Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

. (page 5 of 24)
Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 5 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


capital and civilisation, and my journey across
the Himalayas was at an end.



PART 11.
THE MIDDLE EAST



CHAPTER V.

THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, AND THE VISITATION

OF 1905.

During the year 1905 the poisonous virus with
which the whole system of Kussian national life
had for so long been impregnated, gave increasing-
ly frequent manifestation of its virulent nature.
Strikes and labour riots followed one another
with such bewildering rapidity, that the amazed
onlooker found himself wondering- how it was that
a doomed bureaucracy still sat ensconced in the
high places of St Petersburg, or that the grim
image of autocracy still smiled sardonically upon
its victims from its pedestal of clay.

The eruption which broke out at Baku proved
to be volcanic in its destructiveness. For some
time past the regions of Trans-Caucasia had been
known to be in a state of seething irritation, and
the smouldering embers of race hatred and social
discontent, fanned into activity by a fatuous ad-
ministration, at length blazed up in a widespread



74 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

and devastating conflagration. An outbreak of
labour against its employers, immeasurably aggra-
vated by a simultaneous outburst of inter-racial
war, incited by the ever-present hatred of rival
races and rival creeds, succeeded in perpetrating
in an important centre of Russian industry a
stupendous holocaust, and in drenching the oil-
fields of the Caspian in a veritable sea of blood.

The administration responsible for the preserva-
tion of law and order could not plead ignorance of
the brewing of the storm. Premonitory symptoms
had been reported in vain by the oil-masters to
the Government ; and blame for the scourge of
pillage, incendiarism, and massacre, culminating
in unlimited anarchy, which swept over Baku
and its neighbourhood, had undoubtedly to be
laid at the official door. Only a week before the
reign of terror and destruction swept over the
land the oil companies had begged for the despatch
of troops ; but their representations were callously
ignored, for the authorities were preoccupied else-
where in a not altogether successful endeavour to
quell the wholesale massacres which were desolat-
ing adjoining provinces at Elizabetpol and Shusha.

Riots, outbreaks, and massacres in the dominions
of the Tsar had become matters of such ordinary
occurrence, as to have ceased to excite in the
general public here in England anything more
than a passing interest. The casual news-reader



THE RUSSIAN OIL- FIELDS, ETC. 75

shuddered, it might be, at accounts more than
usually hideous in detail with which his daily-
paper from time to time provided him ; and the
sensation of which he was for the moment chiefly
conscious was in all probability one of passing
amazement at the civilisation of the twentieth
century as practised in Holy Kussia — and that
was all. But in the destruction of the oil-fields
millions of British capital were involved, and amid
the fighting and bloodshed at Baku English lives
were at stake ; and the fact that the British
Ambassador at St Petersburg found it necessary
to send more than one urgent appeal during the
early autumn of 1905 to Count LamsdorfF for
protection for the lives and property of British
subjects, afifords sujSicient evidence of the extent
to which Englishmen were affected. There is,
then, no need of further excuse for an endeavour
to put before the public some idea of the industry
upon which this tragic example of Bussian official
incompetence fell, or of the magnitude of the
interests which were involved.

Baku itself is a modern town with all the out-
ward indications of a thriving prosperity. Impos-
ing stone buildings, commodious shops with plate-
glass windows, comfortable hotels, and first-class
restaurants give it an air of comfort and good living
by no means warranted by its physical surround-
ings. The country, indeed, is as unattractive



76 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY

to-day as when seen and described by the adven-
turous O'Donovan more than a quarter of a century
ago. " For leagues around," he wrote at that
time, " not a blade of grass is to be seen, and not
even a shrub breaks the arid expanse of broken
strata and scorched marl." With this description
fresh in his mind, the visitor is prepared for the
further information which acquaintance with the
town provides, to the eflPect that the only fresh
water to be had is obtained by distillation of the
salt waters of the Caspian Sea. The name Baku,
signifying " a place beaten by the winds," or as
a resident acquaintance of mine more bluntly if
less classically put it, " windy hole," is in itself
sufficient indication of the climate which the place
enjoys. Certainly Baku, with such comfort and
attraction as it possesses, is before all else artificial
— the creation of money and of luxury -loving man.
All round on the Ansheronsk peninsula, which
juts out eastward into the Caspian Sea, great
forests of derricks, queer, grimy-looking, pyramidal
erections, mark the sites of the oil-fields which are
responsible for the existence of the town. Some
idea of the magnitude of the industry may be
gained when I mention that according to Russian
statistics which I obtained upon the spot, the
output of the Baku oil-fields in 1901 amounted
to 10,822,580 tons, of which amount 7,837,096
tons were exported, the average daily yield of



