Snippets 165. One of the most brave and remarkable explorers in British history was the relatively little-known Lucy Atkinson (nee Finley). During the late 1830s and early 1840s she worked as a governess in St Petersburg, where she met her husband Thomas Atkinson. They were married in 1848 and set off on a grand tour of Siberia and Central Asia, which lasted until 1853. During the first year of their travels she gave birth to their son in a small Russian military outpost, but that is a story for another day. The following quote is from her account of her travels, Recollections of Tartar Steppes and their Inhabitants, published in 1863, and concerned an assistant who was employed to help them on the first leg of their journey, a man named Nicholai. It soon became evident that he was unreliable and couldn’t be entirely trusted. We pick up the story with the Atkinsons’ arrival at a post station on the outskirts of Moscow.
All was darkness in the building — not a person was visible, it appeared deserted. Mr. Atkinson desired Nicholai to rouse up the people and hasten the horses; the man soon unharnessed those which had brought us, and then he vanished in the darkness, and we were left alone. A considerable time elapsed, and no one appeared. I then suggested that it was better to call for Nicholai; this Mr. Atkinson did, but there was no response. He then concluded to leave me in the sledge, and enter the house; he groped his way in the darkness, through two rooms, without finding a soul; in a third he trod on a body, and nearly tumbled over others, but they did not utter a word; a candle was flickering in a corridor beyond; having obtained this, he discovered that he had passed through a room in which six people were lying in a state of drunken insensibility, from whom he could not get an answer; proceeding further, others were found in a like condition. Here he discovered Nicholai fast asleep on a bench, with our road papers and the bag of money lying on the floor; he also was drunk, and had forgotten both us and the horses.
Eventually Nicholai’s services were dispensed with:
I presume one reason for my friend impressing the necessity of caution on us was, that we had discharged Nicholai, on account of neglect of duty, and gross misconduct in many ways. The fellow was not to be trusted, and Mr. Atkinson had always treated him with great leniency. I had been rather amused at some of his doings in Moscow. Whilst there, he received a sum of money in advance, to enable him to fit himself out with everything necessary for a journey of two years. At almost the last hour he asked for more, which astonished Mr. Atkinson, as he had received in advance a whole year’s salary, and was therefore refused, until he said he wanted to buy something for his ‘old mother,’ — he might have known his master’s weak point — Mr. Atkinson’s heart relented immediately. On arriving in Ekaterinburg we found out that he had brought in our sledge a large quantity of goods on speculation, and was occupied in disposing of them, the poor ‘old mother’ receiving not a single article of all he had brought with him.
We will look at another quote from Atkinson’s fascinating account in a future “snippet”.
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