Commander Rezanov
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§ Military expedition against the Japanese settlers on Sakhalin

The failure of N. Resanov’s embassy mission seemed to have buried the hopes to establish trade relations between Russia and Japan for a long time. However Resanov believed that there still remained some hope. Since they had failed to solve the embassy problem to establish trade relations with Japan through negotiations, it was necessary to apply force. “I hope,” wrote N. Rezanov, “that the internal grumble will force this proud nation to establish trade relations with us, when they see that they are not able to inflict any harm to our country, but they’ll have to experience our harmful influence without having any ways to protect themselves.”

Count N.P.Rumjantsev Since then the plan of military expedition against the Japanese settlers on Sakhalin had appeared. N. Rezanov didn’t have any authorization from the Russian government to carry out this decision. This is described in the best way in his letters to Alexander I: “The will of Your Imperial Majesty is with me, You can punish me, as I set up to enterprise without your commands…” He also wrote to Minister of Commerce N. Rumyantsev: “I may be considered a criminal, having begun this enterprise of mine, but I am ready to accept the punishment and I shall explain here that the fame of the sovereign and the love to our Motherland, for which I’ve always been sacrificing myself, made me do it…”

N. Rezanov charged the naval officers Nikolai Khvostov, the commander of the Juno, and Havriil Davydov, the commander of the Avos, who both served for the Russian American company, to execute the above plan.

Let us take into account the attitude of these officers to N. Rezanov. Khvostov pointed out that N. Rezanov was inconsistent in character. However the main thing stood out in this criticism: the admiration of indefatigability and unbending nature of Rezanov, the Russian patriot: “I have never been so surprised at anyone as at N. Rezanov.” Further it showed in difficult circumstances of cold winter, which hungry travelers experienced. “However he (N. Resanov) is running of patience… until now.” (a letter of February 22, 1806). “Rezanov is surprisingly patient but then he is beginning to feel the attacks of scurvy and he is afraid to share the fate of those ‘industialists’ (the RAC employees) who have already been sent to Eliseyskay (cemetery?). He is thinking of going to California in hope to get bread (and other goods) from Spaniards and thus rescue starving people from death…‘ And no obstacles could stop N. Rezanov from his endeavor, because he knew like his ancestors that despite of all storms and hardships it was possible to rescue people (from famine) via sailing in the sea. ’…Here is the person, — continues Khvostov in another letter,- nobody can be surprised at ( a letter of July, 1805)… I should say fairly that Davydov and I feel offended: until now we’ve been wondering how can a person with such flattering acquaintances in the capital and good prospects in future take a decision to wander in wild, unfertile, waste and poorly inhibited lands and places, which might have seemed horrible to the most enterprising people. I believe I can only account it for his generous spirit and patriotism. I was proud of him and it was my only reward. Now we seem to have other feelings: we’ve met a person who has no rivals at work. All our arguments that the ship leaks and that it is not reliable could not stop his enterprising spirit. He wanted to return to Russia by a frigate, but we were proud especially when our honors, mind and state had been compared. We told ourselves at this point that we should go ahead, even if it cost us our lives. Nothing can stop us.‘

Here we can see that Khvostov and Davydov felt offended because N. Rezanov was an even more ambitious and enterprising person than they were. And he continues further about N. Rezanov: ’I wonder when he manages to get a sleep! Since the first day of our acquaintance Davydov and I have always been around. None of us has ever seen him at loose ends: he is always working. But more surprising is that while people of his status are usually very proud, N. Rezanov is absolutely not. Getting some orders from him, we used to make our own judgments, which Rezanov agreed to with unusual favor…‘

On June 24, 1806 the Juno and the Avos set off for Sakhalin. N. Resanov was staying on the Juno. In the beginning Rezanov was going to be at the head of the expedition to Sakhalin, but then he decided to disembark in Okhotsk and then leave for to St.-Petersburg,. On the 8th of August, 1806 Rezanov gave N. Khvostov confidential instructions, ordering both Khvostov and G. Davydov to set off to southern Sakhalin and then to islands Urup and Simushire. During this navigation the Juno and the Avos were to enter the bay of Aniv, then terminate all the Japanese boats that might have been there, capturing all the Japanese who were able to work. Those Japanese who were not capable to continue working were to go over to Hokaido. ’The Japanese should aware that Sakhalin staying in Russia’s possession is allowed to be visited only for trade purposes.‘ If the boat called up at the ports, Russian seamen should have been generous and friendly to the people (’aine‘) who lived on the island (’treat them with affection”): to give them presents, cloth, dresses and other things and hand over medals to the “aine” chiefs. They were instructed to burn down all Japanese ships, having taken the goods from them.

