, after they have served their time in prison and are living as colonists, be sent back again. They may be thrashed with roils and with the pieta,' and even should they be murdered, probably little troable wonld be taken to find the murderer?'

If the wife of an exile chooses to accompany her husband, she and her children may do so; they will be given prison food and accommodation by the Government. A husband who wishes to

accompany a convict wife, has to travel at his own expense. "To the honour of Russian women, be it said," remarks the author, "the proportion of men accompanied by their wives and families is one in every six. The proportion of women accom- panied by their husbands is, I am told, not exactly known, though it is very much less." Sentences which carry with them only a partial lose of rights are widely various, and in some instances have hardly a penal aspect at all. Very few exiles are condemned to prison, or to prison and labour, for life.

Mr. Lansdell gives a terrible description of the punishment inflicted by flogging with the " plete," which answers to the " cat " of English prison discipline. The " knout " has been abolished for so long, that he found it difficult to get an explana- tion of what it was like. Hardened criminals are not afraid of the rod, but all dread the " plete." He adds :—

" Before passing from this dreadful subject, I wish to make clear what was told me,—that no man for the first offence can, by Russian law, be condemned to corporal punishment. Also, I was given to understand, by a legal authority, that the plete exists only at three places in Siberia,—Kara, Nikolaefsk, and Sakhalin, so that only the worst criminals ever see it at all. If they were moderate offenders, they would not be so far east ; and those who get it have usually gone through deportation, prison, and irons, and yet remain incorrigible."

One of the most interesting and important portions of the work is devoted to a description of the Island of Sakhalin, the prisons and prisoners, the _Linos, and the Manchu town. In many parts of the great prison-country, the chief difficulty is to provide work for the convicts ; in no part. is the labour im- posed excessive. The work is of three kinds, that of the "fabric," the " zavod," and the "mines." The first is the ordinary toil of mechanics, the second is synonymous with ore " works " for the founding and casting of metals, the third includes gold, silver, and coal-mining. The prison discipline does not seem to be harsh in any instances, in several it is very clement, even lax. At Alexandroffsky, prisoners may receive money from their friends up to a rouble a week ; and at Kara, their families may send them food daily, and visit them once or twice a week. The general summary of the condition of the convict population of Siberia is borne out by the detailed account of each district in which the author visited the prisons, and the reader gathers from the entire narrative that whatever may be the legislative defects of the system under which they are sentenced, Russian exiles in Siberia, if they behave decently, may, as the author says, "be more comfortable than in many, and as comfortable as in most, of the prisons of the world."

Through Siberia is in every way instructive and entertaining reading. The author is a very close observer, and is equally interested in every portion of his subject. He overlooks nothing,—costume, social customs, anecdotes, the manners of the wild, outlying tribes, all these come under his notice, while he pursues his main object with steadiness and enterprise which deserved the success they obtained. The various aspects of the immense tracts of country through which he travelled, the characteristics of the populations, the flora and fauna, the climates, the social features, and the industrial condition and prospects of the vast province of which Europe has had so little knowledge, and such wild notions have been entertained, are put before Mr. Lansdell's readers with such distinctness, that they almost feel, when they close his book, as if they, too, had journeyed "through Siberia."