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Historical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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Company. In 1579 they sent CHRisToniEu Bur-
rough with a new expedition. He found Der-
bent and all Schirvan in possession of the Turks,
who, by the aid of the Krira Tartars, had wrested
it from Persia. He was tolerably received by the
Basha, but found little sale for his goods, and
durst not attempt proceeding to any Persian port.

334« CUBERO.

In returning, they were entangled in ice, and
had nearly perished with hunger. So far as I
know, this was the dying effort of the Company
to effect their favourite object of opening a trade
with central Asia.

I SHALL now introduce a narrative which may
probably be new to the reader, being that of Don
Pedro Cubero, a Spaniard, who assumes the title
of Apostolical Preacher of Asia, and who boasts
of being the first of his countrymen who travelled
into these regions.

Cubero set out from Moscow with a Russian
ambassador, who was on a mission to the court of
Persia. He gives a very minute topographical
account of the cities and rivers through which he
passed, remarking, that this route was left blank
in all the Spanish maps. After passing Saratoff,
he found the shore of the Volga inhabited by a
nation living in caves, and whose ferocity, with
their hair resembling that of cattle, left it in
doubt whether they were beasts or men. They
were called Pas Kyrios (Baschkirs ?), and when
any unhappy victim fell into their hands, they
without delay opened ** his side, and drank his
blood." On the shores of the same river he
found Mardoas (Mordvans), a people " living
" like beasts in the woods and groves, without
" knowledge of God or religion," but whose


manners were mild and affable. The only reli-
gious ceremony he observed was at death, when
they killed a horse, and put its body within the
grave, fastening the head to the top. He came
next to the Calamucos (Kalmucks), whom he
describes as the most unjust and wicked of all
those nations, and at the same time the bravest
in war. They have neither house, choza, nor
tent, but expose themselves without dread to all
the inclemencies of the air, rain, snow, ice, and
storms. Their only precaution is, in winter, to
sail down the rivers, and establish themselves on
the borders of Armenia and Persia.

At length the party arrived at Astrakhan,
which appeared to our author a place of great
trade. He gives the same account as Jenkin-
son of the immense quantity and variety of fish
here caught and hung up to dry ; and equally con-
siders this as the cause of the great insalubrity
of the air. He set sail on the Caspian with much
fear, being informed that it was the most tempes-
tuous sea in the world. He was struck by the
view of the immense and steep cliffs with which
its shores were begirt ; it was salt like the ocean,
and had the same sea-green colour as the Gulf
of Leon. Its tempestuous character appeared by
the height of the waves, even when there was
scarcely a breeze blowing ; but when a high wind
arose, they became like mountains, and though


the bark was of considerable size, swept over its
top-mast. The night coming on, with tempests
of snow, was spent in preparing for death, till to-
wards dawn the storm subsided, and they were
enabled to reach Derbent. Here they were de-
tained fifteen days, till permission to proceed was
received from the governor of the province, who
resided at Chama Ke (Schamachie). This time
was spent in hiring camels. They were much
struck by seeing one which had been bit by a
serpent, die in twenty-four hours, furious and
foaming at the mouth ; and after death every
part of the body went to pieces. They were
told that the wound must have been given by
a small animal, which lay hid in the grass, and
did no injury unless when touched ; that the
camel must have trod upon it, and thus excited
it to action. They passed to Chama Ke through
a rocky and mountainous country, traversed by
rapid torrents, often dangerous to cross. Chama
Ke was found a line city, situated in a fertile
country ; but a great part of it had lately been
ruined by an earthquake. There remained, how-
ever, many handsome tents, richly supplied with
silks and other cloths, the manufacture of Persia.
In due time they received permission to proceed.
Three leagues from the city they found a large
river, of which he forgets the name, but over
which there was no bridge. They had thus to


