With the Doukhobors to Canada

by Vera Mikhailovna Velichkina

Vera Mikhailovna Velichkina (1868-1918) was the daughter of a Moscow clerical family. In 1891, she broke out of the family circle to join Tolstoyans organizing famine relief among the starving peasants of Central Russia. In 1892, she immigrated to Switzerland where she studied medicine and met her future husband, Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Dmitryevich Bonch-Bruevich. They remained abroad until 1899, when Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy asked them to escort the fourth boatload of Doukhobors to Canada. To this end, Velichkina and Bonch-Bruevich (along with several other sympathizers) sailed from England aboard the SS Lake Huron to pick up the Doukhobors at Batoum. They disembarked at Constantinople to buy provisions for the sea crossing while the ship continued to Batoum. They rejoined the ship as it passed through Constantinople on its way to Canada with the Doukhobors on board. The crossing, their quarantine on Grosse Ile near Quebec City and the rail journey across Canada to Manitoba are described in detail by Velichkina in a series of three articles published in the Russian paper “Russkie Vedomosti” in May 1900. The English translation of this valuable historical material is reproduced by permission from Woodsworth, John, Ed. and Trans., “Russian Roots & Canadian Wings, Russian Archival Documents on the Doukhobor Emigration to Canada” Canada/Russian Series. Vol. I. (Toronto: Penumbra Press, 1999).

I. At Sea

On the morning of the 3rd (15th) of May [1899] we finally received word that our ship, the Lake Huron, was approaching Constantinople. We had spent the past ten days in Constantinople buying provisions for the ship, and the long wait in this dirty Asian metropolis was terribly annoying, all the more so since we so much wanted to see the Doukhobors as soon as possible and begin our work with them. I was awfully glad when we went to the English consulate and saw there our captain and doctor and our other companions with whom we had spent two weeks en route to Constantinople.

Doukhobor sympathizer Vera Mikhailovna Velichkina (1868-1918. Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, No. 533.

Approaching the Lake Huron by launch, we could see from some distance away that it was full of people. Upon boarding the ship, I felt a bit disoriented at first from being surrounded by so many people. Everyone had crowded onto the decks to have a look at the huge city spread out along the shore. Little boats pressed in all around the ship, from which all sorts of merchants carried on a shouting dialogue with the Doukhobors.

First of all I got acquainted with my colleague, field-nurse Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova (1859-1938). She had already accompanied the second boatload, and consequently was much more experienced than I in this matter. I must admit the first few days I was quite thrown by all the various inconveniences of the ship. For example, we had to prepare medicines not on a table but on a bed, which we both had trouble reaching, and so forth.

Apart from that, instead of relying on the ship’s pharmacy alone, she had equipped herself with various medicines and medical instruments from Russia, which turned out to be a wise decision. She showed me all our ‘treasures’. The ship’s pharmacy depressed me – it was so dirty, confining and ill-equipped.

Besides the two of us, there were two other escorts aboard: Vladimir Dmytrevich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955) and Alexander Nikolayevich Konshin (1867-1912), along with a fifteen-year-old boy [Sasha Bodyansky], being sent by his father with us to America. We at once seconded him to be our assistant. His duties included seeing to the proper ventilation of the holds, which he carried out most properly.

After looking over the ship I went to the upper deck to get acquainted and talk with the Doukhobors. I was immediately surrounded by women asking questions. One very old woman who, as I found out later, already had a great-great–grandson, invited me to sit down and have dinner with them, but of course I wasn’t able to do that right there and then.

We left Constantinople toward evening.

The next day Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova and I set off on a medical inspection tour of the ship. She had already learnt her way around on the leg of the trip from Batoum to Constantinople, and pointed out to me the people that were ill. We got along rather well with the English doctor. At first he did hardly any work at all, and it was only during the second half of the crossing that he caught on to our example and set about his work in earnest. He made no inspection tours of his own and came down only when I told him that someone was seriously ill.

Initially we had a conflict with him over the medications and the bandaging materials. He wore me out with his long diatribes on medical practice aboard ship and how to deal with ‘this class of people’. He especially protested against the treatment of chronic illnesses. But what should one do about all these chronic sores when the voyage was going to go on for twenty-eight days? One could not, in fact, leave them unbandaged. He kept asking me to listen to him as a ‘senior colleague’: ‘If you constantly respond to every complaint, this class of people will make you their slaves. And what will happen when you go under yourselves – then they’ll all be without your help’, and so on.

Notwithstanding all these reservations, we did have access to anything that was to be found on the ship, and were quite free to go about our work. There was an unusually large number of chronically ill people aboard, since the other parties [on the previous ships] had been reluctant to take them with them, as they were travelling in the wintertime when the seas were rough.

There were a lot of old men in particular in our party. Initially, of course, there were not many acutely ill, although dysentery began rather early [in the voyage]. It did not take on any threatening character on the ship. The drinking water-the most important issue on a sea voyage-was always satisfactory.

Doukhobors aboard SS Lake Huron, 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01448.

During the first few days, until I had got used to the ship, Efrosinya Dmitryevna and I made our inspection rounds together twice a day – morning and night. We checked those who were ill, and carried with us everything essential for first aid (cognac, liquid ammonia and a few other medications), noted down any who were weak and needed a better diet, and looked into the various other needs of the Doukhobors. We either brought the prescribed medicines ourselves later, or the patients’ relatives came to the clinic for them. Our young assistant looked after the distribution of milk, eggs, coffee, lemons etc. After the morning tour we busied ourselves in the clinic up until the mid-day meal, after which we would bandage patients with chronic sores. By and by, to save time, we began making our rounds separately, dividing the ship into two parts. Our patients were increasing in number and time was something to be treasured.

Not long afterward a minor incident occurred, after which our doctor significantly softened his attitude toward the Doukhobors and stopped arguing over their medication. Once, while Efrosinya Dmitryevna and I were bandaging one seriously ill woman, he came into the cabin to see her. Earlier he had tried to persuade us to change the bandages less frequently, as she was not going to get better in any case, and she required a lot of time and bandaging materials. But the poor woman told us that without the bandages she suffered terribly. Her whole leg from top to bottom was infected with tuberculosis… Her lungs, too, were seriously infected, so that we had little hope of keeping her alive to the end of the trip, and in fact she passed on a few days after our arrival in Canada.

No sooner had the doctor begun to expound on the need to save bandaging material than the patient suddenly grasped his arm, and, pointing at her heart, kept repeating: Khoroshii, Khoroshii! [Good, good!] She very much wanted to tell him herself how much she appreciated his kindness and the good he had done for her. The doctor, of course, did not understand and turned to me. I explained what was going on. As it happened, I had sent her a jar of preserves that very morning, and she thought it had come from him, and wanted to thank him herself. I did not attempt to explain the misunderstanding to her, as I always wanted to establish good relations with the staff, and told the doctor that I would send her other things in his name. The doctor was completely bewildered and embarrassed and ran off. A few minutes later he returned and brought us new bandaging materials, splendid and soft.

This comic incident happened during a time when we were isolating patients. There were quite a few among the Doukhobors who suffered from Caucasian fever, and the doctor was so afraid of any kind of infection that he endeavored to put anyone with a high temperature into immediate isolation. The Doukhobors had no understanding of why contagiously ill patients should be isolated. They did not raise a protest; they simply did not understand.

At one point the doctor discovered a healthy eighteen-year-old lad with a slight temperature and decided to isolate him in the hospital cabin. His wife, whom he had only recently married, had absolutely no wish to leave her husband in the cabin alone. At first the doctor was quite unwilling to allow her to stay with him on the grounds that she would be taking up an extra patient bed. After long negotiations, I suggested that if all the beds were occupied, she could lie on the floor… Finally the doctor agreed.

The doctor staunchly defended the sanctity of his hospital cabins. When I came back to see the isolated patient an hour later, I found, to my horror, a whole crowd of female visitors in his cabin. The next day our patient seemed quite well and the doctor, after seeing him and checking his temperature, decided to release him. We went to the cabin (as an interpreter, I always accompanied the doctor) and found there neither the patient nor his wife; in their place we found his sister sitting there with her baby. She responded to our query by saying: ‘It’s all right – I’m part of their family’. We looked at one another and burst out laughing.

Two babies were born during the voyage – a boy and a girl. The girl was born first, and the crew asked that the ship’s name be attached to hers. Accordingly, I called her Anna-Hurona. Good weather prevailed for almost the whole time. There was little rocking, and then only crossing the ocean. The Doukhobors were a little afraid of the ocean; it always seemed that a storm might blow up such as the storms they heard about in letters from the first party (we were the fourth boatload) and that they would be rocked to pieces.

Doukhobors aboard SS Lake Huron, 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01434.

We started across the ocean and nothing terrible happened. Many were ill, but not from seasickness. Our workload kept increasing, however, so that we had scarcely any time to talk with the Doukhobors or read to them, as we had expected. If we happened to catch a free moment here and there, most of the time we would gather around Petr Verigin’s elderly mother, upon whom the Doukhobors bestowed special care and respect. She was always surrounded by the more intelligent Doukhobors, who would tell us about their lives, about their plans for the future, and sing or recite their psalms. For our part we would read this dear woman letters from her sons, which she never tired of hearing.

Upon arising in the morning on the ninth day out, we were greeted by the sad news that a five-year-old girl had died. I was astounded, as I had not known a single seriously ill child on the ship. It turned out that this girl had been completely paralyzed with an abnormal skull, and had been close to death for some time, to the point where her parents no longer asked for help for her but only awaited her final passing from day to day. This was the first death on the ship, not counting the death of a mentally-ill girl who had been brought aboard in a terminal state and died a few hours after our departure from Batoum.

The girl was buried that afternoon. The weather was splendid and clear, the sea was completely calm. The Doukhobors had been singing over her from early morning, and a sense of hopelessness permeated their monotone singing. The Doukhobors took it very hard when someone died on the ship – it was sad for them to cast their loved ones into the sea, where no one would ever know their graves. As a rule, they react to death very calmly.

It was a solemn moment when the father himself took his deceased daughter into his arms to cast her into the sea. Her mother walked behind, all in tears. All the Doukhobors sang. They let her down gradually on a rope to the water’s surface, and then, still singing psalms, calmly lowered her into the sea. One of the Doukhobors stepped forward and began to recite a psalm in a clear, distinct voice. Then voices were once more raised in song. At this point the child’s mother herself tearfully recited a prayer. This was followed by still more singing-now no longer about death – and the clear blue Mediterranean sky reflecting the dark azure of the waves – all this, it seemed, was speaking only of eternal, deathless life and reconciliation with earthly death. The heavy feeling of oppression had been lifted from the heart. At the end of the ceremony the father bowed to those around him and thanked them for their compassion.

Six people altogether died on the voyage. In addition to the two already mentioned, there was a very elderly lady (an epileptic), and then another elderly lady who had been ill for a long time with liver-disease. She was an amazingly bright individual; I knew her and looked after her meals. She died very suddenly, for on the morning of the same day she was feeling so good that she even wanted to go up on deck. Her husband felt devastated by her death, and even I went under and spent a whole day lying in bed in my cabin. The next to die was the lady with tuberculosis of the leg, whom I mentioned earlier. And toward the very end of the voyage, just as we were approaching Canada, a seven-year-old boy passed on with a serious case of pneumonia.

Toward the end of the journey we began smallpox vaccinations. Right at this time a little girl took sick; her temperature was constantly above normal. The Doukhobors, understandably, suspected an infection, all the more so since rumours were going round of smallpox on the ship. The Doukhobors didn’t come to us – they greatly feared a quarantine, since, under the terms of the ship’s charter, it would cost them dearly. And any delay in their journey would be very unpleasant for them, as they were in a hurry to get established on their sites.

The first to express her suspicions was Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova – the girl was her patient. I told the doctor, since isolation of contagiously ill patients came under his jurisdiction and he bore official responsibility for the spread of disease. The doctor, who was busy with the smallpox vaccinations, did not pay much attention to our assertions, and only as we approached the quarantine site did he isolate the patient. Both he and I realized that we were dealing with a mild form of actual smallpox. But he told me he was not completely sure, and asked me to pass that information on, and to tell the mother it was chicken-pox.

Launch approaching Doukhobors aboard SS Lake Huron, 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01516.

During these last days before arriving [at Quebec] one of my patients, a child, was dying of pneumonia. I left the rest of the ship in the hands of my kind and experienced colleague and devoted almost my whole time to the poor boy. The people’s health began to improve a little, now that we had crossed the ocean. The child died that evening, on the eve of our arrival. To the great comfort of his mother and family, he was not cast into the sea, but brought to the island where the quarantine was set up. We sailed in not with the yellow flag, which would have signalled trouble, but with the ordinary ship’s flag.

Some time after the quarantine inspectors boarded the ship, our doctor approached me and asked me to say, if I were questioned, that the girl had just taken ill the day before yesterday. I did not wish to lie, but neither did I want to put the doctor in an awkward position, so I did not leave my cabin. But one of our escorts, Alexander Nikolayevich Konshin, told the chief quarantine inspector what her mother had said, that the girl had taken ill nine days ago. This was most unpleasant for the ship’s doctor. The smallpox was immediately ascertained, of course, and a state of quarantine was declared. They took the girl and her mother away to hospital on a small quarantine boat. But before this they took my young patient to the cemetery. This was our first gift to Canada. The smallpox was the second.

We were all almost completely convinced that there were other cases of smallpox on board, carefully hidden by the Doukhobors. There was no longer any reason to hide them: the ship was to be detained in any case, no matter how many sick people there were. We went to see the elderly Verigina and asked her to use her influence to have all the cases of smallpox brought to us. And in fact this was done. It turned out that there were thirteen cases of smallpox among the Doukhobors. But (oh God!) what a frightful appearance was presented by two little girls that were brought to us! The smallpox had already covered half their bodies, and they had been covered up with clothing in that condition for nine days so they wouldn’t be seen. After that six sailors had fallen ill. Fortunately, no one died from the smallpox, and no new cases appeared during the quarantine.

They began taking people onto the island, starting with the sick [children] and their fathers and mothers. The quarantine boat was obliged to make many trips to and fro. Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova was taken along with the patients.

We were vaccinated at this time, along with all the officers. Then began the disembarkation and the transfer of both passengers and baggage to the quarantine site. The whole procedure took four days, as the operation had to be halted on occasion for more than half a day because the rough water prevented the little boat from approaching the Lake Huron. These days were frightfully exhausting for us, and so I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the Lake Huron with the last party, hoping to get a bit of rest in quarantine. The crew stayed on board, intending to wait out the quarantine period on the ship.

Toward the end I had some rather serious disputes with the doctor and the captain regarding the smallpox. They began sharply criticizing the Doukhobors for hiding the ones who were sick. I was so depressed at hearing their blistering – and for the most part unjust – attacks on the Doukhobors, whom I had grown quite attached to during the voyage, that I was unable to restrain myself and started defending them. I said that in a situation like this it would be difficult to blame anyone in particular, but if anybody were to blame, it would be [any] doctors who allowed such a disease to spread. In this case I myself did not hold the English doctor morally responsible, since he was not able to enter into direct communication with the Doukhobors. That left just me; but I had never taken upon myself any administrative or police duties and therefore did not hold myself responsible for the smallpox, except in the sense that I had not sufficiently earned the Doukhobors’ trust that they themselves would tell me about their diseases. For this I was prepared to take full responsibility, and, if necessary, to say so in print.

The captain and the doctor were very embarrassed, and began apologizing for their harshness toward the Doukhobors. They told me they would certainly not allow me to take sole responsibility for the smallpox, but would willingly share it with me. We parted on the best of terms.

II.    In Quarantine

The quarantine where we were to spend twenty-one days was situated on a rather large island named Grosse lle (about 4 miles [approx. 6.5 km] long), lying at the mouth of the St-Lawrence River, about 35 kilometers from Quebec City. What a paradise it seemed to us after the ship! Even before disembarking we admired the picturesque group of Doukhobor women and children who had gone to the island first and who had spread themselves out along the shore to wash all their clothing and underwear in the water – finally, fresh water! The little children took great delight in playing and running through the grass around their mothers.

Pier at Grosse Ile, Quebec. It was here where Vera M. Velichkina and the 2,286 Doukhobors aboard the SS Lake Huron disembarked for quarantine. Library and Archives Canada PA-046795.

In the meantime a ceremonial welcome awaited our party in Quebec. Representatives of earlier Doukhobor emigrants had come, along with delegates from the Philadelphia Quaker committee. But they were not allowed to meet with us. Three Doukhobors came to see us in quarantine and stayed with our party for the whole month, while the Quakers sent a welcoming letter to Grosse Ile, expressing fervent brotherly sympathy and concluding with the following words:

As we said earlier, we wanted to meet you upon arrival here, and let you know, as representatives of the religious Society of Friends, about the sympathy the Society feels toward you and to express our Society’s compassion for your trials and losses, and to do as much as lies within our power to help you with your needs. Not being allowed to see you at the moment, we commit you to the Lord’s keeping, believing that He will make all things work together for good to them that love and honour Him, and that He will be praised through the patience in tribulations shown by those who are His children…

‘Your friends: Joseph Elkinton, William Evans.’

The Doukhobors responded to the Quakers with a letter of their own, which reads in part:

The Lord save you, dear brethren, for the love [you have shown] by corning to meet us as your brethren of faith in Christ, and by laying down your life for your brother and your neighbour. May you be recompensed in a measure overflowing with heavenly and earthly gifts from the omnipotent hand of the heavenly Father. … We ask the same Lord and all kind people to forgive us our iniquities by which we have hurt innocent people through our intemperance and our uncertainty. And we ask you, dear friends, to convey our heartfelt greeting to all the brothers and sisters living in Philadelphia in the United States who believe in Christ, the Saviour of our souls.

‘With love from the Christians of Universal Brotherhood now in quarantine on Grosse Ile, and members of this Community: Semen Chernov, Pavel Planidin, Semen Vereshchagin.

Part of the island, about a kilometre square, had been sectioned off for the ship’s passengers. At the other end of the island was a general hospital and the smallpox dormitory. Most of the island was covered with a splendid forest. In the middle of it stood the employees’ houses and the house of the quarantine director, Dr. Martineau. At our end of the island there were eight large, bright dormitories and a fairly spacious old kitchen, which was not being used as in addition to that there was a new kitchen with well-appointed stoves and pantries. Besides the kitchen, the Doukhobors could use the bakery to make bread and in one of the dormitories there was even tap water, and bath-tubs.

Those escorting the party and the ship’s crew were housed in a splendid large building called an hotel, which was divided, like the ship, into first and second classes, with rooms appointed in the fashion of ships’ cabins. At first the crew hoped that they could spend the quarantine period on the ship itself, but this proved inconvenient, and a few days after us they moved in. This rather restricted the Doukhobors, since they were no longer able to freely come and see us in this building.

About twenty paces from the hotel were the quarters of the sergeant who ran this part of the island, and next door to them was a small room where smallpox vaccinations were administered. Next came the disinfection chambers, and beyond that was the cabin of an English physican, Dr. Church, whose whole job was the inspection of ships.

