Convicts And Exiles In Pre-Revolution Siberia

“As for me, my sympathies are with the Russia of the people, not the Russia of the tsars; with the Russia of the provincial assemblies, not the Russia of the secret police; with the Russian of the future, not the Russia of the past" - George Kennan

George Kennan Siberia

 

First sent from his native USA to Russia by his employers at the Russian-American Telegraph Company to survey a route for a proposed overland telegraph line through Siberia and across the Bering Strait, George Kennan (February 16, 1845 – May 10, 1924) returned to Siberia in 1885. In the intervening years, Emperor Alexander II had been murdered in 1881. His son and heir, Alexander III, cracked down on dissidents, approved a wave of anti-Jewish legislation and pogroms, and oversaw the exile of thousands of prisoners to remote penal colonises in Siberia. Kennan, who was travelling with the State’s approval on account of his previous support for the march of Russian civilization, saw the unfolding horror and was changed.

Although Siberia had been used as a place of exile by the Russian government since the end of the sixteenth century, during the Napoleonic Wars and after the number of prisoners had increased exponentially. Prisoners of war, political prisoners, and religious schismatics and their  families, were joined by thieves and murderers. After time spent in prison, most of these people, often accompanied by their families, were then left to their own devices to feed themselves, in a economy where they could rarely find full occupation.

On his return to the United States in August 1886, Kennan became an vociferous critic of the Russian regime. His reports on conditions in Siberia were published serially by Century Magazine, and in 1891, he published a two-volume book Siberia and The Exile System. He helped found Free Russia, the first English-language journal to oppose Tsarist Russia. In 1901, the Russian government banned him from Russia.

 

Convicts at Tyumen wait to board barges on the Ob River for transport to prisons around Siberia.

Convicts at Tyumen wait to board barges on the Ob River for transport to prisons around Siberia.

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Party of exiles, hard labor convicts, resting on road near Tomsk

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Group of female exiles and their children standing in front of log barracks

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Party of exiles and convicts embarking on river barge at Tumen

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Runaway Siberian convicts

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Group of prisoners on the road beyond Tomsk

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Alexandrofski central prison about sixty versts from Irkutsk

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Siberian convicts working in a placer mine

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Siberian convicts taking lunch by the roadside

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

A Russian prisoner in leg irons – portrait

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Prisoner Klenof

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Dikofski, sentenced in Odessa to 15 to 20 years.

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Kardashof, a political exile living in the Buriat village of Selenginsk who had served his penal term at the Kara gold mines.

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

A prisoner named Mikhailof.

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

A Siberian etape or exile station house

George Kennan Russia Siberia criminals

Shchedrin, a schoolteacher – political prisoner at the Kara gold mines who escaped in April 1882 by tunneling under the prison wall. He and other prisoners were recaptured and permanently chained to wheelbarrows, before being sent to isolation cells at the castle of Schlisselburg.

 

 

George Kennan poses in Siberian exile dress, each piece given to him by an exile from the dress he had worn

George Kennan poses in Siberian exile dress, each piece given to him by an exile from the dress he had worn