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 77

the wells on the Ansheronsk peninsula amounting
to 29,661 tons. In the same year the other great
oil-producing centre of the world, the petroleum
fields of Lima and Pennsylvania in the United
States, showed an output of 6,509,677 tons, with
an export of 3,306,451 tons, the average daily
yield of these wells falling short of that of the
wells of the Caspian littoral by 11,463 tons.

The phenomena occurring in the country round
Baku are, as is only to be expected in a land so
curiously endowed by nature, of no ordinary interest
or kind. Many years ago it was recorded by one
Guthrie, a traveller in Persia, that " in Taurida
in any piece of ground where springs of naphtha
obtain, by merely sticking an iron tube into the
earth and applying a light to the upper end, the
mineral oil will burn till the tube is decomposed,
or for a vast number of years " ; the accuracy of
which statement can be tested by any one to-day.
I prodded a hole in the ground not far from the
site of an ancient fire-temple, and on applying a
liofht raised a flame several feet in heio^ht. Natural
issues of gas and oil make it possible, indeed, to
literally set the Caspian on fire in the sheltered
creeks of the Ansheronsk peninsula. Small wonder
that Sir F. Goldsmid should have been betrayed
into enthusiasm when describing his impressions
of his visit there: "To say that these fires are
curious or worth seeing is to say nothing. They



78 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

are marvellous, and worthy of classification among
natural wonders."

But curious as are the natural characteristics
of the country, the strangeness of its appearance
has been infinitely added to by the devising hand
of man. Imagine a stretch of barren ground from
which rise hundreds of pyramid-shaped towers all
packed as closely to one another as the trees of a
forest ; picture to yourself further a lurid atmos-
phere heavy with the reek of oil, and throbbing
with a wild medley of sounds almost defying classi-
fication — the grunting and groaning of pulley and
windlass, the panting of engines, and a roar and
hiss like the rushing of many waters which issues
from furnaces where liquid fuel is in vogue — and
you have some faint conception of the weird spec-
tacle presented by the great oil-field of Balakhani.
And Balakhani is but one of the oil-fields of the
Caspian. Each one of the pyramid-like erections,
known technically as derricks, represents an oil-
well which is producing, or has produced in its
time, many tons of oil a-day, and on the Ansher-
onsk peninsula there are in round numbers some
two thousand of these erections.

There is something fascinating in watching the
operations that go on under cover of a derrick.
A hollow metal cylinder is let down a boring a
few inches in diameter, two thousand feet per-
haps into the bowels of the earth. The level of



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 79

the oil having been reached, the engine is re-
versed, and the cylinder now filled with the crude
product is drawn laboriously to the surface once
more. Here the vessel is emptied automatically
into a trough, whence the rich, slimy -looking,
dark green fluid, with its glittering pink froth,
passes into reservoirs to await its final journey
to the refineries. I watched a baler on the Bibi
Eibat field making its journey backwards and
forwards into the depths of the earth, and be-
came conscious of a sensation approaching respect
for an implement that with clockwork precision
and regularity was raising its hundred tons of
oil a-day. But any sensation produced by the
steady labour of the baler pales into insignificance
before the wild enthusiasm excited by the mag-
nificent irresponsibility of a " spouter." It is only
possible to picture faintly in imagination some-
thing of the feelings of the man who has been
fortunate enough to strike a spouter ; amid a
host of others the wild exhilaration of the
gambler who has succeeded in bringing off a
gigantic coup is probably predominant. The
spouter is, indeed, a magnificent thing. It is
gloriously indifferent to restraint. It probably
blows your derrick to matchwood ; but then it
throws up anything from 7000 to 10,000 tons of
marketable oil — say roughly from £350,000 to
£500,000 — in the course of twenty-four hours;



80 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

and what is the cost of a mere derrick compared
to this ? It is possessed of a violent vitaUty,
and forces its way irresistibly through all ob-
stacles that happen in its path. Men who have
had experience of such things have told me much
concerning them, inspiring me with something of
their own enthusiasm as they talked ; and I
listened credulously to the tale of one which
bored a hole as clean as a drill through a nine-
inch steel plate — placed there with a view to
controlling as far as might be the vagaries of
its flight — in something less than three hours !