Wait three days till one of earth and stakes could
be erected, and even then it was made so imper-
fectly, that two camels, laden with the most valu-
able presents for the Sophi, tumbled in ; luckily
the boxes were saved, without the water having
reached the valuable furs contained in them.
They next reached Ordivil, a beautiful city of
Armenia Minor, situated in a fine plain. Here
they were detained by the illness of the ambas-
sador, who was seized with a violent sore throat,
and a burning heat through his whole frame ; a
complaint, the origin of which was judged very
unaccountable by himself and his attendants. In
Cubero*s eyes there was nothing mysterious. He
saw a most adequate cause in the enormous quan-
titles of ardent spirits which his excellency con-
tinued to swallow, without the least consideration
of having passed from a frozen climate to one in
which the very air was on fire. As the ambassa-
dor, however, turned a deaf ear against all hints
to the prejudice of his adored beverage, he be-
came daily worse, and was soon judged at the
point of death. Then it would appear he made
such a change of regimen, as enabled him gra-
dually to recover. A new delay then arose : The
embassy was accompanied by one of the Czar*s
huntsmen, carrying a present of hawks to the So-
phi. The ambassador maintained that that per-
sonage was entirely subordinate to him, and sub-



ject to his jurisdiction ; while the falconer con-
tended that his functions were entirely equal and
independent. The whole party ranging them-
selves on the side either of the ambassador or
the bird-catcher, the dispute rose to a violent
height, and deadly weapons were on the point
of being drawn, when our traveller and the Per-
sian envoy rushed in between, and at last suc-
ceeded in pacifying them.

All these impediments being surmounted, the
embassy set forward, and in a few days reached
Casmin, the present residence of the Sophi. Their
appearance, it is said, caused much joy and con-
fusion in the city, and the inhabitants rushed in
immense numbers to see them. They were lodged
in the houses of Armenian Christians, and, after
resting three days, were informed that the follow-
ing day had been fixed by the Sophi for their re-
ception. They were attended by many Persian
lords, handsomely mounted, and were instructed
to hold their letters up in their hands, so as to be
seen by all the people. As they rode through the
streets, they were saluted with cries of joy and
welcome. The letters were the object of peculiar
veneration, every one bowing their heads to them,
and some so low as to touch the ground. The
street where the palace was situated was very
broad, and bordered by fine trees on each side.
When they reached the outer gate, they found a


piece of timber laid across, which tliey were so-
lemnly admonished on no account to touch. They
were then ushered into a magnificent hall, hung
with cloths of silk and gold, the bearers of the
presents marching in front. From the hall they
entered a small apartment, the opposite door of
which being open, shewed them, at forty or fifty
paces distance, the great Sophi sitting in state.
He appeared a man about thirty-six years old,
with fine black eyes, white hair, and a black
beard hanging to the middle of his breast. The
Grand Vizir then called out. Here comes the
Chi Franque (European ambassador). When Cu-
bero and the Russian ambassador entered the last
door, two Persian lords took each of them under
the arm, and laid them flat on their faces, making
their foreheads touch the ground ; to which opera-
tion, though quite unexpected, they made no op-
position. They got up, however, with all speed ;
but, after marching ten or twelve paces farther,
were again laid prostrate. On getting up from
this second reverence, they were allowed to ap-
proach the Sophi, and delivered their letters.
These were courteously received, and, after se-
veral questions put by the monarch relating to
their journey, they took leave with the same marks
of veneration as they had been made to exhibit
on entering. They were then conducted into a
large open space enclosed with trees, which was


immediately covered with the richest carpets, and
a splendid feast brought in, intended to display
the magnificence of the Sophi. The monarch
himself sat at table surromided with such a num-
ber of his lords, as to make the guests altogether
amount to two hundred and eighty-four. There
was no table, but the dishes, which were of pure
gold, were all placed upon the floor. The cookery
was not agreeable to our author 5 and the Persian
court had now arrived at such a measure of Ma-
hometan decorum, as not publicly to produce
wine, its place being supplied by various species
of waters. As they sat at table, various animals,
particularly horses and camels of the finest speciesy
were led along in state, covered with silk cloth
bordered with gold and jewels. Cubero then saw
them parading with peculiar pride a jack-ass,
caparisoned in the most superb manner, as if it
had been the pride of Andalusian steeds. This
exhibition proved too much even for the gravity of
our Spaniard, who presently burst into an ungovern-
able fit of laughter. Being asked the reason of this
uncourteous mirth, he could only reply, that the
animal in question, however deserving of esteem,
was in Europe so extremely common, as seldom
to be treated with so much honour. The cere-
mony concluded, according to the custom of the
East, with bringing out magnificent robes, and
putting tliem upon the ambassador and Cubero.