Quarantine hotel at Grosse Ile, Quebec. Library and Archives Canada C-079029.

There was no pharmacy nor walk-in clinic on this part of the island, nor was there any doctor to service them, since it was assumed that all serious cases of illness would be treated at the hospital. During the quarantine I became convinced even more than on the ship of how important it was to equip one’s self with all kinds of medications and instruments.

Upon my arrival on the island, I went to see the chief physician of the district, Dr. Montizambert, suggesting that I carry on my work during the quarantine. He was very happy [about this] and said that everyone would gladly help me if I needed it.

As to the medications, I was obliged to go see our quarantine director, Dr. Martineau. I immediately made up a list of required medications and bandaging materials – a rather modest list – and while my requests were never directly refused, what I got was either not delivered on time, or delivered in such small quantities or in such a disordered state that I have never, anywhere, suffered so much from a lack of medicines as on Grosse Ile. I had, for example, [to deal with] a multitude of minor surgical cases – bums, cuts etc., and in response to my request for bandaging materials I received a huge quantity of cotton batten and only three bandages. Then several people showed up with a rash; I prescribed sulphuric ointment, and they sent me two ounces… During the second half of our stay in quarantine I began ordering medicines from Quebec myself, but this did not happen often.

The individual smallpox vaccinations began right from the first day the Doukhobors began setting foot on the island. No official interpreter had yet been brought in; [Alexander Nikolayevich] Konshin. had his hands full looking after the Doukhobors’ living arrangements, and so right from that very first morning I offered to help the quarantine doctors in this work. […]

After the vaccinations the quarantine doctors made their daily rounds of all the dormitories, seeing to it that sanitary regulations were being observed and watching for the appearance of new cases of smallpox, which, thankfully, didn’t happen.

Then a curious incident took place. The quarantine authorities were not quite sure that the Doukhobors’ escorts had not taken part in covering up the smallpox on the ship. At one point Montizambert expressed his doubt to Konshin, adding, half-jokingly, that this was subject to a fine of 800 dollars and six months in prison. Konshin told that to the Doukhobors. Then on one of my rounds I found in one of the dormitories a very lively meeting taking place. I asked what was going on.

‘Yes, haven’t you heard, Vera Mikhailovna, about the trouble that has befallen us?’ replied Pavel Planidin, one of the most influential Doukhobors in the party. The doctors say that because of us, because of our mistake, our escorts may be put in prison. We cannot allow that to happen, and we have got together and want to go to see the doctors. We’ll tell them to take all of us instead of the escorts, since they didn’t have anything to do with it. If we wish to hide (some-thing), nobody, not even the doctors, no matter how much they inspect the dormitories, will ever find anything.’ And in fact they followed through on their intention and spoke about this to Montizambert.

But the main activity of the quarantine doctors was, of course, the disinfection of all the baggage and the ship itself. They really had a lot of trouble doing this. Those accompanying the ship were also obliged to expend no little energy convincing the Doukhobors that this was essential, and that without disinfection of their baggage they would not be allowed to leave the island. Our party had brought a fair number of possessions with them, including reminders of their previous days of wealth, and the Doukhobors greatly feared that this would all be spoilt by the disinfection. There were many doubts, questions and negotiations at first, but then little by little the matter was resolved, the Doukhobors became convinced that everything would remain safe and unharmed, and not only did they calm down themselves, but they also tried to write letters to calm the fears of those who were in hospital. The latter, for their part, also wrote cheerful letters [back] to their relatives to the effect that nothing was been taken away from them or burnt, as they had previously supposed, but that on the contrary, their needs were being well looked after and the food was splendid. In fairness to the quarantine personnel, it must be said that they were actually very attentive and careful with the Doukhobors’ baggage. […]

Baggage already disinfected was identified by labels with the sign of a red cross. Here another misunderstanding arose. The Doukhobors were greatly troubled upon seeing the crosses and asked that a different sign be used. They apparently took these crosses as a violation of their religious beliefs. One of our escorts, Bonch-Bruevich went to see Montizambert and asked him to resolve the misunderstanding in some way. He replied that [the inspectors] were obliged to attach this label, but that if the Doukhobors didn’t like it they could scrape it off. The Doukhobors soon realized that there was no attempt to violate their beliefs here.

Doukhobors having a meal while in quarantine, 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection C-01485.

I myself took no part in the disinfection and didn’t even have time to observe it… After receiving patients I made my rounds of the dormitories. I was almost never able to complete this before lunch, and so continued with it after lunch. Later, if there were no serious cases to attend to, I would go to my cabin to rest for a couple of hours, prepare medications and talk things over with my colleagues. Then before supper I would once again open the doors of my clinic, and make a second tour of the dormitories in the evening. But I doubt I was able to follow this schedule to the letter much of the time, especially when there was a lot of work.

My evening reception hours began stretching to almost 11 o’clock at night, so I tried to get in the second tour of the day somewhat earlier. When there were more serious cases, I would have to visit the more distant dormitories as often as three or four times a day. Often secondary activity -writing letters for the Doukhobors, mediating as an interpreter between them and the Canadians -would take [time] away from my purely medical work. I tried to avoid such activity as much as possible during the quarantine, since in addition to [Alexander Nikolayevich] Konshin, who had a good command of both English and French, we did have an official interpreter.

But the Doukhobors knew that I too spoke the language that was foreign to them, and they often turned to me for help in this.

Before long an epidemic of dysentery broke out on the island. It turned out that at one end of the island, not far from two dormitories which stood some distance off to one side, was an old blocked-off well, alongside a huge abandoned cemetery containing the graves of some 3,500 people who died on this island from cholera and smallpox in the 1840s.!! To avoid going further afield – i.e., to the river – the Doukhobors in these dormitories unblocked the well without telling anyone and began drawing drinking water from it. The quarantine guards noticed it two days later, but the dysentery had already managed to infect almost all the residents of these dormitories and spread even further. At one point there were so many people ill that it seemed that there were scarcely any healthy people left.

Even in that desperate situation I was constantly lacking the [needed] medicines… True, there were few fatal cases. Altogether we lost seven people during the quarantine. Five very old people died – one of them from dysentery, the rest simply of old age, without getting sick. Then a small child died of lung inflammation, and one middle-aged man from dysentery.

Finally Dr. Church offered to help me in all cases where there were complications. He was a very good, experienced physician who was really a great help and support for me at this difficult time. Sometimes during the worst weather and in the middle of the night he would go with me without a word of complaint, and I felt much calmer in the presence of such an experienced senior colleague. […]

At this time in the dormitory furthest away a child became sick with inflammation of the lungs, which required very careful attention. My own condition was such that upon seeing me, Montizambert at once suggested the hospital. He insisted that I send all the dangerously ill patients there. I objected, saying the Doukhobors would be most reluctant to agree to that. But he continued insisting, saying that I could no longer go on working in my condition, that I would faint from fatigue. ‘Qu ‘allons-nousfaire, si vous crevez de fatigue?’ [‘how are we going to make it, if you die of fatigue?’] he would say.

In the end Montizambert persuaded me to tell the Doukhobors that this was his order. Of course I realized that in the large, splendid hospital they would receive a hundred times better care than from me.

I selected three to be transferred: an old man, who was lying in the kitchen, the child with inflammation of the lungs, who had taken ill just the day before, and Larion Tarasov, who had a typhoid form of dysentery. As I had expected, they all agreed very reluctantly. And I felt sorry to send them away, simply wanting to save myself extra work. But on that same day [Efrosinya Dmitryevna] Khiryakova. was released from the smallpox dormitory and after disinfection she set about taking care of these patients in the hospital.

Grosse Ile with quarantine buildings in foreground. Library and Archives Canada C-079030.

The day went quietly, but the following night I was awakened and called to the telephone. Usually our telephone made the voices sound muffled during the day, but they were clear at night-time, and I heard Khiryakova’s voice distinctly telling me that Larion Tarasov had passed on, the child after him, and soon the old man would die. The relatives had to be notified.

These three deaths all at once were a sudden shock to me. I had to go to work as soon as day broke, but my former cheerfulness and energy were gone, and I was very glad when, after the old man’s death, Khiryakova returned to us and was able to share the load. I must admit that during these latter days of our quarantine I was quite willing to let her take care of the whole task of receiving patients. In the meantime the epidemic had subsided.

The quarantine itself was finally lifted, the doctors withdrew, but our party still remained on the island, as the trains that were to take us to the north-west were not yet ready, because of some national holiday the Canadians were celebrating. The Doukhobors were terribly bored and anxious to get out to their sites as quickly as possible. Finally a small ship was hired which was able to take our party to Quebec, one group at a time.

Again we went with the last party, having seen all the Doukhobors aboard. As they passed through a gate onto the ship, they had to hand in their certificates showing that they had been vaccinated and had taken a bath. Dr. Martineau carefully looked each one in the face as they walked by, so as not to let pass anyone with smallpox. We were obliged to be present at this inspection to resolve any misunderstandings that might arise.

The procedure did not pass without a few comic scenes. One woman, for example, had a child in tow whose face was covered in freckles, and Martineau looked at him suspiciously. Noticing this, the woman explained: ‘Konopatyi on [he is speckled/freckled], understand? Konopatyi!’ Of course neither Martineau nor even the interpreter understood the word konopatyi, and even I didn’t catch on at first. ‘Ko-no-PA–tyi!’ the woman repeated. General consternation.

Finally, after all the concerns and alarms, the last group ceremoniously thanked the doctors and boarded the boat, and we went along too. I must admit I felt a tinge of sadness at leaving the island, where I had done so much work and gone through so much for my patients, all the more so since I myself now had no idea where I was going, for how long, and what would be awaiting me in this new and unfamiliar land.

III. To Winnipeg

Ever so quietly, in a hushed silence, the last group of Doukhobors sailed into Quebec harbour at sunset time.

‘Why so quiet?’ asked the brethren who had come earlier, with some annoyance. It is the Doukhobors’ custom to approach the shores of a new homeland with psalm-singing, but our group had somehow forgotten about that, probably tired out from the day-to-day anticipation of our departure.

They had not even thrown the gangplank across when my colleague Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova and I were snatched off the ship over the railing. The Canadians were in a hurry to get acquainted with those escorting the Doukhobors.

Port of Quebec where the Doukhobors aboard the SS Lake Huron disembarked in 1899. Library and Archives Canada PA-031895.

The new arrivals were met by a Mr. P. Doyle – a government immigration agent – and a Mrs. Cornille, a middle-aged woman in charge of all arriving immigrant women and children, along with Mr. Elkinton, a man of senior years with a very kind face, wearing a traditional Quaker costume, who had come as a representative of the Philadelphia Quakers.

We went at once to the immigration facility, where Mrs. Cornille wanted to show us how she had accommodated the Doukhobors that had come earlier. The immigration facility was a rather large two-storey building. On the lower floor the Doukhobors were accommodated in a huge, clean hall with electric lighting. Two large rooms on the upper floor were also placed at their disposal, along with several individual rooms where Mrs. Cornille took the sick and infirm, [so that they would be] further away from the noise and bustle. We too were allotted rooms here. The whole building was surrounded with an awning, which also sheltered a crowd of Doukhobors. This was where the trains came in.

By the time we arrived, the third train loaded with Doukhobors was already waiting to depart. The whole space under the awning was filled with the sound of cheerful voices bidding good-bye. They would not be parting for long; they had nothing but bright hopes for the future; the ocean, the smallpox and all the troubles and sorrows of the trip were behind them, and a very happy mood prevailed on the railway platform.

But it was not long before we had occasion once more to despair. It had been expected that the Doukhobors would set out for the north-west on one train after another, as usual. But then they were detained several more days in quarantine as the railway coaches were not ready. Now it turned out that there weren’t enough coaches. The fourth train was delayed until the next day. And the last party was obliged to stay five whole days at Quebec, expecting their train literally hour by hour, day and night.

There were six trains all told. [Alexander Nikolayevich] Konshin left with the first train to get everything ready at our destination. After a couple of days Efrosinya Dmitryevna Khiryakova left us – we saw her off on her way back to St-Petersburg. Bonch-Bruevich and I went with the last train.

These days of waiting – right at the doorstep of the railway station, it could be said – were exhausting. The government did not let any outsiders into the immigration building except with an immigration agent’s permission, to keep the Doukhobors from losing their money. It soon became necessary, however, to limit the Doukhobors’ access to the city, as a result of several misunderstandings that occurred – a lot of them, still unfamiliar with Canadian coins, were being cheated out of their money in the city; two of them were almost run over by an electric tram, and so on. In addition, the Doukhobors bought a great deal of fruit, most of it spoilt, and the dysentery which had all but disappeared in the quarantine blew up again. But this time those who fell prey to the illness were healthy youths, and they didn’t have too much trouble coping with it,

It is only fair to say that the immigration agents – the senior agent Doyle in particular – were extremely attentive even to the most insignificant needs of the Doukhobors. The kind old gentleman stopped to chat with each woman and answer each one’s questions, calling me over to serve as an interpreter. He spent the whole day making the rounds of the immigration building, barely stopping for a bite to eat. Doyle took care of all our requests at once and was exceptionally attentive.

I had rather little to do here in the way of actual medical work, but there were more things to be taken care of than ever. The official interpreter departed with one of the trains, and I was left as the only intermediary between the Doukhobors and the Canadians. Apart from the purely business matters, there were many visitors whose curiosity needed satisfying. One wanted to know about the Doukhobors’ religion; another was interested in their crafts and wanted to buy some kind of souvenir; a third wished to ask about their trip. Bored as they were from the long wait, the Doukhobors themselves were not averse to chatting with this visitor or that. I was constantly besieged with all sorts of questions. At this time I was able to make a few acquaintances that served me well in my subsequent experience.

Immigration buildings, Quebec City, Quebec, c. 1899. Library and Archives Canada PA-020858.

The boarding of the trains was splendidly organized by Bonch-Bruevich. Each family knew ahead of time which coach to look for, and the actual boarding took but a few minutes. There were still some arrangements that needed to made for the baggage, however. And so, when the next-to-the-last train was about to depart, I was standing with Doyle in the doorway of the baggage-car, translating his instructions to the Doukhobors, when we noticed some commotion in the immigration hall. Thereupon a couple of Doukhobors came running up to me and said:

‘The Minister’s arrived, sister, he’s asking for you!’ There was nothing to do but to leave the loading of the baggage-car and go see ‘the Minister’.

It turned out that the President of the Parliament [sic!] had arrived with an entourage to meet the Doukhobors. I had occasion to show him my patients, and then to talk more about the Doukhobors, their beliefs and customs, etc. At this point in one of the upper rooms the Doukhobors were preparing a ceremonial reception for him- including a prayer service. Upon our arrival there, the president was greeted with psalm-singing. When this was over, he addressed the Doukhobors with words of welcome, saying on behalf of the Canadian people how glad he was to see them in his country, wished them a successful establishment in their new homeland, and promised to do everything he could to make all traces of the trials they had suffered disappear as quickly as possible.

The Doukhobors, for their part, in simple, warm phrases thanked the Canadians for accepting them in their midst, and the president personally for taking the trouble to come and meet them. After the speeches the Doukhobors continued to sing and recite their psalms, and I conveyed the content of their songs to him in a half-whisper. The president stayed more than an hour with the Doukhobors, but at last the ceremony was over and the train could get underway. We went a little way on it ourselves to count the number of passengers, and then a carriage took us back [to the immigration facility].

I was sincerely happy at the outing, as up until that time I had not once been out of the immigration building. Later I managed to get some free time to myself and have a look around the city. The Canadian doctors suggested I take a look at the university in Quebec.

Quebec is an old-fashioned, ugly city with dirty narrow streets. But I was impressed by the university. It is a relatively small building on some back street or lane. Besides the university itself, the building also houses an art gallery and a museum. The small, old classrooms are appointed with plain wooden floors. The academic library is still of miniscule proportions, so that you completely forget you are at a university.

‘And here is the chemistry laboratory for the Faculty of Medicine’, a young doctor who had just graduated observed with pride. ‘The laboratory was just opened last year.’ ‘How did you get along before without a laboratory?’ ‘Only with theory; we didn’t do any practical work.’

In one of the largest and most decorated rooms stands the tomb of Bishop Laval; it was thanks to his efforts that the university was opened. The influence of the Catholic clergy is noticeable all throughout southeastern Canada. In Quebec itself almost half the city belongs to various Catholic orders.

Immigration buildings near train station in Quebec City, Quebec, c. 1899. Library and Archives Canada C-061968.

But to get back to the Doukhobors. In the last group, who were to be going with us, we separated out all those who were penniless, who couldn’t even afford to buy bread for the trip – 178 people. They were provided with bread, tea, sugar, cheese, and salt to take on the train, and even milk for the children. During their stay in Quebec, all the little children also received milk. Before leaving, Elkinton, the Quaker, gave money to Mrs. Cornille to provide as much milk for the children as they wanted. Someone sent clothing for the youngsters, as well as wild strawberries.

The Cornille woman herself reacted to the Doukhobors very warmly; before the trains departed she wanted to treat the children to candy. But she did this rather awkwardly. After gathering all the children together, she tossed the candies from a little bag out into the crowd. The youngsters all scrambled at once to pick them up, and naturally the little ones got hurt.

The Doukhobors took great offence at this type of amusement. The elders called me over and asked me to tell Mrs. Cornille that they thought it was simply a mockery that ‘our children could get smothered just trying to get a little candy. And besides, what if they started fighting each other over it?’ To avoid offending the kind old lady, I refrained from conveying the sharp tone of their words, but for the rest of the candy distribution we lined up the children and put the littlest ones in front.

At long last our train arrived. We boarded quickly, took along all the provisions we would need for the three day’s journey and set off for the Far West. I felt sad at leaving these two kind senior people, Mr. Doyle and Mrs. Cornille, who were so good to work with and who treated the Doukhobors so warmly.

‘May God grant you [the opportunity] to get some rest, at least along the way!’ were their parting words to me.

I doubt that settlers anywhere travel as comfortably as in Canada. In the first place, all the coaches are sleeping-cars, and each person has a fine, comfortable place to sleep. The benches are soft, covered in oilcloth. The train has two stoves, on which the Doukhobors were able to cook hot food for themselves, and there was always enough water for washing and drinking.

It took us three days and nights to get to Winnipeg, stopping for no more than a quarter of an hour at only the major stations! At these stops we were very alert to make sure that none of the Doukhobors got left behind at the station. Two lads travelling on one of the previous trains were left behind when they got carried away gathering strawberries.

In the middle of the train there was a storage-car where all the foodstuffs procured for the journey were kept, as well as all sorts of dishes – cups, spoons, even towels, brooms etc. This coach also had a room for the immigration agent accompanying the train. The agent who travelled with us was so kind and attentive both toward the Doukhobors and toward us that in spite of my ill health my memories of this trip are most pleasant ones.

In my section I again set up a dispensary and received patients. True, there were not very many of them; nevertheless, every day a few people would come to me for bandaging, and while it was difficult enough to cope with this on the ship during the rocking, on the train it was practically impossible.

Doukhobors en route to Western Canada, 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection C-01512.