According to some evidence Resanov, having landed in Okhotsk, had written a new direction to Khvostov. It said that Khvostov was either to terminate the expedition completely, or only partially execute what had been planned.

On the 6th of October, 1806 the Juno threw an anchor in the gulf Aniva. Next day some members of the crew disembarked and visited the settlement of “aines” and on the 8th of October Khvostov declared Sakhalin the possession of Russia. This ceremony was described the Juno’s commander: “At 8 o’clock in the morning I, lieutenant Karpinsky and the ship apprentice Karekin arrived at the settlement on two boats. Approaching the coast we put out a navel flag on the boat and a merchant/commercial flag on the launch. More aine settlers came out on the shore this time. We received a friendly welcome: they met us kneeling. When we disembarked we tried to explain in a few words that we, Russians, were their friends. I ordered to put out both commercial and naval flags on a flagstaff on the shore. Then pointing to the ship I presented everyone with scarves and various knick-knacks. The chief of the settlement (”toen“) was given the best capote and a medal on the Vladimir ribbon. It was followed by a triple shot of six guns from the shore and then one cannon shot from the boat in response to the first one. We must point out here that gun shots hadn’t produced a slightest fear from the natives (”aines“), but when they saw fire and heard cannon shots, they got freighted and bowed their heads. The Chief of the natives, who had been given a medal, was also given a paper, where it was written that “of this day in October, 1806 the Russian frigate Juno, which is under the command of navel lieutenant Khvostov arrived, and that a silver medal on the Vladimir ribbon has been awarded to the Chief of the settlement, which is located on the east side of the bay Aniva, as a sign of acceptance of the island of Sakhalin and its inhabitants under the most gracious protection of the Russian emperor Alexander I. Any ship, which might call at the island, a foreign or Russian one, either of them are to recognize the Chief of the settlement as a Russian national.”

After that the Russian seamen ravaged all the Japanese shops and trading stations, which they came across on the gulf coast and captured four Japanese inhabitants. The goods, found in the Japanese warehouses were partly taken to the Juno, ( On the whole about 1000 poods of rice and about 100 poods of salt, nets, utensils and other subjects had been taken to the Juno.), and wine stocks were partly plundered, as Khvostov had suggested. Then all Japanese houses and stocks of timber were burnt down. On October 16, the Juno left the Aniva Gulf.

In May, 1807 the Juno and the Avos turned up at the coast of Iturup. In May,18 N. Khvostov and Davydov called at the Naibo bay and burned down a small Japanese settlement. Then they attacked Syana, the largest Japanese settlement on Uturup (now Kurilsk). Since the troops stationed in a garrison town Syana were not numerous (about 300 soldiers), it was easily ravaged. The shops of Japanese merchants and industrialists were plundered and the settlement was burnt down. On the 27th of May the Juno and the Avos left Iturup., Calling at Urup on the 10th of June, both ships got into the Gulf of Aniva. Having burned down all the remaining Japanese building there, Khvostov and Davydov moved towards Hokkaido. In the area of the small island Peak-de-Langle (the north-west part of Hokkaido) they had burnt four Japanese vessels capturing the cargo: rice, fish, salt.

In the letter written to the Governor of Hokkaido by Khvostov, he justified the reasons, which had made Russia organize the expedition. He also informed the Governor that he would return to get the answer to the letter the next year. The answer from the Japanese government, where it definitely expressed their consent to conduct negotiations and set up trade relations, was given to the Governor of Hokkaido in summer of 1808. However the Russians didn’t come to get an answer, thus having missed an opportunity to discover Japan almost 50 years earlier than it actually happened.

The captain of the second rank Bukharin, who was known to his contemporaries as a willful person, later arrested Khvostov and Davydov. He believed that the seamen, who had had the expedition to the south, i. e. Sakhalin, brought the riches, even gold, which he had an opportunity to profit by. The greedy officer wasn’t aware of the motives and stimulus other than for the sake of enrichment.

Khvostov and Davydov were arrested and put in jail. These were painful and miserable days of imprisonment… One day, then the second day, then one month, then the second month… “Everything has been taken from them, even the clothes and footwear. During the whole month they were treated rudely and brutally. They see that they will have the most painful death.” (Shishkov) Death from unbearable stuffiness, dirtiness and hunger. But the seamen don’t give up. Luckily they have friends. They are thinking about a way to escape. There are kind people who are ready to rescue them, having disdained own safety. Khvostov and Davydov leave a note saying that have given the guardians opium, so that it would be easier for them to try to justify themselves. They get together at a certain place. They are given guns, crackers and makhorka. And they set off their escape trip through thick woods, moors and bogs, fast rivers to St.- Petersburg. “Having experienced a lot of hardships and miseries, exhausted from hunger, dressed in completely worn up clothes, hardly alive, they are getting to Yakutsk.” But here the messengers from Okhotsk ( from Bukharin) who have arrived earlier, have them detained; they are looking for gold but have found only the crackers. At this time the order from the Commander of Naval Forces from St.- Petersburg has been delivered, saying not to detain two naval officers anywhere. So at last after four years of navigation, adventures and misadventures Khvostov and Davydov come back to St.-Petersburg.

