by Henry Downing Whittington
Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820) was a young English adventurer who, at age 24, toured South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816. During his travels, he visited the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province. He kept a journal and recorded his impressions and exploits. His “Account of a Journey Through Part of Little Tartary: And of Some of the Armenian, Greek, and Tartar Settlements in that Portion of the Russian Empire” was published posthumously in the Rev. Robert Walpole’s “Travels in Various Coutries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820). Whittington’s observations of the Doukhobors, while brief, provide the earliest Western account of their hospitality, kindness and generosity to a travelling stranger; three mainstays of Doukhobor religious and cultural practice. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
…At the distance of four versts from Altona, the last German [Mennonite] village, we crossed the Moloshnia [Molochnaya], a small river, which, like the Berda, and others of this neighbourhood, is choked at the mouth by the sand which its own stream brings down.
Terpenia [Terpeniye], which stands on its right bank, is one of eight [nine] villages inhabited by the Duchobortzi [Dukhobortsy] or Worshippers of the Spirit, a sect of Russians who reject the use of priests and pictures, and who, after undergoing much persecution, have been collected and settled on this spot, during the reign of the present Emperor.
Their population was stated to us at 1500 males. In dress and deportment [bearing] they did not appear to differ from the common Russians; but on learning that we were travellers from a distant country, they were eager to manifest to us their hospitality and goodwill.
They would receive no recompense for the refreshments which we had taken, and even crowded round our carriage with presents of live fowls, sufficient to stock it for several days. We had nothing but money to offer them in return, and this they steadily refused, saying, “God forbid that we should rob a stranger.”
Their kindness did not even end here; for just as we were about to drive off, the Starista [starosta], or chief peasant, a venerable old man, advanced with solemnity, and publicly presented us with bread in the name of the village.
We left Terpenia about nine, with the intention of travelling all night, but were detained by an accident at the Russian village of Kisliar till the next morning.
View Tavria Doukhobor Villages, 1802-1845 in a larger map
The above account was published by Rev. Robert Walpole in 1820 in his Travels in Various Countries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey. Unfortunately, Walpole did not record the author’s full name, either in his “Table of Contents” or in the other three places where he is mentioned, being content to write merely either “Extract from Mr. Whittington’s Journal” or “From the Journals of Mr. Whittington.” It was only thanks to the discovery of three letters written by the author to Mariana Macri, over eighty years later, that his identity has been brought to light and it is possible to piece together some details of his background.
Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820), a Cambridge graduate, was one of a generation of young English noblemen who, following the footsteps of the romantic Lord Byron, made Classical archaeology a fashionable study and organized expeditions to the Levant (countries bordering on the east Mediterranean) to record and collect examples of ancient Greek art for the purposes of introducing Grecian taste to their homeland. He travelled to South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816, followed by Greece in 1817. It was there that he met and fell in love with the Grecian maiden Mariana Macri, to whom he wrote the three letters. In 1818, he visited Italy and France before returning to England. In 1820, he set out abroad again, but was shipwrecked and drowned in the Mediterranean.
It was during Whittington’s travels through South Russia in 1816 that he encountered the Dukhobortsy. On June 19th of that year, while en route from the Mennonite village of Altona to the Russian village of Kisliar, he crossed the Molochnaya River and stopped at the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye.
Whittington found a Doukhobor population of 1,500 males settled in eight villages (he erred as there nine Doukhobor villages on the Molochnaya in 1816) along the right bank of the river. He did not discern any significant difference in their dress and bearing from their Russian Orthodox neighbors. He found them distinguished, however, in the depth of their hospitality and kindness to a travelling stranger.
During his brief stay, the Doukhobors provided him with refreshments, offered a number of live fowl sufficient to feed Whittington and his travelling companions for several days, and presented him with bread in the name of the village, all for which they refused to accept any payment.
This genuine expression of sharing and kindness stemmed from the Doukhobors’ central philosophy of love and respect for humanity. It was a religious instinct and principle with them to do all that lay within their power for a stranger and to allow no payment. Doukhobor hospitality has been noted by many a traveler over the ages; however, Whittington’s little-known memoir is surely the earliest Western account of this deep-rooted ethic.
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