Of course you cannot burrow hundreds — per-
haps thousands — of feet down into the interior
of the earth for nothing. On an average it will
cost you £5000 to sink an oil-well. And when
you have done so you will be very careful to see
that your boring is kept clear. When you bear
in mind that the small circular well, penetrating
from 1500 to 2000 feet into the bosom of the
earth, is only a few inches in diameter at the
surface and becomes less rather than more as it
descends, you can form some idea of the unutter-
able calamity which will have befallen you in
the event of some small object such as an imple-
ment happening to fall down and get stuck in
your narrow shaft. You may, with the aid of
one of the many ingenious contrivances devised
for the purpose, succeed in fishing it out, or in



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 81

the event of this proving impracticable in labor-
iously grinding it to powder ; but, as may easily
be imagined, there is no certainty about an oper-
ation of so delicate a nature. I heard of one
company that fished for implements thus fallen
for five months, and then gave it up and bored
a new well.

Such in brief is the general impression im-
printed upon the mind by a visit to Baku and
the neighbouring oil-fields, which, as already de-
scribed, became in 1905 the scene of anarchy and
sanguinary civil war. A few statistics may per-
haps assist the imagination in forming some idea
of the magnitude and importance of the industry,
which, for the time being at any rate, was re-
duced to a state of absolute wreckage and
collapse.

The aggregate depth bored in sinking new
wells and deepening old ones amounted in 1902
to little less than 46 miles, while in 1900 it
actually reached the astonishing figure of 94
miles 84 yards. In the course of the year 1902,
1895 wells on the Ansheronsk peninsula yielded
10,266,594 tons of naphtha, an average, that is
to say, of 5417f tons per well. These figures
were even larger in the previous year, a total of
1924 wells being responsible for an output of
10,822,580f tons, of which no less than 7,837,096|
tons were exported in the shape of kerosene,

F



82 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

lubricants, naphtha - residues, and raw naphtha,
the residues, used as fuel, being responsible for
the bulk of this total, with a weight not far
short of 5,000,000 tons. The impetus given to
the industry during the closing years of the
nineteenth century may be judged from the fact
that the 324 wells reported as yielding oil in
December 1892 had increased to 1423 in the
same month of 1902, and that the output of the
year 1901 showed an increase of 10,467,742 tons
on that of twenty years before. The number of
wells which have become inactive has naturally
risen rapidly with this largely increased pro-
duction, as many as 1273 wells having ceased
yielding in 1901 as compared with 842 in the
previous year and 594 in 1899. This increase
in the number of dry wells has of course been
counteracted by an increased energy in the sink-
ing of new wells, the returns showing a total
of 200 new wells sunk in 1892, 564 in 1902,
and the tremendous figure of 1010 in 1900.

It is not easy to compute the exact amount
of English capital which was invested in the
industry, but that it was very large may be
seen from the fact that the issued capital of
the six most important English companies en-
gaged in it amounted alone to close upon
£5,000,000. Nor is it easy to estimate with any
degree of accuracy the total amount of damage



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 83

done. An extreme pessimism was the dominant
note of all the early reports of the disaster,
which were unanimous in painting a sombre
picture of ruin and collapse. The plant of the
oil - wells on the Bibi Eibat field was burned
out, and the dep6ts of the Caspian Company
destroyed. The oil-wells of Balakhani, Boumani,
and Sabuntchi ^ were in flames, oil-towers and
store - houses were wrecked, 100,000 workless
fugitives were thrown starving upon the land ;
ruin, in other words, colossal and complete, stared
the industry in the face, involving serious con-
sequences to the trade and commerce of the
country, and a loss of about £20,000,000 annually
to the State revenue from excise. Such was
the tenor of the reports which gave to the
world the news of the storm of violence and
disorder which had broken over Kussia. With
the comparative lull which succeeded the first
fierce outburst of anarchy and carnage, admitting
of a more sober view, the measure of the earlier
estimates of the disaster received some modifica-
tion. The Enoflishmen whose lives had been im-
perilled at Balakhani were gallantly rescued by
Mr Urquhart, afterwards appointed British Vice-

1 The output of these estates in 1901 was as follows : —

Bibi Eibat .... 2,147,354 tons.

