Alexander Faminsky – a fight against odds
Based on Australian records Aleksandr Alekseevich Faminsky (Александр Алексеевич Фаминский) was born in Nizhny Novgorod around 1898. Nothing is known at this stage about his parents and early childhood. Australian newspapers state that he completed his Russian classical education at Nizhny Novgorod and then went to Moscow to pursue his studies in law.
The search into address book for Nizhny Novgorod for 1897 did not reveal anything on Faminsky family. However, the internet resources state that Faminsky family in Nizhny Novgorod was a well known family with a religious background.
“In 1917,while he was still a youth, he was conscripted for military service, and became a pupil at the Alexandrovskoe Imperial Military College. From there he was drafted to the Rumanian front as a lieutenant, and later he was decorated with the Order of St. Anne for bravery in the field. … Mr. Faminsky became a garrison commander of 12,000 men before the collapse of the Russian offensive, and during the revolution returned to Moscow, intending to complete his studies at the university.”
From this point begins Alexander’s exodus from Russia. Faminsky found that Moscow University “professors were elected by students, and that a former cleaner was now vice-chancellor.” Unsatisfied with the new Red regime, he commenced a long and lonely march towards Urals, where he joined the White Army at Ufa.
Russian State Military archive (RGVA) in Moscow confirms the fact that he was in Headquarters of Kurgan Army in February 1919 as a lieutenant in reserve not far away from Ufa. More likely Alexander participated in Ufimskaya Operation in May-June 1919 when the Whites were forced to retreat with heavy losses.
In autumn of 1919 Faminsky retreated with Kolchak forces deep into Siberia. The events put Faminsky during late November in Tomsk where the headquarters of the 1st Siberian Army were hosted under the command of lieutenant-general A.N. Pepelyaev. It was planned that this army, exhausted by the continuous fighting, would have a rest and be replenished with new recruits. However, on 20 December 1919 the Red Army entered the city and took over leading to a demise of Kolchak regime.
Faminsky survived the fighting and made his way to Harbin, where he completed his legal training at Harbin University in March 1920 (based on his academic record from University of Sydney). His name also appears in “All Harbin 1926” address book. Dissatisfied with his life in China, Faminsky decided to try his fortune in Australia.
Alexander arrived to Australia only to start working on cane fields, as most Russians did at that time. He saved enough money and came to Sydney to study English. He worked during the day and studied at night.
The depression hit him hard. Alexander was unable to find any decent work and became a manual labourer. By denying himself food and living in the cheapest of lodging-houses, he was able to collect enough money to study an University course. And he did not go easy on himself.
He choose the studies in accountancy and statistics at Faculty of Economics at Sydney University. He enrolled in the course in March 1929. The Archive’s department at Sydney University has his academic record – only 2 pages long but containing important information – his exact birth date. It is the first and only record at this stage confirming Alexander’s age.
It was hard for Alexander to study due to limitations in language. However, he not only passed the exams but also gave the lectures to staff and students. The University of Sydney Economics Society thrived during the Depression years with numerous meetings with speakers and lectures. Famous Australian Professors gave talks at fresher’s welcome parties. Alexander Faminsky gave a talk on “Russian Revolution as I saw it” and drew a record crowd of 350 people in July 1931 and “Workers practically slaves” in September 1931.
Alexander’s persistency and perseverance have been rewarded with a degree in March 1935. The local newspapers were quick to report on his success. Local education and recognition provided Faminsky with job opportunities.
The year 1945 puts Alexander Faminsky at Sydney University again but this time as a lecturer of Russian language. The staff at University confirmed that Faminsky was employed by the University from 1 January 1946 as a part-time tutor in Russian until January 1958, his death.
The university was providing a 4 year course in Russian for adults since 1937 and Russian was the second most popular language with nearly 150 students attending each year. 1945 was also a first year when Russian was considered to be taught at secondary school as part of curriculum, subject to Russian teacher availability. Since 1942 only Sydney Boys’ High School was offering Russian in NSW.
State Library of NSW has two Russian books prepared exclusively by Alexander for his students “Russian reader: First/Second year / compiled by A.A. Faminsky”.
In 1940 Alexander at the age of 43 married probably for the first time. At least there are no other records in Australia. His wife was Eileen Maud Munson (1900-1994), a photographer (per Electoral records). The couple knew each other for a long time. Back in 1933 while studying at University Alexander lived at 2 Herbert St in Erskenville. He was renting a space in a house owned by Alice Mary Munson and her daughter Eileen. In 1935 Alice and Eileen moved to New Canterbury Road In Petersham. Alexander followed them. Only to settle in with his wife at Warrimoo Road in St Ives. They had no kids.
Alexander Faminsky died on 3 January 1958 with no obituary or mention in local newspapers. He and his wife are buried at Macquarie Park cemetery, Sydney. Only a small memorial plaque reminds of his name and life. 2017 Find Russian Heritage 30 March
© Tsvetana Spasova 2017
“Educating for Business, Public Service and the Social Sciences” By Peter Diderik Groenewegen page 47
SUCCESS WAS DESERVED. (1935, March 23). Examiner(Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), p. 4 Edition: DAILY, Section: The Examiner SPECIAL SATURDAY SECTION. Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51924833
RUSSIAN TO BE TAUGHT IN N.S.W. SCHOOLS. (1945, March 9). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article127293754
Photograph – Sydney Morning Herald, NSW, 16 March 1935