Every morning all of us escorting the train would gather in the storage-car and hand out foodstuffs for the day. Then an enormously-built and amazingly kindhearted Doukhobor by the name of Semen Zybin would pick up a large pail, and armed with a little mug, we would go with him through all the coaches and give out milk to the children.

The Doukhobors, for their part, also tried to pay as much attention as possible both to us and to the kind ‘train conductor’, and the amazed Englishman would find on his table dried bread-crusts, or a baked potato, or something like that. One time a lad who was passing by our section stopped at our table and took out of his tunic three hot potatoes. ‘This is for you,’ he said, handing me one of them; another was given to Bonch-Bruevich; ‘and this one’s for him’ – nodding in the direction of the conductor’s car.

Thus we arrived calmly and peacefully at the station in Selkirk, thirty miles [50 km] from Winnipeg. Here, half a kilometre from the station, was a large dormitory, where the majority of our party was obliged to stay until their chosen elders had procured the land.

We arrived at Selkirk early in the morning. For some reason we were not expected to arrive on this particular day, and no one was on hand to meet our group. The station [platform] was crowded with Doukhobors, but these were supposed to go right away to Winnipeg. The station quickly emptied, our train was parked on a siding, and we found ourselves in the middle of a field, with no idea where to go or who we should turn to [for help].

Our ‘conductor’ was deeply offended by this lack of attention. Each party was usually met by immigration officials with wagons to carry the remaining provisions, the sick, and the Doukhobors’ escorts. On this occasion the provisions had to simply be piled up on the grass, and I, together with Bonch-Bruevich, set off in the direction of the dormitories to get one of the attendants to go and greet the party.

It was a bad beginning, and our subsequent experiences in real life showed us that here in the Far West, away from the eyes of the world, the Doukhobors were not treated with the same sincere interest as they had been up to now. The time for gracious words and ceremonial greetings was over – it was time to get themselves established, and not infrequently struggle against unfair treatment toward the Doukhobors, unacquainted as they were with the language and the customs of the country.


Unlike the other Doukhobor sympathizers who soon returned abroad, Vera Mikhailovich Velichkina and Vladimir Dmitryevich Bonch-Bruevich decided to stay with the new immigrants in Canada right through the winter of 1899-1900, giving them physical and moral support in their trials of getting established in their adoptive homeland. In the North Colony village of Mikhailovka, Velichkina set up a hospital, clinic and pharmacy through which she administered medical aid to the Doukhobors. She also assisted in Bonch-Bruevich’s ethnographic research among the Doukhobors, interviewing elders and writing down their oral traditional psalms, hymns and sayings. In spring of 1900, Velichkina and Bonch-Bruevich returned to Switzerland where they were married. Thereafter, they became active in the Russian revolutionary movement, collaborated with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and published Bolshevik propaganda material. After the February Revolution in 1917, Velichkina and Bonch-Bruevich returned to Russia where they held a number of ministerial posts in the Soviet Government. Prior to her death in 1918, she headed the People’s Commissariat for School Health and Hygiene, was a member of the Board of the People’s Commissariat for Health and was Lenin’s personal physician.

About the Publication

The book in which the above article appears, Russian Roots & Canadian Wings, Russian Archival Documents on the Doukhobor Emigration to Canada (Toronto: Penumbra Press, 1999) is a volume of 48 documents collected in 1895-1902 by the Department of Police of the Imperial Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and recently made available by the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), presented in English translation by John Woodsworth with informative annotations. These documents include: internal police memos on the Doukhobors and their supporters, the Tolstoyans; letters written by Doukhobors and Tolstoyans, intercepted by government agents; and two series of first-hand accounts of the journey from the Caucasus to the Canadian prairies published in Russian newspapers of the day. Copies of all these documents were procured in Russia by archivist George Bolotenko for Carleton University’s Centre for Research on Canadian-Russian Relations.

To order copies of Russian Roots & Canadian Wings, Russian Archival Documents on the Doukhobor Emigration to Canadacontact the publisher Penumbra Press at: Box 940, Manotick, Ontario, K4M 1A8, Tel: (613) 692-5590 or visit its website at: http://www.penumbrapress.com.

Sergey Tolstoy and The Doukhobors: The Halifax Quarantine

by Dr. Ian Cameron

After reaching an accord with the Russian authorities for the Doukhobors to emigrate to Canada, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy asked his eldest son to accompany one of the first boatloads. On January 4, 1899, Sergey L. Tolstoy sailed from the Black Sea port of Batoum aboard the SS Lake Superior bound for Halifax, escorting some 2,300 Doukhobors to their promised new land. Twenty-three days later, the ship arrived at the mouth of Halifax Harbour and underwent quarantine inspection.  After one case of smallpox was discovered, passengers and crew were ordered into quarantine for twenty-seven days to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Reproduced by permission from CMAJ (May 23, 2006; 174 (11)), the following article by Dr. Ian Cameron of the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University recounts the 1899 winter quarantine of Sergey Tolstoy and the Doukhobors at Lawlor’s Island.

I went deep into the woods on the island along a frozen path, among the fir trees. The firs are not the same here as in Russia. The ground was covered with light snow, it was quiet, there was no one to be seen or heard, the night sky was clear. For the first time after two hectic months in a crowd I was alone with nature; for the first time after a month at sea I was on dry land; for the first time I was walking on the shore of the New World. I felt a strong emotional sense, but one difficult to put into words. I also felt a sense of relief after the voyage, as well as concern for the future, and an awareness of being separated from my customary living conditions and people close to me.

Count Sergey Tolstoy, 1899, on first setting foot in Canada.

Jan. 4, 1899

The S.S. Lake Superior leaves the Black Sea Russian port of Batoum carrying 1998 Doukhobor immigrants on a 6000-mile voyage to Canada. In charge of the venture is Count Sergey Tolstoy, the eldest son of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.

Jan. 27, 1899

The ship arrives in Halifax Harbour and hoists the yellow quarantine flag from its mainmast, a signal that a quarantine inspection is required. Ten days earlier a six-year-old child from the Sukhachev family had presented with a high temperature and rash. Sergey Tolstoy had heard that it was measles and described the little girl as being in an excited state and chattering on without stopping. The ship’s doctors diagnose smallpox and off she goes along with her family into isolation. Her symptoms progressively worsen and she dies on Jan. 23, 4 days before the ship is to arrive in Halifax. The incubation period for smallpox is fourteen days. This means that the passengers, crew and materials on board the ship are potentially infectious. Sergey Tolstoy describes the events that followed in his diary (See Sergej Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: a journey to Canada (Ottawa: University of Ottawa; 1998):

First of all the quarantine boat approaches, and our doctor calls out: “One case of smallpox! — other boats approach but immediately turn back; all others are sent away, and two doctors come on board with expressionless, clean shaven faces, and we sail into quarantine. The quarantine site is on the uninhabited Lawlor’s Island, roughly six miles from Halifax. It turns out that a case of smallpox means three weeks detainment in quarantine. Everyone is very alarmed; they keep asking me, but I myself know nothing. The captain and his crew are not in a good mood, nothing is being done as it should. Finally we put in to a wooden dock on Lawlor’s Island, but the doctors will not let anyone ashore, and it is only from the ship that we see the low-lying shore covered by a grove of young fir-trees. It is cold, frosty and windy. The night promises to be very cold.

The cold weather is a problem but there are other more pressing problems for the port health officials. Accommodation at the quarantine station on Lawlor’s Island is limited to 1400. Carpenters have been working on a new second-class detention building on the Eastern Passage side of the island, but it isn’t completed. Preparations and provision of food is anticipated to be a costly major undertaking. The logistics of fumigating the ship and its contents, disinfecting the immigrants and their clothing and ensuring they are properly vaccinated is daunting enough. To accomplish all this with a group who speak a foreign language and, for over a century, have opposed any outside authority, is a formidable task.

The story of the Doukhobors’ 1899 winter quarantine in Halifax had its beginnings far earlier in Russian history. The Doukhobors were one of a number of sects that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. Opposed to the ritual, sacraments and the intermediary role of priests in the Orthodox church, they taught that the Spirit of God resides in everyone and that to violate a human being in any way is to defile the Spirit of God in him. The expression of this belief was pacifism and the conviction of the equality of all human beings, regardless of their station in life. Inevitably this position led to conflict with government, and over the years the Doukhobors were persecuted and exiled to the expanding frontiers of the Russian Empire.

In 1895, Doukhobor communities in the Caucasus infuriated Tsarist authorities by refusing conscription and burning arms they had been issued years before to protect themselves. This act of defiance provoked brutal repression from the government.

The plight of the Doukhobors was brought to the attention of Leo Tolstoy, who admired their Christian communal agrarian lifestyle. Through his extensive network of contacts and the British and American Quakers, he organized and helped finance, in part with royalties from his novel, Resurrection, the immigration of a large group of Doukhobors to Canada, including the group on the S.S. Lake Superior.

The quarantine wharf on Lawlors Island, c. 1899.

Anticipating a major undertaking, Dr. Frederick Montizambert, the superintendent of the Grosse Îsle quarantine station, and since 1894 the head of quarantine services for Canada, has come to Halifax to personally oversee the quarantine of the S.S. Lake Superior. He and Dr. Guy Carlton Jones, the assistant quarantine officer in Halifax, join the Doukhobors in their quarantine.

To satisfy quarantine regulations the ship and its contents have to be evacuated, sealed and fumigated with sulphur under pressure. The Doukhobors and the ship’s crew must all be vaccinated against smallpox and disinfected in a bath. Their clothing had to be adequately treated, and finally, 14 days have had to have passed without any exposure to potentially infected material. However, with the inadequate accommodations on Lawlor’s, not everyone can leave the ship and so the whole process was delayed.

This delay is compounded by problems with the carpenters from Halifax who are slow in completing the second-class detention building. Tolstoy thinks they are dragging their feet because they are being paid $1.50 a day (3 roubles) — an excellent wage. The carpenters leave the island during the quarantine, and the building is finished by the Doukhobors.

Communication is also a problem, as Sergey Tolstoy is the only person who can speak both English and Russian. This situation is improved when Joseph Burnstein joins the quarantine as an additional interpreter.

The authorities are relieved to find the Doukhobors are vegetarians and have a supply of food, which Sergey Tolstoy replenishes using communal funds. The Doukhobors are eagerly awaiting the arrival of cabbage. Tolstoy records that “everybody is dreaming about cabbage.” Unfortunately, that is the one vegetable Tolstoy forgets to order. DeWolf & Son must have sent cabbage in the next order — there is no further mention of cabbage dreams. Eventually the Doukhobors take over their own cooking, mainly in the ample kitchen in the third-class detention building, where they use iron griddles to bake their tasty churek — a bread Tolstoy describes as being made from the “splendid” Doukhobor wheat flour. The men are given permission to cut firewood and begin whittling wooden spoons. To the amazement of the people in Halifax the Doukhobor ladies begin doing their laundry in subzero temperatures in Halifax Harbour. This is probably due in part to the fact that water on the island is at a premium. There are no natural springs on the island, and the well water has been exhausted after only six days. For the rest of the quarantine fresh water is brought to the island by boat and pumped into the dry wells.

Despite the cold weather and other inconveniences good things began to happen on the island. On Feb. 4 a baby boy was born to the Bondarev family — not only the first recorded baby born on the quarantine station but also the first Canadian-born Doukhobor. Tolstoy records in his diary that a committee of women from Halifax sent out several barrels of apples, a box of sweets, Christmas cards and copies of Chatterbox, a children’s magazine. This gesture makes the Doukhobors feel welcome as settlers, and as they feel more at home on the island, they begin plying Tolstoy with all sorts of questions about Canada: What is the soil like? How does the government work? Tell us about the Canadian people. They want to get books to learn English, and two of them, Savely Khudyakov and Fyodor Podovil’nikov, who have learned English numbers, begin jotting down English words.

Sunday Feb. 5, 1899

It was bright and sunny. The Doukhobors get washed up, put on their best clothes and hold a service on the deepwater wharf, where they sing psalms, bow and embrace one another. Tolstoy records that the English look on in amazement but with a certain respect.

The disinfection unit on Lawlors Island, c. 1899.

Everything is not completely cozy. There are some crisp exchanges between Tolstoy and Drs. Montizambert and Jones when the last Doukhobors are ordered out of the comparatively warm ship, so that it can be fumigated, and moved into the new second-class dormitory. Here it is so cold that wet shirts hung up the previous night become stiff with frost. When the fumigation process is delayed the doctors won’t allow the Doukhobors back on the ship. A truce is reached when Dr. Montizambert comes up with additional stoves and insulation for the new building.

The fumigation delay is bureaucratic. The engineer responsible refuses to begin the process until he has clearance from his superiors in Customs. Ottawa grants permission, and the fumigation of the ship proceeds.

Once the Doukhobors have all been vaccinated the process of bathing and disinfecting clothing begins. Groups of 60 are brought to the bathhouse where they are bathed in steam-heated water with a disinfectant solution. While they are bathing, their clothing is exposed to dry heat to a temperature of 180 °F, followed by steam heating to a much higher temperature. Then the clothing is rapidly dried and returned. Complete drying is difficult to achieve, and so there are some frosty trips back to the quarantine buildings.

Despite this health peril, there is only one case of pneumonia.

The sheepskin coats would not fare well with the steam treatment and so they are specially treated with formaldehyde.

On February 17 the quarantine regulations have been fulfilled. There are no cases of smallpox. Before allowing passengers and crew to reboard the S.S. Lake Superior, Dr. Montizambert requires them to present a red ticket if they have been vaccinated and it has taken. A white ticket indicates the first vaccination has not taken and they have been re-vaccinated, and a yellow ticket indicates the disinfection process has been completed. Tolstoy records that the labelling of disinfected luggage did cause problems. The label attached to the luggage displays a red cross, the Canadian coat of arms and the word “disinfected.” The Doukhobors object to the red cross. The cross, to them, is the instrument of Christ’s execution and they don’t want it on their property. Sergey Tolstoy records that:

Dr. Jones was irritated and began saying that the Doukhobors look as if they want to run the country, that they don’t obey the quarantine laws very well, etc. Dr. Montizambert, who is much milder than Jones, said with a condescending smile only that the quarantine regulations must be heeded, that the sign of the red cross is used throughout the world, and that he was not able to grant the Doukhobors’ request.

Some of the Doukhobors attempt to scrape off the cross, but the majority ignore it.

Afternoon Feb. 17, 1899

The Doukhobors leave Halifax Harbour singing psalms at the ships rails, bound for Saint John and their new homes in Western Canada.

Sergey Tolstoy recorded many wonderful and insightful impressions of his time in quarantine. Toward the end of the quarantine he gives a description of what happens to rats after the ship had been fumigated with sulphur dioxide.

Yesterday and today they fumigated the whole ship with sulphur dioxide, except for the first-class cabins, for which they used formalin. This evening, around ten o’clock, I was sitting alone in the ship’s dining-room, writing letters and reading newspapers. Almost always around this time the ship’s rats begin scratching and scurrying about; occasionally one of them darts across the floor; today, however, with the fumigation, they all gathered at the stern and raised a real ruckus; first one darted past, then two, then several, and then a whole lot of them began scurrying all over the dining-room and even jumping up to the table where I was writing. I fearfully gathered up my papers and fled to my cabin.

Just prior to the S.S. Lake Superior’s departure for Saint John, Sergey Tolstoy went into Halifax to settle the Doukhobors’ accounts. Here is what he said:

Halifax, at least in its outward appearance, is nothing out of the ordinary. There are a lot of pot-holes on the streets; the snow is hardly cleared away at all; I saw several large double sleighs outfitted with buffalo rugs. People wear knitted caps in the shape of a stocking and fur coats with fur on the outside.

He wrote his oldest sister Tanja about his time on Lawlor’s Island. Aside from the sea and the biting winds he says the landscape is very Russian — like Moscow Province. Then he says:

The experiments conducted by the autocrat Dr. Montizambert and his Grand Vizier Dr. Jones are coming to an end. They have (1) inoculated everyone against smallpox, (2) checked the inoculations, (3) dry-cleaned underwear and clothing, (4) fumigated the sheepskin coats; (5) been washing everyone in a bathhouse. Everyone is healthy, more or less … the journey is almost over.

Sergey Tolstoy stayed with the Doukhobors through the rest of the winter until they were well launched in their new homeland. At the end of March he returned to Russia via Toronto, Montreal and New York.

For additional information about the Doukhobor connection to Lawlor’s Island, see The Doukhobors Quarantined at Lawlor’s Island, 1899 by Koozma J. Tarasoff as well as Lawlor’s Island Revisited and New Book Explores Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

‘A Courteous and Well-Conducted Community’: The Doukhobors in Cyprus, 1898-9

by Carla King, St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

In August 1898, 1,126 Doukhobors, fleeing religious persecution in Tsarist Russia, disembarked on the island of Cyprus, at that time a British protectorate. At first, everything seemed quite promising. The Mediterranean island was beautiful, and the fertile land, lush vegetation and seaside climate appealing. Aided by English Friends (Quakers) and Russian Tolstoyans, the Doukhobors established three small agricultural villages and proceeded to work the land. However, the extreme heat and humidity combined with impure water and unsanitary housing proved unsuitable. Already destitute, impoverished and in a weakened state, 108 of the settlers perished from famine, disease and exhaustion. The settlement proved unsuccessful, and eight months after their arrival, in April 1899, the Doukhobors abandoned the island to travel on to Canada. The following paper examines the reasons for the Cyprus colony’s failure, and argues that the lack of success was far from predictable on practical grounds and the Doukhobors’ decision to settle on Cyprus was reasonable given the available resources.  Reproduced by permission of the author from Epeterida: Annual Review of the Cyprus Research Centre, vol xxix (2003) pp. 255-77.

In early 1899, a mass exodus of over seven thousand people took place from Russia to Canada, when members of the Russian religious sect, the Doukhobors, or “Spirit Wrestlers” left their homeland to escape the oppression they had suffered at the hands of the Tsarist authorities. Canadian Doukhobors recently celebrated the centenary of their migration. However, the move to Canada was preceded by an attempt by just over a thousand Doukhobors to establish a colony on the island of Cyprus, at that time a British protectorate. In the event, the settlement was unsuccessful and eight months after their arrival, the group left again, to travel on to Canada.

This paper will examine the reasons for the Cyprus colony’s failure. It is argued here that the lack of success was far from predictable on practical grounds and the decision to settle on Cyprus was reasonable given the available resources. There are a number of questions that present themselves. Why, for example, did a group of Armenian refugees who arrived in 1896 manage to settle successfully in Cyprus, and a small community of Russian Jews who came to live at Marga in 1898 also survive, while the Doukhobor colony did not? The high temperatures of the island are generally cited as a problem but although they arrived in August at the hottest time of the year, most of their stay was during the winter, which is mild. Was there hostility on the part of the British authorities on the island? Or was the Cypriot population antagonistic toward them? Was the settlement doomed from the start by bad organisation or lack of funds? Furthermore, what caused the high level of mortality amongst the Doukhobor population on the island – in the period of just eight months some 108 died?

A dusty track in rural Cyprus.