Sabuntchi .... 4,709,444 „

Eoumani .... 1,995,377 „

Balakhani .... 1,892,954 „



84 AX EASTERN MISCELLANY.

Consul, whose knowledge of the language and
customs of the country stood him in good stead
in his perilous adventure. The Bibi Eibat estate,
too, fortunately escaped the full force of the
human tornado, which spent itself largely upon
the district of Balakhani. The losses in addition
to those caused by stoppage of production were
set down at from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000,
though, according to another and more likely ac-
count issued at the time, an outlay of £8,000,000
would be required to put the wells in working
order again, and for the reconstruction of the
workmen's barracks and the purchase of new
machinery.^ Nor was it the oil-masters alone
who suffered from the collapse of the oil industry.
The report which reached this country to the
effect that whereas the refineries had saved stores
of kerosene sufficient to last a year, the residue
was all exhausted, was of serious import to all
those concerns dependent upon steam-power which
look to naphtha - residue for fuel, such as the
milling industry of Moscow and the railways
and shipping of the district. The total direct
losses, indeed, to the different concerns, including
the railways and shipping on the Volga and the

^ Telegrams appeared in the press stating that the plants of 21
oil companies and 13 private owners had been completely destroyed.
The Baku Company lost a third of its derricks, the Nobel Company
40 per cent, and the Born Company 50 per cent. Of Messrs Roths-
childs' properties only one was said to be intact.



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 85

Caspian, were early estimated at upwards of
£19,000,000.

But to appreciate the true significance of the
situation which had thus arisen in the Caucasus
in all its bearings, it is necessary to look be-
yond the mere loss in pounds, shillings, and
pence. It has been affirmed by no less an
authority than the great oil-fields proprietor, M.
Nobel, that the crisis of 1905 was the outcome
of a political labour war — itself the ofi'spring
of the oft-ignored demands of a people for re-
form. Such things of themselves predicate a
serious failing in the health of nations. They
become infinitely more serious when compli-
cated, as in the present case, by disintegrating
external influences, such as racial and religious
war. The spectacle of the might and power of
Kussia crumbling away before the onslaught of
an Asiatic nation in the Far East had not been
lost upon the populations of the Asiatic do-
minions of the Tsar. Mingled with the reports
of the great calamity came stories of hordes of
Tartar horsemen rising to the cry of the prophet ;
of bands of turbulent Kurds pouring down from
the Persian highlands to swell the tide of re-
volt that was sweeping across the country ; of
the crescent and green banner of Islam being
raised aloft in open revolt against the Cross of
Christianity. The proclamation of a holy war



86 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

had indeed been made infinitely more likely by
the recent rule of Prince Galitzin, who inau-
gurated the fatal policy of playing off Tartar
against Armenian — a policy which, as the ' Times '
remarked, could only be described as Turkish in
its complexion, and which was largely instru-
mental in bringing about a cataclysm at which
the civilised world might well look on appalled.
By the first week in September the extreme
urgency of the situation could no longer be
ignored even by Russian ofiicialdom, and for
the rest of that month the authorities had their
hands full in despatching troops to the various
centres of disaffection. All the atrocities for
which we are accustomed to look when Russia
is occupied in restoring order with the Cossack
and the knout, were added to the ghastly tale
of horror inseparable from every phase of
Eastern civil war. The soldiers, indeed, who
were expected to cope with the elements of dis-
order, seem as often as not to have added
materially to the confusion and disaster. Like
the Kurdish levies of the Sultan, who regard
their royal title of Hamidiyeh in the light of a
warrant for indulging in indiscriminate slaughter
whenever opportunity occurs, the Cossacks seem
to have waged war impartially upon friend and
foe, and to have fought ruthlessly, neither ask-
ing nor giving quarter, with all who chanced to