After the first voyage to America they had rested for 2-3 months. At this time the situation was disastrous: they couldn’t think of any rest. The chariot of happiness had obviously escaped from our heroes. The seamen found themselves between Stsilla and Harbida. The Ministry of Commerce didn’t find Khvostov and Davydov guilty, but didn’t approve entirely their actions either. The Admiralty Board justified the cruel treatment of the Okhotsk commandant Bahrain to the officers and concluded “to put lieutenant Khvostov and a warrant officer Davydov to a martial trial.” And, obviously the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish army Count Bucksnevden suggested that the lieutenants be called up to the battlefield in a war with the Swedes in the Baltic sea, thus rescuing them from unfair punishment. In a few days Khvostov and Davydov were already in sea business — in sea battles. It seemed that they would have disappeared completely. But even here two friends -seaman are true to themselves and their characters.

Khvostov and Davydov returned from the front in December 1808. Shyshkov insisted that Davydov begin writing the description/account of the voyage. When the first book “The two voyages of naval officers Khvostov and Davydov to America, written by the latter” has being published, the second volume describing the language, customs and traditions of aines tribe turns up. And there will soon appear the description of the second voyage…

There are two volumes — the first one is the description or the voyage itself, a traveling diary, the second one — the description of the life and customs of the inhabitants on the island Kodiak. In our case we aren’t interested in the second part, featuring a scientific-ethnographic character, but the first one, which according to Lisyansky are called “travelers’ notes.” It turned out to be neither a report, nor a logbook, but namely a traveling essay, a trilling and emotional narration. The author describes in details the way from Petersburg to Okhotsk through Siberia and then the sea voyage to Russian America. The narration is carried out from the first person: here are both records of proceedings and picturesque sketches, philosophical reflections, and lyrical digressions. In a word this double voyage carries author’s personality in each line. It is very outgoing, like a confession, which is warmed by an emotional tone and light, coming from the author. It is interesting that the historical past is given not as news or a historical essay, but something which is still alive in memory. The history has passed through the author’s heart. Certainly, first of all this is a story of the seaman. It is not simply a report of what he has seen; the author doesn’t only describes events and facts, but shows how this or that event, the phenomenon comes into life and evaluated. The author tries to find the explanations to a lot of them. “We unwillingly reflect on the disasters of another person, while we, ourselves, experience the same ordeal.” This passing remark describes a psychological state of the heroes in a dangerous situation in the above narration.

Davydov mentions “the sea voyage of Russian industrialists through the East Ocean.” But it’s not a ceremonial remark. This is an original reflection of “the son of the Motherland” on what causes “bad conditions of navigation” and how to overcome them “to reach the desirable performance level.” The authors gives his reasoning: a remote location of lands and countries, the problem of taking on the seamen-experts, i. e. well-skillful in sea knowledge, expensive food supplies and sea equipment, greedy governors and inveterate habits; a harmful rule”to cover up something bad instead of remedying it, and other such reasons. Davydov is angry that all these reasons slow down the development of navigation in the East Ocean. He is aware that not everyone will agree with his critical outlook, (he foresees that his critical attitude would cause the response) and with national boldness he anticipates the impact: “To conceal these circumstances is the same as want them to repeat themselves in the worst condition.”

He describes so truthfully and bravely “the real navigation as it is,” showing the problem of real care of the development of navigation, the problem of preparation of people skilful in sea business. Trying to be argumentative the author gives the examples of misfortunes coming from ignorance. Here is one of the examples. One ship from Kamchatka had gone too far to the south. But they still couldn’t find the Aleutian Islands. The seamen didn’t know what to do and where to sail, were thirsty and “they decided to rely on the Lord’s will” They took out the icon of God’s mother Mary and put it on the deck, prayed to it, and “decided no matter wherever the wind was blowing, they would follow it.”

One can take these reflections for the original author’s digressions. Sometimes they are of lyrical nature. The author writes neither a report nor a diary for himself, but a book where he naturally is conversing cheerfully with a reader. He constantly explains his feelings and emotions, reflects on what he has seen, and makes the conclusion and evaluations. “My introduction to the traveling might seem strange to a reader, but I hope he will excuse me because I was only 18 back then when I began my adult life and had only a few acquaintances. The love to my family and close attachment to my friends were the only cheerful feelings, which warmed up my heart. And leaving them seemed to have left the whole world. What can the millions of unfamiliar people mean to us? The strong emotional indignation comes down not so soon.. Time tames it gradually.”