Our traveller, at leaving Casmin, did not return
to Europe by the same road, but proceeded by
Ispahan and Schiras to Ormus. As we shall, how-
ever, have repeated occasion to travel this route,
we shall not take him for our guide. He sailed
by Damayn and Surat to Goa. He found this
capital of Portuguese India in a state of miserable
decay, and its trade almost gone, since *' the per-
** fidious heretics,'* English, Dutch, Swedes, and
Danes, had, " for our sins" carried off almost the
whole. The city, however, contained still many
magnificent edifices, and its vicinity appeared,
with the exception of Ceylon, the most beautiful
in the East. From Goa he sailed round to St
Thomas or Madraspatan. This town, from being
one of the richest and most powerful in the East,
had now scarcely a stone left upon another. The
king of Golconda, after taking it from the French,
had been instigated by the Dutch to destroy it ;
the object of these *' wicked heretics" being, as
our author suspects, to destroy the many fine
catholic churches which the city contained. The
English, however, had already a settlement, go-
verned by one " Guillermo," who was reported
to be a natural son of the king of England : he
was a youth of twenty-six, " very comely in body
" and face, as the English are," and though a
heretic, cherished no enmity to Cathohcs. Pass-
ing to the great pagoda of Juggernaut, lie wixa


Struck by the display of Indian penances there
made. He saw some with their arms constantly
lifted up in the air, others with nails more than
a yard long, some constantly stretched on the
ground without ever rising ; with various similar
superstitious observances. His horror, however,
is tempered with admiration, and he declares, that
if these works were done for God instead of the
devil, they would gain heaven without all manner
of doubt. Soon, however, his attention was drawn
by the triumphal car of the deity, which was roll-
ing along the street. It moved on six great wheels,
was painted with various figures, and exhibited
a head more frightful than that of Medea. As it
moved along, the crowds which danced around
it, their cries, and the sound of innumerable in-
struments, caused such a din, that he almost
imagined himself in hell. But what was his as-
tonishment, when he saw numbers throwing
themselves down, and allowing the wheels to
pass over them, while the multitude, lifting
them up, kissed and adored them as holy things.
He was so shocked, that he immediately went off,
and pursued his journey. In the English terri-
tories he met with greater indulgence, and found
himself pretty comfortable, till happening to be in
a great company of Moors, and the conversation
falling upon Mahomet, our author declared he
was " a drunken dog j" which raised so fearful


a tumult, that the governor thought it necessary
to give Cubero a hint to depart with all speed
out of the territory. He went next to Malacca,
then one of the principal Dutch settlements. lie
was here made to understand, that there would
be no objection to his celebrating the rites of
his religion privately, but that there must be no
public exhibition of them. He was seized, how-
ever, with the deepest indignation, to see the
Chinese, in the public streets, " making their hor-
" rible and abominable sacrifices to their diabolical
" idols,*' while the public service of the Mass
was not permitted by persons who called them-
selves Christians. He expressed himself with
warmth on this subject to several of the Dutch
inhabitants, but never could obtain any answer
than this: "The mighty States of Holland so
" ordain it." At last, however, he was thrown
entirely off his guard. Entering into a i)lace fill-
ed with Chinese idols, painted in various colours,
he saw one, in particular, carved in the form ot
a rhinoceros, which they were leading as to
drink ; whereupon, having a cane in his hand, he
ran up and struck it on the head, calling out, in
a tone of mockery, " Drink !" The Heathens
then raised a frightful uproar, and complained
to the governor, that they could no longer per-
form their ceremonies without the danger of iro-
nical intrusion from this stranger. The gover-


nor immediately caused Cubero to be apprehend-
ed and thrown into prison. On investigation, he
was found to have violated the regulations of go-
vernment in many respects, and was treated with
such severity, that he expected, at one time, to
have his head cut off; however, they ended with
merely fining and banishing him from the city.
He took ship for Manilla, whence he crossed the
Pacific in the galleon to Mexico, and reached
Europe by that channel, after making thus the
circuit of the globe.

