St. Petersburg: Typ. Of Naval Ministry, 1862. Item #593
, 600, v pp. 26,5x17,5 cm. With an additional lithographed title page and twenty-seven tinted lithographed plates (complete). Ink stamps of “Biblioteka Polska w Paryzu” on the title page and p. 49. Period half morocco with marbled papered boards; spine with raised bands gilt lettered title. A near fine copy of this rare first edition.
First edition of a rare Russian imprint with only two papercopies found in Worldcat (Stanford University, University of Hawaii at Manoa). Early interesting Russian circumnavigation account, with the first illustrations of Singapore and its Chinese and East-Indian inhabitants drawn by a Russian artist. The book describes the voyage around the world executed by a Russian naval clipper “Plastun” in 1857- 1860. “Plastun” was a part of a group of Russian propeller driven naval ships which were sent to visit the newly acquired Russian territories in the Far East (annexed with the signing of the Russian-Chinese Treaty of Aigun in 1858) and to establish Russian presence in Chinese and Japanese ports. Having left Kronstadt, the ship called at the Atlantic Islands (Madeira, Tenerife, Cape Verde, Ascension Island and others), rounded Cape of Good Hope, visited Singapore, Hong Kong, several bays of the new Russian Amur region, Vladivostok and Nikolayevsk; spent almost a year in Japan, and returned to Kronstadt via Hawaii, Tahiti, Strait of Magellan, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
The book was written by “Plastun’s” doctor Alexey Vysheslavtsev (1831-1888). Chapters 3 “The Malay Sea” and 4 “Hong Kong” describe “Plastun’s” voyage to Singapore through the Sunda Strait and Java Sea, and thence to the South-China Sea and Hong Kong. The description of Singapore where “Plastun” stayed for a week in July 1858 is one of the earliest detailed accounts of the city made by a Russian. A special part is dedicated to Vysheslavtsev’s visit to the Whampoa estate near Singapore (modern-day Novena planning area), a conversation with the estate’s founder and owner Hoo Ah Kay (1816-1880), and a side trip to several smaller islands in the Singapore Strait.
The chapter about Hong Kong talks about structure and architecture of Victoria City, sampan and junk boats, appearance and costumes of Chinese women, Hong Kong geography and unhealthy climate, history of British colonisation, local police force, frequent attempts by Chinese patriots to kill European residents (often by poisoning), street markets and traders, a dinner with the Governor of Hong Kong John Bowring in his residence (one of Bowring’s daughters told Vysheslavtsev that the whole family had just survived an attempt of poisoning); Whampoa Island (near Canton) where “Plastun” underwent renovation; Chinese rice fields and agriculture; the nature of typhoons and how a ship can survive them; the latest events of the Second Opium War; the beginning of French conquest of Cochinchina; opium smoking and trade; Christian missionaries in China; etc.
Chapter 7 of the account titled “The Pacific” contains a captivating description of the visit to Honolulu: city description, Diamond Hill, local society, funerals of a king’s nephew, local police,public prosecution, Waikiki village, Nuuanu Pali lookout, hula hula dance, personality of Kamehameha IV who received the officers of the Russian squadron in his palace; the “Tahitian” part talks about Papeete and environs, history of discovery and colonisation of the island, king Pomare I, bread fruit trees, Papeuriri, local school, Fautaua waterfall, Moorea, introduction to the queen Pomare IV, and others.
This first edition of the book was published in 1862 by the Russian Naval Ministry. Vysheslavtsev’s book was meant to continue the tradition of publication of Russian expedition accounts, especially because he not only wrote the text of the travel account, but also created a series of vivid sketches depicting landscapes and native people of the exotic destinations. The original sketches were redrawn to be printed as lithographs in the renowned St. Petersburg lithograph printing house of Paul Petit; the artists in charge were the students of the Imperial Academy of Arts, including young Ivan Shishkin and Vasily Vereshchagin – future famous Russian artists. Second Russian edition of the book was issued five years later by a major commercial Saint Petersburg publisher Mauritius Wolf, and was illustrated with twenty- three lithographed plates - four lithographs less than in the first edition. The book has never been reissued afterwards; the only translation into foreign language was published in 1990 (Tokyo).
Among the illustrations are the views of Ascension Island, Cape of Good Hope, three views of Singapore (including nearby Whampoa estate), views of Hakodate, several bays in the Russian Far East, the Strait of Magellan, an embankment in Rio de Janeiro; portraits of the natives from the Cape of Good Hope and Singapore, Gilyaks from the Amur Region, Japanese in Edo and Hakodate, and others. The “Pacific” plates include views of the Oahu Island, Pali (Oahu), two group portraits of Tahitian girls and the “kanakas” (meant as native people of the Pacific islands), Fautaua waterfall (Tahiti), portrait of a New Caledonian on Tahiti, and three different views of the Papetoai Bay (Moorea).
Overall a very interesting early Russian account of South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands including Hawaii.