Brand accompanied the Danish ambassador as “one of his domesticks” but the editor of Ides’ travels noted that Brand’s work contained “a Multitude of Things equally Inconsistent with Probability and Truth; not withstanding which, it gained Credit for a Time, and passed current for a true Relation of this celebrated embassy”. (1) Today, experts on historic voyages and travel narratives still recognize the accuracy with which Ides described the places he visited. Yet, as your blogger found, Ides journey can be extremely difficult to plot on Bowen’s map as the spellings of many of the Russian place names he uses differ from those used by the cartographer.
Ides set out from Moscow on the 14th March 1692 with a retinue of personal staff, porters, a baggage train hauled by horses and oxen, and an escort of soldiers. His journey north eastwards to Siberia was initially difficult due to melting snow and moving ice on the rivers. If we look closely at Bowen’s map, this portion of his journey is relatively simple to follow- Ides travelled eastwards from Moscow to Wologda and from there to Kaigorod before crossing the Werchaturia mountains. Due to bad weather Ides was forced to stay in the city of Kaigorod for several weeks until the river Kama was open again to boats. Kaigorod was said to be “an indifferent city” and Ides stated that he felt uncomfortable staying there because during the course of his stay the city had been raided and set ablaze by “a rabble of runaway servants”(2). After Kaigorod Ides travelled to the Siberian city of Tobolsk (referred to as Toboleski), and his observations on this city give us a great insight into the demography of the area, its trade and the cultural practices of the various peoples that lived in the surrounding area.
|The city of Tobolsk, artist and engraver unknown, from Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral U.K., 2014|
The people that live in the lands surrounding the city of Tobolsk were said to be Tartars who worshipped Islam, and Ides visited their mosque and gave a detailed description of its interior. North of the River Oby (now called the river Ob) were said to be “Russian Jemskicks, who are in the Pay of his Czarish Majesty, for which they supply the Waywodes that are ordered [that] way, and all other Persons who travel on the Czar’s Affairs in Siberia, with free carriages and men to work […] These people keep great numbers of dogs, which they make use of to travel with in winter, for it is utterly impossible to pass this country with horse sleds” (3).
|Engravings of the Ostyak peoples who lived near to Toblosk, from Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright of the Chaper of Worcester Cathedral U.K., 2014.|
A series of fine engravings illustrate these pages and give artistic interpretations of what the city and peoples of Tobolsk looked like in the late seventeenth century. The artist and engraver that produced the accompanying illustrations to Ides “A description of the North-East, Parts of Asia and the Empire of China” is not named. It could well have been John George Weltsel, a painter from Sleswick who Ides describes as one of his retinue. Weltsel unfortunately died whilst travelling with Ides after suffering for a fortnight from a fever. They buried his body on a hill near to “the village of Makofskoi” (4) There are illustrations, however, that accompany Harris’ edition of Ides account that could not have been produced by Weltsel because he was deceased by that portion of the journey, for example the landscape illustration showing Ides and his retinue passing through the Great Wall of China.
In addition to engravings and Bowen’s maps, there are a number of humorous, interesting incidents that help break up Ides’ lengthy narrative. I was particularly amused by a brief digression on woolly mammoths. Ides described how along the rivers Yenisei, Tunguska [?] and Lena “mammuts [mammoths’] tongues and legs are found” (5). What is most striking to the modern reader is that neither Ides nor any of the Ostyaks described were aware of their prehistoric origin and certain communities of Ostyaks were described as believing that mammoths existed underground in the seventeenth century. The Siberian Russians on the other hand were recounted as believing that mammoths drowned during the Biblical great flood, before which the climate of Siberia was warmer. Here is a section from Ides discussion on woolly mammoths:
“ I had a person with me who had annually gone out in search of these bones; he told it to me as Real Truth, that he and his companions found the head of one of these [mammoths], which was discovered by the fall of […] a frozen piece of earth. As soon as he opened it, he found the greatest part of the flesh rotten, but it was not without difficulty that they broke out his teeth, which were placed in the fore part of his mouth, as those of Elephants are [.] Concerning this animal there are very different reports. The Heathens of Jakuti, Tungusi, and Ostiaki say that they continually, or at least by reason of the very hard frost, mostly live under ground, where they go backwards and forwards. […] They further believe that if this animal comes so near to the surface of the frozen earth as to smell the air, he immediately dies, which they say is the reason that several of them are found dead on the high banks of the river” (6)
In addition to the discussion of mammoths there is a humorous, bizarre incident whereby Ides was visited by a Tunguskian prince who he says had “prodigious long hair” (7). Ides was curious as to the exact length of this prince’s locks. Convinced he must measure it, Ides decided his best bet was to ply the prince with brandy and persuade him to unravel his hair. After Ides obtained the permission of an intoxicated prince, he carefully measured the hair with an ell. He found it was four Dutch ells long (about two and a half metres!)
|"Tunguzian Prince whose Hair was Four Dutch Ells long and his Son's near an Ell long", engraving in Harris' Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (1748). Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, 2014.|
Much of the Ide’s narration on his journey through Siberia and Tartar lands contains similar anthropological observations which, though interesting and enjoyable, can often be extremely critical of the religions and customs of the Ostyak peoples. Finally on 3rd August 1693 the Chinese frontier was reached, where Ides was met by a Captain of the Imperial city and ten soldiers to escort the convoy to Peking. Travelling through Tartar country they were warned to keep to the roads and avoid moving by night because of the number of tigers in the surrounding country side. Following their arrival in Peking, Ides first audience and meal with the Emperor was on 16th of November. He was invited to meet the Jesuit Missionaries and attend the Annual Festival. He departed Peking to return to Moscow on 19th February 1694 and again after many adventures arrived at the court of the Czar on the 1st January 1695. This journey had taken two years and ten months and his record of it a remarkable geographic and anthropological achievement.
1) John Harris, A Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels consisting of above six hundred of the most Authentic Writers, Vol. II, (1748), p. 919.
2) Ibid., 919-20.
3) Ibid., 922
5) Ibid., 927
7) Ibid., 932
by Ian Clargo and Deirdre McKeown