But first, who were the Doukhobors? Details of their origins are now lost, as they were one of several sects to emerge among the largely illiterate peasant peoples of Russia in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The first historical references to them occur in the eighteenth century and they may have been linked in their early stages to another sect called the Ikonobors, or Icon Wrestlers denounced by a decree of 1734. Their songs and stories refer to a number of leaders and teachers who helped to shape their faith. At first the Doukhobors seem to have been based in the Ukraine but repressive measures of dispersing them, aimed at weakening and isolating them, (1741-62) had the unintended effect of spreading their faith to various parts of Russia. Like several other religious groupings their name was originally a pejorative label, apparently by the Archbishop Amvrosii Serebrennikov of Ekaterinoslav, who in 1785, described them as wrestling against the spirit of Christ, whereas they took the name to have the opposite connotation, that of wrestlers for the spirit of Christ. In any case, the name “spirit wrestlers” remained.

The Doukhobors had remained relatively unmolested by the authorities in the reign of Tsarina Elizabeth and the early years of Catherine the Great (1762-96). From the 1790s on, however, they suffered increased official persecution. Their situation improved in the reign of Alexander I (1801-25), when the sect was given land for settlement in the newly-conquered territories of the Tauride province (now Crimea), in a district called Molochnye Vody [Milky Waters]. By 1827 there were 3,985 Doukhobors settled there in 800 households settled in 9 villages.

The Doukhobors are quite similar in several respects to the early Christians. Since they believe that the spirit of God is present in every human being, they hold that to violate a person in any way is to defile the spirit of God in him. Thus they are pacifists and egalitarian in their approach to others. They believe that heaven and hell are concepts or states of mind, and they reject any mediation (by a priest) between a person and God. Following from this direct relationship with God, they see no need for church sacraments or indeed for written records of any kind, including scriptures. Unlike members of the Orthodox Church, they do not use icons, although they have their own rituals, psalms and hymns. The only visible symbols of their beliefs are a loaf of bread, a salt cellar and a jug of water placed on a table in the middle of their meeting house.

During the time of Catherine II (1762-1796) Doukhobor numbers rose, but toward the end of that reign they began to suffer persecution. Those living in the provinces of Ekaterinoslav and Khar’kov were resettled in the newly conquered territories of the Tauride province (now Crimea) in a district called Molochnye vody [Milky Waters]. Other Doukhobor groups remained in scattered communities in various parts of Russia. In 1841, under the more repressive reign of Nicholas I (1825-55), the Doukhobors were transplanted once more, to the Caucasian uplands, where they were given land in the Wet Mountains and Elizavetpol’ regions. The conditions of the mountainous land of the Caucasus demanded a shift from arable to cattle farming but the Doukhobors adapted and prospered, apparently maintaining good relations with neighbouring peoples. Settled in three Transcaucasian regions of Elizavetpol, Tiflis (Tbilisi) and later also in Kars, their numbers rose to around twenty thousand by the 1890s.

The Doukhobors had been accustomed to organise themselves under a leader. From 1864 to1886 they were led by Luker’ja Vasil’evna Kalmykova, the widow of a former leader. It was after her death in 1886 that problems arose. These were in part brought on by internal changes in Doukhobor leadership and policy and partly due to shifts in the attitude of the Russian government towards them. Following Kalmykova’s death the Doukhobor community split, the larger faction, the “Large Party” led by her protege, Petr Vasil’evich Verigin and the “Smaller Party” led by the late leader’s brother, Michael Gubanov. Immediately after his acceptance by the majority of the Doukhobors, Verigin was arrested in 1887and spent the next fifteen years in exile in various parts of the Empire. By 1892 he and some of his followers had become vegetarians and later also eschewed the use of alcohol and tobacco. Their example was later followed by many of the “Large Party”. The authorities had become increasingly suspicious of the Doukhobors in the repressive atmosphere following the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Contacts between them and the Tolstoyans served to exacerbate official hostility. Matters came to a head after compulsory military service was introduced in the Caucasus in 1887 and by 1894 all Russian citizens were obliged to take an oath of allegiance to the Tsar. Verigin urged his followers not to take the oath and around sixty Doukhobors, drafted into the army, refused to bear arms and were severely punished.

On the night of 28-29 June (the eve of St Peter’s Day) 1895 Doukhobor communities in three areas – Kars (now in Turkey), Elizavetpol (now Azerbaijan) and Bogdanovka in Northern Georgia – following directions from Verigin, gathered together and burned their weapons in ceremonies in which they prayed and sang hymns beside the bonfires of arms. In Kars, the authorities learned about the meeting and arrests took place. In Bogdanovka the gathering was encircled by Cossacks on horseback, who fell upon the Doukhobors, beating them with lead-tipped whips. Following this, repression of them became extreme: Doukhobor lands were confiscated, their houses pillaged, women were raped, they suffered beatings and floggings, some 4,300 of them were exiled to villages in four Georgian valleys, without land or other means of support, in which 350 died. Their leaders were imprisoned, exiled to Siberia or sent to punishment battalions of the army. It is this treatment that led to their decision to seek permission to leave Russia.

A winding track in rural Cyprus.

Help was forthcoming to the Doukhobors from two quarters: from the Quakers in Britain and America and from Lev Tolstoy and his circle of followers. The Society of Friends in Britain had been interested in the Doukhobors since the early nineteenth century. The archive in the Friends’ Library in London contains letters from Richard Phillips, dated 12/24 October 1815 and 13 October 1819, describing the conditions of the Doukhobors at that time and improvements which had taken place during the reign of Alexander I. There is also a memorandum in Russian, dating from c.1805 on “Aspects of the Society of the Doukhobors,” outlining their history in the late eighteenth century. Tolstoy had known about the Doukhobors through his correspondence with Prince Dmitri Alexandrovich Khilkov (1858-1914), who, as an officer in the Hussar Guards in 1877-8 had been quartered in a Doukhobor village at the end of the Russo-Turkish War. Khilkov had been exiled for his anti-clerical opinions to the Caucasus and maintained contact with them. He therefore knew about the burning of the arms and the persecutions that followed and contacted Tolstoy, who sent a number of his followers to investigate the case. His friend and close collaborator, Pavel Biryukov went to investigate in early August, returning with an article describing the events in terms impossible to publish in Russia. Tolstoy arranged to have it printed anonymously in The Times, under the title The Persecution of Christians in Russia in 1895, where it appeared, with a covering note by Tolstoy, on 23 September. An article by Vladimir Grigorevich Chertkov, Tolstoy’s closest friend and disciple, had already been published on 9 September in the Daily Chronicle. In 1895 Tolstoy also commenced an extensive correspondence with Peter Verigin, which was to have an important influence on the evolution of Doukhobor thought.

In fact, the English Society of Friends was already aware of the Doukhobors’ plight. Two British Quakers, John Bellows and Joseph Neave had travelled to Russia in 1892 to investigate their position, calling on Tolstoy on the way. As early as 1 November 1895 three members of the Society in Britain, had reported on the situation of the Doukhobors and in 1896 the Meeting for Sufferings appointed a committee to examine whether any practical help could be extended to them. It was concluded that all they could do at the time was to publicise their case. However, in July 1897 a fund was opened by the Doukhobor Relief Committee, which also petitioned the Tsar. It had backed a private petition presented by Chertkov to the Tsar the previous January, requesting that the Doukobors be allowed to emigrate. Chertkov and his two companions were not allowed to present their petition and it seemed as if their efforts were fruitless. However, at the same time a further petition was presented by the Doukhobors themselves to the Dowager Empress Maria, on a visit to the Caucasus in late 1897. In February 1898, following the report of a senate commission to investigate the case, permission was granted to the Doukhobors to leave on three conditions:

  • They should go at their own expense,
  • Those who had been called for military service and those (including Peter Verigin) who were in Siberia should remain to work out their sentences,
  • If any of them ever returned they should be banished to distant parts of Siberia.

News of the concession reached England in March and almost immediately the Doukhobor Relief Committee drafted an appeal for distribution among the Friends and sympathetic organisations (including the Mennonites in America, who had been similarly allowed to emigrate from Russia some 40 years earlier) for assistance to the Doukhobors. By mid-July almost 8,000 copies of the appeal had been distributed, but they had no means of knowing what the response would be. Meanwhile, Tolstoy wrote to various foreign newspapers, putting the Doukhobors’ case, the letters appearing in April and in August and September he wrote a dozen or more letters to leading Russian industrialists seeking funds for their emigration. The previous year, on hearing that it was intended to offer him the Nobel Prize for literature, Tolstoy wrote to the Swedish press suggesting that the money be given to the Doukhobors.

In the meantime the Quaker Doukhobor Relief Committee members began to look for a suitable destination for the Doukhobor exiles. Tolstoy, overcoming his initial opposition to the idea of emigration, had suggested Texas, Chinese Turkestan, Chinese Manchuria and Cyprus. The Relief Committee estimated that it would have to find sanctuary for some 3,500 people. The Doukhobors had themselves been able to put by about £4,700, and although they favoured America as a destination, at the time there were insufficient resources available to take them that far.

Cyprus, as a British protectorate, and a relatively short journey from Batum by steamer, was a reasonable option and would leave them with some funds in hand to allow them to start anew. In April Captain Arthur St John, then on his way back from the Caucasus, having distributed some relief funds to the Doukhobors on behalf of the Quakers, was asked to travel to Cyprus and put the Doukhobors’ case directly to the British High Commissioner and was provided with a letter explaining his mission. On 1 July Professor Patrick Geddes met with the Relief Committee and suggested that Cyprus would be a suitable place for settlement. He had already published an article on “Cyprus Actual and Possible” [The Contemporary Review, June 1897] and was keen to develop the economic potential of the island. It was decided that the Relief Committee would send an advance party of three Russians to Cyprus “with a view to their making such arrangements as may be feasible for more of their people to emigrate to that country.” These were Tolstoy’s friend, Prince Khilkov, who had been living in England, and Ivan Ivin and Peter Mahortov, two Doukhobors who had just arrived in London to seek assistance for their community. The Committee entered into negotiations with the Cyprus Development Company, which offered to sell them 1,570 acres of land, one of the company’s directors, Alexander Dunlop, undertaking to superintend the immigration. At the same time the Committee sought to have passport and transit charges waived by the Tsarist authorities and tried to ascertain the number of Doukhobors planning to travel, while urging them “Don’t start till you hear from us again…”

The High Commissioner for Cyprus, William F. Haynes Smith, raised no objection to the proposal to settle the Doukhobors on the island, providing that sufficient land was made available for them to cultivate. In London, John Bellows wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, on behalf of the Relief Committee, seeking the government’s sanction for the proposal. On further information being sought from the Foreign Office a file was forwarded to the Colonial Office which showed that the Doukhobors had already come to the attention of the British authorities. Captain St John, apprehended while distributing relief funds to Doukhobors in the Caucasus, had been arrested by the Russian police and eventually expelled from the Empire, the British Consul at Batum, P. Stevens, had reported, following an interview with him. In May Stevens had written to the Foreign Office informing of the Doukhobors’ desire to emigrate from the Russian Empire. He reported that the Caucasian official response stated that the Russian authorities welcomed the Doukhobor request to emigrate as it rid them of `a permanently disturbing element’ but pointed out:

This, in the face of the undoubted fact that the sectarians, since their settlement in the Trans-Caucasus, have by their good behaviour, diligence, sobriety and hard working qualities, brought nothing but prosperity to the barren localities in which they were already settled, is, to say the least, but a poor and very unsatisfactory way of solving a question which would have probably never cropped up had it not been for the despotic and arbitrary actions, in the first instance, of a hand-full of subordinate officials.

The Relief Committee’s plan as outlined by its secretary, John Bellows in a letter to the High Commissioner, was that some 3,500 Doukhobors would travel in from four to six steamers, the first arriving in Cyprus toward the end of August 1898. The settlers would be brought in at ports to the north and south of the island and in staged settlements, in order that facilities could be prepared for them in advance. In his letter to Haynes Smith, and another sent almost simultaneously to the Foreign Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, Bellows stressed that the Doukhobors were not paupers and would not become a drain on the island’s resources.

Lush vegetation abounds in rural Cyprus.

Cyprus, situated at a strategic point in the East Mediterranean, had long been the subject of colonisation by various powers. In the nineteenth century it had formed part of the Ottoman Empire until the signing of the Cyprus Convention in June 1878, at the time of the Berlin Conference, which established a British protectorate over the island. At the time, as Britain was entering a period of imperial expansion, the acquisition had been hailed by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli as a significant gain, Cyprus, he claimed would be “the key to western Asia”. Queen Victoria, too, was delighted but the Liberal Party, and in particular its leader, William Ewart Gladstone, were opposed to the annexation. As it turned out, the shallowness of the harbours, combined with their lack of natural defenses were a disappointment to the Admiralty, which had hoped to use the island as a naval and military base (instead, the island of Malta was to serve this purpose). Since about two-thirds of the population of around 186,000 was Greek-speaking, Orthodox in religion and maintained links with Greece (the remainder was Turkish, with a few Syrians, Armenians and other nationalities), some British political thinkers favoured handing over the island to the Greek government. However, this would have antagonised the Turkish government which still nominally owned the island. On the other hand, to return Cyprus to the Ottomans would have upset the Greeks and to have given away a colonial possession would not then have been popular in Britain. Thus from the establishment of the protectorate in 1879 to the formal annexation of the island into the British Empire on 5 November 1914, with the outbreak of war between Britain and Turkey, the government of the island remained in a kind of limbo. Uncertainty about the future of Cyprus led, John Reddaway has argued, to a certain amount of administrative drift:

“… The result was that for most of the period of British rule there was in a sense no British policy for Cyprus at all. There were reasons which were understandable and which deserved respect for the adoption of an attentiste posture by successive British governments, but this was not conducive to consistency and vigour in planning the Island’s future.”

Government was in the hands of a High Commissioner, appointed by the British government and responsible to the Colonial Office in London. Below him in rank were six regional commissioners. The island was quite poor and underdeveloped, its agriculture suffering from recurrent drought and attacks by locusts and its small population subject to malaria. The British administration continued Turkish measures against locusts, carried out irrigation projects, road building and some afforestation and improved the health services and urban sanitation. Efforts to increase agricultural production by the establishment of a Board of Agriculture for the island were blocked in London. Moreover, the islanders had to pay an annual tribute to the British administration of £92,799, or just under ten shillings per head of the population, which was a considerable burden on an underdeveloped economy.

The colonial administration on the island was not hostile to the suggestion of a Doukhobor settlement. The governor, Sir William Frederick Haynes Smith, had only begun his term of office in Cyprus the previous year but he was perceived as fond of large projects. Following a meeting with Captain St John, he wrote on 5 June to put the proposal to the Colonial Office and advanced the opinion that “the introduction of these people might be of advantage to the Island,” provided certain conditions were met, namely that proper housing should be provided, together with cultivable land and farm implements, and that there should be sufficient means to support them “until they can reap their first crop”. Moreover, he held that:

The first essential of success would be that the first introduction should be of a sufficient number to form a Village of their own and that amongst the individuals selected to come in the first vessels should be some of each of the common trades as well as some agriculturists, so as far as possible to make the community independent of the aid of persons outside their Village. The second essential is in my view that a proper school should be established and the children taught to learn and speak English.

Chamberlain, while expressing in a note the worry that the settlement might harbour agitators against Russia or contain Russian spies, did not raise the matter officially. Nor did the Foreign Office offer any objections, so the Doukhobor Relief Committee and the Colonial Office commenced negotiations as to how much money the Committee needed to provide per immigrant to indemnify them should the enterprise fail. Initially the government was demanding a sum of £20 per head as guarantee but the Quakers managed, on pleading the Doukhobors’ good character, to have it reduced to £15 and eventually to £10.

Nevertheless, the authorities in Cyprus were nervous and when word reached them that some Doukhobors were on their way; they pointed out that the usual guarantees had not been agreed, and there was worry over how the Cypriots would respond: “The Cypriot is intensely jealous of outsiders, and there is no demand for local labour, so that the community must be self-supporting from the outset. These people do not know the language or the local conditions and must be maintained while they are learning.” Haynes Smith, from his summer residence in the Troodos mountains, issued a proclamation on 27 July, forbidding the landing “of any destitute persons unless and until due provision has first been made for the proper support in Cyprus of every such person to the satisfaction of the High Commissioner…” Instructions were sent out to the Larnaca customs to prohibit the landing of any Doukhobors. As it turned out, the orders reached the customs officials too late to prevent the landing (on the morning of 27 July) but this was only the three-man investigation party, Khilkov, Ivin and Mahortov, sent by London. As Captain St. John hastened to assure the regional commissioner at Larnaca, these men were far from destitute and one member of the group [Khilkov] bore the rank of prince.

It is worth noting that by the time of the meeting on 28 July between St John and the Regional Commissioner, the day after the three men had arrived, the Doukhobor party appears to have made up its mind that it would not recommend Cyprus for settlement. They left the island on 30 July, three days after their arrival, Khilkov apparently describing it as a “burnt-out stump,” where it was impossible even to live, let alone make a living. Therefore, instead of making arrangements for the arrival of the first party of Doukobor immigrants, as they had been requested, the delegation did not even bother to inspect the property at Athalassa selected for settlement and probably had decided even before arriving in Cyprus not to recommend the project. This may be explained by the fact that they had set their hearts on emigration to “America” as a solution and they may only have undertaken the trip to Cyprus in order to humour their Quaker supporters. The decision against Cyprus seems to have been taken by Khilkov, as Aylmer Maude relates that Ivin and Mahorkov were unwilling ever to make such decisions unilaterally, but his attitude reflected a general aspiration among the Doukhobors to go to America. They returned to London to urge a settlement in America, but their arguments came too late to prevent a group of Doukhobors sailing from Batum to Cyprus in August.

In London, negotiations had continued. On 30 July the Colonial Secretary, Chamberlain, wrote to Bellows, to explain that until proper arrangements had been made for the Doukhobors in Cyprus, in terms of land and buildings, farm implements, seed and sufficient funds to support them for the first two years, together with a reserve fund in case of failure of the experiment, they would not be allowed to settle.

The British Consul in Batum, Stevens, had informed the Foreign office in a despatch dated 9 July that 3,000 Doukhobors would be ready to leave in a month and that Captain St John was already in Cyprus seeking land for them. On 21 July a deputation of Doukhobors met the Consul and formally requested permission to emigrate to Cyprus, who then sent a telegram to the Foreign Office passing on the request. In late July, having sold all their property, over 1,000 of them came to Batum to await word from the Foreign Office. Two weeks later, they lost patience, decided to take matters into their own hand and chartered an old French steamer, the Durau, to carry 1,127 of them to Cyprus, sailing from Batum on 19 August. According to Aylmer Maude, they were anxious to move at once because they were both harassed by the Russian authorities and also they feared that the permission to migrate might be withdrawn. Maude, who later travelled with them to Canada, points out that the Doukhobors were “an illiterate peasant sect, ignorant of foreign languages and geography, of whom many had been reduced to the verge of starvation, and all had been impoverished by exactions and by the drain of supporting the exiled and dispersed within Russia.” In addition, he related that all communication between the Doukhobors and the outside world was liable to interruption by the Russian administration and their leaders and more educated supporters had been banished from the Caucasus. This may be so, but it is probable that knowledge of their destination was fairly hazy among many of those who migrated in the nineteenth century. Even without their leaders and more educated supporters the Doukhobors could be quite resourceful and Biryukov and Chertkov from London, were urging them to leave.