Or “…it was snowing heavily. And it ruined our hope to arrive sooner on Kodiak. A reader shouldn’t be surprised that I describe Kodiak as the finest place where thousand of pleasures would wait for us. It’s unpleasant to be in sea in cold autumn and to fight with winds and waves incessantly. At last you get so bored that even the most desert and wildest island will seem paradise.”

The heroic beginning appears through the restraint of the author’s narration. Davydov depicts the miseries of the trip, about getting through the rivers, bogs and about incidents in the sea. He describes brave acts, which after some time are “worth the reprehensible impudence more than credible brevity.” (the story how he landed on the canoe in bad weather)He admires brave people who think only about service to Motherland (Baranov, Rezanov, Shelikhov, Khvostov, etc). While speaking of himself and his misadventures he seems to smile ironically at it, especially when he took chances, relying only on his fortune, on so-called Russian “avos.”

The second part of his “Traveler’s Notes”, where he describes the inhabitants of the island Kodiak is of great scientific value. Khvostov made up a dictionary of local dialect.

Undoubtedly the young Russian officers, who glorified themselves in the voyages and in battles, and showed themselves as promising authors in literary work, were expected to make new feats in future. This idea was expressed by Derzhavin in his poem: “Everyone was waiting: we’ll be glorified again.”

Davydov managed to write a book about his first traveling. He is really a little bit of a poet. He is known for his ironic lines: “Khvostov in oceans as on three horses (”troikas“) drives us on the Juno through the water mountains, fogs and hazes…” His contemporaries have already appreciated his book. We could even guess how his literary talent would develop! He passed away at 26. And Khvostov was only 33 at that time, the age of Ilya Murometz, a Russian tale hero, and Jesus Christ, time to display all spiritual power and maturity… By the way Khvostov like many Russian officers seamen, who left their traveler’s records possessed a genuine literary talent. And maybe a great number of impressions he had carried out from his unusual experience made him start writing.

And suddenly everything was broken. An absurd accident terminated both of the heroes at once In October of 1809 they died in a tragic accident in the Neva. How did it happen? There are different versions of it. Here is one of them described by Y. Grot (in the introduction to Derzhavin’s poems): “Suddenly both of them disappeared, and since at that time an American merchant brig was passing in the strong wind past the guard-ship beyond Kronstadt without declaring papers and being checked, we believed that Khvostov and Davydov left for America, taking into account their relentless and adventurous spirit. It seemed most probable explanation, since the skipper of the American brig (the above Wolf) turned out to be a friend of Khvostov and Davydov, who had done him a good turn in Sitka. The committee, which was organized to investigate this accident, hadn’t discovered anything. According to Bulgarin, if one can trust this evidence, the Wolf, who came back to St.-Petersburg in a while, explained the mystery. He was staying with Khvostov and Davydov at that fateful night and witnessed their death. He was afraid to be delayed and concealed the information on the death of his fellow travelers. The people who raised the bridge were also afraid to take the responsibility for the disastrous accident remained a secret: the bodies were not thrown on to the bank.”

The following assumption can show how far the imagination can go. “There was one more curious rumor, certainly it lacked any proof, that’s why it was too amusing to pay attention to, — as if the well-known Bolivar (one of the leaders in struggle for independence of Spanish colonies in America)was none other than Khvostov, who was considered to be dead” (from hand-written notes of P. Loginov, which Y. Grot referred to).

Then in “The Russian Vestnik” in 1809 the verses on the death of Khvostov and Davydov written by Anna Volkova and A. Shishkov were published. In the letter to the publisher it was said: “Their life was a circuit of misfortunes, which couldn’t break their spirit though.” In her poem, Anna Volkova, showing the dramatic nature of the casual death of Khvostov and Davydov, had given the answer to all rumors and insinuations. She describes the patriotism of “true sons of Russia” in the following words:

Thunder gathered above the heads
of two true sons of Russia
Davydov and Khvostov — two heroes.
Go hastily to the river
But fate instantly raises
The Neva bridge before their faces
But nothing can interfere in
Their brave spirit
If that could frighten them?

Now after many years it became clear that expeditions of Khvostov and Davydov had detained the movement of the Japanese to the north, thus having preserved the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin for Russia. And now it goes without doubt that it was the merit of these naval officers and those who stood for them, namely N. Resanov. It’s time to rehabilitate the names of these valorous officers. “Khvostov and Davydov must be honored among the heroes of Russian Military history, — wrote a famous Russian expert on Japan D. Pozdneev.- N. Rezanov must be honored among the heroes of national history as an example of a great statesman.”

Materials in the topic

Translated by Julia Erotskaya