Russia, buried in ignorance and barbarism, in
no degree shared that zeal for discovery which
had been so strong through the other nations of
Europe ; and viewing the Tartars with habitual
dread and hostility, she made no attempt to pene-
trate their territory, either by conquest or com-
merce. An entire change, however, took place
under the all-improving genius of Peter. Al-
though the views of that prince were chiefly di-
rected towards Siberia, he did not forget the vast
regions extending from the Caspian to India.
He was first caught by the usual bait of gold,
which was reported to be brought in great quan-
tities down the Daria, a river which falls into the
south-eastern coast of the Caspian. He despatch-
ed, therefore, in 1717> an expedition of three
thousand men, under Alexander Beckewitz,


the son of a Circassian prince, who had attached
himself to the Russian service. Beckewitz heuan
by erecting a fort at the mouth of the river, pre-
paratory to ascending it. The natives, who were
Uzbeck Tartars, collected in considerable num-
bers, but instead of making the opposition that
was expected, supplied provisions, and aflbrded
every assistance in their power. They shewed
equal promptitude in pointing out the way to the
mines, but observed, that the route by water was
difficult and circuitous, and offered to guide him
a much shorter way by land. Beckewitz agreed,
and was led with his party for seven days through
a desert, in which they suffered considerably from
hardship and want of water. They then came to
a large camp, commanded by the Khan of the
Uzbecks. The view of this caused some appre-
hension ; but the Khan received them in the
most cordial manner. He assured them that they
were quite welcome to all the gold and silver they
could find in his dominions, those metals being of
no use to him or his subjects, who lived on the
produce of their herds, and wandered continually
from place to place. He then proposed, for bet-
ter refreshment after their fatigues, that they
should be cantoned in the neighbouring districts,
as there was not sufficient accommodation on any
one spot. Beckewitz's officers advised him not to
consent to this proposal ; ])ut the behaviour of the

846 jsECKEwrrz.

Khan bore such a stamp of candour and friend-
ship, that he saw no room for refusal. The dis-
tribution was then made, and Beckewitz with his
officers were invited to a splendid entertainment
in the sovereign's tent. At midnight, in the
height of their festivity, the door was opened, and
a Tartar said, " Your orders are executed." The
Khan then turned to Beckewitz, and after reproach-
ing him with this attempt to occupy a country
which did not belong to him, told him, that of his
whole party not a Russian was now alive, except
those present ; and that his turn was come. A
scarlet cloth was then spread on the floor,, on
which he was desired to kneel, that his head
might be struck off. The unhappy Beckewitz
struggling, and vainly invoking heaven as witness
of violated faith, the Tartars fell upon him with
their scimitars, and cut him to pieces. The rest
soon shared the same fate ; and the destruction
was so total, that it was long before tidings reach-
ed the court of Russia. At length one of the
officers, who had been kept by his host and sold
as a slave, passed from hand to hand till he reach-
ed Astrakhan, and communicated the fatal intel-

After this disaster, Peter made no further at-
tempt to reach the mines of interior Tartary.
In 1723, however, he employed Peter Henry
Bruce, an active officer, to make a survey of the

p. H. BRUCE. 34.7

Caspian, particularly of its eastern shore. IJrnce
sailed along this shore till he came to Jaick, a
strong town, built at the mouth of a river of the
same name, (called also Oural). He then sur-
veyed the Gulf of Iskander, which appeared to
him capable of making an excellent harbour, and
the isthmus at its mouth might be strongly forti-
fied. He saw many small rivers descending from
the mountains, but could not learn their names ;
as, whenever he landed, a body of Turkumanians,
who were on the watch, let fly a volley of arrows.
This was answered by musketry, reinforced by
a great gun from the vessel, which induced a
speedy retreat ; but as large bodies of Tartars
followed all their movements, no object could be
gained by landing. Ninety versts beyond, they
came to a great river, which he calls the Oxus,
and describes as large and rapid, about a musket-
shot in breadth. Beyond it he found the Uzbccks,
who watched his motions with still more nume-
rous bodies ; nor could he obtain even watei", un-
less by the help of great guns. The next river
was the Daria, distinguished by the catastrophe
of Beckewitz. Here the Tartars appeared in
great numbers, and in a very formidable attitude.
In sixty versts more the Russians came to the
Ossa, or Orxantes, another great river, separat-
ing Uzbeck Tartary from Persia. They now bid
adieu to the Tartar escort which had hitherto so

348 ELTON.

closely accompanied them. Landing at Minkis-
lack, they saw houses, which they had not seen
since leaving Jaick, and were received with kind-
ness. After passing Astrabat, a fortified city of
great trade, they had a delightful sail along the
shores of Mazanderan and Ghilan, which were
highly peopled, covered with plantations of mul-
berry, and watered by numerous rivers. This
shore, however, has been often described.