Biryukov’s account echoes Maude’s in stressing how worried the Doukhobors were that the authorities’ decision might be revoked. He recounts a fear amongst the Doukhobors and their neighbours in the Caucasus that the permission was a trap, to be played by a government which up to then had shown itself both cruel and capricious, that it was in fact an attempt to kill the Doukhobors by shelling the steamers as they left the port and drowning their passengers. While waiting in Batum, some had considered the alternative of crossing the Turkish border; others had chartered two steamers to Marseilles and were only prevented from leaving for France by the arrival of the telegram from England informing them that permission had been granted to enter Cyprus.

The impending arrival of the Doukhobors caused a certain amount of panic on the part of the authorities because none of the necessary preparations had been completed. It also put the Relief Committee in a difficult and embarrassing position. When its members were informed by the Colonial Office that the Doukhobors had chartered a ship and were on the point of departure from Batum, they had to provide assurances before the Cyprus authorities would give permission to allow them onto the island. Thirty-three individuals undertook such guarantees, out of which eight provided guarantees of £1,000 each and one of £2,000, the total amounting to £11,895. They then wired the Consul at Batum to allow only 1,100 to sail. To the British government they gave assurances that Alexander Dunlop (of the Cyprus Development Company) would make the necessary arrangements, that they would cover the cost of any temporary accommodation necessary, and that Wilson Sturge, from the Society would reach Cyprus on 28 August. They immediately had to organise the rental of land in Cyprus, and the purchase and shipping of tents and other equipment. Much of the cost of all this was provided out of a grant of £1200 by one donor, Arnold Eilouart.

Port of Larnaca, Cyprus, c. 1899.

Haynes Smith received a telegram on the night of 16 August from the Society of Friends in London, which read: `Russian Emigrants expected to arrive Larnaca 21st. Committee respectfully bespeak your kind consideration.’ Faced with the influx of over a thousand immigrants, the authorities in Cyprus considered prohibiting them from landing although they wanted to avoid this course of action. Had they decided to forbid the landing, it would have put the Doukhobors in a perilous situation because one condition of their permission to leave Russia was that they would not return and it might have proved difficult to find an alternative port ready and able to provide facilities for over a thousand travellers. As Haynes Smith reported on 19 August, on looking into the arrangements being made for their arrival he had discovered that neither of those meant to be organising the Doukhobor settlement in Cyprus, Dunlop of the Cyprus Company and Arthur St John, on behalf of the Relief Committee, seemed to have received any instructions. St John suggested that they should wait until the immigrants came, ask if they meant to stay, and if so make arrangements then. Following his meeting with Khilkov, Mahortov and Ivin, a month before, he was evidently convinced that the Doukhobors would not wish to remain. On being urged by the Acting Commissioner in Larnaca, Mr Ongley, to purchase a chiflik (settlement) to which the Doukhobors might be moved following quarantine, he refused, on the grounds that he was unsure that the Doukhobors would remain in Cyprus and spoke of trying to persuade the captain of the steamer to take the immigrants on to Constantinople, and petition the Sultan to allow them to land.

Despite his obvious irritation, Haynes Smith tried to take a practical approach to the threatening crisis, but he was very worried about the lack of preparations and aware of the dangers of “placing men under canvas on the hot and shadeless plains at the most unhealthy season of the year…” pointing out, “but even this accommodation cannot be received for some three weeks after the people have arrived.” [the Society of Friends had promised that tents were on the way].

The Cypriot administration was particularly worried about the danger of importing infectious diseases into the island. As Haynes Smith explained:

In the pamphlet published in London last year by the well wishers of the Doukhobortsis it is stated that owing to their sufferings epidemics such as `fevers, typhus, diphtheria and dysentery,’ have appeared among them and `already among the majority of them certain eye diseases which are the sure harbingers of scurvy,’ and again, `almost all are suffering from diseases, and disease and mortality are constantly increasing’.

He emphasised the need for some precaution for quarantining the immigrants.

The Doukhobors landed at Larnaca on 26 August and were immediately lodged in the quarantine station. This was made up of a group of sheds grouped around a yard and surrounded by a fence, near the sea on the edge of the town. Some of the group were accommodated in the sheds but others had to remain in tents provided by the authorities, quite tightly packed together in the yard. The immigrants made a good impression, the Commissioner of Larnaca noting: “A quieter or more orderly set of people I have never yet seen, and considering what they have undergone they appear to be a fine healthy lot.” There were 1129 people in all, of which 326 were adult men, 360 women, 221 boys and 222 girls. On the evening of 29 August Pavel Biryukov and Wilson Sturge, from the Relief Committee, arrived on the island to help with arrangements and the next day the Doukhobors’ period of quarantine expired so it was possible to move them. The problem that now presented itself was that since St John had not thought they would stay, he had not looked for land other than that already located by the Relief Committee.

Two days after their arrival a group of 200 people was sent to the land rented for settlement at Athalassa. The authorities were approached to provide for 500 more in tents in the government gardens at Larnaca, and the remaining 379 were to stay, for the time being in the quarantine station yard, also in tents. Cyprus is usually very hot in August (temperatures of between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius are common) and sickness broke out almost immediately. By 3 September, three people had died, the commissioner in Larnaca reporting that:

I had occasion to speak to Mr Biriukov about the arrangements generally, which are conducted with very great economy, for instance awnings of cheap mats, which I recommended and which would have afforded some shade, have not been provided, and there is a want of proper supervision and management as Mr Biriukov is quite new to the place. There are a good many cases of fever – yet the fitting up of a room or ward for the sick has been neglected. I am urging that this should be done or a house close to the quarantine, which is available, hired for the purpose.

The commissioner was immediately authorised by the Cyprus administration to incur any expenses necessary to the wellbeing of the Doukhobors, the outlay to be recouped later from the Society of Friends.

Within a fortnight after their arrival in Cyprus the Doukhobors were settled in three separate colonies: the majority, 578 at Athalassa near Nicosia in the central plain, 445 at Pergamos and 100 at Kouklia, the latter two close to the southern coast. There had been some efforts on the part of the authorities to identify available land. On 20 September St John wrote to the High Commissioner enquiring whether the government would allow settlements on two further sites in the Paphos district but it turned out that these were already occupied, the local commissioner noting that the inhabitants “manage to eke out an existence with the help of their flocks but the nature of the lands may be judged from the fact that the occupants of Ayios Mercurios are frequently reduced to existing on dried figs, there being no bread available.” The Cyprus officials seem to have had doubts about the capacity of the organisers, particularly Captain St John, who, moreover, became seriously ill with malaria while in Cyprus, although his letters to the authorities seeking land do take on a note of urgency “as the Doukhobors are suffering much from sickness”.

When the Doukhobors reached the land on which they were to settle they set about building houses of dried brick, the local building material. They began clearing the ground but the number of deaths mounted through September. Athalassa, the largest colony, was situated in a hollow, where the heat of the sun gathered but was sheltered from any cooling breeze. Kouklia, where there was a sharecropping arrangement made with the Cyprus Development Company, had good land but was an area where fever was endemic. Pergamos, on the other hand, situated on high ground was healthier but the soil was thin and stony. By mid-October there had been 30 deaths and the Doukhobors were requesting immediate transfer to Canada. However, at that time the Friends’ Relief Committee had just over £4,000 in hand and many of those Doukhobors remaining in Russia (some 6,000) were also clamouring to be taken into exile. They did, however, immediately arrange for a doctor to be sent from England and for two Russian nurses to travel to Cyprus to care for the sick. They also went on collecting funds and by April 1899 had raised almost fifteen thousand pounds.

Bullock wagons on the road from Larnaca to Nicosia, Cyprus along which Doukhobors travelled en route to Athalassa in late 1898. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

Two letters written by Wilson Sturge and Pavel Biryukov in December gave rather optimistic reports of the Doukhobor settlements, despite the death toll. Athalassa had date palms, orange trees and both it and the smaller settlement at Pergamos had olive trees. By December ground had been cleared and ploughed and houses built. Wheat was bought for them in Cyprus and brought by ship from Britain. Cheese, butter, condensed milk and quinine were also supplied by the Society of Friends, together with seed, which they began to plant in December and January, once the rains came. As Biryukov pointed out, Cyprus was a vegetarian’s paradise, as various types of grain, a great variety of vegetable and a wide range of fruit were grown. The Doukhobors seem to have got on well with their Turkish Cypriot neighbours, because they did not have icons, did not eat pork and many of them spoke Turkish, having learned it in the Caucasus. Two hostile articles in Greek language newspapers when the Doukhobors arrived, but there seems to have been no active antagonism toward them by either Greek or Turkish Cypriots. There was a small Jewish settlement of fourteen families at Marga, near the road from Larnaca to Nicosia, which Wilson Sturge described as `a pleasant-looking colony… dotted over with dwellings and well watered.’ This boded well for the Doukhobors once the initial settling in phase had been endured.

Why, then, did the Doukhobors suffer so much sickness and mortality among their number? To begin with, as several commentators observed at the time, there had been sickness in the Caucasus. In the three years since the repression against them started, between 1000 and 2000 of them had died. Biryukov claimed that the sicknesses suffered in Cyprus were the same as they had experienced there and that “as a matter of fact they were all ill in the Caucasus”. He attributed some of the problem to their diet. While approving in general of a vegetarian diet, he pointed out that “if an abundant meat diet is given up to be replaced by poorly made soup of cabbage, radish and kvass, without any variety, and other trials have at the same time to be endured, stomach derangement must follow.” Added to that, though, were crowding, impurities in the drinking water and a warmer climate than that to which they were accustomed. They seem to have suffered from a mixture of dysentery and malaria, which affected women and children particularly acutely. Cyprus had a problem with malaria until the 1940s, when measures were undertaken to spray all marshy places regularly with DDT, in order to eliminate the mosquitoes that carry it.

Another further contributory factor in the illness suffered by the Doukhobors was that apart from the mud brick dwellings, they built dug-out huts in earthen banks, as they had been accustomed to use as temporary dwellings in the Caucasus. However, in Cyprus December can bring heavy rain and the dug-outs situated near to the latrines became insanitary.

The pattern of mortality is worth examining. By the end of August, that is just days after the Doukhobors had arrived, there had been two deaths, one on the 27th and one on the 31st. By 8 September there had been 2 more deaths, one on the 2nd and one on the 8th. The fastest rise in deaths seems to have been in September and October, so that by mid-October there had been 30 deaths and by early November the total rose to 50. By the end of December 75 had died, by which time the fever was reported as abating. Between December and April, when the Doukhobors left the island, there were 33 further deaths, but this at an average of ten a month was well below that of the earlier months. Unfortunately no breakdown of figures appear to be available for the period after December, so it is impossible to estimate whether or not abnormal deaths ceased altogether but on Cyprus it was generally accepted that malaria was worse in the summer and much less in the winter. The pattern may have been one of “gate mortality”, associated with the risks involved in travelling and settling into a new and alien environment, although in this case the mortality levels do appear to have been unusually high. It is, however, comparable with the mortality level of about 80 per thousand suffered in the Georgian valleys. They had already suffered two years of extreme hardship there before their journey to Cyprus, which would have weakened the systems of many of them, making them more vulnerable to illness. The extent to which the immigrants may have brought some sickness with them is difficult to gauge. Malaria can take time to incubate and it is possible that some of it was already contracted while the migrants were in the uncomfortable conditions in Batum, waiting to board the ship to take them to Cyprus. Nevertheless, its effects were devastating, not only in terms of deaths but in addition it left its survivors debilitated and depressed long after the fever had abated.

Perhaps, with the initial shock of settlement over, houses built, crops planted, olive oil pressed, it might be argued that the Doukhobors could eventually have settled in happily in Cyprus. In fact, as Biryukov elicited in discussions with them a few weeks after their arrival, it would never have provided a permanent solution. This was because the Doukobors had a very clear idea of what they wanted, which was to gather the whole community together in one place with the aim of setting up a kingdom of God on Earth, holding fast to their beliefs and customs. Cyprus, where they would have been scattered in settlements across the island could not provide this. Moreover, the type of lifestyle imposed by the very different surroundings would of necessity impose alterations on their traditional way of life, change that they were unwilling to accept. The decisive factor was that by the late autumn it had been decided that other Doukhobor groups still in the Caucasus would be sent to Canada and they wanted to join them. In response to a letter from the Relief Committee congratulating them on their safe arrival in Cyprus and wishing them well in their new settlement, they sent a reply, dated 20 September, drafted by Biryukov and signed by seven Doukhobors, setting out their difficulties with life in Cyprus, their hopes of eventual reunification with the remainder of their coreligionists and their request for resettlement “in America or Canada”. The proposal was discussed by the Relief Committee on 3 November 1898 and 5 January 1899. On 2 February the Committee took the decision “to endeavour to arrange, so far as funds will permit, for the Doukhobors now in Cyprus to be sent forward to Canada, leaving the island in the early part of fourth month [i.e. April] next, or as near this date as feasible.”

The reason the Committee could now accede to the petition was that the situation had changed somewhat in the meantime. It turned out that some of the Doukhobors in Russia had sufficient savings to pay for their own passage. The bulk of the funding, however, was provided by Tolstoy, who had initially set up a subscription in Russia. He then decided to augment the money collected with the proceeds of two of his works, Father Sergei and Resurrection (indeed, had it not been for his wish to help the Doukhobors, these might never have been completed because Tolstoy had given up publishing fiction). Prompted by an article in the The Nineteenth Century by the Anarchist thinker, Prince Peter Kropotkin, about a visit to the Mennonite community in Canada, the Canadian government was approached and offered land and practical assistance for the Doukhobors to settle. Following negotiations with the Canadian authorities, a group of 2,149 Doukhobors travelled from Batum to Canada on 22 December 1898, a second ship following in January. On 18 April the Cyprus group sailed from Larnaca, a fourth ship leaving Batum in May. Wilson Sturge, of the Relief Committee, remained in Cyprus to see to the harvesting and sale of crops sown by the Doukhobors but died in Malta on the journey back to England.

Athalassa farm in Cyprus occupied by Doukhobors in 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

In conclusion, the main argument here presented is that rather than being predictable from the outset, the failure of the Cyprus colony was a complex result of misunderstanding, precipitate action and mischance, and perhaps above all, of the desire on the part of the Doukhobors to settle elsewhere. Their illness and suffering on the island were, however, severe. They resulted partly from their own decision to come to Cyprus before adequate preparations had been made, one they took for understandable reasons in the face of harassment by the Tsarist authorities and fear that their permission to leave might be rescinded. Unfortunately, their arrival came at the worst possible time of year, when temperatures were at their hottest and therefore life in tents was both uncomfortable and hazardous. In addition, the Doukhobors had difficulty adjusting to a climate, agricultural practices and quite alien foods. Had there been no alternative they might eventually have made a success of Cyprus – these were resourceful people – but given the favourable opportunities offered for their community in Canada they set their sights on re-migration.

At the same time, there seems to have been a certain lack of communication between the Relief Committee on the one hand and the Doukhobors and their Tolstoyan supporters on the other. This may have been due to language barriers, or to an unwillingness to alienate the Quakers by stating their wishes more explicitly but there is an unmistakable note of irritation in Bellows’s letters to Chamberlain of 28 December 1898 and 12 May 1899. In the first of these he blamed the high level of mortality on “that ill-advised push made by some of Tolstoi’s friends in England, who urged the Dukhobors to come away at once in a large body, instead of letting a hundred men first land in Cyprus and prepare for the settlement by building shelters, etc.” He continued:

This, as thou art aware not only put the Friends’ Committee in a false position, by placing on them the task of caring for over 1100 helpless people before they could possibly rightly arrange for it, but it forced on the Cyprus authorities the need of making quarantine arrangements very far in excess of those provided in the existing hospital. The only thing they could do was to erect tents (at our Committee’s cost), in the public garden at Larnaca: and as this spot was somewhat marshy and very hot, it developed the malaria the seeds of which were already in the blood of not a few of the immigrants.”

In his letter of 12 May, thanking Chamberlain for his support, he admitted:

Individually I confess to a disappointment from this [the failure of the Cyprus settlement], which is the more keen because but for the impulsive action of some of the Russian sympathizers with these poor people, I am convinced that they would have become acclimatized and have formed a really valuable addition to the population of the Island.

Bellows’s positive assessment of the Doukhobor community was echoed by the High Commissioner in his report for 1898-9, in which he gave a brief account of the settlement, concluding that: “These interesting people accordingly quitted Cyprus, leaving behind them the recollection of a singularly courteous and well conducted community.” In the end, however, things worked out well for the Doukhobors. The Canadian climate suited them and the countryside could accommodate 7000 of them in Doukhobor communities. In fact, not all the Doukhobors left Russia and today scattered communities remain in Georgia and on the Don, where Philip Marsden visited them in the 1990s.

One effect of the Doukhobor affair was that international publicity given to their treatment helped to further identify tsarism with oppression. The 1890s had seen a famine in Central Russia, the expulsion of some 20,000 Jews from Moscow and St Petersburg to the Jewish Pale, the publication in the west of George Kennan’s exposé of the mistreatment of Siberian convicts, in Siberia and the Exile System (all in 1891), increased attempts to impose Russian culture on national minorities, and the often brutal suppression of workers’ strikes. There is, moreover, a certain irony in the fact that the exodus of the Doukhobors coincided with Nicholas II’s call for a disarmament conference at The Hague. His ill-treatment of pacifists within Russia’s borders must have weakened, to some extent at least, the credibility of his intentions, although the experience of pacifists and conscientious objectors in the First World War demonstrates that the validity of such a position had yet to be fully accepted by governments anywhere.

For More Information

For more information about the short-lived Doukhobor settlement experiment on Cyprus in 1898-1899, the factors leading to its establishment and the reasons for its ultimate failure, see: The Doukhobors on Cyprus by Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov and With the Doukhobors on Cyprus by Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov.

Doukhobors Quarantined at Grosse Isle, 1899

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

From 1832 to 1937, the quarantine station at Grosse Isle, Quebec treated sick immigrants and prevented the spread of infectious diseases along the Laurentian gateway to Canada. The following article describes the quarantine of Doukhobor immigrants at Grosse Isle in June 1899. Adapteded from Koozma J. Tarasoff’s articles, New Information on S.S. Lake Huron Which Brought the Last Group of Russian Doukhobors to Canada in June 1899 in ISKRA No.1865 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., January 13, 1999) and Parks Canada Unveils Interpretive Panel on Grosse Ile Commemorating the Doukhobors Arrival in Quarantine in 1899 in ISKRA No.1878 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., September 15, 1999).