THE RUSSIAN OIL-FIELDS, ETC. 87

come their way. They trained artillery upon
and wrecked the offices of the English manager
of four large companies. In company with the
Tartar insurgents they hemmed in a band of
four hundred Armenians, whom, despite their
frantic requests to the Governor for help, they
butchered to a man. Suaviter in modo is no
more the motto of the Russian Cossack than it
is of the Eastern fanatic. Tales sickening in the
intensity of their pathos poured in from the
theatre of strife, which for days was converted
into a perfect maelstrom of human passion. Men,
women, and children were indescribably tortured
and butchered in batches by the fierce Asiatics,
driven to frenzy by their lust for blood. Violence
begets violence and hatred hate. The Russian
artillery that shelled the hospital at Balakhani,
in which were packed close upon a thousand
Armenians and workmen, were in their turn
fallen upon by the infuriated mob and forced
to retire under showers of boiling oil. Incen-
diarism, pillage, outrage, and massacre — the in-
carnation of barbarous war, in other words, in
its most gruesome guise, laid its palsied hand
heavily upon the great oil city and its neigh-
bourhood.

Such is the tale of the grim visitation of
1905. Small wonder if British capital took
fright. Small wonder, too, if it has been shy



88 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

of returning to a scene where it once experi-
enced such rough handling. Nevertheless, the
vast oil-beds of Caucasia should yet provide a
wide field for the play of British capital and
enterprise. The scourge which left its mark
upon Baku in 1905 has passed away. Capital
— and especially British capital — is even now
being attracted to new borings among the foot-
hills of the Caucasus ; and who shall say that
the day may not be at hand when the glory
of Maikop will outshine even that of Baku at
its prime.



89



CHAPTEE VI.

THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE.

(A Paper read before the Scottish Geographical Society,
6th February 1902.)

With a view to travelling along the recently
opened trade route between India and Persia,
across Baluchistan, I journeyed to Quetta at the
end of October 1900, reaching that place on the
1st November. Here I spent ten days making
final preparations, and engaged the servants I
required to accompany me as far as Mashhad.
These consisted of seven Indian servants and
a daffidar and three sowars of the local levy
from Nushki, to act as escort. By the 9th every-
thing was ready, and I started off my caravan
of baggage camels in charge of the servants and
sowars, keeping behind with me the Baluchi
daffidar Ralmat Khan and two of my Indian
servants with our ponies and riding camels. This
to give the caravan a day's start and to enable
us to get through a long march on the morrow.



90 AN EASTERN MISCELLANY.

A curious white mist hung over Quetta on the
morning of the 10th, hiding it from view as I
cantered along the road accompanied by Ralmat
Khan and the servants on their camels. After
leaving the main road a few miles from the town,
we made our way by a camel track over flat
stretches of sand and gravel, covered for the most
part with brown tufts of aromatic wormwood, with
ridges of barren hills running parallel on either
side. Here and there we passed small villages,
mere clumps of low, flat-roofed mud huts, whose
existence must inevitably come to an untimely
end should the country ever be visited by any-
thing like prolonged rain, — miserable evidence
of human existence, low and squat-looking, with
no apparent aperture beyond an ill-shaped hole,
presumably the door.

In parts the track was very stony, and any-
thing beyond a walk out of the question; but
at others sand took the place of stone, and we
were able to go along at a canter. At sixteen
miles we passed the levy post of Girdi Talab,
and another sixteen brought us to Kanak, where
I found my camp and spent the night.

Kanak is a levy post such as exist, or are
in process of construction, at intervals of from
fifteen to fifty miles, the whole way from Quetta
to Sistan. They consist of mud forts known as
"thanas," built square and with an erection in



THE NUSHKI-SISTAN TRADE ROUTE. 91

one or more of the angles in the form of a
tower. In these thanas live a daffidar and a
few sowars raised locally, who, mounted some-
times on ponies, sometimes on camels, carry the
mail-bag from thana to thana, thus maintaining
the only communication that exists between
Sistan and the nearest British post of any ac-
count — Quetta ; a distance of something like 500
miles over the deserted wastes of Baluchistan.

I left Kanak at 9 a.m., having sent my ad-
vance camp on during the night, and rode over
the same sandy and stony plateau, with its
covering of wormwood, crossing a low ridge of
hills, after going a few miles, by a pass known
as the Barak, and then on over level ground
again till I reached camp pitched by a small
partially deserted village, Girdi Gab. The village
was the same miserable affair as all the others
I had passed on the road, a huddled-up collec-



Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 5 of 24)