After the abortive efforts of Jenkinson, and his
immediate successors, the zeal of the English to
open a trade with the regions on the Caspian ap-
pears to have sensibly cooled. The active and
creative reign of Peter the Great again made
Russia an object of attention, and that prince,
sensible of the deficiency of his own subjects in
commercial enterprise, was rather disposed to en-
courage a transit trade between England and
Persia. This encouragement was continued by
his successors ; yet so great were the obstacles,
that it would not probably have led to any result,
but for the daring and enthusiastic genius of Mr
John Elton. This person had been employed
bv the Russian government to make surveys of its
south-eastern frontier, and had thus acquired ex-
tensive knowledge of the trade carried on across
the Caspian and Bokhara. Happening to differ
with the Russian government, and to leave its


service, he formed a connexion at St Petersburgli
with a young Scotsman, named Mungo Griemc ;
and the two, joining their stocks, were enabled
to make up a small assortment of goods for the
market of interior Asia. They conveyed them
to Saratoff in waggons, living by the way on the
game with which the country abounded, and
lodging at night in zamoras, or cottages built by
government for the accommodation of travellers.
At Saratoff they purchased a vessel, the dimen-
sions of which may be conjectured, by its costing
not quite six shillings ; and in it they deposited
their cargo. This frail bark had many perils to
encounter, on a shore beset with robbers and
pirates ; however, after much toil and fear, they
arrived at Astrakhan. They began eagerly to
inquire of the Armenian merchants the state of
the markets in central Asia ; but these persons,
little relishing any new rivals in trade, drew the
most gloomy picture. According to them, free-
dom of trade no longer existed in Persia ; every
thing must be sold to the Schah's son, and bought
of him, and at his own price. The adventurers
then proposing to proceed overland to Bokhara,
were assured that the consequence would be, that
all their goods would be plundered, and them-
selves taken as slaves ; that the Khan indeed would
readily grant them an escort, but would himself
send a stronger body to waylay and overpower it.

o50 ELTON.

These last perils appearing the most formidable,
they resolved, after much perplexity, to sail di-
rect for Reshd, on the southern coast of the
Caspian. They landed, and endeavoured at first
to dispose of their goods in a private manner ;
but their Armenian friends lost no time in pub-
lishing on all sides the news of their arrival. It
was then necessary to apply to the Mustapha, or
deputy-governor, in whom, to their agreeable sur-
prise, they found the most friendly disposition.
He told them that the Schah's son was every way
disposed to encourage trade ; and that upon re-
pairing to the Vizier, who resided at fifty miles'
distance, he had no doubt of their meeting with
every satisfaction. The Vizier accordingly re-
ceived them most courteously, treated them with
tea, coffee, and sweetmeats, and advised them
either to wait upon the Schah's son, who was then
at Mesched, or to forward a petition to him,
which, if at all reasonable, he had no doubt would
be at once granted. They preferred sending the
petition, which referred not only to their own
cargo, but to the general trade of the English on
the Caspian. They were kept somewhat long in
anxious suspense ; but at length the prince's
answer arrived, by which all their demands were
liberally granted. It was accompanied with a
present of fifty crowns, which was not flattering,
either as to shape or amount ; but they after-


wards learned, that a handsome gold repeatino-
watch which they sent, liad been diverted by tlie
messenger to his own use, and a shabby silver one
presented in its stead.

Notwithstanding this last awkward circum-
stance, the general result of the affair was so
agreeable and promising, that Elton returned to
Petersburgh full of the most sanguine hopes.
He presented a long memorial to the British mi-
nister, representing the immense benefits which
might be derived to the British nation from this

Online LibraryHugh MurrayHistorical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 30)