On January 20th, 1899, the S.S. Lake Huron brought the first of four shiploads of Doukhobor passengers to the Canadian shores. After stopping at Lawlor’s Island near Halifax for official Quarantine inspection, the immigrants proceeded to St. John, New Brunswick on January 24th for departure west on seven trains. The S.S. Lake Huron returned to Russia and brought the fourth and largest group of migrants (totalling 7,500 with the earlier three shiploads) to Canada in 1899. The ship was detained at Grosse Isle Quarantine Station in the St. Lawrence because of several cases of small pox.

Parks Canada historian Andre Charbonneau and his colleagues have kindly provided us with some very useful information about this last shipload. For example, they discovered that some of the Doukhobors built a “sweat-house similiar to those of the Indians”. According to a medical history report, the naked body was exposed to steam formed by throwing heated stones on a tub of water – similiar to a Russian banya, and then the participant threw himself into cold water. The effect was often beneficial.

In his letter, Dr. Charbonneau describes the critical happenings connected with the last shipload of Russian Doukhobor migrants:

According to our sources, the Lake Huron left Batum on Friday May 12, 1899 and arrived at Grosse Isle on Tuesday June 6, 1899, at 4 p.m. with 2,275 passengers and 68 crew members.

Quarantine Hospital at Grosse Isle, Quebec

When the vessel arrived, the inspecting physician went on board; the vessel medical doctor and the captain reported a case of smallpox. This diagnoses was confirmed and the sick person was transported to the hospital. Then the whole vessel, including all passengers and crew members, were quarantined.

Next morning, a meticulous medical inspection found 11 new cases of smallpox and the following day 5 others. In all, 11 Doukhobors and 6 crew members were found sick. At least 47 persons from the Lake Huron were detained in the hospital. The remaining passengers (around 2,230) and the crew members (62) were detained in quarantine and went through the process of quarantine disinfection, which took 5 days.

It is difficult to determine the exact quarantine period. Usually it follows the incubation period depending on the sickness. With smallpox, it is fixed at 14 days. The last case of smallpox observed from the Lake Huron occurred on June 12. The passengers and crew members started to be released on June 28th according to the importance of the cases.

Here are a few dates related to the detention of the Lake Huron at Grosse Ile:

  • On June 16, the Lake Huron left Grosse Isle and was brought to Quebec City with local crew members. The ship manifest presented to the Officers of the Port indicated that there were 6 deaths and 2 births at sea;
  • On June 21, 31 pieces of luggage from the Lake Huron were transported to Quebec;
  • On June 28, the 62 crew members detained in observation were released;
  • On July 2, the S.S. Steamer Queen started to transport to Quebec City all the passengers in the Health Division. The first passengers arrived on the following day and the remaining group on July 4. All the passengers disembarked at the Quebec reception center, located on the Bassin Louise embankment near the C.P.R. station;
  • On Wednesday July 26, the hospitalized crew members were released from the quarantine hospital;
  • On Saturday July 29, the remaining passengers (about 37 persons) were also released from the hospital after recovery.

According to the Hospital register, 4 Doukhobors stayed at Grosse Isle after July 30. They completed their convalescence at the Health Division. Sources: Canada, Sessional Documents (French version), 1900. Annual Report of Dr. G.E. Martineau, superintendant of the Quarantine Station of Grosse Isle and different Emigration Agents’ Reports. RG 29, Volume 768, File 412-13-19. RG 17, AV, Vol. 2434. Lake Huron’s ship manifest.

Dr. Charbonneau recorded the following list of Doukhobors who died at sea on the S.S. Lake Huron: Agrafena Strelyaev (65), Varvara Vereshchagin (54), Praskovia Parakhin (5), Grigorii Chevildeev (8), Anastasia Novokshonov (62) and Marfa Markov (40). Those born at sea were listed as Anna Huron Kuznetsov and Ivan Tarasov.

2nd Class Quarantine Hotel at Grosse Isle, Quebec

The following Doukhobors were hospitalized at Grosse Isle: Ivan Bondarev (14), Nikolai Bondarev (56), Feodor Bondarev (12), Ivan Bondarev (39), Vasily Dyakov (2), Matrona Fofanov (25), Feodor Fofanov (85), Anna Malov (24), Anna Malov (50), Feodor Malov (1.5), Vasilisa Nagornov (22), Alexander Nagornov (4), Daria Nagornov (12), Elizaveta Nagornov (14), Nikolai Nagornov (7), Semeon Nagornov (2), Tatiana Nagornov (45), Ivan Nagornov (45), Feodor Nagornov (10), Marfa Usachev (65), Agafia Usachev (5), Katerina Usachev (16), Maria Usachev (40), Maria Usachev (4), Praskovia Usachev (28), Pelagea Ozerov (65), Maria Ozerov (40), Tatiana Ozerov (6), Maria Fedosov (3), Praskovia Fedosov (32), Alexei Popov (9), Evsey Popov (25), Maria Popov (27), Pelagea Strelyaev (10), Matrona Tarasov (33), Nikolai Tarasov (45), Feodor Tarasov (34), Nikifor Fedosov (7), Ivan Fedosov (40), Maria Fofanov (48), Mikhailo Fofanov (48), Anastasia Voikin (?) and Evdokia Voikin (5).

Seven Doukhobors died in the Hospital and in the Health Division of Grosse Isle as follows: Maria Chorokow (Zharikov?) (75) died June 29th of old age, Feodor Fofanov (85) died June 27th of dysentery, Feodor Malov (1.5) died June 26th of inflammation of the lungs, Maria Pohozhev (90) died June 18th of old age, Feodor Tarasov (34) died June 26th of enteric fever, Vasilisa Teorow (Taranov?) (50) died June 15th of general weakness, Vasily Chutskov (85) died July 2nd of old age, Grigorii Chevildeev (8) died on board the Lake Huron and was buried in the Hospital cemetary on June 7th.

The S.S. Lake Huron, as the last ship, completed the largest mass migration of one group of immigrants to Canada at one time. It was a historic first.

Doukhobor Interpretive Panel Unveiled at Grosse Isle National Park, 1999

One hundred years later, long after the island had been closed for quarantine, Parks Canada on August 8th, 1999 unveiled an interpretive plaque commemorating the Doukhobors quarantine on Grosse Isle. The plaque, unveiled by Parks Coordinator Odette Allaire, reads as follows:

“On June 6, 1899, 2,275 Doukhobor immigrants were forced to disembark at Grosse Isle. The presence of several cases of smallpox on board the Lake Huron, which left a Russian port 23 days before, necessitated completely disinfecting the ship, vaccinating all passengers and keeping them under observation.

More than 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada that year, followed by a series of smaller groups until 1912. Fleeing the religious and political repression then occurring in Transcaucasia, these immigrants took advantage of the opening of the Canadian West to settlement. They located in Saskatchewan for the most part.

Today, Canada numbers close to 40,000 descendants of the Doukhobors.”

For more information about Grosse Isle and its role as a quarantine station from 1832 to 1937 for the Port of Québec, the main entrance for immigrants to Canada until the First World War., visit the Parks Canada Grosse Isle National Park website.

The Doukhobors on Cyprus

by Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov

Following the Burning of Arms in 1895, the Doukhobors in Russia were severely persecuted by Tsarist authorities. Thousands were exiled to remote, unhealthy regions where many perished from famine, disease and exhaustion. Their situation became untenable. In March 1898, after several years of letter-writing campaigns, the Doukhobors gained permission to leave their homeland. In choosing a suitable place for settlement, they were guided and assisted by Leo Tolstoy, Russian and English Tolstoyans and the Society of Friends (Quakers) in England who gathered funds for their departure. After considering Texas, Turkistan and Manchuria, the Doukhobors finally selected the island of Cyprus, which was part of the British Empire at the time. Despite reports brought by Doukhobor scouts of poor soil and a hot climate, once the decision was made, resettlement of the Doukhobors on the island proceeded quickly. The first group of 1,126 arrived there in August 1898. Tolstoyan writer Pavel I. Biryukov (1860-1931) joined them to help coordinate their settlement. His observations were published in the journal article “Dukhobory na Kiprie” [The Doukhobors on Cyprus] in ‘Svobodnoe slovo’ (Purleigh, England), No. 2, 1899: 22-55 and republished in his book “Dukhobortsy: sbornik statei, vospominanii, pisem i drugikh documentov” [The Doukhobors: collected articles, reminiscences, letters and other documents] (St. Petersburg: I.N. Kushnerev, 1908). Over a century later, this rare historic manuscript is made available for the first time in English in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translated from the original Russian by Jack McIntosh.  Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On the 19th of August, 1898 (n.s.), an event of great importance in the history of the Russian people took place: 1,126 Russian Doukhobor peasants left Russia irrevocably.

Readers know from the preceding chapter how difficult it was for them to live in Russia.

Apart from separate cases of exile that began as far back as 1886, more than 4,000 Doukhobors were brought to ruin and evicted from their homes in July 1895 and scattered among Georgian villages, where after three years they had lost approximately 1,000 persons who died from various illnesses and had run through the remainder of whatever belongings they had managed to hold onto at the time of their exile.

Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov (1860-1931).

Throughout those three years the authorities in the Caucasus had tried to crush the persistence of the Doukhobors in their religious requirements and, finally acceding to their petition, the government decided upon a most extreme measure – it permitted the separately resettled Doukhobors to emigrate from Russia without the right to return to their motherland.

Up to that time this measure, this concession, had seemed so unlikely that neither the Doukhobors themselves nor especially their neighbours in the Caucasus, right up to the last minute when the steamship sailed, did not believe it would happen. The distrust of the natives of the Caucasus in such a comparatively humane solution of the Doukhobor problem spread to such an extent that, as Doukhobors have told me, their Caucasian acquaintances who were seeing them off were urging them to the very last minute not to go, not to fall for this trap. They were assured that this solution of having them set sail was nothing but a death sentence by sinking. “As soon as you are off shore and still within cannon range,” said the far-seeing Caucasians, “the steamer crew will stay in the boat, throw you onto the steamship, and from the shore they’ll fire a cannonball and sink all of you.”

However, the ship was not sunk, and all 1,126 Doukhobors safely disembarked on the island of Cyprus on the 26th of August.

Many may find it strange that the Doukhobors moved to Cyprus. I am unable to provide a good explanation of the main reason for this project. Although I was not even sympathetic to it, I was not in a position to criticize it severely, as for various reasons I was far from the resettlement arrangements until events themselves drew me into the affair.

As I observe life in Cyprus now, I can say that the thought of permanent settlement of the Doukhobors in Cyprus, if such an idea was actually entertained, could only have occurred to a person entirely unfamiliar with Cyprus or someone understanding nothing about the living conditions of the Russian peasant.

Similar thoughts had been expressed previously, but the resettlement proceeded so quickly that Cyprus was a sad necessity. The two Doukhobors [Ivan Ivin and Petr Makhortov] who had been sent to Cyprus to meet the first party found it unsuitable for settlement, but neither their telegram nor their letter could halt the onrushing current, and the out-migration of the first party went on as if of its own accord.

I feel guilty that I, among others, yielding to the influence of the Doukhobor representatives who had related to us the dire predicament of their brethren, insisted on their immediate departure, which possibly brought about this mass movement, whereas in the beginning it had been proposed to move them out gradually in small parties; then, probably, the consequences of the out-migration would not have been so deadly.

People who are locked into a room, knowing that they are unable to open the door, in spite of the calamitousness of their situation, will inevitably strive for a better arrangement within the walls of that room; and conversely, people who have been locked in a room and have arranged for themselves a tolerable life there, will undoubtedly at the first opening of the doors rush into the free space, abandoning the relative comfort of the room and preferring the unknown of future freedom. Similarly also the Doukhobors, exhausted under the yoke of their three-year administrative supervision and having received permission to leave Russia, could scarcely contain their burst of enthusiasm and at the first sign of encouragement on our part they began to collect their passports and head for Batum.

When they were still in Batum, a new complication arose, one not foreseen by the leaders of the resettlement – the guarantee demanded by the English government of the island of Cyprus of 250 rubles a head ensuring a two-year sojourn here in addition to return travel to the homeland. The sum required was not readily available; moreover, more than 1,000 Doukhobors were assembled in Batum and were put up there in an encampment awaiting resolution of their fate.

For those of us taking part in the resettlement arrangements who were living in England, this was a very difficult and worrisome time. We felt an enormous responsibility for these 1,000 lives and the almost palpable impossibility of helping them get out of this virtually unbearable situation.

After fresh negotiations with the government of Cyprus, a guarantee of up to 150 rubles a person was added, and at last an opportunity emerged to make up the lacking portion of the monetary guarantee through the auspices of persons enjoying the confidence of the English government. Due credit should go to the energy with which the Quaker Committee to Aid the Suffering and its subsection – the Doukhobor Committee – acted. In three days part of the money was collected (50,000 rubles), part of the guarantee amounting to 165,000 rubles and permission was obtained for the Doukhobors to land on Cyprus.

Now, after 51 burials already performed on Cyprus and another unknown number about to occur, one would like to think that perhaps it would have been better if that guarantee had not been collected and permission to land on Cyprus had not been obtained. However, at the time there was real rejoicing, and as soon as the telegram was received announcing that the Doukhobors had set off for Cyprus, I got ready to travel there to meet them and offer assistance in getting them settled.

The doubts that are arising now that the result obtained by such strenuous efforts was not the best are also confirmed by the fact that, judging from the accounts of the Doukhobors themselves, at the time of our intense activity in England, they were not idle either in Batum.

Long accustomed to independent living, as soon as they arrived in Batum, having found out from the English consul the size of the required guarantee, they prudently decided to look for another solution; some of them discussed the possibility of crossing the Turkish frontier, others, more energetically aspiring to the West, engaged in talks with an agent of Messageries Maritimes [a French steamship line] and had already chartered two steamships which undertook to deliver them to Marseilles, with the right to live there three months, at a cost of fourteen rubles a head. On the eve of the day when on of these steamers was due to sail to Marseilles, the telegram arrived from England saying that the guarantee had been collected and permission granted to travel to Cyprus. That telegram decided matters. “If it had not been for that telegram,” several Doukhobors told me, “we would already be in Canada.” And in fact, who knows what turn events would have taken? Some of the Doukhobors might have found work on the docks of Marseilles, while some might have moved on farther, and the 50,000 ruble sum collected, so unproductively wasted here, might have been used by that party for the crossing to Canada.

However, what is done already cannot be undone, and as the fates decree, we are living, falling ill and dying on Cyprus.


As a consequence of the inconvenient schedule of the steamship, I was unsuccessful in meeting the Doukhobors during their disembarkation. I arrived in Cyprus three days after their arrival, that is, on the 29th of August.

When it arrives at the city of Larnaca, the ship stops rather far from shore. As soon as the ship dropped anchor and I surveyed the distant shore and pier, I noticed right away to the right of the pier a cluster of tents and people standing around and walking among them. I aimed a telescope their way and recognized Doukhobors standing in groups on the shore, in white shirts and blue trousers and in their special cut of Cossack peaked caps.

I began to press the boatman, who was bringing my things, and soon, along with my associates in this affair, the [Quaker] Englishman [Wilson] Sturge, we drove up to the pier. In a few minutes I was running to find my Doukhobor friends. They turned out to be in quarantine.

The “Quarantine Office” is a rather large courtyard enclosed within a high fence on the side facing the sea and is located at the outskirts of the city. One side consists of sheds adapted for living space. The Doukhobors were housed partly in these sheds, where they soon set up bunks, and partly in 60 tents pitched quite close together in the courtyard.

When I walked up to the gates of the quarantine, I found them locked. Fortunately, there was a small window with enough space for me to stick my head through and even exchange kisses with my friend, the Doukhobor Vasily Andreyevich Potapov. We had not seen one another for three years. I found him much changed; he had lost weight and aged in that time. Three years of exile had taken its toll. But in his spirit, of course, he had grown still stronger, more clear thinking and more serene.

The Doukhobor Vasily Andreyevich Potapov. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01491.

We exchanged greetings and bows, and the very latest information on our mutual wellbeing. Soon after my arrival they began to bring provisions and bread and began to pass it in through the quarantine guard; Potapov was diverted to attend to these matters, and I, after having a word with others, also turned away and set out for the hotel to figure out with my associates how to proceed further. I acknowledge that penetrating through the joy of meeting there was something bitter and unexpected – that lock on the gates, that violence with which the Doukhobors were met during their first step in a free land.

To be completely candid, I admit to yet another feeling I experienced when I caught sight of the Doukhobor encampment on the shore. That feeling may be roughly expressed in the words: “Oh oh, so this is how it is for them here!” Although I had been aware that the Doukhobors would have to land in Cyprus, I was still vaguely hoping that perhaps something would prevent that and they would not end up here. Often I suppressed that feeling and said to myself: “well, Cyprus – why not? I really don’t know the island. Maybe things will be fine here: a warm climate, humane English governance, the proximity of Russia,” and so on. But that feeling of foreboding mixed with hope again broke through and was upsetting my plans.

Now that I had seen the Doukhobors who were already here, I had renewed energy and confidence in Cyprus and a desire to use all my powers to find everything good here, and perhaps under the influence of this urge, or perhaps simply under the spell of the achieved goal and imminent rest after the long journey, I spent that evening somehow especially happy, I feasted my eyes on the moon and the sea and enjoyed the mediocre orchestra playing in the café on the quay; I had an excellent sleep and awoke with great hopes.

The next day the senior doctor once again called in at the quarantine courtyard, for some reason counted the men, women and children again and then allowed me to enter the quarantine so that I could see and exchange greetings with all who were there. Toward evening the governor granted permission to open the quarantine, and the Doukhobors themselves walked into the city for provisions. Their knowledge of the Tatar language proved very useful, as the local Turkish tongue is similar to Tatar, and many of the Doukhobors began to make themselves understood by the local inhabitants.

The governor gave permission for the Doukhobors to remain in quarantine for no more than three weeks. But it would have been impossible for them to remain there any longer than that. The station courtyard and the buildings around it faced directly southward, and by midday the heat grew so intense that even the healthiest could hardly stand it.

One of my associates in this enterprise, [Arthur] St. John [an English Tolstoyan], who had already been living on the island and been actively engaged in studying it, found outside the city a place for the temporary stationing of the Doukhobors – a government-owned orchard with a nearby spring supplying enough water. The government, upon request, provided enough sanitary necessities along with restrictions that prevented the Doukhobors from making use of the orchard.

Fortunately, on the first day of our presence in Larnaca, news came that the farm we were renting, the Athalassa chiflik [farm], in the local parlance, could be occupied the very next day.

Sturge and St. John set out early in the morning the next day to take possession of the farm, while I remained with the Doukhobors to accompany the first party to their place of residence.

Over those two days I spent most of my time with the Doukhobors in the quarantine. In my conversations with them I tried to explain to them the reason for their landing on Cyprus; although they knew this in general terms, I was trying to make their situation better understood and freely accepted, suggesting to them that although Cyprus indeed was an unavoidable way out of their predicament, it would be up to them to choose whether it would be a permanent place of residence or a temporary location. From the very outset, I found in them a reasonable attitude toward this question. Nobody prejudged the issue, because sitting within the four walls of the quarantine and strolling only around the bazaar, it was impossible to decide on a final resolution. Many were attracted by the low prices of the fruit, especially grapes, a pound of which could be bought for less than a kopeck, tomatoes, eggplant and other green vegetables. This showed them that green vegetables and fruit grow here in abundance. Others were frightened by the locals telling them about the absence of water and lumber; all this for the time being merely gave them material for discussion of the issue, but they were far from a decision. In the first few days the decision leaned more on the positive side, so that the liberated Doukhobors already began to consider the possibility of freeing others of their brethren who remained in the Caucasus, and their opinion is reflected in my correspondence those first few days.

The health situation in the quarantine, in spite of the confined quarters, seemed satisfactory; at least, there were no complaints and the doctor’s medical inspection was reassuring.

The death of Timofey Makeyev, one of the brethren, on the day of arrival, did not spoil this mood among either the Doukhobors or the doctors, and everyone unanimously took this to be the outcome of a long illness, apparently consumption, which had been afflicting him for several years.

At the Quarantine Office, those who had not been exposed to smallpox were vaccinated. To me, the senior doctor expressed amazement at the civilized nature and modesty of the Doukhobors, who were not resisting all these manipulations.

Finally the day was set for the dispatch of the first party to Athalassa, around 280 persons, and after midday we began to load the hired oxcarts with baggage, tents, and the elderly, weak, and small children. At about four o’clock everything was ready, and a wagon train consisting of forty-two oxcarts set off on the road toward Nicosia, the main administrative centre of the island.

I remained in Larnaca for another two hours and around six o’clock left on a mule to catch up with the wagon train accompanied by the Turkish policeman placed at my disposal by the obliging governor of Larnaca in the event of possible misunderstandings.

I caught up with the last oxcart after approximately 9 or 10 versts [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0668 km] and passed ahead along the wagon train, overtaking carts and men and women moving along on foot. The sun had already set, but it had not gotten dark. The clear southern moon was shining almost as brightly as the sun. The wagon train stretched for several versts, and it took me a long time to overtake the first oxcart.

Bullock wagons on the road from Larnaca to Nicosia, Cyprus along which Doukhobors travelled en route to Athalassa in late 1898. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

From Larnaca to Nicosia along the main road was 26 English miles, that is, 39 versts. Athalassa is situated not far from the main road, on the left side, three miles short of Nicosia.

I caught up to the first oxcarts half way along the road where they had already stopped for a rest by a coach house yard or “dukhan” in Tatar, or simply “khana” in the local language. The rest of the carts caught up and were arranged to allow the oxen to feed. After a three-hour stop, the first oxcarts again headed out and at around four o’clock in the morning arrived safely in Athalassa.

One by one the carts began to draw up, unload, and were set up in an encampment down below beyond the garden near the stream flowing there. With extraordinary eagerness, the children and old women hurried to the stream. The children began to play and splash around in it, and the grandmothers began to scoop up water, boil it, and do washing. In Larnaca the lack of fresh water had made itself felt, and there had not always been enough for washing. Now they were glad to have plenty of it.

Around 8 o’clock the last oxcart drew up. The move had been completed with complete success. Tents were pitched, fires lit, and life began in full swing in the new location.

Athalassa chiflik is regarded as one of the favorable locations on Cyprus in terms of agriculture. Sufficient water supply, well-managed fruit orchards, with date-palms, fig, orange, lemon, olive and mulberry trees, gardens with various young green vegetables, several tracts with young plantings of olive and mulberry trees and around 500 dessiatines [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0925 hectares] of good arable land. Farm buildings in good shape, house with 5-6 rooms, a barn and granaries. All this was rented from the Eastern and Colonial Association for 200 pounds a year, i.e. 2000 rubles.

Mention of the Eastern and Colonial Association leaves me with an unpleasant sensation. I am little acquainted with the activities of this company and its members, but I know one thing, that for everything they were selling to us, for all the services they were rendering, we paid very dearly, yet at the same time, with every sale made or service rendered, they were making out that they were very sympathetic to us and were doing good deeds.

Toward evening, as soon as the newly-arrived party had to some extent come to grips with their situation in the new location, I headed back to Larnaca on my mule, this time without the police escort, whom I had already let go that morning.

The party that had arrived in Athalassa were all from the one village, Efremovka. For three years they had lived in disorder and now they were reunited in their new location. Right away they came up with the idea, with my support, of building a village right here and calling it Efremovka. That is how it was both in Tavria Province and also in the Caucasus; so also it should be here. Everybody was emboldened in spirit and full of hope. There were several who had fallen ill, and they were sympathetic to them, but they said that this was inevitable and that it was a good thing that up to now they had managed despite the difficulties of the journey. I left for Larnaca, traveled all night, got a little lost when I arrived in the city and only at 3 a.m. reached the hotel, very tired from the long, unaccustomed trip, but content with what had been accomplished.

Although the move to Athalassa had generally been comparatively successful, one circumstance threw a dark shadow that left a bad impression on me and my friends. The Athalassa area was rented by Armenians and the land had been worked half and half by some neighbouring inhabitants. Our arrival had upset all this, and the renters living on the farm, the foreman and the workers were obliged to leave before we arrived. Some of them had left previously, but others were still just starting to get ready in our presence, and we saw how they loaded up their little donkeys with various goods and chattels and left for somewhere else. This situation struck the Doukhobors unpleasantly as well. At the first expression of dissatisfaction with their position, they told me: “Why take land away from others? We were not seeking that. We heard that there is plenty of land not belonging to anybody, government land – that is the kind we need. But to drive away a man who worked and fed himself here – that is not Christian.” Unfortunately, regardless of their wishes, we repeated that un-Christian act many times over.


The next day I got up early and hurried to the quarantine, where more than 800 Doukhobors remained.

After the first party left there was a little more room; there was now an opportunity to walk between the tents and distinguish faces, and I endeavored to become acquainted with them and remember those I had already seen back in the Caucasus.

I related to them how settlement had gone in Athalassa and what I had found there, approximately how much land and other benefits, and right there we decided at a general council that it would be possible to send another party of about 250 to Athalassa, as there is enough land there, it was constricted standing around in the quarantine, and in the near future the purchase of new land was not to be counted on. But since to carry out this measure it was still necessary to have the agreement of my associates Sturge and St. John, it was decided to wait for their return from Nicosia, where they had remained to inspect farms offered for purchase.

As soon as our arrival became known, offers of farms for sale poured in. However, the price for them nevertheless rose, as everybody wanted to take advantage of this good opportunity to sell assets that had lain idle for a long time. We knew this and were not rushing to make purchases. The Doukhobors understood this well themselves and were in no hurry, but on the contrary, urged one another to take their time. But when they discovered what was being paid in Athalassa for cattle and associated goods, they were aghast and began to say that it would be better for them to spend the winter in Athalassa if only not to have to make such unprofitable deals.

They decided to wait for Sturge, and for the time being it was thought better to spend time in the quarantine. But the cramped conditions in quarantine soon made themselves felt. The number of sick people rose and two more children died, a boy of six and a little girl four years old.

I remember how the death of that boy hit me. Previously I had not seen dead bodies among the Doukhobors and had not heard their funereal singing. In the morning I walked to the quarantine and heard singing in one corner of the courtyard. I was interested to find out who they were and what they were singing, and I went over in that direction. There a small shed stood, put together with boards, in which two or three Doukhobor families were housed. The closer I came, the more clearly I could make out the singing and my heart grew ever heavier. I knew that generally speaking, the tunes of Doukhobor psalms are doleful, and I was not paying enough attention to this melancholy feeling when I carelessly went into the shed and stopped at the threshold. There sitting in a circle were several men and women with sad faces and slowly, with long drawn out words and slight bobbing of their heads, they were singing a psalm. On a bench in their midst lay on his back with his little legs stretched out, a fine-looking young boy, his face white with a waxy transparency, in a clean new Doukhobor costume. Tears came to my eyes, but I held back, bowed to the people seated there and withdrew.

This was the first death I had seen in Cyprus, and it made a very strong impression on me. When I saw that dead boy, some inner voice told me: “Well, now, see here, it’s only the beginning!”

A day later, the little girl also died. These two deaths alarmed the doctors too. After the girl’s death, the local governor called me in and said with a stern and serious expression that according to the report of the sanitation inspector, sanitary conditions among the Doukhobors were very bad, he was afraid of an epidemic, and he asked me to take immediate action to improve the situation.

At the same time he added that after consulting with the sanitation inspector, he decided to suggest to me either to rent houses in the city and house the Doukhobors in them, or to rent one building and set it up as a hospital in which to keep the sick ones who could not be treated in the camp. I heard him out, and as I could not and would not make all these arrangements on my own, I summoned Sturge by telegram and went to inform the Doukhobors of this. They silently heard what I had to say, without protest, but in fact the news of a hospital being set up seemed to bother them more than the news of expected deaths.

View of the island of Cyprus, c. 1898.

During these days in quarantine, there was another occurrence that somewhat darkened our then still very optimistic mood and at the same time served to bring me still closer to these people.

When I returned from Athalassa and walked into the quarantine, two elderly Doukhobor men approached me and said that they wanted to ask me what to do. “One of our lads has been indulging in wine, we’re very much ashamed, we are not thinking of him or ourselves, but what are we to do with him?” Of course I was surprised by this, and could not find anything to say, and we decided that we needed to collect our thoughts and talk about this. Soon thereafter, the next morning, it seems, the governor invited me to his quarters and told me that one of the Doukhobors had got drunk, began a brawl, and had been taken in to the police station, where he had spent the night. “If you would like to see him, I can give you a pass.” I took it and went to the police station. Admittedly, I was much grieved by this unexpected scandal. An occurrence that is so common among ordinary people was looked upon by the Doukhobors of this party as a crime. It was precisely the commonplace nature of this situation that more than anything else both weighed heavily on me and angered me, because it provided a pretext for any shortsighted person who did not know them well to say: “you see, this shows there is nothing special about them,” which of course my associate Sturge, who always kept himself rather aloof from the Doukhobors, did not miss the opportunity to say. As soon as he found out about it, he immediately said: “Alors ils ne sont pas meilleurs que les autres!” [“So, they are no better than others!”]

However, because I knew that they are beaucoup meilleurs que les autres [much better than others], I was not put off and went to rescue the wretch. I found him sitting under a tree in the courtyard of the police station. The “brawling lad” turned out to be an old fellow about 50 years old; his swollen red face, teary eyes and uncertain, trembling movement betrayed him to be a man suffering from the effects of hard drinking. The police obligingly released him upon my initial request, on my recognizance, and I led him back to the quarantine. This unfortunate fellow already was expressing great repentance for what he had done, and regret for bringing shame on the community, but it was clear that although he acknowledged all this, he could not guarantee that it would not happen again. I took him back to quarantine and delivered him into the hands of several elders who had come to meet me. They surrounded him and began to tell him off for his misdemeanor. He bowed, begged forgiveness, and did not know what to do. That evening a council gathered.

From conversations with several persons with whom I was more closely acquainted, I found out that Nikolai Borisov – that was the name of the ailing old fellow – had already been suffering for a long time, about ten years, from heavy drinking and had even taken treatment for it. From time to time, sometimes for months at a stretch he had remained sober, but then fell back into the old habit. Such behaviour on his part once forced the Doukhobors during their exile at one of their councils to expel him from the community. As was the custom, he was given his portion and some money and asked to live on his own; in his grief he began to carouse even more, drank up everything in sight and showed up to implore the community in the name of Christ for refuge; from that time on they have not driven him out. Several times they advised him to return to his former associates, that is, to move back with the Small Party, but he did not want to hear of it. They advised him not to leave the Caucasus, and did not even obtain a ticket for him, but he sneaked onto the steamship, and they did not spot him until the ship was en route.

“What are we to do with him?” the elders said to me, “a lost soul, not one of us, but what are we to do about it? Just one person, but he is shaming a thousand, and not just a thousand, but all three thousand plus – just one person, but nonetheless it is painful.” Some advised him to head back to the Caucasus; at times he himself even agreed to this, but nobody could bring himself to act on this.

I did not want to venture advice, worried about my influence on one side or the other, and especially on the side of repressive measures, as I had heard from some of the Doukhobors that they felt ashamed, in particular, to face us friends who were assisting them. “With you,” the Doukhobors told me, “it is not so embarrassing, we regard you as one of our own, but with the Quaker it is very shameful: he is writing to his own people – what are they going to think!” I was very worried that they would repeat the previous expulsion, and thus nevertheless decided to go to the council, there to express not my own opinion, but that of Christ as to the guilty party. I came and read out to them two passages from the Gospels: one about the judgment of the sinful woman, and the other, the words of Caiaphas to the effect that it is better for one man to die rather than the whole nation perish; after reading that and explaining why I had read it out, I withdrew. The council decided to be patient for a while, but if he himself asks for it, to give him the fare for his return to the Caucasus.

It was touching to see the concern with which they discussed this problem and their struggle between community pride and compassion, and how the latter won out in the end.

The governor displayed a rather benevolent attitude to all this. He told me that it was a great pity that this had happened, and that it could affect the general impression. But when I pointed out that, surely, this was one man in a thousand, he agreed that this occurrence was extremely exceptional. I asked him what would happen if 1000 workers in the city of of Larnaca were to find themselves in the same predicament as the Doukhobors, i.e. without work but given a secure existence. Without hesitation, he replied: “They would all be getting drunk!” Then he asked me what I would do with this man. Sensing indecisiveness in my answer, he decided to answer for me, pointing to a tree near where we were standing, and made a gesture with his hand at his throat, adding “hang him!” and at that he burst out laughing. This was his little joke just for my benefit, as he knew what my firm beliefs were.

When he found out about this episode, Sturge, as I mentioned already, remained most upset and the next morning, after heading for the quarantine and gathering a small circle of elders around him, he spoke to them in Russian, saying that if the Doukhobors continue to engage in drunkenness, the Quakers will terminate their assistance. At that the Doukhobors kept silent.


Meanwhile, with the arrival of Sturge the question of sending a second party to Athalassa was definitely resolved. It was decided to do this as soon as possible, and already the next day was designated for sending the first half of the second party, and the remainder the day after that. I divided the party in two, having experienced the inconvenience of moving a very large oxcart train.

This time I could not accompany the party, as I had been drawn away by another matter.

On the day of departure of the second part of the second group, we went with Sturge and the Doukhobor Vasily Potapov to Kouklia, one of the farms belonging to the Eastern Association to discuss working on a half and half basis.

When we returned to Larnaca from Kouklia, I learned that the second part of the second group had already set off. There was now more room in the quarantine, and both we and the Doukhobors were glad at the hope that we would get by without a hospital.

In principle, the Doukhobors themselves were not against a hospital, but they did not want to incur major expenses. Having endured many different illnesses, they were already accustomed to doctors in the Caucasus and were not afraid of them. But they had already become aware back there that doctors are “expensive”; “they would even like to charge less,” one Doukhobor told me, “but they cannot, because they are not supposed to in accordance with their science.” It is that “expensive” science that the Doukhobors much fear, knowing the monetary cost, as they know both how to earn it and how to renounce it.

Our journey to Kouklia had a significant result. We were successful in concluding an agreement with the director of the Eastern Association according to which he took on 10 Doukhobor families as workers going halves on conditions that, although they were not even profitable, were not excessively onerous. The company provided cattle, implements, partial housing and materials for construction of the housing shortfall. The Doukhobors were obliged with these materials to build enough dwellings, to cultivate as much as they were able the fields and at harvest time, to return to the owner the seed and after paying the government tax, they would receive half of the remaining harvest. Hay would be left for the owner for feeding the oxen.

One advantage of settling the Doukhobors there was that there was flowing water and land suitable for gardening, which the director agreed to make available to the Doukhobors for 10 shillings a donum [Cypriot field measure equal to approximately 1/12 of a Russian dessiatine], that is, approximately 60 rubles per dessiatine annually. For Cyprus this price was very moderate, as water there is very expensive.

This settlement, although temporary, as the Doukhobors had no intention of living permanently as sharecroppers, would have been one of the most successful, as here the Doukhobors without great expense could have begun at once to work productively, had it not been for the fever spreading in that place. When the company was inviting the Doukhobors to go there, we were warned that this place is not as healthy as Pergamos. Everyone was saying that Pergamos was healthy (comparatively). At this they added that, of course, if certain precautions were taken, to live and work in Kouklia would be very good. All this the Doukhobors also were aware of, and the desire to begin work as soon as possible overcame their apprehension about disease, and the agreement was concluded. When the Doukhobors arrived and started work, the administrator who sympathized with the Doukhobors, an Armenian who speaks Turkish and French, expressed to me his satisfaction, as he had noticed that the Doukhobor women work alongside the men. “This augurs well for success,” he told me, “Armenians here have not been successful, because their women do not work and so when the men got sick, the work was suspended. With you, I can see, that will not happen: when the men get sick, the women will work.”

From these words I could see that disease was already assumed to be an inevitable fact of life. But the Doukhobors by this time did not want to retreat, and were hoping they could cope with the fever. But in fact within those two months they all came down with it. Although only the two children died, they all had a sickly, exhausted appearance and were already thinking that by spring they would have to leave for Pergamos, and if they would have to stay in Cyprus in the spring, they expected to get to Kouklia only long enough to get some work, and the residents of Pergamos promised to help them with this.

On the same trip we looked over the chiflik of Pergamos and in a few days it was decided to purchase it.

Some of the Doukhobors headed there right away and also to Kouklia.

About one hundred persons still remained in the quarantine. Those who remained were the ones who did not have tents and were living in barns, as there was no accommodation prepared in Pergamos and it would take several days to make the rundown Turkish houses there suitable for habitation.

Pergamos indeed turned out to be a most healthy place, by virtue of its elevation, and the fresh water available from several wells there. Its shortcomings were that there was no flowing water there and it would be necessary to make substantial expenditures on irrigation of the land. In addition, the relative lightness of the soil, i.e. its low fertility and finally and most important, there were only about 40 dessiatines in all, an area of land far from sufficient to feed the 460 persons living there. Having confirmed the healthfulness of this place, I pressed for the settlement there of all the rest, especially because it was possible to find more land to rent in the vicinity.

The last shortcoming, the small amount of land, turned to their advantage after it was decided that the Doukhobors would not remain in Cyprus. As I already mentioned, that part of the group, about 200 persons, was still in the quarantine. They were the most patient ones, but even they, barely able to stand sitting around , agreed to go to Pergamos and spend the nights there under the open sky, “covering themselves a little with something” – anything to get away from the quarantine with which they were so fed up. Taking advantage of a free evening, I went to visit them in the quarantine to read and chat with them. That evening was one of the best I spent in Cyprus.

I read out for them the article “Doukhobory v nachale XIX stoletiia” [“Doukhobors at the beginning of the 19th century” – a late 19th century reprint of the 1805 article “Nekotorye cherty ob obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society”]]. It turned out to be unknown to them and they were amazed at the faithfulness of its rendering of the essence of their doctrine, social structure and history.

In confirmation of the truth of what was written, they recited for me several psalms on which the instructional part of that article was based. Those psalms are beautiful and aroused in all of us a good and serious frame of mind, and for a long time we conversed amicably, recalling previous times of persecution and comparing them with those of the present. Little by little the conversation moved to the present state of affairs in Cyprus, and here in candid conversation for the first time I heard and clearly understood the already firmly formed opinion of the Doukhobors that it was impossible for them to live in Cyprus for long. This opinion had hardened, influenced by their gradually growing familiarity with Cyprus. To be sure, as far as I could gather from general conversations with them, the thought of living in Cyprus had never been to their taste. However, as prudent people, they had not been able to reject Cyprus sight unseen and, trusting people who had rendered them brotherly assistance, they had decided to try even Cyprus, especially in the absence of any other more definite proposal.

Cypriots gathering straw for animal feed, c. 1898.

But the resettlement of the Doukhobors had been conceived by them in terms of a particular plan and with conditions they had clearly expressed in their petition to the Empress and in Petr Verigin’s letter to her. They petitioned for the opportunity to settle all together in one place where they could engage in their characteristic toil. Their striving to find a place to settle is similar to that of the people of the Bible to find the promised land and to establish there the Kingdom of God in accordance with the teachings of Christ. I often noticed them expressing this idea in my conversations with them. As they spoke of their firm resolve to die for the truth, they not infrequently confessed to me this human weakness: “Of course,” they said, “we would go that far, to the death if need be, we have decided to withstand everything, even unto eternal life, but we all want to see how we can all live together, we all want to fulfill everything and live as a Christian community should.”

It is hard to condemn these people for this their “great” weakness, and few there are, I believe, who, knowing this, would not wish to help them in this.

The more they got to know Cyprus, the more clearly they could see that this dream was not destined to be realized here.

From information gathered from various sources, it turned out that although it was possible to find in Cyprus the quantity of land needed to settle the whole community, in the first place it would have to be purchased for a very high price (100 rubles a dessiatine or more), and in the second place, it would be scattered all over the island in small pieces, which of course would be extremely inconvenient for communal farming. Moreover, from questioning of local residents they found out that the living and working conditions on the island were to such an extent the opposite of what they were used to, that their main strength – their farming knowledge gained over the ages – would count for nothing. It would mean working in the winter and hiding from the heat in the summertime. Housing, clothing, food, labour, i.e. the sum total of their farming existence would have to be different; everything would have to be learned anew. It was obvious that they would not have enough to eat for long; the prospect was that they would have to depend for their sustenance on kind people – this would be all right, but is this really necessary and is there really nowhere that their toil is needed and where they can receive a decent return so that they can be proud of their labour? Added to this: the unbearable heat for seven or eight months, accompanied by fever, dysentery, and often, death.

From the local inhabitants they discovered that there had already been several attempts to settle foreigners on the island. The English had brought in Hindus; other nationalities, Circassians, Maltese, Armenians and Jews, had come, and all this had ended in disease, death, and the departure of the survivors.

All of this led them to conclude that Cyprus was no good for them, and I could not help but agree with them.

Soon, in about two days, the remaining party headed for Pergamos and at last the quarantine, to the general relief of both the Doukhobors and the local authorities, was vacant, after which, in accordance with all the regulations of “the expensive science,” they covered it over with lime.


Having finished with Pergamos and Kouklia, I set off to call on the folk at Athalassa. I had not seen them for about ten days. The 560 people who were settled in Athalassa were stretched out in an encampment extending about one verst. About 100 of them had been placed in a house belonging to the estate, while the ones living in tents had decided to build themselves huts. In the first days of the settlement of the first party in Athalassa, plans for construction were very ambitious; they decided to recreate the whole village of Efremovka, for which they selected a good location on a hill. But by the time of my second arrival the mood had changed here as well. In Athalassa, all the time the heat was especially palpable. The farm itself was located in a hollow that acted like a convex mirror collecting the sun’s rays in an area shielded from the wind.

Several Doukhobors told me the same thing I had already heard in quarantine; I assembled some of the elders to hear out their opinion more thoroughly, suggesting to them that they write of this to England, which they did. After making some arrangements for provisions, I returned again to Larnaca, and from there set out for Pergamos and Kouklia.

By that time the Doukhobors had received a letter from the Quakers in England. Here is the full text:

“Dear friends,

We are glad to know that after many obstacles and difficulties, you have safely arrived in Cyprus.

Our heartfelt wish is that with the Lord’s blessing you will be able on the island to build a habitation for yourselves and your children; and we have no doubt on that score, as by virtue of your patient staying-power and industriousness with which you excelled in your previous life you will be able to establish yourselves well, and here you will be free from government compulsion that would force you to do what is contrary to your conscience.

May it be possible for you in your new habitation to preserve your conscience pure of sin before God and man.

We were very glad and grateful for the opportunity to take part in the cause of your liberation and to extend to you the hand of brotherly assistance.

Although we are foreign to you in language and nationality, we are nevertheless united with you in the doctrine which forbids both us and you from any war, as that is against the teaching and example of the One who preached peace.

We have heard from those who are acquainted with your past history that your life was imbued with fear of God, honest love of toil and a brotherly disposition to one another, and we felt we could be so bold as to offer the government of Cyprus the large monetary guarantee that they, not without reason, had demanded of us before granting permission for you to settle on the island so that you would not be a burden, either to the government or to the other residents.

We feel that we can rely on you to make the best of the conditions under which you, by the will of God, are now settled.

We have wanted every step of our participation in your destiny to be guided by the Spirit of Truth, and we are confident that you also are basing all your actions on that spirit.

Therefore both you and we can trust that your resettlement in Cyprus is in accord with God’s will and will be a blessing for you.

We strongly desire that your brothers in Russia will also be able to depart from there. Together with your other friends, we shall pursue that goal.

Your example and the boldness with which you will be able to demonstrate in your striving to improve your new living conditions will also very much assist our efforts in this matter.

We are sending this letter by the hand of our friend and brother Wilson Sturge, who is now among you, and to whom we ask you to give brotherly attention and cooperation. With a greeting of Christian love we remain, your brothers.

For the Committee appointed by the English Society of Friends for Assistance to the Doukhobors, signed

John Bellows (secretary). Friends Community House London

2nd day of the 9th month, 1898.”

This letter was read out by me in all three colonies, of course.

In Pergamos I met with the same generally held opinion. I read to them the Quakers’ letter and suggested that they send a reply, which I wrote myself at their request, virtually at their dictation, only editing their thoughts; their letter appears below.

They greeted the Quakers’ letter with touching gratitude, in spite of the total discord between its content and the actual state of affairs. The letter described the Doukhobor settlement in Cyprus as a blessing from God, whereas they were merely enduring it as yet another painful trial. Here is their reply:

Larnaca, Cyprus. 20.9.98
To the Friends – Quakers from the Doukhobors living in Pergamos and Kouklia.

“Firstly, brothers, we bring you profound gratitude, such as we do not know how to express, for your brotherly concern for us and your assistance.

Secondly, we wish to explain to you our predicament and request that you not discontinue your help.

As our brethren Ivin and Makhortov previously explained to you, life for us here is very difficult, and it is most unlikely that we will be able to stay here long.

Our chief concern is for us to be all together as a whole community, but this is impossible here because there is little suitable cheap land here, and if we were to buy expensive land, for the same amount of money we could travel over to America and Canada, which attracts us with its wide open spaces and a climate that is similar to that in which we lived in the Caucasus for 50 years.

Even if it were possible for all our brethren to settle here, we dread the hot climate, which is similar to that which we suffered from in exile and where, out of 4,000 persons, about 1,000 of us already died.

Here eight persons have already died, and many are ill with the same diseases we had in exile: fever, dysentery, eye diseases and blindness.

In one location where it is healthier, the soil is worse – stony and with little water; where the soil is fertile, that is where the diseases are. Ten of our families have taken up sharecropping in the Kouklia estate, which belongs to the Eastern Company.

It might even turn out all right for us here, but our predecessors, Armenians who lived here, all came down sick to the last man, and we expect the same thing.

Moreover, even at the more elevated places the heat can be unbearable, and we came here while it was not yet the hottest time of year.

Taking everything into consideration, we can see that there is no life for us here; we will not flourish here, but wither.

So therefore, we fervently implore you not to enter into large expenditures on establishing us here, but if at all possible to move us from here to a place more suitable for living. As we have heard, Canada is such a place. And with patience and in submission to God’s will we shall await our turn, until with the aid of our friends we shall succeed in joining our brethren.

We are aware that many of our brethren yet remain in the Caucasus under severe repression and without means of subsistence, and our first request is for them. And we hope that our friends will not forget about us here either and will relieve our situation.

We very much are afraid of distressing you with this letter, but we want to tell you the whole truth and frankly express our opinion so as not to be later held to account before you and before God. —

We also thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your letter that we received and read. May the Lord save you.

On behalf of the whole commune, [signed]:

Vasily Potapov, Grigory Glebov, Fyodor Zhmaev, Vasily Popov, Vasily Razinkin, Pavel Popov, Petro Lobyntsev.”

This decision, firmly supported by all the Doukhobors and reinforced more and more with each passing day by the course of events, significantly changed their attitude toward the tasks facing them in Cyprus.

It was decided to get settled temporarily, while striving to do everything as cheaply as possible in order to save as much money as they could for the journey to Canada, from which they had already begun to receive favourable reports about the large amount of free land, about concessions offered by the Canadian government to settlers, about wage levels, and so on. The main barrier to an immediate move was, as was reported from England, that there is no money for the voyage, and that which is now being collected has to go toward the resettlement of the remaining 2000 persons presently in exile in the Caucasus; thus the turn of the Cyprus Doukhobors will not come soon.

Athalassa farm in Cyprus occupied by Doukhobors in 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

All these considerations led to the decision, come what may, to spend the winter in Cyprus, and so it was necessary to build houses. In Pergamos, just as in Athalassa, at first they were planning for a large village, but when they realized the impossibility of a durable settlement, they decided to build at minimal expense, as much as possible making use of what remained intact in the ruins of an old Turkish settlement. Getting to work, they began to plaster walls, reinforce collapsed ceilings, dig out debris, and within two or three days several families were already living in the houses, while others continued the work.

That is how life began in all three settlements.

This is how I organized my time: my main lodging was in Larnaca. I myself spent a good deal of time traveling back and forth. I would head for one end of the island, for example, to Pergamos and Kouklia for two or three days, hen return to Larnaca and have a good rest – timing these rest periods to coincide with days when mail arrived or was dispatched. Then I would set out for the other end to Athalassa, and after three days or so return again to Larnaca, and after taking care of whatever matters were necessary in that city, head once more for Pergamos and Kouklia. My visits to the colonies I also tried to coordinate with visits there by the doctors, after which it fell to me to dispense prescribed medicine and carry out some instructions from the doctor. In addition to matters concerning provisions and concerns about buildings, one of my main activities, appreciated most of all by the Doukhobors, was reading letters received by post, and sometimes articles from periodicals and booklets. This took up a lot of time, because one letter or article would have to be read out about ten times, as it was impossible to read it to many at once, yet everyone wanted to know what they said.

Often, after reading and conversation about the topic of what had been read, one of the older Doukhobors would begin to tell about the olden days. I had no time to write them down, but I heard a lot of interesting things; something of what I heard I shall try to bring forth in another place.

Little by little they began to set about their agricultural work. They began first in Athalassa, as the farm there was in full operation. Then in Kouklia, where everything was also almost ready for work. Last of all in Pergamos, as there it was necessary to start all over with cattle, feed, and equipment.


Little by little life was being put in order, and all would have been fine, but they all had decided to wait for spring and their turn to leave; they were especially energized by news that the “Gorskie”, that is, the ones who had remained scattered in Gori Uezd were preparing to depart, that enough money had been collected for their migration, a steamer hired, and their departure was immanent. As the remaining parties of Elisavetpol and Kars Doukhobors could travel on their own account, it would appear that it was now the Cyprus Doukhobors’ turn; they breathed sighs of relief when they heard this news and said: “Perchance the Lord is not lacking in mercy, and they are going to shift us out of here.”

All would have been well, say I, had it not been for the illness and death that had begun to afflict the Doukhobors when they were still in the quarantine and had intensified after their resettlement in the different locations in the colonies.

The cause of all the illness, as was clearly understood by the Doukhobors themselves, from the old to the young, and was clearly recognized also by me and everyone else who saw the ailing and dying, was the unbearably hot climate of Cyprus.

That the reason for all the illness was the local conditions can be easily seen from the fact that they all came down with them, to an even greater extent those who had not been ill in the Caucasus. But those who had already been sick previously – the weak, children, old men and women – were dying. The nature of these diseases is local and the time of their occurrence, the period of intensified infection, corresponds to the time and period of intensified infection of the local diseases.

Of course, these illnesses and deaths, in spite of the steadfast and steady patience of the Doukhobors, could not but affect their attitude toward Cyprus and their general morale.

Although they did believe those who told them that with the onset of winter, these illnesses would cease or at least subside, they also knew that the hot weather would return, along with renewed illness and that terrible debilitating heat, mosquitoes and the slack time of summer unemployment; all this loomed before them and compelled them to implore people they regarded as brothers to help them extricate themselves from this predicament.

Nevertheless, work continued at its own pace. Building work went on simultaneously in all three colonies. Building projects were completed earliest in Kouklia; there were few there and it was only necessary to buy boards for doors, windows and tables, and beams for the lintels. The rest of the materials belonged to the Company and was on site.

In Athalassa, house construction was somewhat delayed because, owing to its remoteness, I could not get there often, and lumber was delivered there later.

However, toward the end of October, construction was completed in all three colonies, the matter of provisions had been dealt with, and to the great satisfaction of everyone, diseases had even begun to abate as the heat diminished.

My personal affairs were calling me to other tasks, and seeing that my presence in Cyprus was no longer necessary, I decided to leave, especially in view of the arrival of one more Russian [Evangelical Christian] friend of the Doukhobors, Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov, who had energetically gone into action.

By the time I left, we counted 51 dead and around a hundred sick.

As they bid me farewell, the Doukhobors begged me to use all of my powers to find ways for them to leave Cyprus (“certainly try, as you yourself know best,” they said.)

And I left them with this hope.

I gained very much from those three months with the Doukhobors. Aside from personal satisfaction from associating with such people, I was glad to have been able to examine this community up close and see it in all its variety of types and characters. I saw true heroes who have endured torture, such as Ivan Baev, who had received over a hundred lashes at the time of the Cossack execution, who with a good-natured smile related how he had been entirely unable to stand after that punishment.

“My head was in a fog, and I couldn’t feel anything. It’s as if I had neither spine nor legs; I couldn’t control one arm, but only had feeling in my chest and one arm,” he said. Then there is Egor Khodykin, who suffered for a long time from similar torture and yet has maintained up to this time a clear, firm Christian consciousness. Among them I also saw weak persons, suffering, at times even grumbling, but who have kept holding on with all their might to others and who have not lost one of the principal Doukhobor virtues – their sense of human dignity.

I saw the serious, stern faces of mothers burying their children, who answered words of condolence and sympathy in this way: “There is nothing for it, we have gone this far, we will put up with it for God, for the truth.”

Squalid conditions in a typical Cypriot peasant home, c. 1898.

I also observed simple, bustling, superstitious peasant women uttering a spell “against fire” while at the same time instructing their children in the very highest of Christian truths.

As I became acquainted with them, I saw that this whole – at first glance ignorant – mass has its own history, its own martyrs for the truth and freedom, its own heroes and prophets whose stories are passed on from generation to generation for edification. All this together leaves an impression of a kind of unconquerable strength that is so precious that any unproductive waste of it summons a painful response in the heart of any person who knows them.

If the Doukhobors obtain little of worth from Cyprus, it is true that Cyprus will receive a lot from them. In my presence religious debates have already begun, and, as might have been expected, Greek Orthodox Christians regard Doukhobors as heretics and often break off these discussions, fearing enticement. The Moslem Turks, on the other hand, openly sympathize with them, mentioning only the difficulty of fulfilling their religious ideals. But both the former and the latter look upon them kindly and respectfully, and the presence of the Doukhobors in Cyprus cannot vanish without a trace.

November 10, 1898
P. Biryukov
Larnaca, Cyprus


As noted in Biryukov’s account, when the Doukhobors landed on Cyprus on August 26, 1898 aboard the French steamship Le Douro, everything seemed quite promising. The Mediterranean island was beautiful, and the fertile land, lush vegetation and seaside climate reminded the Doukhobors of their ancient home at Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters). At first sight, the only disadvantage was the lack of buildings.

Following a sojourn of several weeks in quarantine at Larnaca, parties of Doukhobors were settled at Athalassa, Kouklia and Pergamos. In each of these places, the Doukhobors proceeded to build small agricultural villages, constructing homes of Caucasus-style mud bricks and preparing the soil for planting vegetables.

By fall, however, it became clear that the Doukhobor resettlement was not working out by any means as well as the Tolstoyans and Quakers had hoped. Various disagreements had developed among the Doukhobors about the value and extent of communal versus individual farming. They indulged in endless debates about social and economic issues. Lack of leadership and adjustment to the new, unfamiliar physical environment also took its toll on any potential Doukhobor success.

According to some writers, the Russian Tolstoyans such as Biryukov who joined the Doukhobors on Cyprus, despite their best intentions, seem to have to have done very little more than spread discontent among the settlers by complaining about the conditions on the island, and lose their heads in the disorganization all around them.

As a consequence, neither housing nor farming went ahead as quickly as they should have done. Many Doukhobors continued to live in damp tents pitched in marshy spots infested with mosquitoes; those who did live in houses were forced to exist in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions. These poor living conditions and a limited diet (vegetables were not ready for consumption for months after planting, milk was available only in condensed form, and eating meat was against religious requirements) combined with the impure water and unendurable climate of the locality caused outbreaks of serious illness among the weakest of the Doukhobor settlers. Two months after the arrival in Cyprus, the first two deaths occurred. Many others lingered in a sick and weakened state. In the months that followed, 108 Doukhobors perished from famine, disease and exhaustion. This was an even higher mortality rate than the Doukhobors had experienced while in exile in the Caucasus following the Burning of Arms.

The hopes with which the Doukhobors had come were slowly dissipated, and their discontent with Cyprus was increased by the urgings of Biryukov and other Russian sympathizers who, having in the first place hastened their settlement on the island, now pressed on them the need to leave Cyprus as the only hope of evading extinction. Finally, the news reached them that the Doukhobors remaining in Russia had decided on a new destination, a place where the climate was more like that of their homeland. Any will that the Doukhobors ever felt to succeed on Cyprus was now finally dissipated, and they had no other thought than to join the emigration to Canada.

Finally, on April 27, 1899, the Doukhobors boarded the steamship Lake Superior to cross the Atlantic to Canada where their brethren awaited them, thus ending their unsuccessful settlement experiment on Cyprus.

For More Information

For more information about the short-lived Doukhobor settlement experiment on Cyprus in 1898-1899, the factors leading to its establishment and the reasons for its ultimate failure, see: A Courteous and Well-Conducted Community by Carla King and With the Doukhobors on Cyprus by Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov.